BLOG 5/29/16. PART II: GENERATIONAL CULTURES
In my last Blog I was seeking to make the point that every generation produces its own culture, and this reality has escalated most rapidly since somewhere just after World War II, when, not only did the world get much smaller, but the digital-internet age was in its birth throes making it much more difficult to maintain isolated and unchanging cultures. Somewhere in there, also, we passed out of that age in which the Christian church was a dominant force in the west, and into something of a secular, or post-Christian era. What had been significant and culture-forming in previous generations (millennium and a half?) was fading fast. The church was, and is, very slow to wake up to this.
Let me go back to my brief career in the small and isolated mountain Kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa. My wife and I were there to teach for a semester in the seminary of the Lesotho Evangelical Church (the major Protestant church in that tiny kingdom). The kingdom of Lesotho came into being in the middle of the nineteenth century, in set of tragic historical attempts by the Dutch Boers to eliminate several major tribes that threatened them in south Africa. The remnants of those tribes survived and created an amalgam tribe (the Basotho) and chose a king for themselves (Moshoeshoe I). Moshoeshoe had heard that Christianity would be good for the tribe and so persuaded (kidnapped?) a couple of French Huguenot missionaries to come and tell his people about their faith. He, thereupon, declared that his tribe was Christian, and there came into being a church modeled upon the strict French Calvinism of the Huguenots, including the severe black black clothing, and the hymns. To their credit they did a remarkable job of training every believer to engage in its missionary effort to the remotest parts of that mountain kingdom in those early years.
Now here’s my point. That was tdhe Lesotho Evangelical Church’s founding in the (circa) 1840s. But we were there in the 1980s. The church communities still met in Huguenot style stark sanctuaries, they still sang the theologically correct but musically impossible hymns of the Huguenots. The women of the church wore long black dresses with white bibs and black pillbox hats, the clergy all wore the garb of the Huguenot clergy, etc. Yes, and by the time we were there the church was living on life-support. Yet the Basotho have their own musical culture that is vibrant and is nearly always accompanied with spontaneous rhythmic dances that would make the Rockettes jealous. The culture was totally different from 1840, but the church had not changed, alas!.
(Stick with me, I’m going somewhere here) Meanwhile, while we were there the mission had employed an African-American master-mechanic from Illinois to maintain their motor pool. Charles and his white wife were both full-blown Pentecostals, and very much alive to the faith in Jesus, to the power of the Holy Spirit, and with love for the Basotho. Charles would get under the hood of cars and communicate his contagious faith with the Basotho men. Guess what? Within a couple of years there was a Pentecostal assembly fully formed in the Basotho culture of several thousand participants. Charles took the present culture, not the culture of the mid-19th century seriously. (Do you get my point?)
The traditional patterns of institutional Christianity in our country, what with their handsome and expensive sanctuaries, pipe-organs, etc. were wonderfully meaningful in a former culture—but while the church wasn’t looking, the emerging generational cultures found such patterns totally irrelevant to their lives, and began to form Christian communities that were indigenous to them. Let me raid Mark Labberton’s web in which he quotes a famous German theologian of a half-century ago: Helmut Thielicke famously wrote that “the Gospel must be constantly forwarded to a new address because its recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence.”Church institutions which are unable to think out of their past are living on borrowed time. You heard it from me. Count on it, it’s already happening. Generation cultures are different and important.