The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin Book Summary – Part VI
Knowing that it is essential for our faith to work out in how we care about the public affairs of the world, we now move onto a discussion on the nature of church growth and its relation to culture. Of course, there is no doubt that a community that is committed to the way of Jesus should rejoice from growth in numbers (124). However, Newbigin argues that while we should have concern for this, “one must also observe that the rest of the New Testament furnishes little evidence of interest in numerical growth…the primary concern is with their faithfulness, with the integrity of their witness.” (125) He also gives warning that when we focus on numerical growth we can too easily get caught up in militaristic campaign language that is not helpful for the gospel. He also gives encouragement to focus on discipling those who come to faith.
In regards to the church’s relation to culture he has a very difficult discussion on what to do when we enter a culture that has pagan elements (religious or cultural) that seem to go against the biblical narrative. He argues that in some cases we will have to allow them to exist and, in fact, the gospel would not be able to go forward in that culture if we take them away. In other cases, he admits that the gospel is often called to change the particular culture in order for it to succeed.
This is not a tension that is really able to be resolved easily. He writes, “the day to day worship and word and witness of the local church has to be developed in relationship to all these is such a way that it becomes credible to the inhabitants of the local culture as a sign, instrument and foretaste of that one universal reign of God that is the true origin and goal of this and every human culture. It must communicate in the idiom of that culture both the divine good that sustains it and the divine purpose that judges it and summons it to become what it is not yet.” (150) As we see, this does not mean coming into a culture with a preconceived notion of how the church culture should look. This is not something that is easily done by those of us who come from the Western world because we have a hard time believing that we are not the pinnacle of civilization and that all cultures should look like ours.