Gospel in context

Mar 23, 2020 by

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Contextualization of the gos­pel is a cardinal principle of contemporary missions. It affirms what Anabaptist Christians have called a “hermeneutic of community” — with the additional understanding that different communities may interpret the Bible differently. So it is that my local Mennonite Brethren church has embraced a woman as pastor, appropriate to the contextualization of the gospel in our local church culture. And so it is also that six of 21 conferences in the International Community of Mennonite Brethren, or ICOMB, as reported in 2015, have (or have had) women as lead pastors and are ordaining these women, notwithstanding the position of the USMB conference that women cannot be lead pastors or ordained.

Contextualization raises the question of which hermeneutical community is appropriate to judge what. Earlier European-oriented, white Mennonite immigrants to America gathered in rural communities with a more singular culture, making uniform interpretations a little easier. But this church has now become acculturated into American evangelical culture, diversified in both rural and urban cultures, and grown to include multiple cultural and ethnic groups. So now, for example, Congolese churches in the United States are reported to be interested in joining my MB conference, which prohibits women to be lead pastors. Ironically, in the 21 ICOMB conferences, as reported in 2015, the Congo MB Church had the largest number led by women.

What do we then do? Unity exists not only when we fully agree but also when we extend grace to those who differ. Does one then do violence to the principle of contextualization, as well as multiple her­me­neutical communities, when one community seeks to impose its will on others?

Dalton Reimer
Fresno, Calif.

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