Lessons from Asian Christians

International travel provides a useful vantage point from which to view your own world, and in the case of my recent trip to Asia, my American evangelical world came out looking anemic compared to the Asian evangelicalism I observed.

The Asian churches look more like the church I was raised in as a Christian & Missionary Alliance Preacher’s Kid.

1) Their devotion to Jesus Christ is exemplary. There is no question that in word and deed they acknowledge the claims of Jesus as Lord in every area of their life. American culture is so oriented towards satisfying the ¢â‚¬Ëœself’ that most of us can’t believe that Jesus actually talked about denying ourselves or that the Apostle Paul said, “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” How quirky is that archaic teaching in our consumeristic, materialistic, frazzled society? Hollywood Mogul David Geffen just announced he has enough money and will start giving his earnings to charity. This is in a Forbes article announcing he is worth $Four billion dollars. So THAT’s how much it takes to satisfy our needs! Our focus on self is so complete that we are amused instead of horrified by a card that says, “Enough about me; What do YOU think about me!” Our children are bombarded with advertisements, each of which conveys the notion that you need and deserve this newest product, and if your parents love you they will provide it for you! What is frightening is that we have lost our way and don’t KNOW it!

2) Their commitment to prayer is New Testament. The Korean Church is notorious for its 5:30AM daily preaching and prayer services. I asked the leader of one of Seoul’s mega-churches, and a man who has lived in America, just how much this is a cultural phenomena and how much it is a measure of spiritual depth. He observed that it is both and that the 5:30 AM piece works for Koreans culturally, but not for Americans. But then I asked myself what DOES work for Americans? I remember a friend giving every Board member of our local church a copy of Jim Cymbala’s book ¢â‚¬ËœFresh Wind, Fresh Fire’ which tells the story of how prayer revolutionized his church and ministry. As Board Chairman I urged everybody to read the book and discuss how prayer could be a more vital part of our local church. A plan was implemented and we started a Tuesday evening prayer meeting. At first it was well attended but soon it dwindled. If prayer is a gauge of spiritual depth and maturity, “Houston we’ve got a problem!”

3) Their devotion to reading, studying and obeying the Bible is complete. I was so impressed with Cambodian Christians as they talked about their conversion stories. Prior to believing and putting their trust in Jesus, they studied and analyzed what the Bible said and compared it to what they were taught as Buddhists. Most of the time this involved a period of months. When they made their commitment they were convinced of the truth of Scripture and were prepared to trust it as their guide for daily living. Time after time we heard stories of believers wrestling with a question and immediately turning to the Bible for instructions and directions.

In American, even among evangelicals, many have lost this kind of confidence in the Bible. Between the higher criticism of German rationalism, pop culture’s embrace of stuff like The Jesus Seminar, the proliferation of psychobabble Christian best sellers, and our utter lack of ability to discern, many American Christians are now biblically illiterate, and as a result vulnerable to every wind of doctrine. One Korean Pastor reported that many years ago there was a struggle between progressive and conservative Christian approaches in Korea. One progressive missionary wrote, “These poor ignorant Koreans, all they know is the Bible.” This Korean Pastor wrote back to the progressive, “Leave us alone. Our Korean church grew (numerically and spiritually) because of the Bible. We knew nothing but the Bible!” Today’s American Christian often knows everything EXCEPT the Bible!.

4) Their joy is obvious and their Christian culture is based on joy. Stanley Hauerwas describes the church as “resident aliens” and unfolds the idea of the church as an alternative culture. What is the nature of that culture? We could start with the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This fruit is the byproduct of a life devoted to Jesus Christ, denying self, quickened by prayer and nurtured by the word of God known and obeyed! I thought of this as we sang “God is So Good” at 5:00 AM in the lobby of a Seoul hotel. Led by our Korean guide, the music echoed off the tiled floor and walls, and seemed completely natural.

Is THAT cultural too I asked myself? And then I remembered a story about Joni Ericksen Tada’s recent visit to Seattle, Gathered with a group of friends in a Denny’s restaurant on Seattle’s upscale eastside, she suggested they sang a hymn before the meal. Her staff member Steve Appel reports that people at other tables joined in the singing. This story shocked me because it is so uncharacteristic of Seattle’s un-churched liberal environment, but it also inspired me and seems to me an example of the kind of spontaneous, winsome thing resident aliens ought to do! Anyone who knows Joni knows her joy can’t be contained so it spills into her daily life. Believe me, if this can happen in Seattle, it can happen anywhere!

5) Witness. In Cambodia, it is obvious from the testimonies I heard, once a decision is made for Christ, the new believer immediately, spontaneously and without prompting begins to share their faith. One of them blurted out, “I don’t think you are really a Christian if you aren’t sharing the joy of the Lord with other people.” I know that such talk can lead to a judgmental legalism, but we all know that when Jesus healed the blind man he was telling everybody, “all I know is that I was blind and now I see.” A new Christian in Cambodia has just left the spiritual darkness and bondage of a fear-filled Buddhism, not the nice Westernized Richard Gere version, and they are ecstatic with their new hope and fearlessness as the child of the living, loving God. How much of our silence is because we are actually unaware of the absolute darkness of American Culture? And how many of us are not spontaneous in our joy because we’ve lost our joy? In The church of Laodicia this was the result of a luke-warmness of a people who had lost their first love.

Look. The Asian church and Asian Christians are not perfect and they are blind to issues in their own culture like we are, but I am inspired by what they aspire to become and I pray for that same high standard in my own life and the life of American Christianity.

‚© CRS Communications, Dick Staub 2003

Posted in Staublog, Thoughts in September 25, 2003 by | No Comments »

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