Author: Andy Walton
Date: 01 January 2010
By Revd Preb John Root
The presence of large numbers of people in this country of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim background is a challenge the church has had to face over the past forty years, and is still seeking to come to terms with. As we have worked at this in our church in Alperton, we have began to formulate our aims, and clarify what it is that we are trying to do. It's my impression that confusion often hinders churches taking action, and causes them to be uncertain and muted in their response to ministry in a multi- faith community.
The following ten aims are in a rough and ready order, beginning from the most basic, and concluding with aims which have yet to be fulfilled.
In the following I refer to 'Asian people', assuming they are adherents of other major faiths, though I recognize that 5% of Asians in this country come from Christian backgrounds; and also increasing numbers of adherents of world faiths come from places outside Asia, such as Somalia.
1. Asians know there are people who find peace, joy and new life in Jesus Christ.
A major problem in Christian witness is the widespread assumption that all English-people are Christians, and their morality and way of life is not a particularly good advert for that faith. Without self-righteously rejecting English culture, we nonetheless need to help people to see that there are those whose lives have been changed and given meaning by faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Asian people know that Christians love them and want to meet their needs.
It is important that the church looks like good news to its surrounding community, and this happens as Christian people both show love and concern for their neighbours, and the church as a whole is showing some signs of commitment to its local community.
3. Asian people know about Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done.
Faith comes by hearing and in situations where we cannot assume that people have heard anything about the Christian faith there is a long term, painstaking job of spreading awareness in the community. This can be done through making literature and gospels available, through posters, through simple teaching about Jesus in holiday clubs and other ways.
4. People know that Asians can belong to Jesus Christ.
We have to work hard to overcome the assumption that Christianity is the English religion. Jesus was from Asia, and the Bible reflects Asian culture much more closely than it reflects Western culture. These are resources in our witness that we need to develop fully. So too we need to teach (to Christians as well as non-Christians) about the long history of Christianity in the Indian sub- continent, the size of the church there today, and to make known the considerable number of Asian people who have turned to faith in Jesus Christ.
5. Asian people know that belonging to Jesus involves a decision.
Service, diffused witness, and dialogue are all important in relating to people of other faiths. But for all people there comes a point when a step of repentance, faith and commitment needs to be made. It is unwise to push that on people prematurely when they have not had the opportunity to learn
about the Gospel nor to see the changes the gospel brings, but equally it cannot be postponed indefinitely and people never given the opportunity to turn to Christ.
6. Asian people ask Jesus into their lives.
However various our points of origin we all enter into eternal life through the same gate. With all people, it is facilitated through prayer, love and sharing the gospel.
7. Asians experience what it means to be a part of a 'new creation' which incorporates many cultures and ethnic groups.
A church which consists only of one culture will always find it hard to win people of other cultures. A church which is vigorous in being multi-cultural is able to attract people from a wide variety of backgrounds and give them confidence that they can maintain their own cultural identity within a diverse church.
8. Asian people follow Jesus in ways appropriate to their culture.
There have been occasional horror stories of people being expected to give up perfectly reasonable cultural expressions (for example wearing saris) on becoming Christians. More likely there will simply be confusion about what is and is not appropriate, or uncertainty in making an unfamiliar separation between faith and culture. We need to move slowly and trust that those from cultures different from our own will be guided by God to make the right distinctions.
9. Asian Christians begin to express their faith, and worship in ways that reflect their culture. Churches need to be both building unity across cultures, and yet also give an opportunity for people to express their faith in the forms of their own particular culture. This means that encouraging songs and music in different languages and styles, encouraging widespread appreciation of varieties of food and dress. Above all it means churches having. the flexibility to acknowledge significantly different ways in which cultures express joy, sorrow, disagreement, commitment to family and kin, understanding of authority and a host of other ways in which we, perhaps unconsciously, differ from each other.
10. Asian Christians bring a strong contribution to the life of the whole church in England.
Thanks to some gifted Asian Christians this is beginning to happen. It needs to be encouraged, as we look forward to a time when our whole society sees that in Christ there is a living example of diversity in unity. The vitality of the Asian community is already affecting British life in many important ways; the church needs to be in the forefront of encouraging that.
Prebendary John Root, St James Alperton, April 2004