Friday, September 16, 2005

Insider Movements

The new term for the indigenous church is insider movements. Definitions are now in order.

Indigenous means something that is natural or native to a particular region. Missiologist’s have for many years promoted the idea that when planting a church, it should look and feel like the region of those who accept Christ as their Savior. Though the philosophy of the indigenous church is valid, the practical outworking of that philosophy is difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Church planters, whether they are native or foreign (missionaries), traditionally establish churches that look remarkably like every other church throughout the world. The formula for church planting is, evangelism, baptism, discipleship, secure land, build a building. Once a meeting place has been established, the new Christian community takes on a universal form in singing, church leadership and program. Denominationalism follows the same pattern, be they Evangelical, Orthodox or Catholic. The indigenous church is more theory than reality.

The primary reason the indigenous church is not present is due to institutional reluctance. Rather than allowing new converts be followers of Jesus within their context as a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim, the institutional church insists that people be extracted from their cultural context as they embrace Christ as Lord. While it is important that people understand that Jesus is more than a prophet, guru or god, the insistence that seekers throw off the old to seize the new has become a barrier for many.

The insider movement promotes the notion that people become followers of Jesus within their context. Can a Hindu or Muslim be a follower of Christ without joining the institutional church? The debate continues with no clear answer. And, the debate is not new. The first church of Jerusalem believed that there were clear regulations the Gentile converts should follow in order to be included in the ecclesia (circumcision, following the Law). As the Gentile church grew they also created benchmarks for proper behavior of new believers (abstaining from meat offered to idols). As the institution grew, so too, did the requirements for new believers. The insider movement is only the latest threat to institutional thinking.

While that debate continues, the implications for those working within the institution are profound. What role does a church planter, native or foreign, have in fostering an insider movement? If they can’t baptize or build a building, what will they report to those who support them? If they cannot quantify their work will they have a role to play in the Great Commission? Probably not. The institutional church is uncomfortable with supporting someone taking the Gospel to those who will remain in their cultural and religious context. Secret believers will never gain legitimacy within the institutional body, therefore those who facilitate such activity face the same contempt.