Not So Fast!

There is a need to explore a given culture in depth before elements from it are imported into worship. Christians need to understand, for example, the cultural meanings of an African tribal king’s hut before they use it as the model for a Christian church, or the Buddhist meaning of a pagoda before they use it as a Christian baptismal font. Christians need to understand the dynamics of the entertainment culture before they use a theater or an opera house as the model for a worship space. One of the leading proponents of contextualization in Africa says that “syncretism occurs when enthusiastic missionaries conduct a superficial adaptation in ignorance of the true meaning of cultural symbols.”

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Worship: Ecumencial Core and Cultural Context,” in Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 205

Worship & Culture 9

On the one side is the local, the particular cultural context of a given people, a given group of congregations. How can cultural richness be reflected in worship? What are the thought patterns and linguistic styles that should shape how prayers and sermons and liturgical texts are written? What aspects of indigenous music should find their way into hymns and other music in the church? What aspects of the aesthetics, the artistic styles, the symbol systems, the architectural prototypes in a given culture should be reflected in the rooms in which worship takes place? What gestures and postures from the culture can be meaningfully incorporated into Christian worship? What are the cultural manifestations of gathering into a community, of offering hospitality, of expressing reverence? All of this can be termed localization, or contextualization, or inculturation.

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Christian Worship: Toward Localization and Globalization,” in Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, ed., Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 41

Worship & Culture 4

Worship needs not only to reflect the local, but also the wider Christian community. The God whom Christians worship is transcendent and transcultural, and there is no point in substituting one form of cultural captivity for another. No one cultural form can do justice to the God of the whole cosmos. One fruit of contextualization efforts is that worship resources from one cultural setting can be shared around the world.

—S Anita Stauffer, ” Christian Worship: Toward Localization and Globalization,” in
Worship and Culture  Foreign Country or Homeland?, ed. Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, 41

A Happy Medium?

There are dangers in both extreme ends of this authenticity-relevance continuum. The danger on the authenticity end  is that worship can become culturally irrelevant, out of touch, meaningless; on the other end of the spectrum, the relevance end, the danger is that worship can become captive to a given culture, isolated from the whole church of Christ, and, at the worst, syncretistic through becoming detached from Christian roots.

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Christian Worship: Toward Localization and Globalization,” in Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, ed., Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 40