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Difference Can Make Us Mo’ Betta

Modernity has made flexibility very difficult and openness to fundamental change a thing to be distrusted. Modernity is a “ringing in our ears” cautioning us against the slippery slope of compromise, relativism, liberalism, and loss of “absolutes.”

I am not advocating for an unqualified quagmire of religions beliefs, but stand committed to a historic and orthodox Biblical faith. I agree with the well researched perspective offered by Dr. Phillip Jenkins, in his book, The Next Christendom, who writes, “For the foreseeable future, though, the dominant current in emerging world Christianity is traditionalist, orthodox and supernatural.”

Humility, acknowledging our total incompleteness without others, and valuing difference as an expression of the Father are some of the keys. Pride will cause us to remain stuck, isolated, and at a great loss of the value that difference brings into our lives. Will we fall into the dangerous trap of thinking our beliefs are reflective of an “unadulterated” kind of doctrinal purity that must then be defended against the “cheap grace” or “syncretistic” movements trying to compromise the “true gospel” as we understand it?

Can we find the grace of God to presume upon each other’s good will and covet the best for each other?

Dr. Sanneh makes a truly far-out statement when he says, “Difference is a test of the willingness to presume on each other’s goodwill and to covet the best for each other. If you feel the need to conceal what you believe for fear of difference, then dialogue becomes just a show, and agreement an illusion. Indeed, agreement by concealment is intolerance by another name, if truth be told.”

In my ministry among First Nations people, we are difference-multiplied. We have the influence of the historical church traditions and denominations which are both empowering and subverting our indigenous labors; we are Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Mennonite, Episcopal, etc., Native believers. We are more than 800 tribes in the in US and Canada alone. We are traditional, urban, full-blood, mixed-blood, assimilated, holding on, enduring, growing, mother-tongue speakers, becoming stronger, contextual, old school, conservative, living on the reservation, powwow people, hassled, rejected, marginalized, forgotten and not giving up.

Add to our differences the fact that the dominant culture church has, without prejudice, allowed it’s issues and “distinctives” to flow down to our communities from their religious institutions to foster among our Native Christian leaders the same kind of competitiveness, territorialism, insecurity, woundedness, envy with others success and suspiciousness that we see so prevalent in the North American church. Because we have flesh, we possess the inescapable capacity and tendency toward all of these same human frailties.

Whoever you are, unless we prevail upon the mercy of God through repentance, crying out for forgiveness, and seeking reconciliation with those whom we have broken fellowship with over our differences, then we stand in danger of simply becoming a microcosm of a fractured and highly “individualized” North American church. And I suspect my brothers and sisters in other lands face a similar challenge. This is not our legacy nor destiny in the Kingdom.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2005

About the Author: Richard L. Twiss, Tayoate Ob Najin “He Stands with his People” (1954-2013), D.Miss. (Asbury Theological Seminary), was a Lakota follower of the Jesus Way. In February 1997, Richard and his wife, Katherine, founded the non-profit ministry of Wiconi International. Through Wiconi, Richard and Katherine touched the lives of many thousands of people. Richard also co-founded NAIITS (North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies), he was chairman of the board for My People International, a member of the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association), and co-founder of Evangelicals4Justice. He was the author of One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You (Chosen, 2000), which the Lord continues to use to reach many people with the message of an inculturated faith in Jesus. Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way (IVP) was published posthumously in June 2015.

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