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It’s time for new ways of being together

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A common theme emerges from the stories of families who have been members of the Mennonite Brethren church in
Canada for many years. These immigrants who fled persecution and war in Europe brought a vibrant Anabaptist faith and a
unique practice of Christianity that has been passed down the generations and now has shaped me – a child of immigrants
from Asia. I grew up as a committed Anglican, was exposed to a variety of expressions of Christian faith in university through IVCF, and am now MB. I have been deeply shaped by the blessing of an ecumenical faith experience.

But that experience has been mostly of a Western Christianity from the Global North.

In the last 100 years, the statistical centre of Christianity has shifted from the North to the South with the dramatic increase of Christ followers in Asia, Africa, and South America. “The world today is witnessing a post-Western awakening of
Christianity,” says Wesley Granberg-Michaelson; a shift as significant as the dynamic movement of the Christian faith
from Jerusalem to Antioch in the first century.

As migration patterns bring many people from these vibrant, non-Western churches to our communities, we have an
opportunity to receive a gift from God that will encourage and enliven us, and forever change the face of Western Christianity.

In his book From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church, Granberg-
Michaelson nurtures a biblical vision of the global church, in all its diversity, becoming unified to bring glory to God. He
describes the pilgrimage of the Christian faith as a journey that required both cultural shifts and local incarnation as it
expanded geographically.

From a small movement that started in Jerusalem, the practice and understanding of the Christian faith had to change when it extended to the Gentile city of Antioch. These changes have continued over the 2000-year, diverse development of
Christianity as it stretched out to encompass the globe.

A former director with the World Council of Churches and editor with Sojourners, Granberg-Michaelson draws from
personal experience, demographic trends, church history, missiology, and ecclesiology to make his case.

Unifying Christian witness

The vision of a unified global church starts at home in the life of the local congregation, he argues. Migration patterns are
bringing many faithful believers from non-Western churches to North American doorsteps. These believers contribute a
unique blend of enculturated, contextualized Christian practice; evangelical theology; Pentecostal Spirit-filled style; and social justice commitments. Many gather in ethnic, culture-specific churches in Canada and may even rent our sanctuaries after we have gone home for Sunday lunch.

With wisdom and gentleness, Granberg-Michaelson calls the Western church to embrace those God is bringing to us and
offers insightful suggestions to guide our local pilgrimage with newcomers from the global church. New ways of being are
needed for the future.

Vision for newcomers

I am challenged by the vision Granberg-Michaelson presents to look beyond personal spirituality and individual behaviours to consider how God is at work globally through his people.

In the midst of a declining Christian ethic and witness in our context, there is hope for the Canadian church – that we would be invigorated through embracing those who have migrated from the Global South.

We have an opportunity to deepen relationships with newcomers – within our congregations and conferences – to
learn from them and allow Jesus to change us together.

We are called to seek out those beyond our walls who have journeyed to our shores in search of a brighter future and to
walk with them into the future that Jesus has for a renewed Canadian church.

This will require generous hospitality, profound humility, and a willingness to let go of “the ways things are” – both personally and within church leadership structures.

We will have to learn new ways of being together in order to receive the fullness of what God desires for us.

It will require us to grow in intercultural intelligence, so we can move beyond multicultural communities (where there is simply a diversity of people present) to intercultural churches where a true oneness of God’s people is a credible witness to the world.

The future of Western Christianity will be shaped by Christians from the Global South, says Granberg-Michaelson. “How
Western Christianity responds will shape the global Christian witness” and is crucial to the fulfillment of God’s vision of the
church being his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The MB church in Canada was birthed by the migration of newcomers bringing with them a unique, rich Christian faith.
I look forward to the transformation that God will do in our communities as we embrace a new generation of pilgrims.

[Paul Chin is pastor of missional engagement at WMB Church, Waterloo, Ont., and an intercultural intelligence trainer. His  desire is to see people transformed as they participate in Jesus’ mission to all nations. A version of this article first appeared as a book review on mbherald.com.

See also

A unified global church starts at home

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