The Apostle Paul wrote: "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
This week (Friday 3rd June) sees the centenary of the death of James Hudson Taylor, missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission, whose ripples still wash over the globe today: when the Communists ordered all missionaries out of China in the 1950's, CIM missionaries went to the Chinese peoples living in neighbouring South East Asian nations; then - renamed the Overseas Missionary Fellowship - to non-Chinese Asians; and increasingly - re-renamed as OMF International - to the Asian diaspora living in the West as well...
Although Hudson Taylor is widely considered a Hero of the Faith and a Giant in the History of Mission today, during his lifetime he was misunderstood and ridiculed by many back in England, not least for choosing to wear Chinese dress, including having the top of his head shaved and a ponytail at the back. In part his decision was in order to overcome west/east cultural barriers to communicating the gospel, choosing to identify with - and be identified with, not least by his critics - those he had been sent to; and in part it expressed a recognition that the Chinese did not need to become English in order to become Christian, but needed to establish a culturally indigenous expression of Christianity. According to his writings, it was not a light or easy decision; but it was the right decision - to embrace incarnational mission. I think I also recall that he told his missionaries to learn the local dialects by hard graft, as opposed to asking God to give them Pentecost-like grace in communication, because in the (at times deeply humiliating) process they would grow to love the Chinese people at a far deeper level.
Challenges to my parents' generation:
1. Don't Paul's words sound like wishy-washy, pick-and-mix, no-absolute-truth, anything-goes, pandering-to-Postmodern faith to you? (And if not, then please don't accuse us of these things.)
2. Where we engage in incarnational mission to Postmodern cultures, affirming the good (including creativity in dress and language) and seeking to challenge the less-than-good from the inside (seeking to see it transformed with the vested interest of an insider) rather than from the outside (passing judgement on others) are you the inheritors of Hudson Taylor, or of his critics?
3. Have you stepped back from the adventure of faith in God Who Until Now Has Always Helped Us and Will Provide that you so admire in Hudson Taylor?
Challenges to my generation:
1. Are we (increasingly) so under Christ's law that we are (increasingly) free from any other law (whether it be church tradition, or material security, or popular culture, or Postmodern philosophy, or what is acceptable to our society, or...)?
2. Do we recognise that the burden of mission is for us to go into the world and take on their humanity for the sake of the gospel; or are we content to remove ourselves from the world and require of them to take on our likeness? (And if we believe the former, what are we going to do about it?)
3. Are we prepared to learn from those who have gone before us, and to apply to our mission contexts the principle of utter abandonment of self up to total dependence on God that men such as Hudson Taylor owned?