Scott Aniol: How the Gospel Changes Culture

One of a missionary’s most challenging issues is what kind of music to use as they plant indigenous churches. Two extremes exist: on the one hand are missionaries who simply impose American musical forms on the foreign church; on the other hand are those who indiscriminately adopt the forms of the native culture in their worship.

Several years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to speak at a conference in Curitiba, Brazil. While there, I spent some time talking with a man named Rober (pronounced ”HO-ber”), who grew up in the Tikuna tribe in the Amazon jungles, and my conversation with him proved very helpful in answering this difficult question.

Christian missionaries reached Rober’s tribe about a generation ago. Prior to that, the Tikuna’s culture was filled with rites, ceremonies, and music that communicated their values of spiritism, witchcraft, and other expressions of paganism. When the missionaries first arrived, they witnessed a young girl endure a rite of passage ceremony in which all of her hair was plucked out. This ceremony was accompanied by days of drunken orgy, drumming, and ritual music. Such was the Tikuna’s indigenous culture. (You can read about one of the first missionary’s work with the Tikunas in Port of Two Brothers by Paul L. Schlener.)

I asked Rober if the missionaries imposed their culture upon the tribal people. His answer was simple: No, the missionaries did not change their culture; the culture of the Tikuna tribes was changed by the gospel. He said, “Little by little we realized that our culture did not fit with what the gospel teaches.”

After the gospel permeated Tikuna culture, the villages that were “Christianized” saw marked changes. They began to dress differently. Their music, rites, and ceremonies changed. Rober said they still observe some of the holidays that they once did, but these days are now treated more as times to instruct their children about the kinds of things they used to do and how things are different now. Their old culture was an expression of their pagan value systems; the gospel changed their values, and therefore their culture changed.

This real life example flies in the face of popular missiologists’s definition of “contextualization” today. Did the missionaries contextualize? Well, certainly. They converted the Tikuna language into a written form and translated the Bible. They didn’t make the Indians wear suits to church, although their dress certainly changed. They communicated the gospel to the Tikuna culture, and as a result, their culture changed. Ironically, some may say that those changes look “western” or “European.”

But this doesn’t mean everything changed. Certain kinds of weaving and jewelry craft continue to this day. Rober said he believes it is actually the Christianized villages that are really preserving the wholesome “folk” culture of the Tikuna’s, not the un-Christian villages. The pagan villages are forgetting these beautiful artistic skills because they are enamored by another kind of culture, a truly imperialist kind: pop culture.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Scott Aniol