The View from Down Under: An Australian’s View of the American Church
9/23/15 in Missiology Conversations
By Andrew Scarborough, MAGL Student
Heart surgery is an interesting thing: painful, invasive, and yet crucial when a heart is not functioning properly. I’ve never heard of someone screaming at her surgeon after successful heart surgery. Yet if she were to wake up during heart surgery, she’d probably scream at the doctor, “Let go of my heart!” The process of reaching in and touching someone else’s heart is painful, but the outcome can be beautiful. Surgeons could be punched in the middle of surgery, but they are often thanked and hugged afterwards.
American Church, I’ve been with you for nearly two years, since moving from Australia as a missionary to this great land. I’d like to share a view I’m seeing of you—a view of your heart. Like a doctor can see what a patient can’t (or what he knows exists but may have avoided), sometimes a different perspective can be very helpful. My prayer is that as I share my views with you, it would be part of helping us identify what may be going on in the heart of the American Church in order to receive the heart change we may need. I believe it is time for some heart surgery.
When I look at the American Church, I see some wonderful things. I see outstanding generosity and hospitality. I’ve experienced this in abundance here. Sadly, however, I also see segregation and division that can no longer be ignored. When I first moved from Melbourne, Australia, to study in Pasadena, California, two things stood out to me.
The first thing were questions I got upon first meeting you. “What denomination are you a part of? Are you liberal or conservative? What is your view on this? What is your view on that?” And even, “What version of the Bible do you read?” I remember thinking, “This is new. I’d never encountered such questions in Australia.” I felt like people were trying to put me in a box, to categorize me to see if I was one of them.
“Down Under” we are much more post-Church than America. I’ve heard it said that only around 7 percent of Australians go to church regularly. When you meet an Australian Christian you don’t ask what denomination they are in; rather, you ask how they came to faith. Then you ask what God is doing in their life, and maybe even if they’d like to join you in reaching some people with the love of Jesus. You aren’t trying to figure out if they are for or against you. We often see it like this: if they are for Jesus, you’re on the same team and should behave so! And—if you meet someone who reads their Bible, you are thinking “awesome!” not “what version?”
When I tell you (American Christians) this, you often say, “Aren’t you worried about false theology, even cults!?” My answer is “No, not really. I’m more worried about people that don’t know Jesus.” I do care about these things; I just don’t spend so much time and energy worrying about them.
The second thing I noticed was how many different churches you have! On my first Sunday attending a church service here, I counted six different churches within half a mile of the church I was attending—four on just one short street. Each church was predominantly a different ethnicity from the other, and all appeared to be different denominations. More astounding than this was that when I asked the pastor of that church what the churches were doing together to impact their city for Jesus, I was told “nothing.”
Furthermore, when I asked the pastor of the neighbouring church about his interactions with the other pastors, he told me that I was the first pastor from another church in his area who had said “hi’ to him, and he had been on that street for seven years! He could even read the names of those pastors on their church signs from his church front door, and they could read his!
What a sad case it would be if it were a family living on the same street, so aware of each other and yet never talking or walking together. (Read that again and let it sink in.)
That’s right, it is a family living on the same street. When a segregated world looks at the church, do they see distinctly different disciples of Jesus, or do they see their reality reflected in ours?
John 13:35 says, “If the world wants to know that you are my [Christ’s] disciples, it should be clear for them to see that you are, because of the way that you love each other.”
In a day and age where people are crying “racist” from the streets, and where racial tensions can seem just as high as ever, the world needs to see this image of love for each other, regardless of denomination, race, politics, or preferences.
I’ve been learning so much lately at Fuller Theological Seminary about the unity that is sweeping through the church across the world. I can’t wait to hear your stories of how churches are working together and putting the second part of my view to shame! My prayer is that we would all be awakened to the call and activity of God on our lives as ONE amazing American Church.
I can’t wait to see what’s possible for us all as we make John 13:35 a reality!
– See this blog in it’s original form at: http://fuller.edu/Blogs/Global-Reflections/Posts/The-View-from-Down-Under–An-Australian-s-View-of-the-American-Church/#sthash.dZxkVznT.dpuf