One of the really cool things about my job is the learning of a new culture. I have enjoyed going to weddings and funerals and all kinds of important life events here in Middle Earth. I know the Culture of Gondor better than most other Westerners on this planet and yet, I am still learning new things all the time. No matter how much I know I am still not a man of Gondor. I am an outsider. I must be yet a learner.
One of the great challenges of a new Christian community is how to behave in their culture. We are no longer 'of the world' but we are still in it. Years ago missionaries came to new cultures and by way of converting them to 'Christianity' the missionaries would teach them to read and write, wear Western clothes and reject all local traditions that the missionary did not understand. We have come a long way in our understanding of the Gospel in culture since then. Well, some of us have.
Eomer is becoming a great man of God. I have known him for eight years now and I have seen God work miraculously to take him from a self-centered materialistic guy to become a true saint. His influence has expanded in the Church here in Gondor and he has especially become an expert on how to have a Christian family while still living in a broken and lost community. Recently, he was asked to officiate a wedding between two believers in a town just south of Minas Tirith where we live. There had been a couple of weddings between believers before but no one was very pleased with how everything came off. You see, some of the more traditional groups teach that if you will have a Christian wedding then you can do none of the cultural things that are so important to the locals. Many Christian couples leave their community and get married rejecting their parents and shaming their families. For some, if you do not do the traditions then in the eyes of the community you are not really married and are living in adultery. In the eyes of the traditional Church all the cultural things are 'Islamic' and to do them is to compromise your faith.
Eomer was convinced that with a lot of input, and a lot prayer he could devise a Christian wedding that would satisfy the onlooking Muslim community. Two weeks ago we went to a truly wonderful event. Two young believers from different Churches were married in a very culturally traditional ceremony. Eomer brought in an older man from a different town and he dressed in traditional clothes. This man was a pastor but when the Muslim Grandfather of the bride saw him he exclaimed, 'Oh, This is going to be a proper wedding!' He knew his daughter was a believer and had assumed that she would not get 'properly' married. The older man came in and gave a blessing. Then the two families broke bread- which is the official engagement ceremony. The pastor then took a cup of water and said a prayer. He read a verse of scripture from the Holy Book about how Jesus offers us living water and then they all drank from the cup. This essentially 'baptized' a very folk Islamic practice. It was interesting to me that they baptized several of these kinds of practices but other practices they refused to do. In the end all the Muslim onlookers were satisfied that these two young people were officially married and all the Believers rejoiced to have a wedding that fit in their culture and yet lifted up Jesus. We danced, sang, and partied all day.
A week later one of the women who were there went to her pastor here in Minas Tirith. She was to be married in a couple of weeks and she wanted to do the same kind of wedding. Her pastor- a European man- said no. All cultural practices were Islamic and any compromise with them was a compromise of the Gospel. This young lady is from a village and she said that if she is married in a 'Western' wedding then she can never go home again. That was irrelevant. Her future husband backed the pastor and so she went to her father to see what he would say. He was surprisingly understanding. He knew she was a Christian and would do things differently. He asked only that they keep one tradition. Could one man from their village go to the breaking of bread ceremony and receive promises from the grooms family that they will treat the bride well. The pastor's answer was an unequivocal no. This was a 'Muslim' practice and they would not compromise. She came to me in tears asking if I could intervene. I told her that I could not. This guy has never listened to me before and he will not now. I told her no matter what she did she was always welcome in my office and our house. This meant a lot to her as she was facing two groups who were willing to reject her forever for making the wrong decision. She will get married two weeks from now. When she does she will never be able to go home again. I wish I could say this was for standing up for her faith but I am afraid that actually she will be banned from her village and her family forever for standing up for European culture. To me, that is a pretty sorry thing to be persecuted for. It is easy for me to see how this European pastor is blowing it. It is less easy to see all the ways that I am yet blowing it. Lord, give us wisdom to proclaim the Gospel- and nothing else.