(Developing Christian Behaviours for New Sociological Environments)

By Kevin White, Hamilton, New Zealand.

For this article I have borrowed the title of a West End production from 40 years ago. It seemed so appropriate to the dilemma being faced by many of our brothers and sisters in developing countries around the world. Although the context of my writings is being taken out of my interaction with Papua New Guinea (PNG) churches, any person involved in the development of peoples in other countries will relate to what I am saying. The context is the immense change that people have had to face and embrace in the last 60 years as their countries have been impacted by the advance of Western and South East Asian worlds. It is as though the world is changing so fast; we cannot keep up and want to opt out. I think the first Governor General of PNG, Sir Maori Kiki, captured it well in the title of his Autobiography, "Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime." Kiki lived a relatively short lifetime, 31 years, it seemed for him like he had lived a thousand years, such was the level of changed he had to accommodate. When working with our brothers and sisters, we are concerned about the level of change required as they move more and more into an economy that is commercially orientated and business related. Within sixty years, they have moved from illiterate, subsistence living, to high levels of English literacy, commercial understanding and leadership of churches, families and communities in a 21st century world. My heart goes out to my brothers and sisters and I continually think of how we, the initiators of such change can now contribute to their needs. There are some wonderful responses being made. These responses are increasingly coming from the children of our pioneering missionaries who are returning to areas where their parents preached the Good News, with concerns for the issues and providing help to initiate appropriate development. They are seeking to work with rural and urban communities to develop sustainable means of addressing social issues for the benefit of new generations. This article is to help us all enter into the immense challenges being faced and will highlight some of these challenges for prayer and financial support.

At the heart of change is the need to maintain an appropriate Christian behavior. This is clearly an inherent part of Biblical revelation and therefore a thread that we find running through Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation we find instruction that steers our lives towards that which is right, good and honouring to God. The English word 'Ethics' means, 'the way we ought to conduct our lives'. Ephesians 4:17-32, talks about the 'new life in Christ Jesus' and we are all called in verse 24, "to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (ESV)". This "new self" is to be "put on" for all areas of our lives; there is no dichotomy between church life, family life and business life.

Our missionary colleagues with our indigenous brothers and sisters have been exceedingly blessed with success in the propagation and multiplication of hundreds of local churches in PNG. Evangelism and church planting is not in question in this article. What we are writing about is the challenges of moving on in the development of people who can lead the churches in this new era and take advantage of the commercial climate to sustain their spirituality and business acumen for a healthy future. Christian ethics in all areas of behavior is at the heart of moving forward, whether it is for relief, for development of business and communities or for social reform. How we live (ethics), is a powerful way to authenticate our Christianity, our 'daily worship'. When our lives display the ethics of love, we validate our Christian identity (John 13:34-35), the way we live brings glory to God (Matt 5:16) and the way we live is an effective means of Christian witness and evangelism (1 Peter 2:11-12). Helping our brothers and sisters discover and practice appropriate Christian behaviours within their own cultural and sociological contexts, is part of the journey ahead.

For me personally and I believe for all of us, is the need to integrate the characteristics' of Christian behaviour into every compartment of our lives, both private and public. In Christian living there is no such thing as sacred and secular, all is to be done to the glory of God. Biblical ethics touches belief and conduct (Rom 12:1-2), faith and works (James 1:27). All these are set in the framework of our flagship passage in Ephesians 4. It is a new life in Christ, a wholly new identity. We consider this in our context, the development of Christian leaders who have an understanding and ability to lead their people who live in a hugely different social environment. People who live as, urbanites among all the "bright lights" and subtle temptations, people facing the pressures and demands of commercial and industrial production and people studying leading edge technology and academic philosophies and theories in tertiary institutes. Pastors and Bible teachers, often struggling with the level of English and theological hermeneutics to feed graduates from universities and people from the business world. This is even a challenge for church workers and mentors in the minority (Western) world. What this highlights is the need for churches in the minority world to send their best-prepared and relevantly skilled people to serve in these countries. The churches in PNG do not need 'missionaries' to 'do' evangelism, but they need Bible teachers able to teach within a cultural context and mentor church pastors and leaders, business people able to mentor managers and provide seed funding as well as trade and commercial skills trainers to develop workplace skills.

Finally, this 'new life' is to be lived within and in ways that identify with their own cultural patterns. Like all of us, we live our lives primarily within the patterns of our culture. Our cultural characteristics are engrained at the deepest level of our being and determine our worldview. When we inherit new life in Christ through faith by grace, that old life is redeemed and over a period of time, some of those cultural traits, are discontinued or change, because they don't line up with our new creation. This does not mean that our existing culture values are rejected but there is a radical assessment and a measurement in the light of God's kingdom truth. This may require the discontinuation or replacement of a practice and the expression of Christian ethics in cultural ways.

The way ahead will involve the development of people able to:

  • become skilled church workers, whether they be pastors, elders or youth leaders;
  • manage and supervisor businesses and commercial enterprises;
  • develop trade, agricultural and farming skills;
  • prepare business proposals, obtain seed funding and develop markets;
  • negotiate with multinationals wanting access to their resources.

The transitions between what we have now and the dawning of new opportunities that we can envision will require fundamental changes in people's mindset and behaviour. Whether we like it or not these are also linked with political, business and technological developments.

This is a massive task yet with the partnership of God's people in New Zealand and Australia and the underpinning power of God, the potential is inviting and we will want to 'jump on board' and 'keep going'. These are exciting times as we move forward loving others and seeking to protect the weak and vulnerable

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