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When I was a college student, my mentor and I had a conversation about the Lord calling me to be a pastor and to be trained for ministry. I told my mentor about my desire to have a better understanding of the Scriptures, how I wanted to learn rich theology and study church history. He was supportive, but cautious. Would my training for ministry get in the way of my relationship with Christ?

These dividing walls in the church still exist—between the head and the heart, between theologians and practitioners—and these walls must be torn down. I believe there is nothing more practical than learning theology. Here are some ideas that can help the church bridge the divide.

Every person who has ever lived has ideas and thoughts about God—even an atheist is a theologian. Do our thoughts and ideas about God conform to the pattern given to us in Scripture, or are they shaped according to our own concepts about God? Are we Christian theologians, or a different theologian altogether? Theology is not just for the spiritually elite, but for everyone.

For 1, years, the primary domain of theological formation was the local church. While I am grateful for seminary and scholarship, we must recover the local church as one of the primary conversation partners for theology. It had all seemed so straightforward back then. Janna had put in years of language study, and had built up a business that provided her with a role in the community and a visa. She had shared her life and faith as naturally and clearly as she was able with those around her, but it had been a long, hard slog and acutely discouraging for many years.

But times were changing. Recently, God had showed himself quite clearly to those who had looked for him. Dreams and visions, healings and deliverances, miraculous provision of food and funds—it was incredible.

Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil: Theology and Practice

And now two young people, Yeshe and Diki, were ready to publicly declare their faith through baptism. Janna had prepared them well as they studied what the Bible teaches about baptism. Now all that remained was to work out the practical details: who would conduct the baptism, where would it take place and who would attend. The young people wanted Janna, as their teacher, to baptise them.

But she refused. Should she try to invite a believer from another area? He would speak a different dialect though.

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What about a big city church leader? But the emerging local church was intended to be indigenous to this people group.

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So she put that problem aside for the moment. Where would the baptism occur? That would be simpler. Although it was summer, Yeshe and Diki were adamant that the river would be too cold. After all, the river was fed by glaciers. As every possibility was rejected, Janna realised that these new believers were terrified of going under water. She put that problem aside for the moment too.

Early Christianity and the Church: Controversy and a War of Theology

Who would the young believers like to invite to their baptism? Surely that would be simpler. Quickly Yeshe and Diki listed a few of their friends from Bible study. It was summer and the family would be on the plateau with the yak.

There was no point waiting until autumn because the family would be getting their winter homes sorted. Frustrated, Janna decided that it was best to leave the practical issues of their baptism with Yeshe and Diki. She was confident the important points—the theological truths embodied in baptism—were clearly understood.

It was their church that was at the brink of being birthed, and they must come up with their own contextualised way of conducting baptisms. They had a plan! Janna grinned. This is what it was all about—local people establishing Christian rites without foreign interference. First, they explained, they needed a Christian holy man. A foreign holy man would be okay too. Best of all would be a holy man from their own people group.

However, holy men were all Buddhists in this area. Perhaps Janna could connect them with a holy man. They were willing to travel far from home for the rite. They would actually prefer that because their families would be worried if they heard of them undergoing a non-Buddhist religious rite.

Theology & the Church After Google

Next, they described how they would like to be baptised. They had learned, as they researched the matter, that some churches would sprinkle new believers, especially if they were elderly or unwell. Sprinkling would suit them so much better. Yak milk would symbolise nurture and purity. Just as good Buddhists flick their drinks three times before consuming them, thus honouring the powers around them, so they hoped that a Christian holy man would flick yak milk over them three times in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Then the holy man would place a blessed white silk scarf around each of their necks and declare them Christians. The young people beamed. Janna frowned. Distant memories of that prize-winning essay flitted through her mind. The concept of power being contained in certain people and things reflected their Buddhist mindset. What was contextualisation and what was syncretism? Many workers have responded to this dilemma in different ways.

Some encourage local believers to make the decisions themselves, encouraging them to find locally appropriate ways of expressing their faith. God alone knows. The author is a researcher and language learner, serving people of Asia long term. Excited children spill into the dark street. Jammed together, perspiring, excited, these national friends exude the bonds of community and deeply forged friendships carved from the harshness of life in this province.

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As always, I struggle to process the disparities: the disproportionate in terms of effort encouragement our visits bring to these people; the tumbling piles of expensive clothes and toys left behind by departing expats to be shared among my national friends. Adin and Diwa represent to me all that is noble and good here. They have lived sacrificially for more than a decade here to help the people of this marginalised and repressed area. But, being nationals from another province, they are considered outsiders, mocked and discriminated against in employment and housing. Richly endowed with skills and caring hearts, Adin and Diwa teach organic gardening skills to their neighbours and friends.

Luscious strawberries and healthy vegetables grow in these gardens, enough to help feed their own family as they face the daily challenge of finding enough food. We too have lived in this province—harsh in climate and sanctions but so rich in glorious natural beauty. Memories of laughing faces and wet bodies still linger, reminders of our weekly retreat meetings with other expatriates.

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  7. What also lingers is the knowledge that few similar intentional events had existed for the national workers. What a golden opportunity for us to become a living example of the Father heart of God in caring for them.


    Our international team members loved being tasked with initiating regular gatherings for national workers. Monthly gatherings began at beaches or in homes. Families met for socialisation, de-briefing and prayer. Adults met for weekly networking. They had never experienced such encouragement before on a regular basis. Workers travelled from other cities; weekly meetings started in other locations. The model of member care lived out in situ was having the Richter effect, cascading out like the earth tremors we frequently felt. We now have a vision for a next step. Most expat workers have left the province and that lovely island retreat centre is no longer allowed to host such events.

    The love of Christ compels us to walk alongside our national friends to see the establishment in another location of a facility for gatherings, for rest and refreshment, for counsel and spiritual direction for the national workers who seek to bring light and hope to marginalised population groups. Imagine a national church that began just over 20 years ago after years of domination by a regime that forbade any form of religious belief and practice.