Many churches in Myanmar are ethno-culturally defined and predominantly consist of people from a single ethnic group. This strong ethno-linguistic demarcation creates a significant obstacle for other ethno-linguistic groups to join. In order for Christians in Myanmar to make a significant impact in this largely Buddhist country, the church may need to rethink its strong ethnic identity and embrace a more inclusive ecclesiology.

Arend van Dorp has lived in Asia since 1987. After serving for thirteen years in church-planting and pastoral leadership training based in Thailand, he became involved in leading mission teams in neighbouring countries, and lived in Myanmar from 2014 to 2020. He recently completed his DMin with Fuller Theological Seminary. His doctoral project, titled “Ethnic Diversity and Reconciliation: A Missional Model for the Church in Myanmar,” seeks to explore how churches in Myanmar could become more open and welcoming to the Buddhist majority in the country. Arend and his wife Jolinda are currently on furlough in the Netherlands, preparing for a new task equipping “the next generation”, through mentoring and training young people preparing to serve in mission. Arend and Jolinda have three adult children.

arend-van-dorp

The Case for Multi-Ethnic Churches in Multi-Cultural Myanmar[1]

Mission Round Table Vol. 15 No. 3 (Sep-Dec 2020)

Missionary work in Myanmar has seen limited response among the Bamar (ethnic Burmese) people, while the minorities have shown much greater openness and receptivity. Thus, the church in Myanmar is overwhelmingly made up of ethnic minority people. Moreover, many churches are ethno-culturally defined and predominantly consist of people from a single ethnic group. This strong ethno-linguistic demarcation of Myanmar churches creates a significant obstacle for other ethno-linguistic groups to join. This tendency also clashes with an understanding of the church as a universal body of believers from diverse ethnic, social, and cultural backgrounds.

This cultural makeup of many churches makes it difficult for Bamar converts to integrate within a church. Whereas in the larger society they occupy a dominant and privileged position, in the church they often find themselves marginalized and in a minority position. In order for Christians in Myanmar to make a significant impact in this largely Buddhist country, the church may need to rethink its strong ethnic identity and embrace a more inclusive ecclesiology.

Christianity as Western import in Myanmar

While Buddhism has dominated Myanmar for more than fifteen centuries, Christianity appeared only some three hundred years ago with the arrival of Portuguese and other traders. Although the earliest Protestant missionaries (particularly Adoniram and Ann Judson) arrived in Burma before the military incursions of the British army, missionary progress and setbacks were to a large extent connected with the advance of the colonial powers. While the staunchly nationalistic Burmans strongly resented the foreign domination of their country, some of the minorities, such as the Karen, were much less antagonistic, possibly due to the better conditions they experienced under the British. In turn, the British tended to get along better with the Karen, entrusting them with responsibilities they had never been given before.

mrt-15.3-judson-baptist-church-in-mandalay

Their relative openness to the gospel resulted in numerous conversions and the establishment of a multitude of churches both in the delta region and in the hill country.[2] One unintended consequence of the conversion of ethnic minorities and their close interaction with the foreign missionaries was the perception among the Burmans that the Christians had somehow sold their Burmese heritage to the foreigners.[3] It is not unusual to hear Buddhist people refer to the “Three M’s” when discussing the foreign influences in Myanmar. When asked to explain, they commonly point out that “first came the Merchants, who robbed our country, then came the Military who occupied our land, and on their coattails came the Missionaries, who tried to undermine our religion.” Colonization has thus been a mixed blessing for the church. While it opened the door for missionaries to enter the country and proclaim the gospel, it also attached a foreign stigma to the Christians that continues to the present day.

The church as religious minority in Myanmar

Despite over two hundred years of Protestant mission work in Myanmar, still only a small minority of the Myanmar population consider themselves to be Christians.[4] Moreover, the vast majority of Christians belong to the country’s ethnic minorities, predominantly the Karen, Kachin, and Chin. In effect, Christians in Myanmar have a minority status in a double sense. First, they comprise a small religious community, and secondly, they form a religious community consisting almost entirely of ethnic minority people.

Bamar Buddhist ideology is closely linked with national identity and nationalist rhetoric. Therefore, Christians often experience serious disadvantages in social, educational, and professional areas.[5] When applying for permission to build or expand a church, they often encounter significant obstacles. In rural areas, churches regularly face opposition and harassment from Buddhist monks who seek to curb or restrict Christian activities in their area. Besides a general and widespread dislike towards Christianity as a foreign religion, this perspective also reveals a disdain of Christians as members of “ethnic minority groups whom the Burmans regard as ethically inferior to them.”[6] Naturally, such attitudes have not contributed to the acceptance and integration of Christians in Myanmar society and the colonial legacy has not helped the church to win a hearing among the Bamar. This prevalent suspicion and negative view of the Christian minority forms a significant obstacle in the mission of the church to communicate its message to the Buddhist community in Myanmar.

mrt-15.3-pagoda-in-yangon-compressed

These outside challenges are further compounded by internal hurdles, such as the attitude of Christians towards Buddhists and adherents of other religions. It is not uncommon to hear Christians expressing strongly negative feelings towards Buddhists in particular, which is not surprising given the prejudices and treatment they have faced in this Bamar-dominated society. Many Christians have suffered deeply for their faith at the hands of Burmese Buddhists.[7] Their intense pain simply surpasses the desire to reach out with the gospel message of reconciliation.

Denominational divisions—an obstacle for witness

Even a perfunctory survey of the Christian community in Myanmar will quickly reveal the large number of Christian organizations and institutions, often separated along ethnic and linguistic lines. The Yangon Directory for Church and Christian Ministries lists over one hundred Bible schools, seminaries, and training centers in Yangon alone, as well as over seventy orphanages, and this list is almost certainly not exhaustive.[8] Most denominations, including the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) are divided along ethnic lines into Chin, Kayin Pwo, Kayin Sgaw, Akha, Lisu, Kachin, Lahu, Mon, Tamil, Shan, and Wa.

One factor behind the proliferation of different institutions is the vast number of languages and dialects in use throughout Myanmar. It is a widely observed phenomenon that people prefer to gather with those who share their language and customs. Yet, many ethnic churches in Yangon worship in the Burmese language, so clearly there are factors beyond language involved in these divisions. One observer attributed the abundance of small independent entities to the proliferation of foreign-funded initiatives. As Christians worldwide became aware of the needs in Myanmar, they stepped in to support local initiatives. This has led to the establishment of many independent or semi-independent churches, sometimes loosely aligned with a denomination, but without much accountability, as the finances continue to come from foreign partners.

The church and the challenge of reconciliation

Ever since gaining independence from British rule, and most likely much longer, Myanmar has been plagued by internal strife.[9] Seventy years since independence, Myanmar is still experiencing armed conflict with several ethnic armed organizations (EAO), especially in the north and east of the country. The roots of these conflicts have variously been identified as ethnic, religious, and as an identity issue.

Summarizing the conviction of many ethnic people in Myanmar, David Steinberg makes the following observations on the issues dividing the majority Bamar people from the other ethnic groups. The Burman people are prejudiced against the minorities and consider them to be less civilized. The coercive power of the state is in the hands of the Burman leadership and through their overwhelming dominance in the state and the military apparatus, the Burman leadership has used its power to further erode and reduce the autonomy of the minorities. Although some autonomy for the minorities was retained during colonial rule and further promises were made under the first constitution (and the Panglong agreement), this has never been fulfilled. Another grievance relates to the fact that the profits from exploitation of natural resources in minority areas have not been adequately shared and the minorities have been deprived of economic development. Finally, the minorities have been denied the right of education in their native language.[10]

This is not the place to undertake a major investigation into the various causes and backgrounds of the frictions in Myanmar society. The aim here is to consider the church’s place and responsibility in this ongoing tragedy. In this regard, it may be illuminating to compare conditions in Myanmar with the situation in Malaysia. Peter Rowan, in his dissertation “Proclaiming the Peacemaker: The Malaysian Church as an Agent of Reconciliation in a Multicultural Society,” examines the role the Malaysian church may play in overcoming the divisions in that society. While there are significant differences in the religious, political, and social circumstances of the two countries, there are also some remarkable similarities. Referring to events surrounding the Japanese invasion of Malaysia during the Second World War, Rowan observes that the occupying Japanese gave preferential treatment to the majority population, while the minorities resisted the new imperial conquerors. “In contrast to their treatment of the Chinese, the Japanese adopted a pro-Malay stance, thereby causing much resentment among Chinese towards the Malays.”[11] Similarly, in Myanmar, the independence movement led by Aung San welcomed the Japanese as liberators from the British colonial administration, while most of the other ethnic groups opposed and resisted the occupation by the Japanese forces. The opposing stances of these various ethnic groups in Myanmar were both symptomatic of, and aggravated by, the hostility that has marked inter-ethnic relations since then. Likewise, the identity of Malay Muslims is inextricably linked with Islam as their religion, in the same way that many in Myanmar consider Buddhism the axiomatic identity marker for the Bamar.[12]

Rowan identifies three challenges for the churches in Malaysia. To start with, Christian churches are generally associated with the colonial past. Rowan points out that “Hwa Yung has warned of the serious consequences if churches continue to ‘cling on to patterns of Western or other non-indigenous forms of Christianity.’”[13] Secondly, Christian churches feel threatened by the steady process of Islamization. Rowan presents a list of restrictions on Christian activities, which closely parallels the conditions in Buddhist Myanmar.[14] Thirdly, the Christian church exists as a multi-ethnic community in a divided society. Rowan encourages the church to cultivate “positive inter-ethnic relations, building relationships of trust with the other faith communities, paying close attention to the attitude and manner in which Christian evangelism and mission are carried out.”[15] Quoting Robert Hunt, he notes that “the Christian community is the only community in Malaysia that has no single dominant ethnic component, and which embraces all ethnic groups.”[16]

Having said that, Rowan concedes that “although the multi-ethnic make-up of the Malaysian church has the advantage of spanning the ethnic divides, the churches are in reality segregated both in their local congregational expression as well as in their organizational, denominational structures.”[17]

Despite obvious differences, it will be readily apparent that the Christian community in Myanmar shares many of the challenges identified in Malaysia. The association of the church with the colonial administration, the pressure of “Burmanization” on the Christian community, and the ethnic diversity of the church in a divided society, have all been factors affecting the position and conditions facing the church in Myanmar. As in Malaysia, the Christian community needs to consider these questions: What role has the church played in working towards a united society in Myanmar? How do Myanmar Christians approach the question of national identity? Given the social plurality of religions in its society, how can the church in Myanmar be committed both to the proclamation of the gospel and to being an agent for reconciliation in a divided country?

Immanuel Baptist Church, Yangon
Immanuel Baptist Church, Yangon

The church in Myanmar faces two main kinds of division. First, it is suffering from division along ethnic and denominational lines internally. Second, it is confronted by the larger separation between the different religions and ethnicities nationally. In order to engage the schisms in society-at-large, the church will first need to address its own divisions and partitions. The largest protestant denomination, the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC), is divided along ethnic divisions. Most other churches (including non-denominational ones) also tend to attract members mostly from one particular ethnic group, regardless of whether this is intentional or not. Instead of demonstrating the diversity of churches in this country, however, this reality expresses their fragmentation, which has resulted in separating and isolating various ethnicities and faith traditions from one another. While it is undoubtedly easier for people from similar backgrounds to come together and build faith communities, there is beauty and fragrance in seeing individuals and groups from different cultures and ethnicities meeting together to worship the One God and Creator of all humankind.[18]

The second issue concerns the separation, at times spilling over into antagonism, between the different ethnicities in society. As the church is largely partitioned along ethnic lines, this also has an impact on how Christians relate (or not) to those from other ethnic groups. The problematic nature of inter-ethnic relations therefore has serious ramifications for the missional role of the church. Decades of ethnic strife have created an atmosphere of mistrust, bitterness, and alienation toward the dominant Bamar Buddhists. Their nationalist ideology, combined with religious supremacy, has left many Christians feeling betrayed and marginalized. Among Karen and Kachin believers in particular, many have strong feelings of bitterness toward the Bamar ethnic majority. This strong resentment has created major obstacles for Christians to have a significant missional impact among their Buddhist fellow citizens.

mrt-15.3-offering-at-temple-myanmar

Biblical-theological reflections on the church

The church is one body in Christ (Romans 12:3–8)

Of all the New Testament images of the church, one of the most powerful is Paul’s portrayal of the church as the body of Christ. When Jesus spoke about his body, it was always in reference to his physical body in connection with the Last Supper (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19). Paul, however, broke new ground when he introduced the image of the church as the body of Christ. While the idea of a community of people as a body was not unknown in the apostolic era, it was Paul who applied it specifically to the church as a community.[19] In 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:29, Paul speaks of the body of Christ to refer to the sacrament of the cup and bread, concluding that “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 11:17, ESV). Thus, Paul uses this image to emphasize the essential unity of the church as forming one body.

Similarly, in Romans 12, he employs the same image to indicate unity within the body of Christ—the church—in all its diversity. While acknowledging that a body is composed of different members, each with individual functions, he underlines that together they form one body in Christ (Rom 12:5). Moreover, Paul adds that “individually [they are] members of one another” (Rom 12:5). This unity in diversity connects the members to Christ and to one another. It seems significant that Paul repeatedly addressed this issue of the unity of the body in the face of diversity within congregations. Here in Romans he urges each believer to “not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Rom 12:3), obviously because some members were tempted to look down on others.

In 1 Corinthians 12, he addresses the same issue from different angles. First, he speaks to those who feel overlooked, as if they do not belong to the body (1 Cor 12:15–16). Next, he confronts those who consider themselves superior and want to exclude others who they deem less important or valuable (1 Cor 12:17). He then makes it clear that “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Cor 12:18). There is therefore no excuse in Paul’s mind for either excluding oneself or others from the body of Christ. All members are valuable and indispensable. The church as the body of Christ is not a uniform, homogeneous group of people, but there is a basic, foundational unity—organic and integrated, a unity in diversity. This heterogeneous or composite unity is what enables the church to display “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:10) to this world.[20] Through reconciled relationships and mutual submission, church members can experience true oneness within the body of Christ without losing their uniqueness.

Christ has removed the barriers (Ephesians 2:11–22)

At first glance, it may seem that Ephesians 2 addresses similar themes to those found in Romans 12, i.e. the unity of believers in the church. However, Paul here approaches the subject from a different perspective. Although he does speak about Jewish and Gentile Christians being brought together through Christ, he employs a number of ideas besides “one body.” Here he emphasizes the image of “one new man in place of the two” (Eph 2:15), of coming together in one household (Eph 2:19), and of being built into a temple (Eph 2:21).

First, however, Paul focuses on the fact that non-Jews used to be “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). As uncircumcised people, they remained outsiders and had no prospect of fellowship with God. Paul does specify here that he is talking about the outward circumcision “in the body” (Eph 2:11), but the implication is that what really matters is circumcision of the heart.[21] Verses 14–18 form a parenthetical section focusing on the peace and reconciliation brought by Jesus Christ, after which Paul resumes the theme of the Gentiles no longer being “excluded and foreigners.” But first, in verses 14–18, he elaborates on Jesus as Peacemaker, who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility that stood between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14).[22] According to Leslie Mitton, this wall of hostility should be interpreted metaphorically, as an attitude of the heart “which holds apart whole communities of people in suspicion and hatred of one another … It was this hostility, firmly implanted in human hearts, which Christ had melted away, so that Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile, found themselves knit together in a new and unbelievable friendship.”[23] The result is that Christ created “one new humanity out of the two,” thus reconciling the two both to God and to one another, thereby removing—putting to death—the hostility (Eph 2:15–16). This act of creating a new community—incorporating former enemies—is further elaborated in verse 17, where Paul underscores that Christ has brought peace both to “you who were far away”—the Gentiles—and “peace to those who were near”—the Jews. The next verse makes it even clearer that there is no more distinction between the two groups, “for through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Eph 2:18). Clearly, in God’s new humanity, there is full equality among believers, whatever their background.

After this short intermezzo, Paul returns to the topic addressed in verses 12–13, the end of alienation and separation of the Gentiles. In verse 19, he announces to the Gentile believers that “you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” This is an extraordinary declaration in view of their traditional separation from the Jewish people. From now on they belong together in one house of which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, a building that “rises to become a holy temple” (Eph 2:21). In the final verse, Paul develops the image even further. Not only do the believers together form a temple, in Christ they are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). Paul’s theology is both groundbreaking and thoroughly Trinitarian. It establishes that God has expanded his covenant with Israel to include all nations, regardless of ethnic origin, circumcision or non-circumcision, and even without regard to prior compliance with the law, as Paul asserts in verse 15. By the blood of Christ, God has established a new humanity, a spiritual community. Instead of being an exclusive single-ethnicity, the church is meant to be an open, inclusive, welcoming, multi-ethnic community, brought and held together by Christ, its head and cornerstone.

The Communion of the Apostles by James Tissot. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 24 x 34.3 cm. Brooklyn Museum, purchased by public subscription, https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/13470.

Our unity sends a message to the world (John 13:34–35)

The previous two passages have focused on the essence and composition of the church as understood by the apostle Paul. We now turn our attention to Jesus’ view of the church, not primarily to examine its nature or internal make-up, but more specifically, how it is supposed to function in everyday life. Shortly before his arrest and trial, Jesus spent the last few hours with his disciples, preparing them for living in a new kind of community that was to have a profound impact in the world. After telling his disciples that he would not be with them much longer, he changed the topic of the conversation, saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This is the first of two instances in which Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another, the other being in John 15:12. However, only on this occasion did he refer to it as a “new” command. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel had received the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18), but here the disciples were told, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This added a new dimension to this old commandment, and thus it is described as a “new” commandment. The new love that should characterize relationships among the disciples—who had been fighting not long before about who should be first—is defined by Jesus’ own love for them (cf. John 13:34; 15:9, 12). This love was to lead Jesus to lay down his life for them, and here he commanded them to love one another in the same way.[24]

The importance of the disciples’ love for one another is evident by the explanation given by Jesus in the following verse: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It is important to note that this verse does not indicate the reason why the disciples should love one another. Rather, their love for one another would bring the outside world to recognize that they were indeed true followers of Jesus.

For Christians to merit the attention of the world, they need to take Jesus’ command to heart, laying aside petty squabbles and obeying his exhortation to love one another unconditionally. Only a sincere desire to follow Jesus in sacrificial love can cultivate a unity that will send a message to the world. This love must embrace and include people from every ethnicity, language, culture, and nation. It must include those who are despised and rejected by society, as well as those who have caused suffering for others. Only then will the church be the inclusive community God intended it to be, and only then will the church be able to draw in those who are hungering and thirsting for authentic love and life.[25]

Recognizing the implications of reconciliation

The church as a unified body of believers

The church was established to bring together Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female (Gal 3:28). Yet, in spite of this formidable diversity, the church is destined to display a unique oneness. While this unity is often difficult to detect in everyday life, it is still at the heart of God’s design and intention. In this regard, it is important to remember that reconciliation with God has implications for relationships with others, both within the body of Christ and beyond.

The church is a community of people who are reconciled both with God and with one another. Christ has brought people together in one body, not merely to worship God and enjoy the privilege of communion with him. They are called into community, as they now belong together within one family. It is simply incomprehensible for Christians to remain separated from fellow believers merely on the grounds of ethnic or clan affiliation, social class, educational background, or other identity markers. Allowing such differences to split Christians into separate congregations or communities is incompatible with the reconciling power of Christ, whose purpose it was “to create in himself one new humanity out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph 2:15–16.). Throughout the New Testament, and particularly in the Pauline Epistles, believers are exhorted to strive for unity and mutual love as the natural outgrowth of the fact that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4–5).

The church as a called community

Not only is the church a unified body; it is also a community with a specific calling. First of all, when the apostle Peter addresses his readers as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Pet 2:9), he accentuates the fact that they were “called out of darkness.” Thus, the church is a called-out community, separated from darkness, from evil, and from the world. As the people of Israel were led out of Egypt, the followers of Christ are called to move out of darkness and into God’s presence, to “his eternal glory in Christ” (1 Pet 5:10). However, Peter makes it very clear in his epistles that following Christ entails hardship. Thus, it is also a call to suffering, for “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (2 Pet 2:21; cf. 1 Pet 3:9). This call to suffering is linked with obedience to Christ, a theme developed more fully by Paul in his exhortations to the Romans and to Timothy—whom he also called to live a life of holiness (Rom 1:5–7; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 1:9)—a theme also stressed by Peter.

Furthermore, the church as a community is not only called out of darkness and into fellowship with Christ. It is also called to be church together. Like Peter, the apostle Paul addresses the members of the church in Corinth as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2, italics added). Likewise, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts his readers to maintain unity and peace, with an appeal to the fact that they form “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called” (Eph 4:4, italics added). Similarly, in Colossians 3:15, he admonishes the Colossians to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” The concept of the church as community together is essential if the church is to function as missional community. The church does not exist in and for itself, but is called both out of and into the world. As church members live and serve together, they are equipped to impact the society around them.[26] Christians face the challenge of demonstrating their faith in an indifferent or even antagonistic environment. Closing themselves off from the outside world is not an option, at least not for those who take the clear commands of Scripture to heart. This requires the courage to explore the intersection between faith and societal values. If reconciliation has any significance beyond the relationship between an individual believer and God, it must have implications both within the Christian community and in society at large. Christians have a responsibility as agents of reconciliation, as peacemakers, in situations characterized by brokenness and suffering.[27]

The church as a multi-ethnic mosaic

As we consider diversity within the Christian community, we need to keep its fundamental unity in mind, which is rooted in the unity of the Trinity.[28] It would be wrong, however, to equate diversity with disunity and see it simply as an expression of brokenness. Van Gelder expresses this quite fittingly: “Rather than contrasting the church’s oneness with its brokenness, it is more helpful to see its unity in conjunction with its diversity. That is, the church, while existing as one, also must exist as many.”[29] There is thus no inconsistency between the church’s unity and its diversity, just as there is no incongruity between the oneness of God and his existence in three Persons. Diversity expresses as much of the church’s essence as does its oneness. This is emphasized by Paul when he says that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph 3:10).[30]

Such diversity may be expressed in a number of ways, the most important of which are socio-economic context, educational background, and ethnic identity. The early church made significant efforts to overcome social, racial, and other biases. While it initially consisted mainly of Jewish-background believers, these came from a wide variety of cultural and linguistic contexts. When tensions arose between them, the apostles did not attempt to resolve the conflict by separating them in homogeneous units, but appointed leaders from a variety of ethnic groups (Acts 6:1–6). Social and class distinctions were abolished by exhorting masters to have fellowship with slaves as brothers in Christ (1 Cor 7:17–24; Phlm 8–16). James commands rich and poor to fellowship together in unity, rather than separate along socio-economic lines (Jas 2:1–9). Aubrey Sequeira argues that “while homogeneity in churches simply reinforces the status quo of society, the biblical evidence shows us that the gospel broke down and cut across ethnic, social, economic, and cultural barriers in ways never before seen in history.”[31] Jesus and the apostles never encouraged ethnocentrism, but rather called Christians to embrace one another in spite of their differences. “While the ‘homogeneous unit principle’ emphasizes seeking to win people by not offending their ethnocentric sensibilities, Jesus’s approach is radically different – Christ lays the axe to the root of ethnic pride.”[32] The accounts in the book of Acts demonstrate clearly that churches were not established or separated along ethnic, socio-cultural, or class lines. While it may be true that in practice people prefer not having to cross racial, linguistic, or class barriers when becoming Christians, this does not establish any normative biblical pattern. The truth is that reconciliation to God also brings a person into a community “where people find their identity in Jesus Christ rather than in their race, culture, social class, or sex, and are consequently reconciled to one another.”[33]

We have to acknowledge, however, that diversity is not the same as reconciliation and the goal of reconciliation is not simply diversity.[34] Furthermore, the issue is not always a matter of a majority culture seeking to dominate other (minority) cultures. Often ethnic minority communities choose to meet separately in an effort to preserve and sustain their cultural identity. Patrick Cho, writing about the challenge for Asian churches in North America to become more multi-ethnic, comments that “most cultures do not want a melting pot as much as an acknowledgement of cultural identity. To use a culinary analogy, perhaps a truly multiethnic church would look less like a monochrome chowder and more like a varicolored minestrone.”[35] This observation is particularly helpful, as it helps us realize that unity in diversity does not necessarily lead to or require uniformity. The image of a colorful cauldron of minestrone soup conveys a helpful message. Other helpful metaphors might include a multi-colored tapestry, a multi-faceted diamond, or a colorful mosaic. Each of the pictures evokes the image of diversity in harmonious unity. The overall unity does not subsume the identity of its individual components. On the contrary, its composite nature enhances the overall beauty and contributes to its harmony.

mrt-15.3-ethnolinguistic-map-myanmar
Credits: Based on data from Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (London: Zed, 1991), used by permission of the author and of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. It was created by Atlas UK, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Becoming a missional church in Myanmar

As we have seen, the church in Myanmar has experienced a high level of fragmentation along ethnic as well as theological dividing lines. Viewed from a practical as well as historical perspective, this is understandable, particularly where these ethnic divisions are reinforced by language barriers, which make communication with other ethnic groups more difficult. In some minority areas, the older population is generally not comfortable with the national language—Burmese. In addition, some minorities, such as the Chin, consist of multiple subgroups, each speaking separate languages and thus they are not even able to communicate with one another unless they use a common language, such as Burmese or English. This has had a two-fold effect: some groups have opted to use Burmese, thereby strengthening inter-ethnic connection and belonging, while at the same time being more accessible to other ethnic groups. Others have chosen to worship in their particular ethnic language, whether due to a dislike of the national language or out of a desire to maintain their ethnic identity.[36]

Given the pressures and discrimination many ethnic minorities have encountered from the Burman majority, this desire to preserve and cultivate their own ethnic identity is to be expected. It is not surprising, therefore, when Christians are reluctant to open their doors (and hearts) to this dominant Buddhist majority, and instead opt for the safety and familiarity of their own culture and community.[37] While the demarcation along ethnic and language lines is understandable—at least in minority areas where the population consists largely of a single ethnic group—it is not particularly helpful for a church that wants to be missional in a multi-cultural context. Using a minority language almost certainly precludes people from other ethnicities from joining, or at least feeling welcome. This is especially relevant in urban settings, such as Yangon and other major cities that form a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities.

What is needed is an understanding of the church as an inclusive, multi-ethnic fellowship, modeling a diverse, yet united community. This will require a rethinking of the nature of the church, grounded in reconciliation between the various ethnic groups within the Myanmar church. Bringing Christians from various ethnicities together may in turn lead to a more inclusive community where people from all ethnic and religious backgrounds feel welcome. For the church in Myanmar to live out its calling as a missional community, it needs to embrace and demonstrate reconciliation, both within the church and in society in general.

Various internal challenges confront the church, such as disunity manifested in ethnic denominationalism, which hinders its witness because it creates the impression of a fragmented community, reinforcing the perception of the church as a collection of mono-cultural communities. More attention will also need to be given to developing a more outward-focused model of discipleship. These challenges, both separately and together, require a thorough rethinking of what it means to be a missional church in a multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic society.

Steps toward becoming more missional

Churches do not become missional without taking intentional steps and measures. Like any other community and social entity, they have created patterns of behavior and models of operation over time. These have developed into solid traditions and practices that have served to establish their common identity. It will therefore require purposeful planning and deliberate action plans to move toward a different model of operation. The previous section has identified several biblical-theological elements of a missional church model, which will now be developed into more concrete strategies and plans.

Discipleship focus: pursuing life-changing spiritual formation

While discipleship as a concept and discipleship programs as a practical application have received significant attention in recent years in Myanmar as elsewhere, these efforts have often been focused on individual change and development. However, discipleship requires a more comprehensive, holistic approach based on a biblical understanding of the church as a welcoming community, a diverse but unified body of followers of Christ. In such a context, discipleship is more than a program aimed at helping new believers understand the basic teachings and apply various practices of the Christian life. Not only is it a life-long process of spiritual growth, it is a praxis which involves the entire congregation. Moreover, it is not aimed exclusively at the growth of individual believers toward maturity. Rather, it involves establishing patterns and practices leading to spiritual transformation of the entire community. Discipleship, as a missional church praxis, is thus a life-long process that involves the entire congregation and impacts the whole community. Discipleship in a missional perspective thus incorporates life as a whole, the church as a whole, and society as a whole. The impact of the good news of Jesus Christ in Myanmar will not depend on verbal proclamation only—however essential that is—but on true, life-changing conduct of Christians within their spheres of influence. The changed lives of church members—both individually and communally—demonstrating outward-focused discipleship, will send a powerful message of reconciliation to a society riven by contentious ideologies of ethnic identity and religious extremism.

Inclusive communities: embracing ethnic diversity in churches

An environment that tends to accentuate ethnic identity and to classify communities based on their religious affiliation poses a challenge to advocate inclusiveness and embrace ethnic diversity. As Miroslav Volf argues, “the problem of ethnic and cultural conflicts is part of a larger problem of identity and otherness.”[38] This diversity, however, is exactly what the gospel requires and what the church should embody. John Woodward stresses the importance of churches crossing “ethnic, class and age barriers because one of the statements our world needs to see is that there can be unity in diversity when Jesus is king of that community.”[39] While the tendency in Myanmar is to emphasize the otherness of distinct ethnic communities, the church has a responsibility to draw people together rather than separate them. Christians must learn, according to one theological student from Myanmar, to

accept not only the unity of humanity but also the cultural diversity that ethnic groups bring to the churches in Myanmar today. One of the tasks of the Church in a given culture is to contribute to the flowering of that culture, as well as to make sure that the salutary sense of ethnic belonging does not turn into ethnic aggressions towards the “stranger who is within the gates” or towards neighboring ethnic groups. It is therefore the responsibility of the Church to work towards genuine community, in which each ethnic group remains faithful to its dynamic and changing identity and yet is enriched by and enriches others.[40]

The penchant toward exclusion does not necessarily stem from a deliberate effort to reject others, but may arise from an unconscious bias toward those from their own community and faith tradition. What is needed, therefore, is to realize one’s own susceptibility towards discrimination, springing from unbiblical perceptions of those who are different from oneself. Once a process of outward-focused discipleship has been initiated, it should foster a new perspective of welcoming and embracing people from an array of ethnic backgrounds.

Mobilization of the laity: involving all members in ministry

Not only should the church be a welcoming community whatever one’s background or ethnic identity, the church should also engage all members in ministry. This aspect has been discussed before, but it is important to reiterate it here, as there are significant ramifications for the missional impact of the church.[41] Without the active participation of its members, the church in Myanmar may not be able to fulfill its calling as an agent of transformation and reconciliation. Ed Stetzer, in an article on his blog, even calls the clergy-laity division a “caste-system.”[42]

In his book Creating a Missional Culture, J. R. Woodward offers a new model for churches that cover areas from its leadership structure to its mobilization of the laity. He asserts that

creating a missional culture helps the church live out her calling to be a sign of the kingdom, pointing people to the reality beyond what we can see, a foretaste of the kingdom where we grow to love one another as Christ loves us, and an instrument in the hands of God to bring more of heaven to earth in concrete ways.[43]

He calls for a new kind of leadership, which he calls polycentric leadership. His premise is that leaders in the church should not act as gatekeepers, but equippers. He distinguishes five types of equipping based on Ephesians 4:11–12, linking them to specific environments they create (Table 1).[44]

Table 1. Equipping roles and missional environments44

Thus, apostles cultivate a thriving environment, prophets create a liberating environment, evangelists a welcoming environment, pastors a healing environment, and teachers a learning environment. What this model illustrates is the complementarity of polycentric leadership roles in the church and the purpose of each function in creating an enabling environment where church members have opportunities to engage in various aspects of church ministry. Woodward calls on churches and church leaders to cultivate an equipping ethos, an environment where leaders act less like multi-talented star players and more like coaches and air traffic controllers, enabling and directing others to exercise their God-given abilities.[45]

Contextualized practices and communication

There is an urgent need to consider contextualized patterns of Christian life and ministry in Myanmar. Not many Burmese scholars have written about this topic and few published resources are available, whether in Burmese or English,[46] although some academic papers can be found in local theological libraries.[47] One of the elements most often mentioned as essential for contextualizing Christianity is the need for a renewed appreciation of Myanmar culture and traditions. Tint Lwin recommends a greater adherence to Myanmar dress code and a deeper appreciation of traditional literature, music, dance, and poetry. He also challenges churches to reconsider Christian worship styles, including moving away from Western music and evangelistic approaches, and showing more respect for indigenous customs and practices. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, he encourages Christians to think through how the Christian gospel message can interact with Buddhist beliefs regarding impermanence, suffering, and selfhood.[48] Van Ram Oke adds several other elements, such as showing appropriate respect rather than a condescending attitude, and serving in practical ways, like paying attention to physical needs, including healing and deliverance. He also suggests considering how the gospel meets felt needs, especially fear and shame.[49]

C. Duh Kam approaches contextualization differently, focusing on the contrast between seemingly similar theological concepts, which need clarification in the communication between Christians and Buddhists. Christ’s substitutionary atonement—a key concept in Christian soteriology—is often misunderstood by Buddhists, influenced by the concept of karma. Furthermore, agapeis very different from the Buddhist belief in metta-karuna, while the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to the concept of samsara-nirvana. Finally, the relationship between sin and suffering is fundamentally different in Christian and Buddhist thought. Other areas where understandings diverge and misunderstandings can easily arise are the significance of religious buildings—churches vs. pagodas—and festivals, and Christian discipleship vs. Buddhist monkhood.[50]

mrt-15.3-pagoda-cropped

Saw Say Khu points out several areas in need of contextualization. First, Christian attitude, especially avoiding a sense of superiority or seeing Buddhists as “objects of spiritual conquest.”[51] Secondly, Christian lifestyle of every member, particularly outside the church, in the family and the workplace. Thirdly, he encourages Christians to study Buddhism, in order to be able to share the gospel in a relevant way. Finally, Christians need to explain how Christ sets people free from fear, including fear of the nats.[52] To summarize, contextualization requires adaptations in the areas of attitude and lifestyle, and accurate, relevant communication of the gospel message.

Conclusion

The road to becoming more missional may not be an easy one for many churches in multicultural contexts, whether in Myanmar or elsewhere. Often, the weight of historical traditions and cultural preferences will stifle attempts at innovation or renewal. However, when a genuine desire is awakened to reach out beyond familiar environments and embrace those who are different, this paper offers a pathway forward with a number of suggestions to create a more inclusive, welcoming community. By building on a biblical foundation of the church as a unified body, churches in Myanmar would embark on a journey of promoting discipleship as a life-changing discipline of spiritual formation, mobilizing all members for ministry, embracing ethnic diversity and reconciliation, and using contextualized practices and communication. While for many, this may be a journey into uncharted territory, it is an undertaking that may help the church in Myanmar bridge the gap with the majority population in their diverse, multi-ethnic society.

[1] This article is based on Arend van Dorp’s doctoral project, “Ethnic Diversity and Reconciliation: A Missional Model for the Church in Myanmar” (Dmin project, Fuller Theological Seminary, 2019), https://digitalcommons.fuller.edu/dmin/394 (accessed 25 November 2020).

[2] Thant Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma (London: Faber & Faber, 2007), 211.

[3] A common saying, frequently heard when talking with Burmese (Buddhist) people, is that “one more Christian means one less Burmese”. This has become a major obstacle to the spread of Christianity among the Bamar population, who are almost exclusively Buddhist.

[4] According to the 2014 population census, carried out with support from the United Nations, Christians make up 6.3% of the population, totaling 3,172,479 people. Department of Population, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population Myanmar, The 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census. The Union Report: Religion, Census Report Volume 2-C (Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar: Department of Population, 2016), 3, https://myanmar.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/UNION_2C_Religion_EN.pdf (accessed 19 November 2020). It should be noted that the actual number of Christians may be higher, given the negative status attached to belonging to a minority religion and the difficulty some people experience when requesting to change their religion on their ID cards.

[5] Cf. Zam Khat Kham, “Burmese Nationalism and Christianity in Myanmar: Christian Identity and Witness in Myanmar Today” (PhD thesis, Concordia Seminary, 2015), 108, http://scholar.csl.edu/phd/22 (accessed 19 November 2020). Hazel Torres, “Christians Being Pushed out of Their Own Church by Buddhist Monks in Myanmar,” Christian Today (8 May 2016), https://www.christiantoday.com/article/christians.being.pushed.out.of.their.own.church.by.buddhist.monks.in.myanmar/85599.htm (accessed 19 November 2020).

[6] Samuel Ngun Ling, Christianity Through Our Neighbours’ Eyes: Rethinking the 200 Years Old American Baptist Missions in Myanmar (Yangon, Myanmar: Judson Research Center – Myanmar Institute of Theology, 2014), 51. “[N]o matter how widely Christianity is considered a universal religion, it is, to the Burmans, whose great civilization owes its inception to Theravada Buddhism, inferior to Buddhism.” Ling, Christianity Through Our Neighbours’ Eyes, 48.

[7] Kham Zam Khat, “Burmese Nationalism and Christianity in Myanmar,” 96–7. Many examples can be found in Rachel Fleming, Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Myanmar (Washington, D.C.: United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2016), 9–20, https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Hidden%20Plight.%20Christian%20Minorities%20in%20Burma.pdf (accessed 19 November 2020). Also Mikael Gravers, ed., Exploring Ethnic Diversity in Burma, NIAS Studies in Asian Topics (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2006), 10.

[8] Salay Hta Oke, Yangon Directory for Church and Christian Ministries (Yangon: Christian Media Center, 2006).

[9] Cho Cho Myaing, “Forgiveness Toward National Reconciliation in Myanmar From Christian Perspective” (MDiv thesis, Myanmar Institute of Theology, 2013), 51.

[10] David A. Steinberg, Burma: The State of Myanmar (Washington: Georgetown University, 2001), 191.

[11] Peter A. Rowan, “Proclaiming the Peacemaker: The Malaysian Church as an Agent of Reconciliation in a Multicultural Society” (PhD dissertation, Open University, All Nations Christian College, 2010), 110.

[12] Rowan points to “the inextricable bond made in Malaysia’s Constitution between Malay ethnicity and Islam, so that to be Malay is to be Muslim. This is enshrined in Article 160 of the Federal Constitution of 1957: ‘Malay is a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom …’” Rowan, “Proclaiming the Peacemaker,” 122.

[13] Rowan, “Proclaiming the Peacemaker,” 132, quoting from Hwa Yung, “Religious Freedom and Muslim States,” Transformation 8, no. 2 (1991): 16.

[14] Göran Wiking, Breaking the Pot: Contextual Issues to Survival Issues in Malaysian Churches, Studia Missionalia Svecana XCVI (Lund: Swedish Institute of Missionary Research, 2004), 77–8, cited in Rowan, “Proclaiming the Peacemaker,” 133.

[15] Rowan, “Proclaiming the Peacemaker,” 137.

[16] Robert A. Hunt, “A Response by Robert A. Hunt,” in Ng Kam Weng, The Quest for Covenant Community and Pluralist Democracy in Islamic Context, ed. Mark L. Y. Chan (Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 2008), 118.

[17] Rowan, “Proclaiming the Peacemaker,” 137.

[18] The biblical and theological imperatives for such spiritual unity is explored later in this article. Suffice it here to note the powerful message that is communicated by the spiritual unity of God’s people, as also attested by the Lord Jesus in John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

[19] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 110. Also see Craig S. Keener, Romans, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009), 145.

[20] Paul extends this to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” According to Leslie Mitton, former divisions are healed in the church through Christ’s reconciling power, bringing unity and peace in place of hostility. C. Leslie Mitton, Ephesians, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 126. Perhaps a more vivid way of expressing this would be to speak of the multicolored wisdom of God.

[21] In Romans 2:29 he makes this explicit when he says that “a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

[22] Some commentators argue that this dividing wall was a reference to the division that existed in the temple between the temple proper and the Court of the Gentiles. Cf. Francis Foulkes, Ephesians, Olivetree Bible Study digital edition, vol. 10, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), v. 2:14. This possiblity is also mentioned by James D. G. Dunn, although he rejects it in favor of seeing the fence as a reference to the law. James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 38A (Dallas: Word, 2012), electronic edition in Olivetree Bible Software.

[23] Mitton, Ephesians, 105. Dunn further specifies that this “fence” refers to the law which “in functioning as a fence to protect Israel from the impurity of the Gentiles, … became such a sign of Jewish particularism that it also alienated Gentiles and became a cause of hostility.” Dunn, Romans 1–8, electronic edition, on v. 15.

[24] It is clear that the message got through to the disciples, as evidenced in 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

[25] “It is not alone the law for a new time, but a law for a new life.” George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36 (Dallas: Word, 1999), electronic edition in Olivetree Bible Software.

[26] J. R. Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013), 75. Woodward points out the missional hermeneutic of Ephesians 4, in which “leaders learn to lead from the margins as priests ministering to fellow priests, with Christ drawing all of us toward himself at the center.”

[27] Rowan, “Proclaiming the Peacemaker,” 49. “In the midst of the brokenness and suffering of the world, the church exists as a community of reconciliation, pointing back to the unique reconciling work of God in Christ on the cross, and pointing forward, by its work and witness, to the ultimate reconciliation of ‘all things.’”

[28] See Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church, 122.

[29] Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church, 121.

[30] This is accentuated by Aubrey Sequeira in “Re-Thinking Homogeneity: The Biblical Case for Multi-Ethnic Churches,” 9Marks Journal (Summer/Fall 2015), 30, https://www.9marks.org/article/re-thinking-homogeneity-the-biblical-case-for-multi-ethnic-churches/ (accessed 21 November 2020). He argues that “establishing multi-ethnic churches is not only more faithful to Scripture, but […] multi-ethnic churches more fully display the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.”

[31] Sequeira, “Re-Thinking Homogeneity,” 31–2. Italics in original. Sequeira further contends: “Throughout the NT we see an attack on ethnocentrism, and consequently, a mandate for believers from differing ethnic backgrounds to accept each other lovingly and to live together in harmony in local churches.”

[32] Sequeira, “Re-Thinking Homogeneity,” 33. Sequeira takes a strong stand against the Church Growth theory of Donald McGavran, which promotes the “homogeneous unit principle” according to which the gospel spreads most rapidly and easily along the lines of homogeneous units in order to grow the church. Against McGavran’s insistence that the Jew-Gentile separation was not an ethnic issue, he asserts that “though there are some points of discontinuity between the Jew-Gentile divide and modern ethno-cultural divides, there are enough points of continuity to warrant the parallel. Furthermore, the New Testament does extend the call to unity beyond “Jew” and “Gentile” to include categories like “Barbarian” and “Scythian,” which are ethnolinguistic categories (Col 3:11). In the New Testament, unity in Christ trumps all other issues of identity, and the call to embrace the “other” encompasses all categories of “otherness,” and takes shape in the form of life together in the local church.” Sequeira, “Re-Thinking Homogeneity,” 35, footnote.

[33] Sequeira, “Re-Thinking Homogeneity,” 34. In a footnote he quotes René Padilla: “[T]he extension of the gospel to the Gentiles was such a difficult step for the Jerusalem church that it took place only with the aid of visions and commands (8:26–28.; 10:1–16) or under the pressure of persecution (8:1–3.; 11:19–20).” Sequeira, “Re-Thinking Homogeneity,” 35, quoting C. René Padilla, “The Unity of the Church and the Homogeneous Unit Principle,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 6, no. 1 (1982): 23–30, http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/1982-01/1982-01-023-padilla.pdf (accessed 21 November 2020).

[34] Jarvis Williams helpfully points out, “an assembly of the United Nations is multi-ethnic and diverse, as is the army, or the local public high school, or so many other groups. Yet such settings hardly enjoy the racial reconciliation of the gospel.” Jarvis J. Williams, “Racial Reconciliation, the Gospel, and the Church,” 9Marks Journal (Summer/Fall 2015), 9, https://www.9marks.org/article/racial-reconciliation-the-gospel-and-the-church/ (accessed 21 November 2020).

[35] Patrick Cho, “Helping Asian Churches Become Multi-Ethnic,” 9Marks Journal (Summer/Fall 2015), 67, https://www.9marks.org/article/helping-asian-churches-become-multi-ethnic/ (accessed 21 November 2020). Italics added.

[36] Thus, there are Chin churches identifying as Asho, Falam, Lai, Lautu, Mizo, or Zomi. Karen churches are usually divided into Pwo Karen and Sgaw Karen, and Methodists have Telugu and Tamil churches. See Oke, Yangon Directory for Church and Christian Ministries.

[37] While the Burman majority may be in the best position to initiate ethnic reconciliation, there is a missional imperative on the Christian community to act as “agents of reconciliation”, in spite of the suffering and marginalization they have suffered. See Matthew J. Walton, “The ‘Wages of Burman-Ness’: Ethnicity and Burman Privilege in Contemporary Myanmar,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 43, no. 1 (2013): 12–4.

[38] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2010), 16.

[39] Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture, 56.

[40] Puia, “Ethnic Diversities and Their Impacts of Today’s Churches” (MDiv thesis, Myanmar Institute of Theology, 2015), 42.

[41] See David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Twentieth anniversary edition. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011), 520; Kendell Easley and Christopher W. Morgan, eds., The Community of Jesus: A Theology of the Church, Kindle. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2013), loc. 3819.

[42] Ed Stetzer, “Laypeople and the Mission of God: Part 1 – Killing the Clergy/Laity Caste System,” The Exchange with Ed Stetzer, 17 July 2012, https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/july/laypeople-and-mission-of-god-part-1–killing-clergy.html (accessed 28 November 2020).

[43] Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture, 29. He also writes, “the church needs a polycentric approach to leadership, where the equippers enable their fellow priests to live to their sacred potential.” Italics in original.

[44] Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture, 189. In the context of this paper, the focus is primarily on the relationship between the role of the equippers and the environments they cultivate.

[45] Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture, 199. Ed Stetzer similarly insists that the role of pastors is not to be “the shopkeeper of the religious store providing religious rituals to ceremonialize devotion[,] a religious hierarchy to outsource people’s religious obligations.” Ed Stetzer, “Laypeople and the Mission of God: Part II – Reclaiming the Priesthood of All Believers,” The Exchange with Ed Stetzer, 7 August 2012, https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/august/laypeople-and-mission-of-god-part-ii–reclaiming.html (accessed 28 November 2020).

[46] One of the few authors who have published their ideas is Peter Thein Nyunt. His book, Missions Among Pagodas: Contextual Communication of the Gospel in Burmese Buddhist Context (Yangon: Myint Offset, 2012), is available in both Burmese and English.

[47] The following examples may suffice: C. Duh Kam, “Christian Mission to Buddhists in Myanmar: A Study of Past, Present, and Future Approaches by Baptists” (DMiss thesis, United Theological Seminary, 1997); Saw Say Khu, “Contextual Models for Church Growth in Myanmar” (DMin thesis, Union Theological Seminary, Philippines, 2007); Tint Lwin, “Contextualization of the Gospel: An Effective Strategy for the Evangelization of the Theravada Buddhists in Myanmar” (PhD dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997); Van Ram Oke, “Missioners as Contextualizers: The Theology and Practice of Contextualization in the Ministry of Bread of Life to the Bama Community of New Dagon City” (DMin thesis, Asia Graduate School of Theology, 2007).

[48] Lwin, “Contextualization of the Gospel,” 174–257.

[49] Oke, “Missioners as Contextualizers,” 105–15.

[50] Kam, “Christian Mission to Buddhists in Myanmar,” 222–45.

[51] Khu, “Contextual Models for Church Growth in Myanmar,” 58.

[52] Khu, “Contextual Models for Church Growth in Myanmar,” 62.

Start typing and press Enter to search