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«Reestablishing roots and learning to fly: Kazakh church planting between contextualization and globalization. by Dean Frederick Sieberhagen submitted ...»

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group of Kazakhs amongst whom a church is being planted. As described before, for the Russified Kazakh an overemphasis on customs and traditions can alienate them and cause them to feel shame, whereas with Traditional Kazakhs the effect would be the opposite. Also explained in chapter one, with the impact of globalization, gone are the days where we can give a blanket description of who or what a Kazakh is. Kazakhs are changing in all areas including their worldviews and so an indigenous church in one location may look very different to an indigenous church in another. Attention needs to be paid to the particular elements of Kazakh culture in a specific context that carry significance in church planting for that context.37 4.2.2 Cultural Identity The generalized hypothesis arising from an analysis of the categories to do with Kazakh cultural traditions and a commitment to Islam is that it is important to appear Islamic. Daulet (2009, pers. interview, 1 August), Zhenis (2009, pers. interview, 8 July) and Nurlan (2009, pers. interview, 15 September) believe Kazakhs are not serious about orthodox Islam and so, if we consider a true Muslim as one who regularly practices the five pillars of Islam and lives a moral life free of vices such as a hedonistic pursuit of wealth, the drinking of alcohol, and liberal sexuality; then the percentage of these amongst the Kazakhs is very low. If we lay this aside and consider the proposal that Kazakhs have their own view of what it is to be a Muslim then we can better understand this very important part of their cultural identity (see the description of religious identity in chapter one). Through this they belong to something with significance that is greater than themselves. They used to belong to something great during the Soviet years but with the failure of that system a return to an Islamic identity now fills the void. For Kazakhs the failure of communism implies the failure of atheism so that to be an infidel is the worst kind of cultural identity. Saken (2009, pers. interview, 1 October) and Bolat (2009, pers. interview, 29 June) describe a new interest in an Islamic identity so that integral to developing a Kazakh national pride is the development of an Islamic appearance.

The growth of certain Islamic practices serve the function of developing and strengthening the Islamic appearance so that the Kazakhs are able to claim a spiritual heritage Charles Van Engen (2006:178) describes what he calls a dialectical tension: “The gospel can be known only within cultural frameworks, yet the gospel is always distinct from – sometimes affirming of and often prophetically critical of – all human cultures”. The Kazakh church planter must hold this tension in balance.

and depth which enables them to break out of the previous cultural blend of the Soviet Union.

A good example of this is the building of Mosques. Khalid (2007:119) and the Laumulins (2009:124) explain how mosques are continually being built, and in villages they are a way of putting the village on the map. The village attains a higher status and pride if it has a Mosque, in other words it appears to be a Muslim village. Similarly, Akzhol (2009, pers. interview, 24 March) explained that the presence of the Qur’an in a home gives a credible Islamic identity, but that beyond this it was not used. The challenge for church planting is how to position the church in such a way that it functions as a substitute for this Islamic identity, going beyond mere appearance towards demonstrating a deep relationship with the one true God. One aspect is to patiently demonstrate the love of Christ over time so that opposing arguments are diffused. Another is to be intentional in discovering and developing functional substitutes using a critical contextualization approach. Critical contextualization as proposed by Paul Hiebert (1995:168) is what the Kazakh pastors tried to express in their own words. That we begin with a detailed study of the Kazakh culture and traditions, thereafter study what the Bible has to say about them, and then allow the local church to apply the Bible's teachings to these traditions, resulting in their own critical response. If the tradition or particular practice does not contradict Biblical teachings then the church works through how to use it to express Christianity in the Kazakh context.

Even after years of church planting, Bolat (2009, pers. interview, 29 June) and Nurlan (2009, pers. interview, 15 September) explain that for the general population, the idea of a Kazakh Christian is an anomaly. Doug Coleman (2011) in his dissertation discusses the idea of an insider within the broader contextualization debate in missiology, and shows how arguments are made for allowing Muslim background believers to remain within an Islamic identity. They are then able to take advantage of this insider position to advance the Gospel.

In the Kazakh context this is debatable, with Daulet (2009, pers. interview, 1 August), Saken (2009, pers. interview, 1 October) and Nurlan (2009, pers. interview, 15 September) arguing that many Kazakhs simply want to wear the badge of Islam without practicing it very seriously. Consequently, it can be argued that if a Kazakh Christian tries to become a serious practicing insider that ironically they are actually an outsider to most of the Kazakh population. Despite an increase in Mosque construction, if most Kazakhs wanted to go to Friday prayers there would be no space for many of them to participate. The point rather is that simply having a mosque in the community makes it appear Islamic. As acknowledged previously, some of the younger men seem to be showing outward signs of a greater commitment; however their numbers are still in the minority. The perceived growth and influence of Wahhabi Islam is still to be validated, but if proved true then the concept of an insider movement may need to be explored. Coleman describes an insider movement as existing where new highly contextualized groups of believers are created so that “ followers of Jesus remain part of their pre-faith religious communities” (2011:24). The concept of an insider movement is itself controversial and the church planter needs to determine how far they can go without compromising a commitment to Biblical truth. The indigenous Kazakh church then has the challenge of being accepted as Kazakh and yet being counter-cultural in holding to a higher level of both belief and practice compared to their Muslim countrymen, so that following Jesus is more than just an appearance.

David Bosch (1991:453) proposes that we need to allow the local (Kazakh) community to discover what a church is and so the church is born anew within the culture rather than merely expanded into it. Bosch therefore speaks of inculturation, as a synonym for contextualization but with a stronger emphasis on the church from within. As the codes within the category of using cultural traditions indicate (page 85), this has been a drawback associated with the early Kazakh churches and remains so with some today, where a particular Kazakh church appears as an outside influence rather than an inward phenomenon.

Bosch goes on to explain that church planters have to live with the contradiction of trying to be as culturally relevant as possible and yet at the same time having a message that will confront and even conflict with every culture (:455). The church can look and feel very Kazakh but its message must call Kazakhs to a redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ which for some will cause offense. Pocock (2005:289) uses the term indigenous to mean born from within but also cautions that there is the danger that Christianity can become so indigenous that it no longer has a divine distinctiveness. Hiebert (1994:84) argues in a similar vein when he says that uncritical contextualization can lead to problems for the church planter where the Gospel is distorted, absolute claims are diluted, and syncretism a reality. Nurlan (2009, pers. interview, 15 September) who lives in a village context sees some evidence of this and an example is how when some Kazakh believers are sick they pray and have the church pray for healing, and if it does not come they then visit the local traditional healers. Another example would be Kazakh believers acknowledging the power of charms and amulets to ward off evil.

Taking a cue from the anthropological model, the developing theory is that God has given the Kazakhs their unique cultural identity. Even though this may have been distorted by their own expression of Islam and the way sin affects every culture, there remains a foundation that is fertile soil for the growth of the church. There is the restriction however that Biblical truth supersedes cultural beliefs and practices.

Common ground is a term that resonates with the Anthropological model.

Hesselgrave (2005:102) describes this approach by pointing out key ideas within its philosophy. Firstly is the concept of a common quest for God that seems to be universal to all mankind. Secondly, many religions have beliefs and practices that are shared, such as heaven, hell, and redemption. Hesselgrave goes on to argue however that the unique claims of Christianity outweigh the similarities with any other religions (:105). The common ground approach is seen in the philosophy of Muslim scholar Mahmoud Ayoub (2007:12) who argues for a significant degree of harmony and understanding between Christianity and Islam.

He makes a distinction between the public and private character of the two faiths. He contends that the public face has much that serves as common ground between the two religions. Members of both are seen as “people of the Book” and that for both the “Word of God” is foundational. On the private side we can have differences and he uses verses from the Qur’an such as chapter 30 verse 22 to contend that “Theological doctrines may divide us, but faith unites us” (:15). He uses the shahadah (the core witness statement of Islam) to make his point. The first part declares: “I bear witness that there is no God but God” (:13) which is something Christians can declare with Muslims as part of a public faith. The second part declares: “I bear witness that Muhammed is the Messenger of God” (:13) and this is part of the private side of Islam that does not have to be shared with Christianity. Timothy Tennent in examining common ground asks whether “the Father of Jesus is the God of Muhammed?” (2007:25). After a detailed study on the etymology of the words “God” and “Allah”, as well as the contexts in which they are used, he concludes that the Father of Jesus is not the God of Allah (:48). He does not discard the idea of common ground but rather sees it as a way to prepare Muslims for the introduction of the Gospel.

If we speak of common ground in terms of fertile soil that is prepared to receive the Gospel then this exists in Kazakh religion, particularly in terms of the redemptive analogies mentioned in chapter two. If however we speak of common ground as part of the core of Christianity then important issues arise in particular with soteriology, centering on the person and redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Eugene Nida’s (1990:15) insight in terms of the distinction between common ground and a point of contact is relevant when considering Kazakh religious identity in particular. Is it possible that the Kazakh Islamic views of God and his revelation have enough similarity that there exists a common ground of belief on which Kazakh Christianity can be built? The codes that give rise to categories such as the use of Kazakh cultural traditions in church planting (page 85), reflect Nida’s proposal that rather than speaking of common ground we need to speak of points of contact. Beliefs such as creation, sin, monotheism, and judgment can be used as points of contact to lead into the distinctive claims of Christianity.

Kazakh Christianity’s image in the Kazakh government’s eyes can appear to be something of a paradox. If it appears foreign then it is not as imposing on traditional Kazakh culture which as Zhanibek (2009, pers. interview, 2 February) explains, is what the government would like. The negative however is that it is now seen as a Sect with no real legitimacy, and so needs to be watched carefully. On the other hand, as Kazakh Christianity over time shows that it is Kazakh and positions itself as beneficial to the community in which it finds itself, then a lot of the suspicions are reduced and the Sect image is diluted. What seems clear is that the Kazakh church must truly live out a life that the Bible refers to as salt and light (Matthew 5: 13-16). A life that reveals the benefits of Christianity to Kazakh society.

4.2.3 Music and Dance The church has a great opportunity for impact in regard to the way it expresses its belief and practice. Keeping in mind the spectrum from Traditional to Russified, a Kazakh church can appear relevant and even inviting in the way it uses music and dance. This may be a challenge to the comfort zone of expatriate church planters and some of the emerging church issues being faced in the West may begin to apply to the Kazakh context as well. 38 Nida (1990:114) uses an interesting story from India to illustrate the danger of expatriates prescribing how the church should worship. He describes a taxi driver who would take a Rebecca Lewis (2004:75) argues that too often the expatriate uses a hit-and-miss approach in trying to make a local church look and feel natural when instead the expatriate should move out of the way and let the local believers discover this for themselves.

Christian to church and then wait in his car until the service ended to take the person home again. Someone came up to the driver and asked when the service would end and he replied that there were four noises each service but that so far there had only been two. Worship in the Kazakh church must sound like melody not noise if it is to be culturally appropriate.

Saken (2009, pers. interview, 1 October) is a pastor in a church that has a large Sunday meeting. They use dance as part of the worship and he argues that the Kazakh church does seem to make a clear distinction between music and dance within the church and that within the broader society, thereby avoiding any secular meaning or expression. He along with Anwar (2009, pers. interview, 3 February) and Arman (2009, pers. interview, 5 May) propose that the use of music and dance for evangelism with the younger generation must be explored.

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