Would Jesus colonize you?
Would Jesus colonize you? Would Jesus force you to convert to another culture, speak another language, adopt different values and change everything about who you are in order to follow Him?
Judging the past actions of Christians, who have spear-headed countless colonial efforts in the last several hundred years alone, the answer they provide is apparently yes. Today, the actions and strategy of many Christian missions organizations and efforts also implicitly contain that same belief.
However, I believe this is incorrect.
To answer this question correctly, the only place to start and finish is to read the whole of scripture with colonialism in mind.
Beginning with the Old Testament one complicating factor arises very quickly: throughout their history the Israelites have both suffered and perpetrated colonialism. They suffered the tools of colonialism at the hand of foreign empires yet also used them themselves when they displaced others, most notably the Canaanites. From the Old Testament alone, labeling colonialism as always against the will of God or always acceptable to God is impossible.
However, from examining the New Testament, especially how Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, and how the Holy Spirit worked in the community of faith from there on out, and the Gospel as a whole the answer to this question is a resounding “No.” Jesus would not colonize you and the Gospel is inherently anti-colonial.
The Anti-Colonial Gospel
If one reads the Bible from cover to cover and other Jewish literature, you will not find a people hoping for a Messiah that would die for their sins so they could be forgiven and be assured of their spot in Heaven after they die.
What one will find is that the Israelites were looking for the fulfillment of many promises made to them by their God. They wanted to know who was going to fulfill the promises made to them, how these promises were going to be fulfilled, and perhaps most importantly, when these promises were going to be fulfilled.
But what promises am I talking about here?
Throughout the centuries God had made many promises to the people of Israel. The promise that Israel would enjoy peace with their enemies, that they would be returned to the land, that they would enjoy material/social/spiritual blessing, that after being scattered they would be re-gathered by God and that a Messiah would come that would fulfill these promises are just some examples.
Yet these promises were slow in their coming and this lead to increasing speculation about them. For centuries the people of God were asking when the Messiah would come, who the Messiah would go to, what the people of Israel should be doing in the interim, and how the Messiah would fulfill and initiate the fulfillment of these promises and related questions. Eventually different schools of thought and belief arose and the early Jewish sects (the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Sadducees, the Essenes, etc.) were all essentially divided by how they answered these questions.
So, what is the Gospel?
The good news of the Gospel, the Gospel presented in the Bible, is that the God of Israel was faithful to the promises God made to Abraham, to David, and later to the people of Israel through the prophets. The Messiah did come and these promises were fulfilled and continue to be fulfilled.
The Gospels and the rest of the New Testament contain the stories about how the God of Israel did fulfill and initiate the ongoing fulfillment of these promises in the work, the person and the Way of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel. These stories explain how all people are now welcome to join the re-gathered community of Israel, the community that is a blessing to all nations as it collectively pursues the Way of Jesus. These stories explain that while pain, hardship, death and suffering are still a reality, the future holds the promise of a physical resurrection into everlasting life in a new Heavens and a new Earth where pain, suffering and death will not exist.
So how is this anti-colonial?
To explain how this Gospel is inherently anti-colonial, we need to dig a little deeper and look at four finer points:
First, one of the promises the people of Israel were waiting for was the promise that all nations would come to worship the God of Israel (Zeph 2:11; Psa 22:27; Psa 86:9; Isa 66:23; Rev 7:9; etc.). The promise was not that all nations would become the same nation by adopting one meta-culture, but that all nations would come to worship the God of Israel. The fulfillment of this promise did not lie in the erasure of cultural differences and the homogenization of the community of faith, nor the assimilation of all other cultures into Jewish/Israelite culture but in many different cultures and people coming to worship the God of Israel.
Second, there was the Holy Spirit’s activity at Pentecost. In the second chapter of the book of Acts, a story is recorded where the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of Jesus after His death and Resurrection. The followers of Jesus began to speak in a variety of languages. The onlookers, who represented a wide swathe of people groups, miraculously understood the disciples in their own native languages. What is incredibly important to note is that the Holy Spirit did not enable everyone to hear or comprehend Greek or Aramaic, the languages the disciples were perhaps most familiar with. The Holy Spirit enabled the onlookers to hear the message in their own native languages. This dis-empowered the disciples of Jesus who really did not understand what was going on. It also signaled the Holy Spirit’s intent that no one culture or language would come to dominate the community of faith gathered around Jesus. Theologian Justo González perhaps articulates this best when he said, “Pentecost is the Holy Spirit’s rejection of any attempt to make one particular language, culture, or way of doing things dominant in the Church.” In other words there is no culture that is the one and only Christian culture that every follower of Jesus needs to adhere to. People can accept the Gospel and accept Jesus without accepting the culture that brings them into contact with the Gospel and Jesus.
Third, in Acts 10 the Holy Spirit added Gentiles (people were not ethnically/culturally Jewish) to the family of God. Unlike previous Gentile converts to Judaism, these people had not assimilated into the Jewish culture and religion. Most notably they were not circumcised. Circumcision was an important ritual that had previously acted as a boundary between the people who followed the God of Israel and everyone else. If a non-Jew wanted to become Jewish and a worship of the God of Israel, they converted and assimilated into the religion and people. This process included males going through circumcision. Yet these Gentiles in Acts 10 became worshipers of the God of Israel without going through the standard process that was normally required by the community of faith. Furthermore, this was done directly by the God of Israel. The conclusion of the disciples was that God was doing a new thing and God should probably not to be disagreed with. Gentiles did not have to become Jewish to follow Jesus and in fact, God wanted them to remain very much Gentiles. New believers were to follow the Way of Jesus from within their own context and culture. Israel had been symbolically and truly re-gathered around Jesus and it was also re-defined. Now Israel went far beyond the ethnic and cultural boundaries it had been synonymous with for centuries and included people from a variety of people groups.
Fourth, this understandably led to one of the primary tensions seen in the New Testament: the challenge of having one community of faith with many cultures. Some of the Jews still believed, contrary to the work of the Holy Spirit, that the Gentiles needed to assimilate into Jewish culture to be part of Israel. This was rejected but having many cultures in one community of faith was a continued source of conflict. Examples would include the rebuke Paul gave to Peter for not eating with Gentiles (Gal 2), and the dispute over how the Greek followers of Jesus felt their widows were being overlooked in favor of Jewish ones (Acts 6). This source of tension was so great that the only rule the apostle Paul laid down for all the churches he planted was this: “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.” (1 Cor 7:17) In the surrounding context Paul directly applies this commandment in regards to social status as well as religious and cultural distinctive markers. Paul is saying that people should remain and maintain in the context and culture God has placed them in and they do not need to change in order to be part of Israel and worship the God of Israel.
In short, the Gospel is about the realization of promises made to the people of God. One of the promises made, one of the promises Israel was hoping would be fulfilled, was that a diverse plethora of nations would come to know the God of Israel as the one true God. Therefore, any attempt to eradicate a culture or colonize another group of people, thus eliminating their culture, goes directly against this promise. The Gospel is not about conforming all people to one “biblical” culture (whatever that is imagined to be), but about introducing all cultures, nations and peoples to the God of Israel and welcoming those who fall in love with Messiah Jesus into to the family of God as they are.
From all of this the only answer to the question at the heart of this post is that Jesus would not colonize you.