Introduction: Pairing gospel and culture
The theme of the next conference on world mission and evangelism -- "Called to One Hope: The Gospel in Diverse Cultures" -- must be viewed as an ecumenical theme, therefore the contribution of the Orthodox theology and praxis of mission is more than desirable, it is indispensable.
The Orthodox understanding is highly meaningful for several reasons:
a) The Orthodox make a connection between revelation of God and gospel, because it is the same Logos of God who spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament and manifests in the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. During his ministry Jesus Christ created the circle of his Apostles by teaching with power the Truth, and the church community around the Apostles at Pentecost by sending upon them the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. Proclamation of the gospel and teaching the apostolic doctrine are not two unconnected realities. During the liturgy, after proclaiming the presence of Christ ("Christ is in our midst!"), the worshipping community makes the Confession: "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16).
Therefore, the Orthodox cannot conceive of a debate about gospel and culture unless the content of the gospel, the Lex credendi, is recognized through those who have the Spirit to discern it: the saints.
b) This integrity to Christ is expressed in the Tradition, a critical principle for assuming the human culture. The Tradition is the gospel retained through the reception of the confessing community, which carries both the memory of the history of salvation in the New Testament times, and anticipates the kingdom of God. For the Orthodox, the Tradition was a way to protect publicly the mystery of God revealed in the scriptures, against "another gospel." This Tradition means both fidelity and continuity, a continuity -- Lex orandi -- without breaking into pieces the given content of the gospel. The Orthodox will not accept a merely exegetical view about received Tradition. It is not a matter of hermeneutical search or discovery by an untaught and undisciplined community.
c) Culture cannot take the place of "another gospel," or "confession." The cultures represent the anointed feet of the gospel, like the Apostles to Christ. In the peregrination of the gospel in various places and times, the culture represents the Kosmos with open arms receiving the descent of the Holy Spirit (the icon of Pentecost). The culture itself has to be converted and baptized in order not to reject the gospel but to assume it. Contextual theology (which cannot be taken as "opinion polls") has to handle the gospel and culture syntax, pairing them in a sacramental way, not in a syncretistic pattern.
In preparing for the next conference on world mission and evangelism, the churches need greater clarity on issues concerned with typologies of the relation between gospel, Tradition and culture. Especially those issues that are hindrances in the mutual understanding and credibility of each church in mission and common witness must be adequately addressed. The Orthodox cannot afford to dismiss these differences and conflictual issues by referring to them as "cultural," or "contextual" questions.
The purpose of this essay is to address the issues from an Orthodox perspective. I seek to illustrate my discussion by referring to the recent experience of the Orthodox churches in eastern Europe.
It is impossible to make a completely adequate presentation of what a new movement for mission means today within Orthodox churches in eastern Europe. There is sufficient evidence from materials and surveys to indicate that new development is taking place, especially in the field of religious instruction and theological education in public schools and universities. Faculties of theology are being reintegrated into public universities, with women having access to theological formation. …