Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Integration vs. Assimilation: A Great Whole

Often it seems that church leaders tend to argue over semantics. I have witnessed to Christian leaders argue that same argument but from a different angle only because of the vocabulary chosen by the two men. In the beginnings of my ministry I would often not pick up on things like semantics, instead I would simply support whichever speaker I tended to prefer anyways. However, over the years I have begun to thing about the importance vocabulary choice. As I study through the epistles of Paul, it is quite apparent that he was very strict about his vocabulary. The Apostle Paul was certainly a great mind, particularly in the fields of theology and philosophy, both Jewish and Greek.

The topic of discussion today is that of assimilation and integration of people into the church. Some of the larger churches in America have the luxury of employing a large ministerial staff, and sometimes one of those people is the associate pastor of assimilation. The purpose of this position is to give thought and guidance to the people who visit a church, new converts, and/or new members who then need to become part of the church body at large.

The first real question pertaining to assimilation is its importance. Is it truly necessary to ensure that people are becoming part of the church. While this may appear as an obvious answer, it is clouded by generational and cultural worldviews. For example, a senior adult who has been in church all their life and believes that what is wrong with America today is that so few people go to church any more on Sunday mornings will undoubtedly believe that a person should become part of a local church body. However, a millennial or person of the young adult and college age generation like to church shop. David Kinnaman has argued in his book UnChristian that many of these young adults like to go to the church that will offer them what they are wanting. Certainly the argument is valid from Hebrew 10:25 that Christians should not neglect the assembly of the saints, because this is encouraging, but I believe that this question needs further thought.

I believe that it is absolutely imperative that a Christian becomes part of a church in a particular process. First, the person must be saved. Conversion is the first step for any person wanting to have a relationship with God and other Christians that transcends the physical; however, conversion is not the key to church membership - baptism is. Therefore, for a person to join a church he or she must be baptized. (There is much more theology to this, that I will perhaps discuss in a future blog). Once a person has been baptized, the public testament of faith to both Christians for accountability and to nonChristians as a witness, then they should begin to grow in their faith. This growth should be marked through their personal growth, their growth as evangelists, and ultimately in their reproduction of more disciples. This process is completed upon spiritual parenthood. There is one key factor that makes a person a parent - children (new converts); furthermore, a Christians should make spiritual children, who then become disciples and produce more disciples. Thus, the truth of Proverbs 17:6 is true that the 'children's children are the crown of the aged, and the glory of the children is their fathers.'

For this process to be completed in a Christians life, he or she must become part of the church where other Christians can mentor them according to the fashion found in Titus 2 for the growth of the church and the individual. Where I begin to differ in semantic from some other Christians leaders is the terminology of assimilation.

Assimilation is defined as "to take in and incorporate as one's own, absorb." It is further defined as "to bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., or a group, nation, or the like.." Source This language is disconcerting, because it reverberates with that of Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed but the renewal of your mind..." The world uses the mechanism of conformity to augment people to fit within their mold. The word for "conform" in the Greek her is "syschematizo," which is where we draw the English word "schematic." To me, this is the altering of one's worldview to match that of the world's, or the sinful, unholy, antithesis of godliness. While the world's mechanism of change is conformity (perhaps assimilation), the Holy Spirit's mechanism is transformation. The word for transformation in the Greek is "metamorphoo," and it carries the meaning of being changed into a completely new creation. It holds to the theology found in II Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." While this mechanism is not at the whim of the church, we can act the representatives of the Holy Spirit who has already taught us lessons that can be passed on to younger Christians. As the Holy Spirit reveals himself and illuminates the scriptures, the transformation often termed the process of sanctification is made more complete.

The other option is integration, which is defined as "to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole; to make up combine, or complete to produce a whole or a ledger unit, as parts do." Source This term seems to follow in accord with the scriptures closer to me than assimilation. In the process of integration the new convert maintains their individuality. Their essence is transformed by the power of Christ, and now in the redeemed state offer an intrinsic piece to the local body of believers to produce a greater whole than what was before. I particularly prefer the concept of completion inherent to integration. As we seek to further the Kingdom of God, we invite new Christians into this grand mission as their particular talents and gifts are being crafted by the Holy Spirit.

As the process of integration unfolds in the life of a new believer, it seems to me that there should be a process, similar to one stated above but now through a new lens. Introduction (baptism) should lead to a time of personal growth and mentoring that will guide them through what I term the three marks of ministry: maturity, mission, and multiplication. (This is an adaptation from Roger Glidewell's Three E's of Ministry found in his book Youth Ministry by the Book). As the person begins to advance in spiritual maturity they begin to look desperately for their mission or way to use their spiritual gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God, it is the church's responsibility offer ministries to act as conduits for their members through acts of service, and as a result their service will result in more converts (the literal conquest of the Kingdom of God). This process will continue until the ultimate result of becoming the likeness of Jesus Christ.

My prayer that I enable students and Christians to become integrated into the body of Christ, where they maintain their individuality as a child of God with specific talents, gifts, and creativity that the Church may become a greater whole.
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