Globalization and the Church (Lausanne/Cape Town 2010 Memo #1)

It struck me that I have been flying to Europe now for 52 years.  My first plane trip to Europe was as a three year old with my parents.  We flew on a turbo-prop plane and reached an altitude not much higher than the clouds.  My earliest memories are flying through thunder storms on that rocking trip.  We left from New York and hugged the coastline as much as we could.  Before crossing the ocean we stopped in Newfoundland, then flew to Shannon, Ireland, and then finally to London.   This time, I had a two part journey from Orlando to London and London to Cape Town, one flight on a jumbo jet flying at 39,000 feet.

Of course, my grandparents all left Europe by steam ship.  Once they departed, that was it.  There was no turning back, and no phone calls home telling their parents in Scotland and Germany that they’d arrived safely.   In fact, they never returned home.

So here I go on a trip where I fly from Orlando to London (roughly the same journey Columbus sailed on his trip rediscovering the new world).  Then I fly over all of Europe and the entire continent of Africa in 12 hours.  My first thought was….what would Columbus say of the first leg of my trip?   What would missionary-explorer David Livingstone say of the second leg?  What would early church historian Eusebius say of the way we are all arriving from all over the globe to this church council?  And what would my grandparents say if they knew anything about my Skyping computer or my Blackberry?

This is my first international trip with a Blackberry.  I have done a similar trip with an international phone before, but not with a phone that is so connected to the world wide web.

It is amazing now how e mails now follow me around the globe.  With the help of satellite and international networks, the work of communication does not stop.  Connections are easier than ever in London and in South Africa.

The great thing about this is that, not only can I  stay in touch with family, but I can send reports like this, and ask for prayer all along the way, as well write blog posts to my heart’s content!

But let’s think about this thing called globalization for a moment.  To some, it is bad news—they see the advance of a mega culture that is swallowing up local customs and identities.  They resent the culture of “McWorld” aggressively intruding into and at the same time transforming  their space. In this light, globalization is very much a threat.   To others, it is good news.  This is a sign to some that the world is finally coming together.   The one world Roman dream is finally coming about, but it is happening not by political force, but by economic and technological force.

Love it or hate it, (and I have a little of both in me), globalization is a fact we all have to live with, and the church is not exempt.   A number of years ago when we sent back photographs of our exceptional planet from the moon, it was our own astronauts who noticed the uniqueness of our life-filled planet from space.  They looked back and called it “home” and started to talk about how connected we are.

Since that time, there has grown a complex interconnectedness among the nations.   We are connected in a world economy by commerce—through the worldwide expansions and contractions of market capitalism which ignores national boundaries, (think of it—today I was sitting on a British plane, flying over Africa, eating an Italian ice, listening with one earbud to country music, while talking to a South Korean who laughed at one of my stories using the expression “you da man.”  Now that’s globalization!)   We are connected by travel, (stroll through Heathrow airport—people from all over the world are flying all over the world; this airport is like the United Nations). And we are connected by digital communication, (we can be reached anywhere now in a split second).

It is right to affirm the beauty and goodness of diversity in what we see on a local level.  Likewise, it is sad to see much of this disappear as a corporate culture seems to stamp out local uniqueness and authenticity.  Do we not want to say that some of the diversity of humanity comes from being created in the image of God, and that some of the diversity of creation comes from being designed by the artistry of God?  If God does not like diversity, why world there be approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world?

At the same time, there is a kind of globalism that Christians should welcome.  Is this not, as the old hymn puts it, “my father’s world”?   Of course it is.   It belongs to him. He created it.  He has sovereign rights over it.

Not only that but we rightly proclaim that Jesus is lord of the universe.  That’s how great he is.  Is it not fitting then to use technologies, such as the globalink sites, to magnify  his greatness?   Congress organizers have noted that this is the first evangelism congress of its kind in the digital age.

Finally, one can’t help watching all those who gather here without getting a rich sense of the diversity of the body of Christ.   Yet in this diversity there is a profound unity.  We are a part of the most global entity on earth—the church.  And from what they are telling us, with the 5000 or so people who have gathered here from 197 nations, of all the church councils and congresses, this is the most diverse gathering in 2000 years of church history.  It is ample proof that Jesus is truly calling out a people for himself out of every tribe, language and nation.

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