Worship forms as means of contextualization: a proposal for more effective ministry in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
My interest of writing this research paper was triggered by the courses I have taken at Western Theological Seminary on topics that are very much related to the issue of contextualization. These courses opened my mind to see the great mistakes cross cultural ministers often commit while witnessing the gospel to different groups of people. They do not respect the cultures of the people they minister to, in this case the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC). Many are overheard blaming this church for not maintaining the right Christian truth but failing to affirm and fulfill the existing worship forms of EOTC for an effective ministry to the church. These worship forms are most often rejected by both expatriate and indigenous Christian ministers and the converts from this church are taught to follow westernized styles of worship. Because of the lack of wisdom in ministering to the people of EOTC this church is forced to aggressively oppose the gospel together with the western culture through which it is presented. This research paper attempts to show how important and useful the existing different worship forms of EOTC are for a better evangelistic ministry and renewal of the church. The paper discusses the importance of contextualizing theology for this specific group of people. It also argues how worship can be conducted differently with different groups of people and that there is no absolute way of doing it. The unnecessary imposition of the foreign worship styles is critically rejected by this paper, since it is a stumbling block for the people that hinders them from coming to the Lord. Finally, the main forms of worship of EOTC are examined.
Most often the big debate that is going on between the members of this church and the evangelical Christians is related to what worship styles and musical instruments should be used in a church. Many people from EOTC, though they can be easily convinced by the gospel message (since it is quoted from the Scripture), are very suspicious and reluctant to join the new evangelical churches, mainly because they are afraid of changing their cultures. The western style of worship is thought to be very secular and that God cannot be adored through it. If the people from EOTC are approached with a proper respect to their styles, which they think are heavenly, and if they are assisted to come to Jesus through them, this would save many unnecessary sacrifices. The people’s hearts can easily be won through their ways of devotion. This can also bring an end to the unnecessary argument that has been held on cultural issues. The use of these worship styles of the church do not only lead to a proper contextualizing of theology but also help to show our respect to the people which really means a lot for the evangelistic work.
The research seeks to shape first the attitudes and the ministerial skills of those who are involved in the evangelistic work in this church. The missionaries and the other evangelical Christians who are witnessing Christ to the Orthodox people will hopefully stop their rejection of the church’s culture and the imposition of their “civilized” culture upon the people. This also helps the new converts from the Orthodox Church to remain in their church so that they can serve the renewal of their church from within.