In understanding the church's teaching on the incarnation, Christianity has had a long-standing definition articulated at Chalcedon in A.D. 451. The importance of this statement cannot be overemphasized as it guards against subtle heresies that either separate Christ's divinity from his humanity or subordinate his humanity to a "fleshly" status devoid of real personality. Though the Definition is only concerned chiefly about the nature of Christ's person, the implications of its tight-rope theological posture between the Alexandrian and Antiochene polarities extend to the church and its ministry. Mark Noll observes that the Alexandrian errors of denigrating the human realms of body and nature, as well as the Antiochene tendency to seal off the divine from the human and erect dubious boundaries between the sacred and profane have persisted throughout history. The church's continuing struggle with how to engage its surrounding culture while retaining its holiness has proven the resilience of these problems as they follow naturally from the precedence believers put on pursuing the church's "set apart" status as it has often imbibed worldly culture. Perhaps the best example of this tendency can be found in the monastic traditions of the Middle Ages. After Constantine, the church and state were no longer adversaries. Political leaders and church bishops became strange bedfellows, thus making life in the clergy an opportunity for wealth and status. In response, monasticism renounced this direction with vows of poverty and rules of spiritual discipline that sought to recover the early church's ideals of martyrdom. Through their dedicated efforts Christianity expanded its missionary endeavors across the European continent while others translated the Bible and liturgy into the native tongues of those they were reaching. With some merit, one might be able to judge the monastics as spiritual recluses who held to rigid standards that intentionally set them a part from the ordinary Christian. Their Neo-Platonist spirituality which purported to bring the soul upward towards pure spirituality certainly did not help increase the value of earthen experiences like marriage and sex. To be fair, however, though they may seem peculiar to present day Protestants, the missionary strands of monasticism demonstrated some kind of incarnational approach to their efforts. Mark Noll, commenting on their effectiveness, writes, "For a monastery to be established in a pagan area allowed the local population to see the application of Christianity to daily existence, as monks tilled the soil, welcomed visitors, and carried out the offices of study and daily prayer." Far from retreating into a spiritual vacuum, the monks "pitched their tent" and dwelt among those whom they were reaching all the while retaining their standards of holiness. Another important example of incarnational ministry can be found in the appropriation of the Christian faith to non-Western cultures in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. While Christendom in Europe was dying in the face of Enlightenment categories, the expansion of Christianity multiplied exponentially as it was pushed out of European life. Christianity became a global religion. The notion of allegiance to nation being synonymous with allegiance to Christ was dismissed as forces like pietism and evangelicalism fueled the missionary impetus in the face of secularizing forces lent by the French Revolution. Christian indigenization in Africa provides an excellent example of how the content of faith was shaped to fit the sensibilities of non-Western people. When Presbyterian missionaries, in a bold anti-incarnational approach, ventured into Bible translation for African culture, they refrained from using African words that would communicate the idea of the Holy Spirit out of the fear that it would be misappropriated as a tribal spirit. Thus, they left the Third Person of the Trinity out of the text altogether. Yet the spirit world populated by innumerable spiritual beings was integral to the African worldview. African missionaries like Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Bor Dinka Christians appropriated the gospel to these needs by declaring Christ the victor over the spirit world. In light of his own emancipation from slavery, Crowther said, "About the third year after my liberation from the slavery of man, I was convinced of another worse state of slavery, namely, that of sin and Satan." For the Dinka, the cross became the central symbol of faith in that it revealed a great power over the spiritual world that was able to protect them from malevolent curses and hexes. Mark Noll notes, it represented the "great God" coming "close to the Dinka in the person of Christ" to chase away evil.

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