When I asked a Zimbabwean bishop last year why they don't write their own indigenous liturgies and why they follow only the BCP (17th century vernacular English), I was told that this is what the missionaries brought with them. Christianity was synonymous with the trappings: BCP language and liturgy, English Victorian hymns, English vestments and robes, etc. To ditch (or 'move on from') any of these would be synonymous with changing the faith itself or moving on from (or 'changing') the Gospel itself.I find that I have two reactions to this. First, it is increasingly clear to me that one of the largest challenges we have is that the Gospel message that was communicated via English missionaries (interwoven with the English culture of the time) has been so locked into place as the one and only unchanging Gospel that it is clearly difficult, if not impossible, for there to be any "new revelation" or "new interpretation" even considered. It would be like dishonoring your father or your mother. Second, I know that that we have some of the same things at work here in The Episcopal Church. How many people left the church when "the new prayer book" (i.e., Book of Common Prayer 1979) was adopted because they were so used to the forms of th 1928 BCP that they couldn't imagine worshiping God in any other way?
For me, I find that I need to be both compassionate and discerning in my response to this. Clearly, God is timeless and so is the Gospel. Yet, to the extent that we serve an incarnational God in Jesus Christ, someone rooted in a place and time, our expressions of worship will necessarily reflect our own place and time. More likely, they will reflect the place and time in which we were raised. Short of a cataclysmic "Damascus Road" experience, it is extremely difficult to transcend our own cultural upbringing and inheritance and embrace something new without a substantial spiritual grounding. Perhaps as we lament what we consider the limited wordview of our Anglican brothers and sisters in the developing world, we should realize that our view, too, is limited, just in different ways.