The C1-C6 Spectrum; what is it exactly?

I have been very interested to learn about the C-Scale and its application in ministry. Recently I found resources that provide really good practical explanations and implications of the C-Scale in ministry along with some of the points of contention surrounding it.

The most well known summary of the C-Scale was published in 1988 by John Travis (a pseudonym) and again included in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly in October of 1998. His work has become the go to referencing point for contextualization in an Islamic context. According to Travis:

The C1 – C6 Spectrum compares and contrasts types of “Christ-centered communities” (groups of believers in Christ) found in the Muslim world. The six types in the spectrum are differentiated by language, culture, worship forms, degree of freedom to worship with others, and religious identity. All worship Jesus as Lord and core elements of the gospel are the same from group to group. The spectrum attempts to address the enormous diversity which exists throughout the Muslim world in terms of ethnicity, history, traditions, language, culture, and, in some cases, theology. This diversity means that myriad approaches are needed to successfully share the gospel and plant Christ-centered communities among the world’s one billion followers of Islam. The purpose of the spectrum is to assist church planters and Muslim background believers to ascertain which type of Christ-centered communities may draw the most people from the target group to Christ and best fit in a given context. All of these six types are presently found in some part of the Muslim world.

Greg Strand, a pastor with the Evangelical Free Church of America, did an excellent series of post on the C-Scale at his blog Strands of Thought. I posted his abbreviated version of the six Christ-centered communities below. FYI, “insider” refers the local Muslim population and “outsider” refers the local non-Muslim population.

C1: Traditional Church Using Outsider Language

Many reflect Western culture. A huge cultural chasm often exists between the church and the surrounding Muslim community. Some Muslim background believers may be found in C1 churches. C1 believers call themselves “Christians.”

C2: Traditional Church Using Insider Language

Essentially the same as C1 except for language. Though insider language is used, religious vocabulary is probably non-Islamic (distinctively “Christian”). The cultural gap between Muslims and C2 is still large. Often more Muslim background believers are found in C2 than C1. C2 believers call themselves “Christians.”

C3: Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Religiously Neutral Insider Cultural Forms

Religiously neutral forms may include folk music, ethnic dress, artwork, etc. Islamic elements (where present) are “filtered out” so as to use purely “cultural” forms. The aim is to reduce foreignness of the gospel and the church by contextualizing to biblically permissible cultural forms. May meet in a church building or more religiously neutral location. C3 congregations are comprised of a majority of Muslim background believers. C3 believers call themselves “Christians.”

C4: Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Biblically Permissible Cultural and Islamic Forms

Similar to C3, however, biblically permissible Islamic forms and practices are also utilized (e.g., praying with raised hands, keeping the fast, avoiding pork, alcohol, and dogs as pets, using Islamic terms, dress, etc.). C1 and C2 forms avoided. Meetings not held in church buildings. C4 communities comprised almost entirely of Muslim background believers. C4 believers identify themselves as “followers of Isa the Messiah” (or something similar).

C5: Christ-centered Communities of “Messianic Muslims” Who Have Accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior

C5 believers remain legally and socially within the community of Islam. Somewhat similar to the Messianic Jewish movement. Aspects of Islamic theology which are incompatible with the Bible are rejected, or reinterpreted if possible. Participation in corporate Islamic worship varies from person to person and group to group. C5 believers meet regularly with other C5 believers and share their faith with unsaved Muslims. Where entire villages accept Christ, C5 may result in “Messianic mosques.” C5 believers are viewed as Muslims by the Muslim community and refer to themselves as Muslims who follow Isa the Messiah.

C6: Small Christ-centered Communities of Secret/Underground Believer

Similar to persecuted believers suffering under totalitarian regimes. Due to fear, isolation, or threat of extreme governmental/community legal action or retaliation (including capital punishment), C6 believers worship Christ secretly (individually or perhaps infrequently in small clusters). C6 (as opposed to C5) believers are usually silent about their faith. C6 believers are perceived as Muslims by the Muslim community and identify themselves as Muslims.

For an unabbreviated version you can reference the “Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century (Invitation to Theological Studies Series)” by Dr. Timothy Tennent.

A few more things

The following chart is helpful. It has been adopted and slightly modified from an article at Global Missiology. “L” is low and “H” high. A community then that has low obscurantism and low contextualization would classify as C3. C1 and C2 are higher with obscurantism while C5 and C6 are higher with syncretism. It is worth noting with this chart however that the low/high obscurantism and syncretism danger areas should be more carefully labeled as “potential” dangers.

Missiologist Ed Stetzer is very helpful in defining these terms, most of the following explanations are direct quotes from various post (Beware of Obscurantism, Avoiding the Pitfall of Syncretism, What is Contextualization? Presenting the Gospel in Culturally Relevant Ways) on his blog The Exchange.

Obscurantism is obscuring the gospel from those with different cultures and worldviews by emphasizing things that are actually external to the gospel as being central to it. Syncretism is the mixing of Christianity with something else such that they become a different gospel. Contextualization involves presenting the unchanging truths of the gospel within the unique and changing contexts of cultures and worldviews. The danger is if you don’t do contextualization you end up in obscurantism. If you do over-contextualization you end up in syncretism. And the attempt of the C1-C6 Scale is to ask the question, Where is the sweet spot?

The C1-C6 Scale has lots of practical applications for all Christ-centered community. In the future I hope to write more about how this applies to and can be adapted to fit the context of Japan.











Discussion panel on the topic of cross cultural missions

At the Desiring God 2011 National Conference a discussion panel was hosted that addressed issues surrounding international missions. Why do we do missions exactly? How do you discern if God is calling you to it? What is the importance of gospel contextualized ministries? What is the role of the local church? These were just some of the topics talked about. The responses were really informative and practical and it’s a great starting place for those who are considering world missions for the first time.

I was encouraged to hear a bit more about Michael Oh’s ministry in Nagoya and get a refresher with some of the things that initially motivated me to missions to Japan. I learned a lot of new things too.

The C-Scale (Contextualization Scale) was something that I hadn’t really heard explained so clearly before hearing this recording. Basically, it is a measure of how relevant a church or ministry is to its surrounding population and how well it communicates the full message of the gospel in that culture. There are two extremes, obscurantism at one end and syncretism at the other. Ed Stetzer explained this well saying…

“I will tell you historically the vast majority of errors have been made on the side of under-contextualization in cross-cultural mission. We have had more danger with obscurantism, which is the technical term for when we obscure the truth of the gospel from those who are trying to see it through very different eyes. But the danger is, on the other hand, if the one hand is obscurantism, the other danger is syncretism… Where we’re impacted by paganism in its multiplicity of forms, and we concoct another gospel, that’s not the gospel.”

I wish I could have heard about the C-Scale before my first time going to Japan. It would have been really helpful in thinking through how effective my ministry methods were and tailored specifically for the context I was in.

Everything discussed during the panel addressed issues of missions in a cross cultural international setting but all of it has also has really big implications for all local churches, ministries, and everyone who follows Christ.