NT guidelines regarding multicultural congregations
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Teologiese perspektiewe vir multikulturele gemeentewees KGA 22 Julie 2014 CWA
Theological perspectives on multicultural congregations
Statement 1: NT emphasis is not, in first instance, on multicultural identity but on unity within congregations… whatever differences their might be – income, class, culture
1. NT emphasis is not, in first instance, on multicultural identity but on unity within congregations… whatever differences their might be – income, class, culture Paul, for example, does not make a point: “Be multicultural!” His emphasis is that… o Body of Christ should function as body – 1 Corinthians 12 o Body of Christ should bring marginalized to centre – Ephesians
Body should function as a body, which means (1 Cor 12): • Ear cannot say: “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body” • Eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you…” • “If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one is honoured…” Cor 12
Body should bring the marginalized to the centre, for example Eph 2: “You Gentiles… in the past separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise…having no hope and without God in the world…” (Eph 2:12)
• “BUT now… in Christ you who once were far off have been brought near…” • “For He is our peace… who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…” (Eph 2:14) • “So (now) you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but… fellow citizens”(Eph 2:19)
• In this body… each should consider others… e.g. rich poor, e.g. 1 Cor 11 • V 17: The Lord’s Supper which is not the Lord’s Supper… • Some richer Corinthian Christians were thinking of themselves and friends • No! Rather refrain from the Lord’s Supper if that is your attitude • If you want to celebrate Lord’s Supper… you should “recognize” the body
In this body… each should consider others… e.g. rich poor, e.g. 1 Cor 11 • V 17: The Lord’s Supper which is not the Lord’s Supper… • Some richer Corinthian Christians were thinking of themselves and friends • No! Rather refrain from the Lord’s Supper if that is your attitude • If you want to celebrate Lord’s Supper… you should “recognize” the body
In this body… each should consider others… e.g. different cultures, e.g. 1 Cor 8 • Some (most probably from Jewish background) knew: “there is no God but one” (v 4)…. • Thus, for them “this was sacrificed to other gods”…. not a problem • V 7: “BUT not everyone knows this…”, so…
1 CORINTHIANS 8 (continued) • There are… in body… people from other backgrounds & cultures… • For them: Eating of this meat = Honouring old gods • So… before you eat… think of them… think of others… • V 12: This sin against brother = sin against Christ… • Same argument in 1 Cor 9:23 – meat sold on market…
In this body… each should be willing give space to others, from other culture, e.g. Rom 14:1-19 • Paul assumes, takes for granted… Roman congregations multicultural • So… even before his arrival, he explains where he stands… • V 1: “Accept him whose faith is (in your estimation) weak…” • Accept that there are matters on which there will be differences…
Some advice: • Recognise “disputable matters” – don’t quarrel about that… (v 1, 5) • Focus on “building up” your fellow believer (Rom 15:1-2) • V 7: “Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you…”
In this body… the unity is a treasure that should be defended, e.g. Gal 2:11-14 • The reason for writing of Galatians… Peter’s disruption of unity • The problem Paul addresses… probably not so much righteousness by works… as possible disruption of unity between Jewish & Gentile believers
Also: Gal 3:26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you were baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ… There is (in the body of Christ) neither Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Conclusion from statement 1: • Paul took for granted that most congregations he ministered to, would be multi-cultural… • He did not propagate founding multi-cultural congregations • He took it for granted that they would be multi-cultural in the area he worked… mostly Asia Minor, Greece, Rome
• Paul never consider founding multi-cultural congregations… • He assumed they would be… emphasised acceptance & support of one another • He encouraged them to treasure the unity within multi-cultural congregations… not only for practical reasons, but because they reflected the reconciliation between God and believers.
Statement 2: NT does not suggest to us that a mono-cultural congregation is necessarily an imperfect model
Example, Acts 6: • The congregation in Jerusalem was a monocultural, Jewish congregation. The tension there was not between Jewish and Gentile Christians, but between Hebrew and Greek speaking Jewish Christians – v1: “The Greekspeaking Jews among them complained against the Hebrew-speaking Jews”. • The problem to be sorted out was not tension between Jew and Gentile, but the perception that one group in the congregation (the Hebrewspeaking members, who had been members from the beginning) received better treatment than the Greek-speaking Jews, who were “new-comers”.
Example, Acts 15: • The “synod” in Jerusalem met to discuss the question of Jewish identity markers (circumcision, kosher diet, Sabbath as day of worship). • The question was whether non-Jewish Christians in Asia Minor etc should keep these customs. • The very fact that such a question was discussed, tells us that there were congregations in Jerusalem and Judea who were culturally Jewish – and who assumed that these customs should also be kept by the “newcomers”.
Decision of Synod in Jerusalem • The Jerusalem synod’s decision was that these Jewish cultural markers should not be applied to Gentile Christian congregations (with their Jewish minorities) in Asia Minor etc. • Nothing was however said about or against the (monocultural) Jewish congregations in Jerusalem and Judea – because it was assumed that they would carry on as before – most probably meeting on Sabbath for worship, keeping kosher and circumcising their sons.
Example, Acts 21:17-26 Paul in Jerusalem The charge: “You teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs” (v 21). Paul’s answer: Agree to perform traditional Jewish ritual purification (v 26). Conclusion: Paul (and also Luke, the writer of Acts) was not against Jewish Christians keeping their own cultural customs. Since many of these customs (e.g. worship on Sabbath) could only be celebrated within a community where one culture (the Jewish culture) dominated, we may assume that there was in principle no rejection of “monocultural” congregations as such.
Example, The Letter to Hebrews: Written to Jewish recipients, supports this impression. The Hebrew recipients are encourage to “keep on loving each other as brothers” and “not forget to entertain strangers” (Hebr 13:1). So, whereas openness to strangers, which most possibly included Gentiles, is stressed, there is no appeal to change from a monocultural to a multi-cultural community.
Statement 3: NT guidelines regarding multicultural congregations
Statement 3: NT guidelines regarding multicultural congregations: a. Multicultural congregations were not propagated or suggested as norm or ideal. b. Emphasis was rather on equal and just treatment of people of different cultures when they were present in one congregation or one community.
c. There should be no preferential treatment on grounds of culture, and to a degree this also applied to gender.
Statement 4. Theological guidelines for multicultural congregations 1. Multicultural congregations within a denomination can and should be a blessing. 2. Multicultural congregations should not be upheld as the ideal or norm for every congregation.
Reasons: 1. Most “multicultural” congregation are really monocultural congregations, with members of different cultures. • One culture dominates • Even if project starts as “multicultural” congregations (with different languages used), after a while it gravitates towards a monocultural congregation – which accommodates different cultures. • That’s a good thing – but not perfect.
2. A “monocultural” congregation has certain advantages: • Often in “multicultural” congregations with a dominant culture and language, pastoral problems which are more prevalent in one culture, are often not dealt with. • Monocultural congregations often are better in supplying a cultural environment where people can speak about problems which are more relevant to people of their culture. • Example: Young adult (25-35 years) service – often very “monocultural”, but effective for that age group.
There is the advantage of of “authenticity” which is important. • I can talk about certain issues here… because the people here understand “where I am coming from” – my culture. • Example: In Messianic Jewish Congregation – rejection by family and friends. • This same congregation is in danger of losing its cultural authenticity if it is flooded by new Gentile members…
Guideline: • Whereas every denomination should be encourage to have “multicultural” congregations, these congregations should not necessarily be regarded as the… norm or ideal. • Applied to Bellville, Bill Bezuidenhout Drive…