Jo and I have at least three reasons that we like the nearby church we attend. For one thing, it is a small church and for another, the pastor lets me preach while he is away on mission trips. But the best reason was illustrated this past Pentecost Sunday. Here’s what happened:
Very predictably our pastor read the Acts chapter 2 story—the Holy Spirit-filled disciples declaring the wonders of God, and being understood by speakers of multiple languages. We then re-enacted this scene. One by one people stood up and read, in their own mother language, a verse telling of a miracle Jesus had performed. This was followed immediately by someone reading that verse in English.
A man read in Ukrainian that Jesus turned water into wine. A woman read in Cree that Jesus walked on water. I heard Arabic from the Middle East, Tagalog, Cebuano and Pampango from the Philippines, Yoruba from Nigeria, Portuguese from West Africa, and I read from my Dutch Bible. That was nine languages. To make it up to an even dozen, Jo read a passage in Canela, a teenager read in Spanish, and the pastor in Greek.
Only these last three languages were learned as second language. This congregation of only fifty people is enriched by nine different languages and cultures. Such a variety! Jo and I need this diversity of ideas, cultures and customs. How else can we grow? We are constantly being challenged to rethink the way we live. We need this, and enjoy it.
A Story from Brazil
The challenge in Brazil was similar. We not only worked with Portuguese speaking Brazilians and Canela speaking indigenous people, but our co-workers on the centre were British, Swiss, German, and American, and our next door neighbour was Canadian born Japanese. When on the mission centre, we attended a Japanese-Brazilian mission church. Our three daughters were baptized there in a tri-lingual service, English, Portuguese and Japanese. Oh, the diversity! What a joy to learn to work together with people from all these different cultures!
My Shocking Question
But the diversity didn’t stop there. The first week we arrived on the mission centre, I was asked to lead the Sunday night prayer service, and to introduce my family to the rest of the missionaries there. I did so and then asked the attendees to tell us their name, where they were from, and what their ministry work was. If I had stopped there all would have been well. But no, as an ex-pastor I had to satisfy my curiosity, and so I added, “Oh, and tell us what denomination you are.”
Every eyebrow lifted. Looks of surprise, amusement and even mild shock registered on every face. They reacted as if I had asked them to pick their nose in public. How was I supposed to know that nobody ever asked that question? But being polite, they told me. The answers were an alphabet soup, from Amish and Anglican right through to Presbyterian and Reformed.
Over the decades, as we lived and worked together with these brothers and sisters in Jesus from such a wide variety of church cultures, I realized the variety enriched our worship times together. No one ever spoke of their denominational distinctive, let alone push it on others. Instead, we gladly accepted, even celebrated, the variety of each others’ church backgrounds.
What Will It Take?
North American Christians do church by the “birds of a feather stick together” philosophy. It is so comfortable to be surrounded by people who are exactly like ourselves. This practice, however, not only splits Christ’s Church into many denominations and splinter groups, it also minimizes the stimulus to grow and change.
In Brazil Jo and I benefited from living and working with a wide diversity of God’s people, we now enjoy a similar variety in the little church we attend. But what about the multi-millions of Christians who are clustered together with others just like them in their own denomination and nationality.
Christians are considered outlaws in some countries. Believers who secretly come together for fellowship and encouragement do not concern themselves about national and denominational differences. They are united in their focus on Jesus.
Do you ever wonder if Jesus prayer for His Church, “. . . that they may be one as we are one. . .” will be answered for North American churches . . . under persecution?