Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CHURCH AND MULTICULTURALISM IN NAMIBIA

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Since its very  inception  in 1985, Eastside Baptist Church  has embraced the principle  of  being a multi- cultural congregation. In the 1980’s  that was  difficult   to implement,   for   we  then lived under the rule of apartheid. We  lived in culturally segregated areas and  this made it  difficult  for cultures to cross the physical and mental boundaries  that had been created by the government of  the day.  However even in those days  our first pastor, Charles Whitson  made it clear that we were to be an culturally inclusive  congregation.

By means of this article I wish  to re-affirm  this core value, which is also contained in our SOLA 5 set of  core values  (http://www.freegrace.co.za/files/beliefs/Core-Values.pdf) and then make a comment about  the actual challenge of  language and culture  in  our  situation  :

SOLA 5 CORE VALUES  - Article 9 :    RACIAL HARMONY

“God has created all mankind in his own image; all people are of one blood, having descended from Adam [224].  Furthermore, God in Christ has broken down every wall that sin has made to separate us, creating one new humanity in Christ [225].

Therefore we affirm the dignity and human brotherhood of all mankind in addition to the unity of all believers in Christ regardless of race, colour or ethnicity [226].  We will therefore take steps personally and corporately to encourage racial and cultural harmony, expressing this visibly in our communities and churches.

We deny that there is any basis in reason or in the Bible for racial discrimination by any person against other people [227].
[224] Gen 5:1–3; Acts 17:26–28.  [225] Eph 2:13–18.  [226] Col 3:11.  [227] Rev 7:9.

We believe  that  multi - cultural churches  truly glorify  God for  these following reasons:

1.        They  illustrate  the truth that God has created people of all races and ethnicities in his own image (Genesis 1:27).
2.        They illustrate   the truth that Jesus is not a tribal deity, but that He  is the Lord of all races, nations, and ethnicities.
3.        They illustrate  that the blood of Christ  has been shed  for people  “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
4.       They illustrate  more compellingly the aim and power of the cross of Christ to “reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16). 
5.     They expresses more powerfully  the work of the Spirit to unite us in Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  So also  Galatians  3:28 : “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, not at all meaning  that  cultures would cease  or that  the difference between men and women would now be obscured- but that all would be united in Christ ! Unity (oneness in Christ)  is the great result of the gospel  according to   Ephesians  2:12-22 ( see also  Eph. 4:1-6)   where we read   that  in Christ  the  dividing wall of hostility is  abolished between  believing  Jews and  believing gentiles.  In Christ, we  are one body, and that body is the church,  and our church is  a local manifestation of that great universal church.
6.     Every culture  can benefit  from the insights  that other cultures  have. No single culture on earth has an absolute monopoly  on  the truth , remembering especially also  that “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
7.        In  Acts 2 ( Pentecost) the linguistic knot that was tied at Babel  (Genesis  11) was untied when the believers under the influence of the Holy Spirit spoke one common language. Heaven will have one language, and even now  the church should be  that platform on earth where people  work hard to  understand  each other as  we submit to  the common  language of the Bible. 

Here’s the point : If  Christ is our common Lord, and if  unity  is a biblical goal,  should we not  be committed to it  in word and deed

The  Question of Language

At Eastside Baptist Church (as is true for most of our Baptist churches)  we have numerous language groups represented  among us. The language we have adopted  as a means of communication  at Eastside is English. The official language  of the Republic of Namibia is English (Namibian Constitution, Ch. 1 , Art.3). The English language conveniently unites us in our worship. This does not mean that it is always easy. Many a time  persons   have made it known that their freedom in prayer,   and in their understanding,  and in  their  powers of expression   are inhibited by the use of a  language that is not their  mother tongue.    That is understandable. It is always preferable  to worship  in one’s mother tongue or at least in a language  with which one is well conversant.
However, this  is the price one pays for  living in a multi- ethnic, multi -linguistic   environment , and God’s grace is always sufficient  for such  circumstances.

All this  does not mean  that we  will not endeavour  to plant future Reformed Baptist  churches  around  a language medium  other than English, whenever this is feasible and desirable to do so.
What we do need to keep in mind however that  we are committed  to maintaining  a culture of  biblical inclusivity  (as outlined above) whatever the choice of language may be.

To illustrate :  In Namibia we have a   great   number  of Afrikaans  speaking Christians.  It appears as if there is a real need for  an Afrikaans speaking Reformed  Baptist Church  in Windhoek, and we are currently looking into  such  a possibility.

What advice do we have for such a  church   within our  framework  committed to  biblical multi- culturalism? One of the dangers with the Afrikaans language  is  that  it might encourage  mono-culturalism, and thus   become exclusive and  introspective, something that we want to avoid at all costs.  Yet, if  the biblical  principle  of  the unity  of the church  is kept before  us at all times , there should be no threat to such a venture.  Thus an  Afrikaans speaking  Reformed Baptist church should work hard to reach all  Afrikaans  speaking people, and not just Afrikaners. In Namibia this would  certainly include the Basters  and the Nama  people. 

As for me,  I am  German born and raised, married to a South African English speaking  woman, serving a multicultural congregation   in the English tongue, conversant in Afrikaans and German  and using  those languages  freely to communicate the gospel and to encourage  Christians of all walks of life.

Joachim Rieck 
October 2013 


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