“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 :
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.