Against hatred and violence: “The stranger is your neighbour!”
Islamic terrorism in France, Nigeria, and Mali, and Islamophobic demonstrations in Germany. Also in such situations, the New Apostolic faith can be applied in a very concrete and practical way. This is something that Chief Apostle-Luc Schneider made very clear in a divine service this past Sunday in Luxembourg.
“Have you heard? How terrible!” the Chief Apostle quoted reactions on the newest developments. In a terrorist attack on the editorial offices of the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket on 7 January in Paris, in France, 16 people were killed. On the same day, the Boko Haram militia, a Nigerian terrorist group, massacred hundreds in an attack in the state of Borno. And in Mali, peacekeepers of the United Nations have been fighting against extremists for two years. Meanwhile, in Germany, thousands of demonstrators are marching in protest against the alleged Islamization of the West.
Already in his opening prayer, Chief Apostle Schneider prayed for the victims of violence and terror. “We pray for all the people who are in deep distress. We pray for those who are victims of injustice.” And in his closing prayer he said: “We pray especially for all those people whose lives are in great danger on account of their faith. Simply because they have a different faith, others want to hurt and kill them. That really worries us.”
The divine service on 11 January at the Parc-Hotel Alvisse in Luxembourg was based on Romans 12: 2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Apostle Paul compares two opposites here: the constantly changing spirit of the time on one hand and the immutable will of God on the other. “Our relationship to God has to remain the same, no matter what happens. The happenings in this world should not impact our relationship to our neighbour. Our point of reference is the almighty God.”
What is the good that Paul refers to? “Good is the law of God, the law of love for God, the love for one’s neighbour,” the Chief Apostle clearly said. “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” This applies at all times, in all situations, and in all places.
Using three biblical examples, the Chief Apostle showed what pleases God.
When Peter took his sword to try and prevent the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane, He stepped in (Matthew 26: 47-56). “It does not please God when in order to proclaim or defend our faith we hurt others.” He explained that this not only applies to the power of arms but also to the power of words.
When the disciples wanted to stop a man from driving out demons, Jesus told them to stop (Mark 9: 38-41). “There are many people on this earth who do not share our faith. Yet they make every effort to be kind to others and to serve God. It would not please God if we did not respect and value them, and were to despise and even attack them.”
When John and James wanted to see the Samaritans punished because they rejected Jesus, He rebuked them (Luke 9: 51¬-56). “God will not be pleased if we try to motivate people by threatening or frightening them,” so the Chief Apostle.
The Chief Apostle’s conclusion: “You cannot serve God if you despise your neighbour and hate him. The love for God and the love for our neighbour are inseparably linked.”
But who is our neighbour? “The neighbour is the one who is sick, who is in prison, and the stranger who is so different, whose culture is different, who has a different faith, a different nature, and who has a different opinion from yours. That is your neighbour!” the Chief Apostle said with reference to Matthew 25: 35-40. “That is the person you have to love! You yourself cannot determine who your neighbour is. The neighbour is the one whom God put next to you.”
This raises questions for the believers, he said: “We always have to ask ourselves: How do I feel about God? How do I feel about my neighbour? What can I change, what do I have to change? Very uncomfortable, even for me. But it is absolutely necessary. Examine what is good, examine what pleases God. Examine what you still have to change in order that you can come closer and closer to God.”
To prepare for Holy Communion, Chief Apostle Schneider addressed the concept of reconciliation. The following words in his closing prayer, along the same vein, had a great impact: “We pray for the people who are so confused that they perpetrate evil and think it serves You. It is in the mind of your Son that we pray for them and ask You to grant them mercy. They really don’t know what they are doing.”
For this service, the congregation in Luxembourg welcomed several guests of honour: high-ranking clergy of various denominations. These included Chief Rabbi Alain Nacache from the Israeli Consistory of Luxembourg; Jean-Luc Karleskind, the vice president of the Muslim congregation in the Duchy; Jutta Bayani, the chairperson of the Bahai congregation; as well as Théo Péporté, the representative of the Catholic Archbishop; and Bishop Adama Ouedraogo of the Evangelical Alliance of Luxembourg.
In a meeting after the service, Chief Apostle Schneider thanked them for coming and expressed his solidarity with all victims of racism and intolerance─whether Jew, Muslim, or Christian. Their joint participation in this service, he said, was very significant because on the same day millions of people of different religions were demonstrating against terrorism.