A faith that is practised in cultural diversity
There is no universal cure. The challenges that the global Church faces in the various regions are just too different. Part two of the interview with the Chief Apostle offers an approach: focus on the essentials. And what are these?
Religious education for children and young adults: this is one of the strategic goals you mentioned. What is the Church doing to meet this challenge?
We are a global Church and there are New Apostolic congregations everywhere. I would like us to pay special attention to our work with the children and the youth. It is a worthwhile goal to dedicate our efforts to the future generation. Above all, it is essential for young believers to know the Bible so that they may become familiar with the New Apostolic doctrine, and they need to feel accepted and valued in their congregations. In our religious education classes they are made familiar with the theory, and in the congregation they are acquainted with the practical aspects of a happy life of faith.
Talking about the global Church, how is the Church dealing with this challenge?
In the past, when our Church was only beginning to spread and grow around the world, we thought it was important to put the focus on uniformity. We encouraged believers to follow certain “apostolic patterns” in such things as music, dress, teaching methods, or even organisational aspects. Today we know that this approach was not the best, and increasingly try to take cultural differences into account. The New Apostolic faith can be practised within the most diverse of cultures.
Are the differences really that big?
Let me give you two examples. About 85 per cent of our New Apostolic members live in African District Churches. In our opinion, they face five major challenges.
- There are hundreds of Evangelical denominations which exert a strong power of attraction on people. Miracle healers are very popular.
- Islamic groups are also growing and are always looking for followers, often using rigid methods.
- Especially in urban areas, there is an enormous deterioration of the social situation. The gap between poor and rich is widening rapidly. Materialism is the number one opponent of faith here.
- On the other hand, we have to help create and promote educational opportunities for young people. Africa needs educational campaigns.
- Not least of all, the question of financial means remains relevant. My wish is that we, as a Church, may succeed in maintaining and expanding our offers.
These challenges require a different approach than, say, the circumstances in Central Europe.
In Europe and North America we are confronted with a decline in service attendance …
… something that really worries us. The causes are manifold. I will only mention a few here. The societies around us are developing more and more into communities of individuals. However, individualism is contrary to the idea of community, in which all are equal. Also people’s willingness to commit themselves to a church and a congregation is diminishing. It is no longer fashionable to take on responsibility on a voluntary basis without receiving any payment is. And there is much more.
How can we integrate these differences into our strategy?
Even at the risk of displeasing some, I will say again: there is no easy solution. Neither regular changes to our liturgy, nor door-knocking drives, nor large-scale ad campaigns will reverse this trend. These and other ideas have been thoroughly tested in our Church and other Christian churches. Some of these measures may work well locally and for a limited time, but they cannot halt the general decline in people’s interest in what churches have to offer.
That sounds menacing. What should we do then, in your opinion?
We must concentrate on that which is essential. After all, we are talking about the salvation of the soul.
… which the Church wants to help us achieve …
When we drafted our Catechism, we had to define terms such as “church of Christ” and “work of redemption” more precisely. We say: the church of Christ is comprised of all believers who through baptism, belief, and profession of faith belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. On the one hand, it is the vocation of the church of Christ to make salvation and fellowship with God accessible to human beings, and on the other hand, to create a space where people can worship God.
And the redemption work?
The work of redemption is that part of the church of Christ in which Apostles are active. It is their mission to gather and prepare the bride for the imminent return of Jesus. The return of the Lord is an event of paramount importance, and the goal of our belief. However, it is not the end of God’s plan of redemption or of the church of Christ. In the thousand-year kingdom of peace, the church of Christ will continue with its mission so that all people can attain salvation through belief in Jesus Christ.
What does that mean for us here and now?
It is on this basis that we want to develop our relationship with other Christian churches. We believe that all Christians should stand together in solidarity and fulfil their mission, namely to profess their belief in Christ and to testify in word and deed of the benefits they receive from God.
Once objectives are defined, the next question is how to achieve them. How does the New Apostolic Church organise itself to meet today’s challenges and prepare for those of tomorrow? This is what the third and last part of the interview will be about, which will be published next Saturday on nac.today.
Photo: Alex Ferguson