Unity in diversity. The Church in conflict?

When cultures clash. Do Africans have to become more European or Europeans more African? Do those who are more conservative have to become more progressive? Or the other way around? The answer can be found in the Bible.

At the beginning of each District Apostle Meeting, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider addresses the District Apostles and District Apostle Helpers with a spiritual portion. In November 2023, he continued his reflections on the unity and diversity of the Church. This essay has just been published in a special edition of the Divine Service Guide 1/2024, which is currently on its way to the ministers.

Migration movements in the past

The Chief Apostle writes that migration movements are a major social issue at the present time and also pose many a challenge for the Church. However, this is nothing new as the New Apostolic Church initially developed thanks to emigration. It was primarily due to faithful German-speaking members from Europe that the Church was able to establish itself in America, Australia, and certain African countries.

The immigrants held on to their German religious culture and, for example, continued to conduct divine services in German for some time. The Church was able to adapt little by little to the local realities, language-wise and culturally, “thereby paving the way for the integration of believers from other cultural backgrounds”.

Migration movements today

For some time now, some of our congregations have been experiencing a strong migration of believers from Africa, the Chief Apostle writes. On the one hand, this breathes new life into congregations, which benefit greatly from the faith, energy, and commitment of the African brothers and sisters. However, “the new arrivals have their own New Apostolic culture which differs significantly from that of the local people”. Especially in a time when people are worried about their future, they tend to cling to their traditional values. This gives them security. The Chief Apostle asks, how should we respond to this challenge?

The challenge of diversity

Regardless of cultural background, the different ages and circumstances of the believers are both a blessing and a challenge. Especially nowadays people insist on their particular individuality, emphasise their differences, and expect their specific expectations to be met..

Some of our members would like the Church to become more involved in society. Others believe that social commitment is not part of the Church’s mission. Some want nothing to change in the Church, while others want to change everything. One group wants emotion, while another group wants more reflection.” The Chief Apostle says, “It is impossible to satisfy everyone.”.

The universal gospel as a response

The Apostles of the present day adopt the same attitude that is described in 1 Corinthians 1: 22–24 and focus their preaching on the universal gospel, on that which is valid for all. “The universality of the gospel lies in what Jesus Christ teaches us about God, about ourselves, about our relationship to God and to other people, and about the salvation that God offers us,” the Chief Apostle says.

This teaching does not “consist of giving people everything they ask of, but of giving them that which they need to receive from Him for their salvation.” The role of the Apostles is not to arbitrate between cultures, but “to proclaim to everyone that God loves them as they are and that He desires to save them, and to prove to them that they all have their place in the Church, that they are respected, understood, and loved”.

Who is weak?

Paul had shown how the one, universally valid gospel could be proclaimed to all: “To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 19: 22). The Chief Apostle answers the question of who is weak as follows: “Each of us is weak in someone’s eyes. In reality, we are all weak before God.”

He uses the Ten Commandments and how we interpret them as an example. How Christians interpret these depends on their cultural environment and their personal situation. From an African perspective, for example, Europeans clearly violate the Fourth Commandment by placing their own parents in a retirement home. In many regions of the world, this is unthinkable and a sin. For many people in the Western world, on the other hand, it is incomprehensible why corruption is taken for granted in some countries. In their view, this is a clear violation of the Seventh Commandment.

What about love?

It is important to realise that the “opinion we have of our neighbour has no impact on the love that God has for him or her”. Our own opinion can, however, work to our disadvantage. Because God will judge us by the way we behave towards our neighbour, especially how we behave towards those who seem weak in our own eyes.

Jesus also presented the solution to this problem by explaining “that the commandment of love takes precedence over all the prescriptions of the law”, the Chief Apostle says. Apostle Paul understood this perfectly and describes it in Romans 13: 8–10: “He who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Paul knew that all the commandments are summed up in this one sentence: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”

The essay can be found in the special edition of the Divine Service Guide 1/2024 and is available to all ministers. Interested members are welcome to discuss the subject with their local ministers.

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