When differences no longer matter

On Pentecost 2020 Chief Apostle Schneider preached about the power of the Holy Spirit, which makes it possible that people from different cultures and traditions can be brought together. A commandment also for Christians in modern times.

To be one in the Lord, this is what Jesus Christ asked His disciples, and this is what Christian commandments teach to this day. This is easy to say, but living it requires effort. It takes understanding and Christian love, far more than mere tolerance. Until all the members of the body of Christ recognise the value of cohesion and inner communion, it sometimes takes a drastic experience.

Peter, for example, needed a vision. A sheet with all kinds of unclean animals was let down from heaven, and he was told to eat. Peter said he would never do that. Jews did not eat animals that were considered unclean according to their dietary laws. But he has to do it if he wants to usher in a new era for himself and the congregation: old things no longer count, he has to shift his ground and rethink things in a new light! Whoever belongs to Christ must fulfil new commandments.

God is greater than the nation

This was the moment when the Gentile mission became official. Not only were Jews to learn about the new teaching of the Saviour Jesus Christ, but also the Romans, the Greeks, the Samaritans, and many other different nationalities. They were called “Gentiles” at the time, meaning non-Jews. Many societies clashed in Jerusalem, a melting pot of cultures on a few square kilometres of land. And the disciples of the Lord and the fledgling Christian congregation were caught in the middle. All of a sudden there was God’s exhortation to consider to open borders and broaden their horizons—after thousands of years of having been taught something different. The observance of the rigorous interpretation of eternal laws was to be relaxed? Is this what Jesus Christ really expected?

“I think we have a poor idea of the gap that existed between the Jews, the Gentiles, the Romans, and the Greeks,” the Chief Apostle said in his Pentecost sermon. Indeed, Jews and non-Jews used to be worlds apart. The Jewish people formed an ethnic unit that was very different from the nations around them. Judaism was not only a religion, but also a nationality, a culture, a tradition, and a shared destiny. Anyone who professed the Torah—the five books of Moses—who accepted the Talmud—the interpretation of the Torah—who listened to the rabbis, and had a Jewish mother was a Jew. And all of this was supposed to stop now? Were these differences, some of which the people had grown very fond of, no longer worth anything? Should Jewish Christians really put themselves on an equal footing with Roman or Greek Christians? For many this seemed more like a fall than a rise. The disputes about this within the Christian community can be read up in the Acts of the Apostles.

Faith in the gospel is supposed to unite

The Romans, Greeks, and Gentiles were polytheists who worshipped a different god every chance they got. Putting it mildly, their morality left much to be desired: they were lazy, they murdered and plundered and prostituted themselves—so the Jewish short version. And precisely here in Jerusalem, where all these differences converged, Jesus Christ demanded of His Apostles that they gather a new and united people. In the Pentecost sermon the Chief Apostle underlined, “Think about the first Christians. First there were Jews, and then the Gentiles came. I think we have a poor idea of the gap that existed between the Jews, the Gentiles, the Romans, and the Greeks. The Jews had centuries of traditions, of culture, and of religion. And the others were so different in every respect. And Jesus told them, ‘Now be one!’”

This did not happen overnight and was only possible because of their belief in the Redeemer. That brings us to today. Chief Apostle Schneider said, “I think this gap was at least as big as the gaps we know today. Today we have some differences based on social background, on culture, age, gender, and sexual orientation. And for us these gaps are huge. I am not sure that these gaps are larger than the gap between a devout Jew and a Gentile.”

Overcoming differences

At the time, the people were able to overcome these differences through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Chief Apostle said. “What they did then we can do today too. There are different members on the body of Christ. Some have special gifts, others have important tasks to fulfil. But let us never ever forget that each member is as important as all the others in the eyes of the Lord. The gifts are different, the tasks are different, but every soul has the same value for God and should have the same value for us.”

He made the following appeal: “Gather together, we have to overcome the differences, we have to overcome our own interests and contribute to the well-being of all. And we have to consider each and every member in the same manner.”

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Peter Johanning
Chief Apostle, Pentecost, Congregational life