Acts 2:1-13: The Coming of the Holy Spirit
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Revelation 7:9-10: The Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Every year during the first two weeks of August there is a huge festival going on in Winnipeg which is the capital city of the Canadian province of Manitoba. This festival is called Folklorama. “Folklorama began in 1970 as a one-time celebration of Manitoba’s centennial, and has since grown to an annual two-week Festival of global culture and entertainment.” On its website, Folklorama claims to be “the largest and longest-running multicultural festival of its kind in the world.” Folklorama is one of the many hallmarks of Canada’s multiculturalism.
“Multiculturalism was adopted as the official policy of the Canadian government during the premiership of Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the 1970s and the 1980s. Multiculturalism is reflected in the law through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
What about multiculturalism and the church? Does the church have anything to do with multiculturalism? In this post I would like to demonstrate that besides having to abide by the law of the land where it finds itself, the church is, by its very nature, multicultural from beginning to end.
First, as every other institution or organization that operates in a country, the church is under this country’s law. In a country like Canada which is built on and encourages multiculturalism, the church will reflect this socio-cultural reality. Second, it is important to know that the church has been multicultural from its formation and it will remain so until the end. How is that so? In the following paragraphs I provide an answer to that question.
Multiculturalism at the Formation of the Church
The Pentecost event is generally considered the formation of the church. At this event we see that all nations are represented. Recounting the story, Luke makes sure we understand that all the nations that existed at this point of time were represented at the event. Not only did Jews from these countries and the four corners of the world (as far as the view from Jerusalem goes) were in Jerusalem, but also so were proselytes (or non-Jews).
One commentator, Mikeal C. Parsons, suggests that at Pentecost, the fulfillment of the promise by the gift of the Holy Spirit was not only for Peter’s Jewish audience (and their children), but also for “all nations of the earth” who are also blessed.
Even before the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost, Jesus had already commissioned the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The church was always intended to be universal and multicultural even before it was instituted.
Multiculturalism after the tribulation of the Church (or in the End)
Multiculturalism is not only observed at the beginning of the church but also even after it will have left this world to be with God in heaven. John saw that in his vision recorded in the book of Revelation.
In Revelation 7:9-10, John reports of seeing a great multitude with people from every nation. Here is what he writes:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
This tells us that the church will remain multicultural till the end. All nations, all tribes, all peoples, all languages will be there. The church has always been (and intended to be) multicultural and it will remain that way.
The Church: E Pluribus Unum
One thing about the church is that it constitutes a new people-the people of God. In 1 Peter 2:9 we read, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession… ” In the same vain, Augustine referred to the church or the Christian community as “the city of God.” But this new people of God is made up of all other peoples of the earth. The city of God is established within the city and it draws its citizens from all the other cities around. This reminds us of the phrase “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) which appears on the seal of the United States of America and that Augustine used in his book The City of God.
In many church congregations, when you look into the sanctuary during a worship service, you see people who have come from all over the world. They are of different colors; they speak different languages; they dress differently; and they will eat different foods after the service is over. But they come together as one people-the people of God-to worship him, crying in unison, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
This is living the multicultural church to which God has called us. How beautiful! I don’t know for you, but I can barely wait to see and to live the full-blown multicultural church in heaven. What sometimes happens in our churches in this world is but a foretaste of what will be happening in heaven.
Love: the Language Spoken by the People of God
One characteristic of every people group is language. Whenever we hear Filipino, for example, we also hear Tagalog. If somebody mentions Québécois, immediately we think French. Though today many people speak several languages, we still use languages to identify people. When I am travelling, if I hear somebody speaking Haitian Creole, I immediately know that I am in the presence of a fellow Haitian or at least someone who has a connection with my home country.
This being said, one may ask, “What is the language of the people of God?” In other words, what language would help us or others in the world know that someone is a member of the people of God? Jesus provides us with the answer to that question: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” he says in John 13:35. Love is the language that characterizes the church and through which the members of this chosen people and holy nation communicate with one another and with the world.
Through the language of love we can communicate with anybody-no matter how different they might be from us. When I first arrived in Canada in 2004, my English was very limited. I had a hard time understanding people and people had a hard time understanding me. But I understood very well every act of love and kindness that was directed toward me.
One of the many people who communicated with me through the language of love was a man by the name of Ed Buller. On my first week of arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as an international student, the school I was attending organized a student retreat to begin the school year at a camp called Camp Cedarwood. The special guest was Ed. And one day during free time, Ed took me kayaking (I.e. riding a canoe on the lake) with him. I was extremely happy to experience kayaking for the first time in my life. It was a lovely experience which I still appreciate very much.
Ed and I were very different. We barely could understand each other. But through the language of love, we were able to have a good time together. At least, I did. I have forgotten almost everything people told me when I first arrived in Canada. In fact, I did not understand most of what they said anyway. But Ed’s act of love impressed on me a lasting memory.
Love: the Law that Governs the People of God
One other thing that characterizes a nation is its laws. Those of us who have lived in another country have certainly noticed that certain things that are considered legal in one country are considered illegal in another. Let me take copyright, for example. While in some countries copyright means that no one can copy something that is copyrighted without formal permission, in some other countries copyright sometimes means the right to copy. To clarify, violating copyright may still be illegal in these countries, but many people violate this law and they get away with it.
To come back to my point, every nation has laws by which every resident and citizen must abide. So what then are the laws that govern those who are part of God’s chosen people? There is one law the people of God is called to obey and live by. Interestingly, this law is the law of love. According to Luke 10:27, we are called to ‘”Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind’; and, to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’”
Love is the motto and the manifesto of the people of God. Love is our culture. In 1 Cor. 13:13, Paul reminds us that three things are the most important for us: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Our God is love. Love is what characterizes us.
What Does Love Look Like?
We know what love looks like because Jesus tells us about one individual who, as a true member of the people of God (which many did not assume), showed love. We know this person under the name of The Good Samaritan. He and the man who was robbed and beaten to death by the thieves were from different cultures. In fact, their respective peoples were at war with each other. But love was the way of life of the Good Samaritan. He did not look at skin pigmentation-though there might have been no difference there; he went beyond religion; ethnic background was not the most important thing for him; he put national politics aside and he loved the other that was in need. He shared his transportation with him; he used his personal resources to attend to his needs.
Many of us have done similar things in our own ways. Some of us have volunteered in retirement homes where we have served total strangers; some of us walked alongside newcomers in the country where we live; some of us have gone out of our ways to help people we know wouldn’t help us if were the one in need. These are signs that we speak the language of love. All we need to do is to continue on the same path and get better and better every day at what we are doing. By our love for one another the world will know that we are God’s people.
In this post I have argued that the church that you and I are part of is, by its very nature, a multicultural church. We are multicultural because many of us live in countries where multiculturalism is valued, encouraged, and promoted; we are multicultural because multiculturalism characterizes the church from beginning to end.
Being the church, though we are from different cultural backgrounds, we have become one-one people under God. We are one because this is Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:21: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
As a people, our language is love. Through love we communicate with one another and with the world. The language of love is understood by everybody, no matter where they are from. By our love the world will know that we are the people of God.
As the people of God, we are also governed by the law of love. Jesus commands us to “love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind’; and to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’” Love is the motto of the holy nation that we constitute; Love is the manifesto that undergirds all that we do; Love is our anthem; Love is our culture; Love is who we are because our God is love.
Let us always remember that the church that we are part of is a multicultural church. God has designed it that way and it will remain so till the end. Even if we do not fully understand it, let us continue to enjoy the mystery of being one out of many.