The Multicultural Jesus
A common misconception about Christianity is that it is a Western religion. In fact this could not be further from the truth. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Christianity as the first world religion. The notion that a religion could be across the nations, across cultures was a new thing. Christianity redefined what a religion was. It also happens to be the largest of the world religions today with more than 2 billion adherents, and it is more geographically spread out than all other faiths.
Andrew Walls, who is a distinguished historian of world Christianity, noted that wherever the other great world religions began, that is still their centre today. Islam started in Arabia, at Mecca, and the Middle East is still the centre of Islam today. Buddhism started in the Far East, and that’s still the centre of Buddhism. So too with Hinduism – it began in India and it is still predominantly an Indian religion. Christianity is the exception. Its centre has always migrated: from Jerusalem to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Rome, from Rome to northern Europe, and today from Rome to Africa, Asia and South America.
Why is Christianity able to become indigenous within so many cultures?
On Sunday we looked at this question and saw an answer in the birth (Christmas), death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter) of Jesus.
At Christmas Christians celebrate God coming into the world and sharing our humanity. In John’s gospel we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-2, 14 NIV11)
The Word is Jesus Christ, he was with God in the beginning, and he is God. He clothed himself with human flesh and came and shared our humanity. ‘He didn’t become a generalized humanity – he became human under particular conditions of time and space.’ By taking a particular culture and not coming as a generalized human, he identifies with all of humanity and all the cultures of the world. This means cultural diversity is built into the very fabric of Christianity.
Jesus did not stay a baby but grew up. His mission in life was to die. This is why Christians traditionally celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Christmas Eve. Strange as it may sound, Christians remember Jesus’ death day as we prepare for his birth day, because his mission in life was to die. Jesus tells us this in Mark’s gospel,
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIV11)
What did Jesus achieve by his death? Peace through forgiveness! Because our sins can be forgiven, we are now at peace with God.
God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19–20 NIV11)
Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven. Once forgiven we can be reconciled to God: we can now look on Him without fear, and He can look on us without wrath.
But Jesus death also brings peace to human relationships. This is because the miracle that is able to reconcile nations and cultures is forgiveness. There is a desire within all of us for justice. When we don’t get it we usually resort to vengeance and retaliation. This is the story of a thousand cultures over a thousand of years. And this is the reason why our world rarely is at peace. But Christians, being forgiven sinners, no longer make those who harm them pay for their sins because Jesus has already paid in full on the cross. Instead Christians forgive. This means it is actually possible see hostile cultures reconciled.
Jesus did not stay dead, but three days later he rose from the grave and one day he will raise up all who trust him to eternal life. The picture of heaven is not of all humans loosing their ethnic and cultural identity, but one of unity within diversity. This is pictured in the book of Revelation as follows:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9 NIV11)
In other words, there will be unity in diversity. God’s glorious future will involve all the tribes and people and cultures of the world putting aside years of hostility and violence to be reconciled to one another as they worship Jesus. This is our great hope and means cultural diversity is built into the very fabric of Christianity.
This makes Christianity a world religion, because Jesus by his birth, death and resurrection is truly multicultural.
What would it look like for Vine Church to take the multicultural Jesus seriously? My brief ideas:
• We should fight against all forms of racism within and outside the church.
• We should have a passion to see people of other cultures know Jesus.
• We should have different cultures represented in church and we should appreciate their food, their music, and whatever unique gifts that culture has.
• We should aim to start churches or support churches which start in other cultures of Sydney, perhaps the City to Liverpool corridor.
How else do you think we should see cultural diversity be built into the fabric of Vine Church?