Say no to assimilation

Andrew Lim

In my last article on "Reaching the New Sydney", I presented the challenge of reaching the multi-cultural population that is the New Sydney.

As we consider how to do this, there is a fundamental issue that first needs to be addressed.

Over the years, I have encountered the view that runs something like this - "It's OK to set up a culturally distinctive ministry for evangelistic purposes (to reach "them"), but once they become Christians, they should assimilate into the local church (become like "us")."

To which I ask the question - "Why is that? What's the reason for that view?"

As I turn to the Scriptures for answers, this is what I see:

Event #1 - Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)

Sinful humanity up to this stage still "had one language and the same words" (v1). But as an expression of their pride and hubris in building this city and the to "make a name for ourselves" (v4), God, aware of the power of this united humanity - "they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (v6), judged them by confusing their language and scattering them over all the earth.

Fast forward a few thousand years to.

Event #2 - Pentecost (Acts 2)

The disciples of Jesus are "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues" (v4), and the dispersed Jews from "every nation under heaven" (v5) hear the disciples in their own (home) language. In a mighty reversal of Babel, God draws together three thousand souls into salvation and fellowship. It's interesting to note that this reversal did not involve God speaking through His disciples to the multitude in one language, nor was there a return to pre-Babel original language, nor is there any suggestion that the miracle of the disciples multi-lingual facility continuing from that point on. The new Christians continued to speak their native tongue, and no doubt, this only served to take the gospel further afield, and Christian fellowships/congregations to sprout up in and around their home towns.

Fast forward a few thousand more years to.

Event #3 - The Heavenly Song (Revelation 5)

In the apostle's heavenly vision, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders sing the following song to the Lamb -  “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (v9,10). It seems to me the distinctiveness of language, cutlure, tribal groupings, people groups, and national groups are preserved yet brought together united in their service to God and rule of the earth. There is no one culture nor one language that typifies Christians.

So if, at Pentecost, and in our final state, we do not lose our language/cultural distinctiveness, why do we need to apologise for culturally distinctive continuing ministries in the now?