Before the reality of this horrible act what does bible say about Multiculturalism?
Yeshua and Multiculturalism
Is the claim that Yeshua the Messiah is the Lord and Savior of the world relevant to a world in which so many cultures coexist in such close proximity, a world weary of conflict between peoples and nations of disparate cultures? Not only should Bible believers not be embarrassed to make this claim, we should see in the cry for a multicultural ideal a tremendous opportunity to present the claim of Messiah to all people.
Yeshua in His Cultural Setting
Who was Yeshua? Well, Yeshua was at the most obvious and visible level a Jewish rabbi and prophet. He spoke in parables (as did the rabbis) and interpreted the Jewish Torah. He taught disciples and debated Jewish authorities, including other rabbis.
Although Yeshua was a rabbi, he was by all accounts no ordinary one. Yeshua was in crucial respects a religious and cultural revolutionary. He taught that although God had revealed himself uniquely to the Jews (John 4:22), Jewishness alone was no guarantee of favor with God (Matt. 8:10-12). He taught that the temple would be destroyed (Matt. 24; Mark 13) and that worship of God would be centered in the heart, not in Jerusalem (John 4:21-24). He taught that a kind Samaritan or a repentant tax-collector was better than a pious but proud or heartless Pharisee (Luke 10:29-37; 18:9-14). He invited women to be his disciples (Luke 10:38-42). He granted healing to Gentiles (Matt. 15:21-28) and ate in the homes of outcasts (Luke 19:1-10).
Yeshua was remarkable in everything he said and did. He taught like no man ever had or has since — an evaluation that has been voiced by believers and non- believers alike who have read the Good News. Yeshua spoke with absolute authority — “but I say to you” — yet few find his words arrogant. He spoke to the sick and the sinner with compassion yet without sentimentality. He spoke in terms that challenged the different factions of Judaism of his day that might be loosely described as the “fundamentalists” and./or “liberals” of that culture. His own position was theologically closest to the Pharisees, yet his teaching defied simple categorization.
Nor was Yeshua “all talk.” He performed miracles of healing, restoring health and even life to children and adults, men and women, Jews and Romans. Even most critical scholars of a skeptical bent today acknowledge that Yeshua at least performed some works of healing, however they might explain them. Rather than parading the healed before the public as many faith healers do today, Yeshua usually healed people in relative privacy and discouraged people from looking to him merely or only for miracles. His miracles were profound signs of God’s love and mercy that were remembered by his disciples as proof, not merely that he was a wonder worker, but that he was God’s beloved Son.
Surprisingly, despite the tremendous inspiration of his teaching and the impressive power of his miraculous works of healing, Yeshua was remembered primarily for the way he died than for the way he lived. All four of the Good News or Gospels focus on Yeshua’ death, with his teachings and miracles serving more as preludes than the main point. Yeshua’ death itself was unusual: he died on a tree (known as Roman cross), convicted of treason by claiming to be the King of the Jews. Crucifixion was viewed universally in the ancient world with such revulsion that believers would never have made Yeshua’ crucifixion part of their faith if it had not really happened, and if they had not seen in it a transcendent significance. The New Testament implicates everyone in the death of Yeshua — Jewish religious leaders, Roman political authorities, even one of Yeshua’ own followers. Thus, to use the Crucifixion as a pretext for anti-Semitism contradicts the New Testament, which implicates all groups of people and whose authors were, with only one exception (Luke), Jewish. Indeed, by implicating all groups of people in Yeshua’ death, the Good News or Gospels present his death as redemptive for all people.
The story of Yehsua does not end with his death, however. The unanimous witness of all of the Good News –New Testament– writers and of the congregation from its earliest days was that Yeshua had risen from the dead. Since the traditional Jewish expectation was that all people would be resurrected at the end of history, the notion of an individual being raised from the dead in the midst of the historical process would hardly have occurred to the disciples, even as a myth. That the story was not a myth is made plain by the fact that all four Good News report that the first ones to see Yeshua alive from the dead were women. Since this was an honor that Jewish men of the first century were not likely to bestow on women in a fictional story, evidently this is how it really happened. By appearing first to women, Yeshua affirmed their dignity and once again challenged traditional first-century cultural prejudices. Of course, Yeshua made several appearances to men as well, appearances that are reported in independent sources in Scripture — to individuals (Peter, James), to the eleven men disciples, and to even larger groups. Jesus’ resurrection, a documentable historical fact, established the truth of his claim to be God’s Son and the meaning of his death on the cross as a redemptive work of God.
Jesus in His Multicultural Significance
In a classic work of theology, H. Richard Niebuhr asked about the relationship between Messiah and Culture.2 Does Messiah transform culture? Does Messiah stand against all culture? Does Messiah reveal himself through culture? Niebuhr identified five distinct approaches to the relationship between Messiah and culture — and the corresponding relation between the congregation and the world — which he correlated with distinct Christian traditions (e.g., Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anabaptist).
While Niebuhr’s analysis was and is illuminating, various theologians have noted some weaknesses in Niebuhr’s approach. Perhaps the major problem was Niebuhr’s assumption of culture as a single, unitary reality whose relation to Messiah and the congregation could be defined in one way.3 In an increasingly multicultural world, we must now ask about Messiah and cultures: How does Messiah relate to the diverse cultural traditions and expressions in our world? And how do these diverse cultural traditions relate to one another in Messiah?
We suggest that the relation between Messiah and our plurality of cultures may be understood from at least three perspectives. First, Messiah is the Reconciler of cultures — he is the one who can bring people of different cultures together. Second, Messiah is the Redeemer of cultures — he brings wholeness and hope to people of all cultures. Third, Messiah is the Ruler of cultures — he is the one who establishes the standards by which all cultures are ultimately to be judged. We will elaborate on each of these perspectives.
Messiah the Reconciler of Cultures
By both his life and his death, Yeshua offered reconciliation to all cultures. By his teaching Messiah called Jew and Non-Jew together; both were offered a place in God’s kingdom, with the ethnicity of the Jews giving them no advantage whatsoever. While Yeshua modeled this reconciliation in his own life and ministry, it took his followers some time to put this aspect of his message into effect. When they did, however, the results were revolutionary. The Jewish disciples of Yeshua were taught to reach out with love and acceptance to the non-jews, whom they had come to think of as beasts. The non-jews were invited into fellowship with the Jewish disciples without having to become Jewish.
Messiah even more decisively brought about reconciliation between Jews and non-jews through his death. Both Jews and Romans found themselves implicated in the death of Messiah, but both also forgiven through the death of Messiah. One’s relationship with God was now based on the experience of God’s love through Messiah as shown supremely in his death, not on one’s Jewish identity. Non-jews believers came to see that the God of Israel, of the Jews, was the true God. Jewish believers came to see that their God was to be made known to all people.
Some believers have certainly failed to embody the full potential of reconciliation which Messiah came to bring to all cultures. Throughout most of church history non-jewish nations that have professed the Bible or Christian faith have created deep wounds of division between non-jews (Gentiles) and Jews, culminating in the devastation of the Spanish Inquisition and later in this century of the Holocaust. To our shame, some Christians have made Blacks their slaves instead of their brothers. The still largely segregated churches in US America testify to the continuing need for reconciliation between white and black Christians.
But there have been positive signs as well. Christian conviction was a primary factor in the abolitionist movements in England and America, and was also prominent in the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the US. Although some churches still tend to be quite segregated, believers of all races and nations must regard one another as brothers and sisters, and have come together in parachurch settings such as the many college campus ministries or the recent phenomenon, a great example is Promise Keepers.
By his death Messiah offers reconciliation between all peoples today. He offers reconciliation between Jew and Arab, Jew and German, and Jew and black. He offers reconciliation between whites and blacks in US America and in South Africa, Latin America, etc. He offers reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. He offers reconciliation between the descendants of European colonialists and Native Americans. He offers reconciliation between Croats and Serbs. He offers reconciliation between men and women, rich and poor, criminals and victims. There are no ethnic, national, cultural, or social barriers that Messiah cannot tear down.
Messiah the Redeemer of Cultures
What can Messiah do to bring reconciliation between peoples and cultures which have historically regarded each other with suspicion if not hatred? Messiah effects reconciliation between people of different cultures by bringing redemption to those people. Only those who have experienced the redemption which Messiah provides can know the reconciliation which he brings. This redemption is of multifaceted significance for the cultures of the world.
First of all, Messiah offers forgiveness to people of all cultures. Messiah forgave the worst sinners of his own culture; he also forgave those who professed him but then denied him. Messiah teaches us to forgive others as he forgives us (Matt. 6:14-15) — and this must include forgiving the sins of the past as well as of the present.
Second, Messiah offers healing to people of all cultures. Messiah’s physical healing of Jews and non-jews symbolized his spiritual healing for all. He offers spiritual healing to all individuals who come to him, and for cultural institutions that honor him. Messiah offers healing of relationships between people of differing cultures — a healing that comes as people forgive each other and accept each other in Messiah’s name.
Third, Messiah offers cleansing to people of all cultures. He challenges all cultures to accept the transforming power of his redemptive love. Messiah challenges traditionally “Christian” cultures to repent of their sins and to make restitution to peoples they have wronged. At the same time, he challenges cultures largely untouched by him to trust themselves to him — not to European culture. It is as they both seek to know the cleansing and transforming power of Messiah in their lives and cultures that European and non-European cultures will eagerly and sincerely come to learn from each other.
Fourth, in his work as redeemer Messiah offers hope to people of all cultures. He promises an eternal future for people of all tribes, nations, and languages. But the hope is not exclusively future: Messiah offers people of all cultures spiritual power now for personal and community transformation.
Messiah the Ruler of Cultures
Messiah’s work of reconciling people of all cultures to himself and to one another through himself, then, is effected by Messiah’s redeeming work of bringing forgiveness, healing, cleansing, and hope to all who believe in him. By his death Yeshua the Messiah brings people of all cultures together to confess their need of redemption and to place their trust in him instead of in the false self-sufficiency of their proud cultures. Part of entrusting ourselves to Messiah is submission to him as the Ruler of cultures.
The claim of Messiah’s universal authority over all cultures is undoubtedly the most troubling and “politically incorrect” aspect of the biblical faith, but it is non-negotiable (Matt. 28:18). On what basis do we claim that Messiah is the Lord to whom all cultures must bow — that he is for all people and not only for some? Is this not simply a bit of cultural imperialism, to exalt one religious founder over all others?
We have already discussed the radical universality of the message and ministry of Yeshua. What is not often considered, however, is the importance of his cultural identity. The fact that Yeshua was a Jew makes him ideally suited to bring people of all cultures together. For one thing, the Jews are a people whose numbers have always been relatively small and who have never been politically dominant — unlike the Arabs, Europeans, Chinese, and other such ethnically related peoples. Indeed, the Jewish people’s experience of oppression can be appreciated by people of many other cultural and ethnic histories. Moreover, by coming in a people of such distinct cultural heritage, Messiah affirmed the value of particular ethnic and cultural traditions. Yeshua was not a bland Everyman, representing a homogeneous ideal for humanity, but a man of distinct racial appearance, language, customs, and history. It is also striking to note that the Jewish people in Yeshua’ time had lived for over a millennium at the crossroads of the three continents of the Eastern Hemisphere — Europe, Africa, and Asia. Thus, in many and surprising ways the cultural heritage of Yeshua makes him an ideal figure to unite people of every culture. This is one reason why it is so important to recognize and understand the Jewishness of Yeshua.
If his Jewish cultural identity ideally positioned Yeshua to bring people of all cultures together, what authorizes him to be the Ruler of all cultures is his resurrection from the dead. Yeshua is the only major religious figure in history who is even reputed by his followers to have risen physically from the grave. As we have seen, the evidence clearly shows that Yeshua’ resurrection really happened and was not a myth that developed some time after Yeshua’ death. The Resurrection makes Yeshua the Messiah a unique figure among all the religious teachers, prophets, sages, and leaders of world history. It shows that he has the power of life and death, and is the proof of his claims to uniquely reveal God (Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:3-4; Rev. 1:18; Proverbs 30:4).
The near-universal appeal and attraction which Yeshua the Messiah has evoked even outside Bible beliefs confirms the claim that only he can truly unite people of all cultures. It is notable that the three largest non-‘Christian’ religions all have sought to come to terms with Yeshua in some way. -Islam, which numbers roughly a billion people, views Jesus as a great prophet and miracle-worker. Hinduism, numbering roughly 750 million, often views Yeshua as an avatar of Vishnu — one of many incarnations of one of the many Hindu forms of God. Buddhism, which accounts for about 300 million people of the world, typically regards Yeshua as an enlightened one for the West. What these religions unwittingly attest by extending such honors to Yeshua is that he is the one religious figure in history that simply cannot be ignored.
What does it mean to honor Messiah as the Ruler, the Lord of all cultures? It means, first of all, to accept him on his own terms, as he has revealed himself. It means to accept the revelation of Messiah given through his own disciples. We should not be embarrassed to say that Messiah calls upon all people to become believers, followers, doers. This does not mean, of course, that everyone should become culturally European, any more than in the first century all Christians had to become culturally Jewish. But if European culture was at all influenced for the better by its acceptance (however flawed) of Messiah as Lord, surely those who submit to Messiah as Lord of whatever culture will not find it necessary to despise or reject all things European or Asian.
Honoring Messiah as Ruler of cultures means, further, to accept his rulership over every aspect of one’s life, including one’s culture and one’s relationship to people of other cultures. It means to accept his offer of redemption — forgiveness, spiritual healing, and hope — and to place our hope for redemption in him only. It means to accept his teachings on all subjects on which he speaks in the Good News or Gospels (Matt. 28:18-20).
Thus, if we honor Messiah as Ruler of cultures, we will do as Messiah taught and place our faith in God as Creator, Provider, Father, and King over all cultures. We will love and respect people of all cultures. We will critically examine the beliefs and practices of our own culture to see if they conform to the teachings of Messiah. We will seek to submit every area of life, including culture, to the will of the God revealed to us in Messiah. This God, according to Messiah himself, has revealed his will definitively in Scripture (Matt. 5:17-18). And so it is on the basis of the teaching of Yeshua the Messiah, the Ruler of cultures, that we call upon all cultures — including our own — to submit itself to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.
Yet this view of Scripture as preserving an unchanging and absolute will of God for all people has fallen on hard times, even within the congregation, his followers.