Pentecost Changed the World
After the Spirit roared through the upper room nothing was ever the same. Up to that point the good news of the resurrection was held by a small group who shared a common language and a common culture. Suddenly they were able to speak to Jews from across the known world in their own languages. God was doing a new thing. The Holy Spirit blessed the gift of Babel. In Genesis 11 the confusion created by the sound of different languages is often understood as a curse, but in Acts 2 it is blessed. God does not give the people the ability to understand a single language; he blesses them with the message in their own tongue.
The Pentecost Spirit soon broke the idea that the message was for the Jews alone. Language is far more than a collection of words; language reflects a culture and a world view. Because I speak Kiswahili – the language of the Swahili – Tanzanians call me Mswahili – a Swahili person. A person who speaks a language also thinks in that language and absorbs the culture. The Holy Spirit was declaring that Jesus is the Lord of all humanity, not the property of one ethnic group.
This same Spirit sent Philip to the Ethiopian, Peter to Cornelius, and Paul to the gentile world with one message – Jesus is the Lord of all – but this message was told in different words and in different forms of thought. The barriers between peoples were destroyed (Ephesians 2:11-22), but their identity stayed the same.
Pentecost means that no single language and no single culture can contain the complete story of God’s love for us. There is no single ‘Christian’ culture and there is not a single language capable of expressing the greatness of the triune God. This is what Max Warren meant when he said ‘Only the whole world knows the whole truth.’
The church has often acted as if this were not the case and rebuilt the barriers. Soon all theological discourse was in Greek. Later Latin dominated and by 1500 the Bible and all worship was only available in a dead language. The Spirit broke free at the Reformation and Anglicanism celebrated Bible and worship in the ‘common tongue.’ However, we Anglicans are guilty of rebuilding those same walls. The first Maori seeking ordination had to prove their ability to speak English. Even this blog site represents the domination of English in the Communion.
God resists all our attempts to control his Spirit. All around the world the message has been translated onto hundreds languages and cultures and it was received by countless women and men who worship in their own tongue. In each language the story of redemption and grace is the same, but each one brings out a new colour to add to the tapestry. As Andrew Walls puts it: ‘The church must be diverse because humanity is diverse; it must be one because Christ is one.’
The Christian Church has never had so many colours. We have never had such a chance to understand more of our one great God. Stepping from isolation and introversion is like moving from black and white to colour.
Continuing Indaba offers a way to value the diversity God has blessed and to discover more of the wonderful love of Christ. It is a challenging journey. It is much easier to say that our version of the faith is definitive and all others must conform, to demand they speak our language. It is easier to say that each expression is equally valid and authentic and we can divide ourselves in to separate groupings. The Indaba way is to have the confidence to challenge one another through genuine conversation so that we all discover a deeper knowledge of Christ.
To participate in continuing Indaba is to say: ‘We need each other’s vision to correct, enlarge, and focus our own; only together are we complete in Christ.’