By the year 2020, it is projected that a third of the population in North America will be populated by people who consider themselves ethnics, immigrants, or some minority. This in turn will mirror a diversity of cultural and linguistic values in the North American mosaic. Illegal aliens number in the millions, and they need the love of the church, for Jesus said, “...I was a stranger, and ye took me in” (Matthew 25:35). With each passing day the importance of multicultural ministries becomes more evident.
The United Pentecostal Church enjoys a distinct cultural diversity, and is seeing rapid growth because of it. The leadership welcomes people of different cultures into its ranks. God has intended every creature to have the gospel preached to them. To see this accomplished, God is calling men and women to ministry from every language and culture.
Genesis eleven relates the story of the building of the Tower of Babel. Man desired a common language, and a common purpose or goal. This was opposed to God’s will for man to “multiply, and replenish the earth.” It was here that God scattered the people by diversifying language and culture. Babel brought division and confusion, however, at Pentecost, tongues brought unity..
While the Jews were in Babylonian exile, they preserved customs and religious values by building synagogues. Jewish children grew up bilingual, forcing these people to translate the Old Testament into Greek. The second and third generations understood Greek better than they did Hebrew.
Jesus spent time as a child living in Egypt. His mother tongue was Aramaic and He probably also spoke Hebrew and Greek. At crucifixion time because of Roman rule, Pilate ordered a sign written in three different languages to be placed over the cross: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
JESUS MINISTERED TO ALL CULTURES
Galilee means, “The circle”, and was referred to as “circle of heathen.” (Matthew 4:15, 16) Cultures crossed in Galilee since it was inhabited by Gentiles as well as Jews. Jesus grew up with Phoenician, Syrian, Arab, and Oriental neighbors. And it was here that Jesus’ ministry took place. This mixture of Gentile races led to a Galilean dialect. (Matthew 26:73) Galilean Jews were looked down on by Jews of Judea, especially by the Pharisees. (John 7:52)
Jesus’ first public sermon was preached in the Nazareth synagogue, for it was here that he was reared. (Luke 4:16-30) His disciples came from Galilee (Matthew 4:18; John 1:43-44; Acts 1:11; 2:7). Jesus Christ, God manifested in the flesh, chose to come, live, and minister in Galilee.
Jesus ministered in a multicultural environment and taught in a language not his own. The Galilean multitude, with its various accents, can be found everywhere. And, it is for this people that Jesus Christ came to seek, and to save.
THE CHURCH MINISTERED TO ALL CULTURES
The first administrative problem in the Christian church was due to cross-cultural differences. The Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration”. (Acts 6:1) The first General Board Meeting of the church wisely solved the problem by selecting leadership from the minority group, in this case the Grecians.
According to Christian scholars, Jesus spoke Aramaic. But He undoubtedly understood Greek and read the Scripture in classical Hebrew. Jesus spoke with a Galilean accent. The message from the ministry of Jesus in Galilee is that Jesus ministered in a multicultural environment and taught in a language not his own.
According to tradition, Luke is the only Gentile writer in the Bible; he was of Greek descent. Luke addressed his book to “the most excellent Theophilus,” a Roman official who was interested in the Christian faith. Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of Luke’s gospel is that it addresses the theme of the universality of salvation. While Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham (Matthew 1:2), the founder of the Jewish nation, Luke traces it back to Adam (Luke 3:38), the father of all men.
When we minister cross-culturally, we need to exercise much wisdom and tact. This is demonstrated in the manner by which Luke wrote his gospel.
All four of the Gospels quote the passage at Isaiah 40:3 as a foretelling of the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2, 3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23). They all give the account of the “one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’” Yet, only Luke continues the quotation: “And all mankind will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:6). Luke continues the quotation for the purpose of including the universal promise.
In this universalism the Samaritans are included. They are not only included but they are praised. The hero of one parable is a kindly Samaritan whose conduct far surpasses that of the orthodox Jewish ministry (Luke 10:30-37). Of the ten lepers healed, only the Samaritan returned to give thanks (17:11-19).
In this universalism the Gentiles are included. A mission to the Gentiles is not a normal part of Jewish thought ... But in Luke 2:32, the aged Simeon saw in the baby Jesus one who is destined to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles.” When Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, He pointed out that it was to a widow of Zeraphath in Sidon that Elijah was sent, and that it was Naaman, a Syrian, whom Elisha healed (4:25-27).
Further, what Luke omits is as significant as what he includes. In the sending of the 70 (10:1-16), Luke does not include the command not to go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans (Matthew 10:4). Luke was led by the Holy Spirit to use a different approach in presenting the gospel to other cultures.
Luke’s universalism surfaces again in the Book of Acts (2:3-12). “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?’ Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?” (Acts 2:7, 8)
In the early church each ethnic group had to struggle to present the gospel to its own generation. The disciples soon felt the need to integrate people of different cultural traditions into unified Christianity. The decision of the Jerusalem Council concerning the Gentiles who turned to God was not to trouble them with the trapping of Jewish culture and religion (Acts 15).
There is no standard ethnic ministry, because each group has its own unique cultural background. We do have some biblical examples to imitate. God, in order to fulfill the Great Commission, chose men like the Ethiopian to minister in their own cultural context.
Even Peter, because of social customs, needed a special vision before he visited Cornelius; “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him” (Acts 10:28, New American Standard Bible).
WE MUST MINISTER TO ALL CULTURES
As it was in the early church, so is it today. The United Pentecostal Church believes in a “One Church” concept. The Jerusalem Council believed in this concept because it decided not to place on the Gentiles Jewish culture and religion. (Acts 15)
The Church is able today to declare a message of deliverance to all people, for now “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). To do this effectively, we must learn how to work with people of different cultural backgrounds. Bible Schools now must train their students to minister to different cultures. While diverse naturally in many ways, we all speak one language -- the Bible, and we all have one culture -- Christianity.
Available sources suggest that ethnic minority groups are under particular stress involving problems of immigrant status, poverty, cultural change, prejudice, stereotypes, education, language, and many other things. Just as Jesus developed His ministry in a multicultural setting, so must we also if we are to reach our ethnic-rich cities.
The United Pentecostal Church - A Model for Multicultural Ministry
Many English-speaking congregations are 10 to 60 percent “ethnic”. Some congregations (of varied ethnicity) worship with a local English-speaking congregation; however, because of language they have an associate Pastor and worship separately from the English service. And, numbering in the hundreds, there are autonomous non-English congregations springing up everywhere throughout North America which hold affiliation with the United Pentecostal Church.
Multicultural ministry must not be done only by English-speaking congregations, but every ethnic group must take the gospel to every ethnicity in their community. All inner-city churches need to become multicultural in ministry if they expect to reach their city. Seminaries need to begin training their students to minister to different cultures.
All Christians have one language in common, the Bible, and one culture in common, the Church. This is the common denominator in multicultural ministry. There is one race that God particularly loves, and that is the human race. Every soul is very important to God. And, they are important to the United Pentecostal Church.
By: Don Hanscom, Sr.
Director of Multicultural Ministries