And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31 KJV).
Miroslav Volf opens his book, Exclusion and Embrace, with Jürgen Moltmann’s penetrating question, “But can you embrace a cetnik?” Moltmann posed this question just after Volf lectured on embracing your enemies as God embraces us in Christ (1996). To Volf, the cetnik conjured images of perpetration in his native Croatia of “burned villages, destroyed cities and raped women.” He answered Moltmann in an honest, yet emotionally charged response, “No, I cannot-but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to” (Loc. 68).
I admire Miroslav Volf’s open expression of his inner strife and strong resolve to keep to the message of the cross despite conflict. The Church must recognize and explore issues of cultural division regarding neighbors and brethren alike. Division runs contrary to love and endangers the very oneness Jesus prays for in John 17. While circumstances change, cultural clashes do exist whether through overt or subtle expressions. The early Church faced these same identity conflicts. The New Testament chronicles conflict over the law, grace and Gentile conversion (Acts 15). Christians, scattered as aliens in foreign lands and impacted by interaction with different cultures, often faced tension in personal and business relationships because of their beliefs (1 Pet). Yet, Jesus’ command remained constant then just as it does now, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31a). Not only does Jesus’ love guide the Christian walk, but it serves as individual and collective witness to a life transformed by His saving grace through faith. Apostle Peter reinforces loving your neighbor and makes it clear that with being chosen comes the responsibility to demonstrate it by showing “the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9) so others would see “the good works” (2:12). Author Karen Jobes describes living the good works as lifestyle evangelism (2005).
Today’s believers retain the same status of aliens, held by early Christians (Gen 23:4; Heb 13:13-14; 1 Pet 1:1, 17). God’s chosen are citizens of His holy nation through the seed of Abraham; and thus, exiles in a foreign land regardless of actual residency. They are in the world, but not of the world (John 17). This requires that Christ followers move out of their comfort zone and cross cultural boundaries to reach their neighbors in mission. Each must transcend personal monocultural viewpoints to do so. Gailyn Van Rheenen, relating to mission, says, “Monoculturalists assume that their beliefs were accepted because they are superior.” He adds that monoculturalists have a lack of respect for other cultures (1996, p.101). While the term monoculturalist might connote strong feelings, knowingly or not, Christians can fall prey to it. Nonetheless, the attitude of judgmentalism stops love short from abounding in brotherhood.
The Body and local church must intentionally ensure brotherhood fully expresses agapē love. The next series posting of Living in Brotherhood: Love Abounds, discusses actions to reach others in the biblical spirit of brotherhood.
Does monoculturalism influence the local church? If so, how?
- Atchtemeier, P. (2011, January). 1 Peter 4:1-8. Interpretation, 76-78.
- Jobes, K. (2005). 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
- Keener, C. (1993). The Bible background commentary: The New Testament. Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press.
- Richard, E. (2004, Fall).Honorable conduct among the Gentiles—A study of the social thought of 1 Peter. Word and World, 24 (4), 412-420.
- Van Rheenen, G. (1996). Biblical foundations and contemporary strategies in missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
- Volf, M. (1996). Exclusion and embrace: A theological exploration of identity, otherness and reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.