God is the Creator of unity of purpose. In our church there is both a unity of faith and a diversity of cultures that should be appreciated and respected. Both elements are needed to be balanced if we are to succeed in carrying out the gospel in all the world; and in preparing a people for the kingdom of God.
Good afternoon to everyone. For those that speak Spanish, "Buenas Tardes." That’s the way we generally say it over there in Garden Grove in California.
Looking around, I see persons from around the world coming together for these services as well as to attend the General Conference of Elders. Besides many from the U.S., there are ministers from Europe, Canada, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Seeing the different cultures from which God has called people into His church, it brings home a biblical truth of great importance. God is the Creator of unity of purpose, while at the same time having diversity of forms. Just as the flowers have different colors and structure, and yet they are all flowers, so it is with human beings.
It would indeed be a very boring world if all the flowers were of the same color and forms. The same principle of unity of substance and diversity of forms also applies to God’s church. The members around the world have a unity of beliefs, while at the same time have a diversity of cultures and personalities. After living twenty-four years abroad in different parts of Latin America, this is a great lesson driven home to me. I have tried to learn this principle from others in the church who have taught me through the years, and it has helped so much in serving others and also in my own spiritual life.
So in our church there is both a unity of faith and a diversity of cultures that should be appreciated and respected. I believe both elements are needed to be balanced if we are to succeed in carrying out the gospel in all the world. And also in preparing a people now, and for the kingdom of God.
During the international meetings here this week, one question we discussed was how cultures of different nations can be respected and sustained since the thrust of the work comes principally from the United States. A way of doing so has been in the manner the "Good News" is being published. It remains the primary vehicle to get the gospel out to different parts of the world. The editorial staffs in the different countries have great leeway to adapt the magazine to their different cultures. For instance, in Great Britain, they have a supplement added to the magazine with articles that have to do with the national news in their different countries, so it gives it a more British flavor. In Germany, they edit the magazine to make it more acceptable to the German mentality. The same occurs in the Spanish and other editions of the "Good News."
This approach has not always been this way, but from the start, United has had this awareness, and therefore we have avoided a lot of needless problems in causing offenses in these different nations.
Paul mentions this principle of the unity of faith but a diversity of cultures and roles in I Corinthians 12:12. You can turn with me there. I Corinthians 12:12, He’s talking about the church, different peoples, cultures, and yet the same faith. He says in -
I Corinthians 12:12 - For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
Verse 13 - For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. We see here the unity of spiritual beliefs but among a diversity of cultures. Paul continues -
Verse 14 - For in fact the body is not one member but many.
Verse 15 - If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?
Verse 16 - And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?
Verse 17 - If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
Verse 18 - But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
Verse 19 - And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
Verse 20 - But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. Paul is telling us we have an essential element among us, God’s Spirit that makes us members of one body. And yet, He recognizes at the same time there is a diversity of roles, cultures and personalities. Some are introverted; others are extroverted. We have men, women and different nationalities, and yet we all have one common spirit.
He says we should not discriminate some because they are culturally or racially different than we are. Or because they may wrongly regard themselves as having a lesser role to play in the church, that body of Christ. He continues explaining this point.
Verse 21 - And the eye (which is one of the most prominent organs in the body) cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you" :nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
Verse 22 - No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.
Verse 23 - And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty.
Verse 24 - but our presentable parts have no need. Talk about how we can dress ourselves, but the parts that are not so presentable, those are the ones that have the greater modesty. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,.
Verse 25 - that there should be no schism in the body, meaning no divisions or discriminations. but that the members should have the same care for one another.
Verse 26 - And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Verse 27 - Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. We see here that the body of Christ has a unity of faith through the same Spirit, but a diversity of roles, cultures, personalities and languages. Each culture has its strengths and weaknesses, and no one nation possesses all the virtues nor always has the right approach.
For instance, I happened to have been born in Cuba and came to the U.S. as a small boy of seven after Fidel Castro took over the country and declared it Communist. I remember in school, after he took over, they replaced the regular teachers with his cronies, and the first day they told us we had to learn two things: first God does not exist, and two, we should report on our parents on whether they were accepting the revolution or not. Needless to say, that very day I was ready to leave the country. Thankfully a year later, we were able to board a plane, arrive in Miami, although we had to leave every last cent and property to Castro.
I grew up here in the U. S., became a citizen and eventually came to know God’s wonderful truths at the age of seventeen. Then at the age of twenty-five, I was sent abroad for twenty-four years to serve God’s wonderful people in Latin America. Yet it still hurts me to hear of the suffering and injustices there still are in Cuba. All my relatives who stayed there have died long ago. You can either cry about what is happening there, or you can use humor to console yourself. So we still tell jokes about Cuba to console ourselves and accept the strengths and weaknesses of that culture.
For example, we have a joke: A Cuban said to another Cuban, "You know, I think Adam and Eve were also Cubans." His friend asks, "What makes you think they were Cubans?" "Well," he answered, "they didn’t have any clothing to wear; they walked barefoot; they didn’t have much to eat, and yet they said they were living in a paradise." That is exactly what Castro says we have now.
They also tell of a time when Castro was in a stadium giving another one of his eight hour speeches. Suddenly a fellow selling peanuts got too loud, yelling, "Peanuts, Peanuts, anybody want to buy peanuts?" Castro got so irritated after a while that he said to the fellow, "If you keep yelling, ‘peanuts, peanuts,’ anymore, I’m going to kick you so hard, you’re going to end up in Miami, ninety miles away." All of a sudden, the whole stadium crowd began yelling, "Peanuts, peanuts, anybody wants to buy peanuts?" Yes, please kick us so hard we can all land in Miami.
Now this about the strengths and weaknesses of different nations doesn’t only apply to Latin America, there’s a cute European joke about their strengths and weaknesses just as the Cubans have theirs. And I got permission from the Europeans here to tell it.
They asked, "Do you know what the European heaven looks like?" Well, that’s where the British are the police; the French are the chefs; the Germans are the mechanics; the Italians are the lovers; and everything is run by the Swiss. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But then they add, "do you know what the European hell looks like?" That’s where the British are the chefs; the French are the mechanics; the Germans are the police; and the Swiss are the lovers, and everything is organized by the Italians. Actually the Italians are much better organized than many other countries I’ve known around the world.
But the point is human beings have in common the same human nature wherever they live, but they express it differently according to their own cultures. Perhaps an illustration will help. Let’s imagine human nature is like the air in a balloon that has a plastic covering with holes in different parts of the plastic. As the balloon is blown up more, that human nature pokes itself out through those holes. And in the different nations the holes are placed differently so the human nature is the same, but it pops out at different parts. And the challenge is to figure out where those holes are in that nature and how to adapt our manners to fit around them. That’s the real challenge when you live abroad.
It is important to appreciate the different cultures and realize they mutually excel each other in many points. While at the same time recognizing all have different weaknesses. These principles have helped me to adapt to different cultures in Latin America while keeping clear in mind what unites all of us in the church, our common faith and the ultimate goal: developing Godly character and be overcoming to be in God’s kingdom one day.
It is difficult to balance these two aspects, unity of the faith, diversity of cultures, and every nation has their perspectives and mentality while at the same time keeping in mind the goal of having that unity of faith. Paul explains this concept in I Corinthians 9:19. Let’s turn to I Corinthians 9:19. He says here -
I Corinthians 9:19 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;
Verse 20 - and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those that are under the law; …In this context being under the law means what the Pharisees with all their legalistic trappings were doing, and so he adopted when he was in the Pharisaic culture - he didn’t try and offend them -
Verse 21 - and to those who are without the law, (the Gentiles did not have God’s word) he adapted as without law. And then he explains not being without law, so someone cannot misconstrue this, because he did follow God’s laws. He says - (not being without law toward God but under the law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; (the Gentiles).
Verse 22 - to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, (in other words, he has adapted to all cultures and mentalities) that I might by all means save some.
Verse 23 - Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. Paul teaches when dealing with different cultures it is so important not to have a feeling of superiority but to humbly adapt to our surroundings. You learn there is not only one way to do things to achieve those spiritual goals; not to try to adapt people to our culture, but rather we should adapt to their culture as Paul did. It took a miracle from God for Peter, that once proud Jew, to learn this lesson. Let’s turn to Acts 10:28 Acts 10:28And he said to them, You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come to one of another nation; but God has showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
American King James Version×; Peter was before Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, and he says -
Acts 10:28 Acts 10:28And he said to them, You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come to one of another nation; but God has showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
American King James Version×- Then he said to them, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." Because he’s a different culture, because he’s a different race, because he’s a different class. We should never call a person that way; we should never look down on anyone.
Verse 34 - Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.
Verse 35 - But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him." The problem is that through each of our backgrounds, we all have hidden prejudices to get rid of if we want God to bless His work, to use us effectively as He does His work around the earth.
It is just a matter of first recognizing it, that we all have prejudices; limiting it, striving to limit it and all the while trying to fully eliminate it. We’re never going to get rid of all of our prejudices, but we have to reduce them and work hard to eliminate them. And all the while learning to appreciate the beauty and worth of the other cultures.
Look at the current news around the world. Isn’t it sad to see so much killing and mayhem in part due to long standing prejudices because at the bottom of many of their hearts people can’t appreciate and respect the cultures of their neighbors. Some feel theirs is superior, and that everyone else should adapt to them. True Christianity begins when we don’t feel superior to others. As Paul says in Philippians 2, let’s turn to Philippians 2:1 Philippians 2:1If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
American King James Version×-
Philippians 2:1 Philippians 2:1If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
American King James Version×- Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,
Verse 2 - fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Verse 3 - Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
Verse 4 - Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Verse 5 - Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (He is the perfect adapter of cultures, while at the same time maintaining the unity of faith.)
Verse 6 - who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
Verse 7 - but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men.
Verse 8 - And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Verse 9 - Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name. This is the example of how true Christianity begins by not considering ourselves superior to others.
Having a Latin background and sometimes having been a victim of prejudice, I truly can identify myself with what Paul says in Ephesians 2. Let’s turn back to Ephesians 2:11 Ephesians 2:11Why remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
American King James Version×. There are so many nations represented here. God has called so many people from different cultures, races and economic classes; He says here in Ephesians 2:11 Ephesians 2:11Why remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
American King James Version×-
Ephesians 2:11 Ephesians 2:11Why remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
American King James Version×- Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands-
Verse 12 - that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Verse 13 - But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Verse 14 - For He Himself is our peace who has made both (Jews and Gentiles, Israelites and different nations have made) both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation,
Verse 15 - having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, (which separated the Jews from the rest of the Gentiles) so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,
Verse 16 - and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross thereby putting to death the enmity. (And different racial prejudices that were extant at that time).
Verse 17 - And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near,
Verse 18 - For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
This is a great lesson I have tried to learn from others who gave me such a fine example and have tried to apply it wherever I have gone. The lesson is to appreciate and respect the diversity of cultures while at the same time striving to maintain the unity of faith through God’s Spirit in the church. It is a worthy goal for all of us to strive to follow having the unity of faith among a diversity of cultures.