Cultural Tension (Newsletter 4-6)

Cultural Tension

by Simeon Young Sr.

In the Old Testament at the con­clusion of the building of Solomon’s Temple, the glory of the Lord filled the house of God “so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud” (II Chronicles 5:14). This phe­nomenon immediately followed worshipers who “were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD” (II Chronicles 5: 13). In the New Testament, a similar event occurred. “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rush­ing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2: 1-2). The glory of the Lord filled the house when the people “were all with one accord.”

Unity Requires Effort

We can derive from these accounts and others in Scripture, that unity is a prerequi­site for divine blessing. David declared in Psalm 133, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the moun­tains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” God commands blessing when there is unity.

Unity does not come naturally. It requires effort. The fact that Jesus prayed for His fol­lowers to be one ( see John 17: 11, 21) lends support to this assertion. Additionally, Paul’s remarks to the Christians at Ephesus suggest that keeping “the unity of the Spirit” requires work (Ephesians 4:3). Unity is something that must be maintained or it will be lost.

Cultural Tension in the Early Church

Shortly after Pentecost, the apostles dealt with an issue that threatened the unity of the church. In Acts 6, the Grecian (Hellenistic) Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being neglected. Although the apostles were overwhelmed with the demands of a grow­ing church, the issue involved much more than a breakdown in food distribution. The root of the problem was the Grecian Jews’ perception of prejudicial treatment.

Language differences among the Jew­ish people had led to the creation of both Aramaic- and Greek-speaking synagogues, and these pre-existing cultural tensions were surfacing within the church. Also, the first-century Mediterranean culture consist­ed of an honor/shame component that only heightened the situation. The Grecian wid­ows felt a great amount of shame in their being slighted by the Hebraic Jews. Nor­man Nagel, in “The Twelve and the Seven
in Acts 6 and the Needy” states, “Greek­speaking Jews, sensitive to presumptions of superiority on the part of the Aramaic speaking Jews” viewed the failure to take care of its widows “to be a ground for sec­ond-class treatment.”

The apostles rightly addressed the situa­tion by giving the Hellenistic Jews a voice in correcting the problem. This is of particular importance, especially when considering the fact that the apostles were Aramaic Jews. The Hellenistic Jews were instructed to choose seven men “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). It is not sur­prising that they chose seven Hellenistic Jews to manage the distribution of food.

Cultural Tension in the Twenty-First Century Church

Recent events lend cause for con­cern that cultural tension is rising in North America. The George Zimmerman case, and especially his acquittal, captured much at­tention. Voices from all sides have spoken out. Even the president of the United States weighed in on the matter. Many believe ra­cial tension has been exacerbated and that in spite of the election of the nation’s first black president things have gotten worse, not better.

Cultural tension is always a potential threat to unity among believers. It takes effort to get along with others, especially when you have different backgrounds, worldviews, and experiences. It takes humility and patience when dealing with people. However, in spite of our differences and regardless of ethnicity, we have more in common than what we read­ily recognize. We have been baptized into one body. Our spiritual Father is one and the same. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord whether we are Republican or Democrat, young or old, rich or poor, and so on. Thus, it is importanat that we discern the body of Christ and to love and care for one another. Instead of letting our differences divide us, we should celebrate them.

God’s church has never been a white church, a black church, or a Hispanic church. God’s church is multicultural. Jesus prayed that His church would be one. Shouldn’t we do our best to answer His prayer? In spite of the cultural tension in the world around us, we must not allow it to be a part of the church. We must put forth the effort to main­tain unity. God commands blessings when unity is maintained.

Revival in Spite of Cultural Tension

Cultural tension threatened the forward movement of the early church. But Luke re­cords the end result. The church grew. Many priests became believers. (See Acts 6:7.) In­dividuals who by virtue of their work had witnessed the hypocrisy of Jewish leaders were moved by the actions of the apostles who not only proclaimed the Word but also practiced it. It took effort. But because unity was maintained, blessings came. Likewise, the twenty-first century church is blessed when unity exists among its people. ®