Antioch Now: Multiculturalism and Church

Multiculturalism. The word means many cultures, not one amalgamated culture. At best it refers to the appreciation of many cultures by a singe entity. Where in “multi-culturalism” is there unity?

Christian. What does this word have to do with culture?

To be sure these two questions are a bit unfair for you can find America to be multicultural society of some sort of unity and Christians have always existed within culture. However these two questions reveal that there is no necessary kinship between these concepts. Multicultural unity is difficult to preserve and a being a Christian does not necessarily imply a certain culture. Culture itself is a difficult concept, certainly in part to the wide variation of uses that we have for the word. Culture in light of the multi-tude of cultures I will roughly define as: a way and habit of life shared by a group of people; a commonality of the expectations of living. Is there such a thing as Christian multiculturalism?

My kind father-in-law brought up ancient Antioch as an example of Christian multiculturalism, or at least the Christian response to a society of many cultures. He pointed out that the city of Antioch had quarters or ghettos for it’s ethnically diverse population. An Antiochian Arab would remain distinctively Arab though he may trade with a Greek during the day and though he was “Antiochian”. His Antiochian identity mainly referenced his geographical residence, and had little bearing on the rest of his life: he ate Arabian food, married Arabs, and taught his Arab babies Arabian ideals. But if he heard the true gospel he would go to Church, where he would find himself next to the Greeks, etc. These believers needed a name for their supernatural commonality, so they named it after their savior and their new identity. And it was here that they were first called Christians.

Can Antioch teach us about how to live in today’s racially charged, ethnically diverse, and culturally clashing world? My FiL seems to think that history can help, and I agree – so let’s look further into Antioch, and compare it to what churches are doing today.

The apostles founded the church in Antioch (it’s in the book of Acts) and then gave it to Ignatius (see Eusebius). Ignatius on the way to his crown wrote several letters urging preservation of the unity of the Church before being fed alive to beasts (107 AD). He points to the mystical, that is to say incarnate but supernatural, Church of Christ. This is his body – and the head on earth and for there to be unity there has to be a clinging to the Bishop in all things. Christ is alive, but since He is not with us in flesh He has appointed these men to act on His behalf, and so we must revere them as being obedient to them is being obedient to Christ.

The main act of the Bishop is the unity of the Church, and this is found in the preservation of right doctrine, but primarily through the administration Christ to his people; that is to say the Eucharist. Unity is always found at the table, in this distinctively Christian act. We are Christians because Christ is in us, and we in Him. This act was instituted by Christ for our union with Him, as was baptism. The laying on of hands and anointing with oil is also a Christian act and through it we receive the Holy Spirit. These are the institutions of Christ, the work of His Body, and therefore the most visible act of a Christian. These things, particularly the Eucharist, are distinctively Christian.

These Christian acts are not cultural but trans-cultural. Like we will be when we are among the new heavens and new earth, we are worshiping together in a shared activity. We will not be taking turns being dressed up in suits, Hawaiian shirts, and tribal loincloths to worship for we will all be following the same principals and we will be radiantly clothed to present ourselves to God in our finest manner. The vestments for our worship now should follow those same ones in heaven, which are those that the ancient Antiochians used, and the contemporary Antiochians use today. We will not take turns singing electrified praise songs (especially “I can only imagine”), southern standbys, or grandiose hymns for we will be singing the thrice Holy hymn. We take part in the eternal chorus when we sing in our post-Babel words of the mercy of God and our reliance, and we have no cause to impose more of our culture or preference into this Divine Liturgy. There is a way to worship wrongly, and that is to worship according to preference.

There is a continual accusation levied against the Orthodox Church that it is not willing to dismiss cultural platforms for the sake of the essential Gospel. Though it is true that some people, and perhaps even several parishes are guilty of this it does not invalidate the Church’s position regarding cultural interaction any more than saying Orthodox people are proud invalidates our teachings against pride. The truth of the matter is that the Protestants are constantly dismissing what is essentially Gospel for the sake of cultural platform. They don’t see it because they don’t see the entire Evangelion, and miss the essential elements of the sacraments. “We don’t need the Eucharist” says Pastor Bob, “it is a memorial – an audio-visual aid. It is a vestige of the story, a vestige where we can replace wine with something less provocative. It is something that we can indifferently discard of after the illustration – for there is no incarnate Grace. We remember this illustration that our Lord gave every month or so, and we prepare ourselves so as to be worthy to participate in the interactive illustration of Christ’s passion.”

The mercy of God is present in His refraining from entering these elements, because otherwise the fire of the love of God would consume many unworthy people and Pastor Bob would have desecrated the God he longs to worship. By dismissing “Communion” as no longer communion with God, Protestants have destroyed worship. By neglecting Baptism and their inheritance in the Church for the 30 minute sermon the Protestants have time to fill full of arbitrary activities and on-the-fly prayers. Of course they’re run by preference, they have nothing else to guide their activities.

The Emergent(ing) church has rejected the cultural preferences of modern conservative Protestants and what is left is a slew of people who play golf with their buddy and call it church because they speak of Jesus and the Cross. The truth is that Western Europe, and especially White America, has a skewed picture of Christian activities, and it has had a tragically predictable influence in their version of Christianity.

The fear is that if the Orthodox dress in vestments and sing songs written in the 8th century they will no longer be “relevant”. The Church has been and always will be the most relevant people worshiping in the most relevant manner because it will be in Spirit and Truth, and nothing is more enduringly relevant than that. The Church is a hospital, and the funny clothes and the very un-fun activities are for your healing. Oh God be gracious unto me a sinner and have mercy upon me.

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