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Churches in All Their Diversity Reflect Body of Christ

Jesus is God in the flesh.

This assertion opens John’s Gospel through the proclamation, “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14).

Theologians use a $4 word to describe this process, referring to it as “incarnation.” That Jesus took on a human body is a basic assertion of Christmas, for which the Advent season anticipates and prepares us.

While it is certainly a verifiable tenet of Christianity that God has come in human form, we rarely consider the fullest implications of that truth.

If the “fully divine” God has become flesh, it surely means that, in the manger, we see a “fully human” anatomical version of (at least) the male, human baby who eventually grew to be a fully formed adult person.

But, it also means that the Holy has become a social, cultural being as well.

Those who were privileged to see and interact with Jesus recognized him as not only a human being, but also a culturally specific type of person.

As a Galilean, Jesus spoke with a Galilean accent, used familiar, Galilean gestures and figures of speech and reflected the typical socialization processes of most Galileans at the time.

In so doing, he represented not only generic humanity, but he also reflected a culturally specific expression of humankind.

While it is certainly true that God is far more than a biologically complete human male, it is equally true that God is far more than a culturally limited expression.

One of the lesser acknowledged miracles of Christmas, however, is that God was not only willing to risk becoming fully human, but also that he was disposed to jeopardize his character by appearing in the cultural garb of a Galilean Jew.

Recently, I reflected on that profound truth when our group of PORTA Partners worshipped with the first indigenous Albanian church in Athens, Greece. We were in Greece to celebrate the 10th anniversary of PORTA – the Albania House in Athens.

Having visited the many wonders of Greece, located in such places as Thessaloniki, ancient Philippi, Meteora, Olympia and ancient Corinth, our group concluded our tour in Athens.

There, we celebrated PORTA with more than 200 Albanian dignitaries and ordinary persons on a Saturday night. It was clear that PORTA is seen to be a valuable and treasured gift by the Albanian immigrant community in Greece.

But, the highlight of our trip was on Sunday morning when we shared worship and lunch with more than 50 Albanian believers who have made the courageous decision to form their own culturally specific church, despite hesitation and outright objection from other evangelical believers.

While some have insisted that Albanian believers should simply unite with the small group of Greek evangelicals, these good people have followed what they take to be the Jesus path.

That the modern-day version of “the body of Christ” should reflect cultural nuances seems, to them, to be a natural follow-up to the original “body of Christ,” which carried a decidedly cultural imprint.

And so, I was quite pleased when the preacher for that worship service gambled by delivering his homiletical work in Shqip, the Albanian “mother tongue.”

Just four years ago, that very preacher student had admitted to his peers and to me (his instructor) that, as a Greek immigrant who spent much of his life speaking the Greek language, he was more comfortable learning to preach in Greek than in Shqip.

Praise God, the “word (continues to) become (culturally relevant) flesh!”

Bob Newell, a former ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece, now resides in Texas, where he continues his work with PORTA – the Albania House in Athens. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. A version of this article first appeared in the November 2017 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell’s monthly electronic newsletter. It is used with permission.