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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VERSTER, Pieter. Challenges of the diversity of languages in churches: The unity of the church and language. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2019, vol.59, n.2, pp.192-202. ISSN 2224-7912.

The unity of the church is of utmost importance for Christian religion. There is a wide variety of churches and faith communities. Even within churches of the same belief there are cultural and language differences. The theologian Bram van de Beek recently expressed the opinion that the language that is generally accepted for the communion table, i.e. English, should be used for the sake of unity. According to him, the unity of the church must be expressed around the communion table, where everyone is present and it can only be done if one language is used. We can agree with Van de Beek that the unity of the church is indeed non-negotiable. Therefore, the ideas of exponents who emphasize the unity of the church should be taken seriously and further investigated. In this regard, the special contributions by Philip Theron, Johan Heyns, and Dirkie Smit should be considered. Theron emphasizes the importance of the church as an eschatological gift that is not determined by creation, and thus points out that the unity determines the church. Heyns leaves open the possibility that the church may display diversity because the church must also be understood from creation, but it should show that it should never violate the unity. Variety may occur but must not necessarily occur. Smit, in turn, points to the unity of the church as instruction that cannot be violated by any form of position or culture. Belhar's Confession is of great importance in this regard. In the evaluation of this point of view, John 17 is especially explored. The unity of the Father and the Son also determines the unity of the church. That unity is specifically the unity of faith in Jesus Christ. It is shown as confessional and not as structural. However, the relationship in community with one another is of utmost importance. Communion is also an expression of the relationship in community with one another. The function of language in the church in the light of unity is therefore important. In addition, the following questions must be considered incisively: Wherein lies the unity of the church? How should the unity around the communion table be structured? How can and should language differences be dealt with? How should worship be set up if there are several languages used in a community? Would the sole use of a common language, in this case English, not just worsen and violate the unity? Is language in the expression of the Christian religion also not really significant? Within the family of the Dutch Reformed Church there are several congregations that offer sermons in various languages, even within one worship service, by interpreting or repeating the sermon. The value of a native language is creatively of great importance. Language is therefore not a coincidence. It is argued in this article that language is dynamic and that the development of an own language can also lead to new relationships in religion. Respect for each other leads to recognition of the other and, consequently, to deep Christian confidence. There are examples of congregations that accommodate several languages, such as Afrikaans, English, Sesotho, and even Chinese, in different worship services under one roof and where opportunities are created where everyone meets around the communion table and the sermon and formula used before the communion are interpreted or repeated. However, language should never be exclusive and used to prevent people from becoming part of the community of faith, or prevent them from attending a worship service, or participating in communion. Unity and diversity must therefore not be set against each other, but there must be an initiative to promote own languages without annulling the church.

Keywords : Church; unity; holy communion; language; English; John17; accommodating one another; respect.

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