A Multicultural Synagogue

A Multicultural Synagogue

Why A Bilingual Messianic Synagogue?

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb – Revelation 7:9

Many times people ask me, “Pastor Ely, why don’t you just stick with a one language church/community? My answer is always very simple, “because this is how it was in the first century”.

Many people today ignored the cultural context of 1st century synagogues. All synagogues happen to have the services of a Merturgan (interpreter) during their service since not everyone happen to speak the same language.

If any man speak in an unknown tongue – 1 Corinthians 14:27

Is interesting how many people will look at 1 Corinthians 14 just under the premises of the gift of tongues according to Acts 2, but many people overlook the fact the those who speak in other languages were considered as well as people with the gift of tongues. Paul for example mentions that he speaks multiple languages.

I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you; – 1 Corinthians 14:18

The Arabic version reads it;

“let him speak to two, or at most three, and separately”; as if it respected the number of persons he was to speak to at a time, and that in a separate and private manner: but the apostle’s sense is, that two such persons as had the gift of speaking in an unknown tongue, or three at most, should be only employed at one opportunity, lest too much time should be taken up this way, and prevent a more useful and edifying exercise; and that these should speak not together, which would be a mere jargon and confusion, and make them took like madmen, and render them entirely useless indeed; but in course, one after another, that so an interpreter might be able to take their sense, and render what they said, and express it in a language the people understood: for it follows; “let one interpret” what the two or three had said.

This practice was very normal and ancient, who an officer in the synagogue called the “Methurgeman”, or “an interpreter” will interpret the speech or teaching. The rise of which office, and the rules to be observed in the performance of it, are as follow, delivered by Maimonides.

“from the times of Ezra it has been customary that an interpreter should interpret to the people what the reader reads in the law, so that they may understand the nature of things; and the reader reads one verse only, and is silent until the interpreter has interpreted it; then he returns and reads a second verse: a reader may not raise his voice above the interpreter, nor the interpreter raise his voice above the reader.
The interpreter may not interpret until the verse is finished out of the mouth of the reader, and the reader may not read a verse until the interpretation is finished out of the mouth of the interpreter; and the interpreter might not lean neither upon a pillar, nor a beam, but must stand in trembling, and in fear; and he may not interpret by writing, but by mouth: and the reader may not help the interpreter; and they may not say the interpretation written in the law; and a little one may interpret by the means of a grown person, but it is no honour to a grown person to interpret by the means of a little one; and two may not interpret as one, but one reads, “and one interprets”

He begins with the gift of tongues, with speaking in an unknown tongue, as the Hebrew language, because this they were desirous of: and the rule for this he would have observed is, an interpreter might not interpret according to his own sense, nor according to the form of the words, or its literal sense; nor might he add of his own, but was obliged to go according to the Targum of Onkelos, which they say was the same that was delivered on Mount Sinai. The place they stood in was just before the reader; for so it is said, `the interpreters stand before the wise man on the sabbath days, and hear from his mouth, and cause the multitude to hear.”

An interpreter might not interpret according to his own sense, nor according to the form of the words, or its literal sense; nor might he add of his own, but was obliged to go according to the Targum of Onkelos, which they say was the same that was delivered on Mount Sinai. The place they stood in was just before the reader; for so it is said,

“the interpreters stand before the wise man on the sabbath days, and hear from his mouth, and cause the multitude to hear.”

And elsewhere it is said,

“the interpreter stands before the wise man, the preacher, and the wise man (or doctor) whispers to him in the Hebrew language, and he interprets to the multitude in a language they hear,” or understand. And sometimes these sat at his side, and only reported what the doctor whispered privately. So “it is said, that when the son of R. Judah bar Ilai died, he went into the house of Midrash, or the school, and R. Chaniah ben Akabia went in and sat by his side, and he whispered to him, and he to the interpreter, and the interpreter caused the multitude to hear.”And they never put any man into this office until he was fifty years of age.

Several of the Jewish Rabbins were interpreters, as R. Chananiah before mentioned, and R. Chutzphit, and others.

This is where Yeshua got the reference from when it comes to the job of an interpreter:

“what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops. – Mat 10:27

This was the job of the Methurgeman.

For the past nine years The Awakening Place have been serving a very multicultural community of believers. Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Jews, English and even Asian. Even though our community in its majority are Latinos, that doesn’t mean they all speak Spanish. We have a Spanish community who was born and race in North America and who’s cultural language probably got compromise a generation before.  Me for example, most of my kids speaks more Hebrew than Spanish, but English is their main language. In our congregation we have placed English as the main “lingua Franca” for those gathering.

We have been trying slowly and surely to develop this philosophy of ministry and to communicate it to our church and to others. We desire to be clear that we do not think all churches can or should do this. Each church must decide what is best for them. There is no one way or right way. But here are five reasons why we feel this way is best for us at TAP.

 

  1. Because of the Brith Chadashah (New testament) focus on being ONE

Consider just this partial list of verses in the New Testament:

  1. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, so that they may be ONE as we are ONE…I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be ONE as we are ONE—so that they may be brought to complete unity. – Yeshua, praying in John 17:11,20,23
  2. All the believers were ONE in heart and mind. – Acts 4:32
  3. For just as each of us has ONE body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form ONE body, and each member belongs to all the others. – 1 Corinthians 12:13
  4. …So that with ONE mind and ONE voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. – Romans 15:6
  5. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all ONE in Christ Yeshua the Messiah. – Galatians 3:28
  6. His purpose was to create in himself ONE new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in ONE body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. – Ephesians 2:16
  7. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of ONE body, and sharers together in the promise in Yeshua the Messiah. – Ephesians 3:6
  8. There is ONE body and ONE Spirit, just as you were called to ONE hope when you were called; ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism; ONE God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:4-6
  9. I will know that you stand firm in the ONE Spirit, striving together as ONE for the faith of the Gospel… – Philippians 1:27

I could pint point many other verses even from the Tanakh to make this principle not only more biblical, but logical.

  1. Because the United States desperately needs unity in spite of differences

In a country where we wage daily social media war over politics and race and many other topics, it can speak loudly when a group of people says, “We refuse to be divided based on typical anthropological differences.” Like language. You can have a multi-cultural church without being multi-lingual but being multi-lingual guarantees you will be multi-cultural. People whose first languages are different will likely be different in many ways.

And by nature we find differences annoying and ignore what is different when we can.  We often think in terms of “Us” and “Them” and only tolerate “Them” as far as to be polite.  So our Ministry mission statement on being bilingual says, “At TAP, there is no Us and Them. Only Us.” The church of all organisms needs to be countercultural and push back against homogeneous thinking and community living. Bilingual community forces us to interact with people who we otherwise perhaps would not.

There are times in our synagogue we have social event and a person who does not speak Spanish and a person who does not speak English will communicate with each other in significant conversation, using hand gestures, the few words in the other’s language they do know and the universal language of smiling and laughing. And they love it. They will grab a translator if absolutely necessary, but experience has taught us that since 90+% of communication is nonverbal, if you demonstrate just a little bit of patience and humility, it rarely is necessary for informal conversation. But you’d never know that unless you tried it or were forced into it.

  1. Because it teaches us to be outward and others focused.

In a religion whose truth contains the ideology of “Consider others more important that yourself” and “No one should seek their own good but the good of others” as a core tenant of the faith, it can challenge your commitment to it when you are in a place where you do not understand everything going on around you and when you do not understand so that others can understand.

When the Scripture reading happens in Spanish, about 18% of the people at TAP do not understand it. When it happens in English, around 40% do not understand it. Someone at TAP is constantly sacrificing for the sake of others. It is good for the DNA of the church. This is especially true for English speakers in the US since English is essentially the official language. It takes humility to say “Your language is welcome here, even if I don’t understand it.” The humility of deferring for the good of others.

Even for some Spanish-speakers who speak English well, they long to hear the Scripture, songs and teachings in their first language since that is how they understand it best. As Pastor Peter Lopez, my former Pastor and good friend, I ask him, “dude, just preach in English…I know your Spanish sucks, to which he replay, dude…en español es donde se suelta la uncion”.

I hear someone saying, “When you teach to me in English, I understand it in my head. But when you teach in Spanish, I understand it in my heart.”

  1. We learn more about each other by learning culture and language

I love it that even people who speak little Spanish in my church know that “Oremos” means “Let’s pray” and that “Nuestro Dios” is “Our God”. And I have no doubt that our Spanish-speaking people are improving their English weekly just by being in worship services and social events of TAP. And this helps us with communication skills because it enhances our empathy. It is the way of God to bless us when we sacrifice for others. And the blessing of getting to know more about brothers and sisters from other cultures just from learning a few words and phrases in their language is magnificent.

  1. Because the Gospel isn’t just Yeshua reconciling people to God, but also people groups to other people groups

In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches clearly that Yeshuas’ death was not just about the forgiveness of sin, though that is foundational to our faith. He also explains the terminology of “alien” and “foreigner” in the Kingdom of God is obsolete (2:19). There are no immigrants among God’s people, only brothers and sisters. The curtain was torn when Yeshua died to obliterate the division in the holy and the common. But the separation of Jews and Gentiles in temple worship was also undone. Messiah’s death destroyed the wall that divided two ethnic groups and made them united and equal under a new covenant. We cannot preach Yeshua and not preach racial and ethnic reconciliation.

And so we have determined in TAP that a bilingual ministry is the best way to communicate that.  We do not judge other ministries in the HRM or Messianics who based on doing this differently or on any other non-absolutes.  But we encourage others to consider it.

 

FOOTNOTES:

Hilchot Tephilla, c. 12 sect. 10. ll.
Vid. T. Bab. Roshhashana, fol. 27. 1. & Megilla, fol. 21. 2.
T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 49. 1. & Maimon. Hilchot Ishot, c. 8. sect. 4.
T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 50. 2. Gloss. in ib.
Gloss. in T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 20. 2.
T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 21. 1.
Juchasin, fol. 44. 2.
Ib. fol. 42. 1. & 44. 1, 2.
The Ancient Synagogue Service -Ernest De Witt Burton

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