The day tribal ended

Tomorrow, people around the world will celebrate a very unusual happening on a Jewish festival some 2000 years ago. Read the account here.

But let’s back up a bit. One can read the Old Testament as the story of a tribal religion. By “tribal” I mean proprietary – belonging to a specific group of people. The religion of the descendants of Abraham came to them in their language, it is full of their stories about their God.

There are many tribal religions which also belong to people of a common ancestry, who share the same customs and usually the same language. Most tribal religions respect other peoples who have their own gods and religious practices.

A careful reading of the Old Testament shows that God had universal ambitions when he choose to start with Abraham and his descendants. Which brings us to the first festival of Pentecost after Jesus was crucified. Something happened there which shook to the core the idea that Jesus had come to fulfill the aspirations of only a limited group of people – everyone started hearing about the glory of God proclaimed in their own language. Tribal religions are almost always locked up in one language. Here was something different.

From that day, Christianity has been a religion which is not tied to one culture or one language. Instead, it permeated Roman society and the Greek language, breaking free from any tribal identity. Other events, such as those Peter experienced with Cornelius came along to confirm and seal the breakout. The Apostle Paul wrote against those who wanted to tie Christianity to tribal roots. Occasionally some try again to make Christianity a tribal religion – attempting to tie it to a particular language, nation and/or customs. But it never lasts.

There are two ways to be a universal religion. One is to assimilate everyone into your tribe. In this method, everyone will eventually have the same customs, perhaps speak the same language, have the same religious practices, and believe the same religious teachings. The other is the path God has taken Christianity where the person at the heart of the religion, Jesus, comes into languages and cultures and they develop an allegiance to Him while continuing to speak their languages and practice their culture – building houses as they did, singing the same kind of music they always did, being proud of their people’s history and achievements, and so on. Christianity does not seek to assimilate all cultures, even if some of its proponents sometimes mistakenly try to do that. Christianity translates itself into the languages and cultural forms of people.

Christianity does not erase culture, but weaves itself into the culture to create a rich tapestry – Rev. Prof. J D Ekem

If God had hired the most successful advertising agency to put on an event to illustrate that faith him is not a tribal thing, that agency could not have come up with a more convincing and significant event than the one described in Acts chapter 2. All those people, who had been assimilated into Judaism and had come to the center of that faith, Jerusalem, to worship each heard in their own languages – languages hitherto reserved for their tribal religions. Amazing.

If you liked this, you might also like Worse than you thought, Linguistic diversity or Weak things.

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14 thoughts on “The day tribal ended

  1. So very true. A unique perspective on Pentecost Ed, I like it. There are always so many, many facets to God’s revelation of truth and life. It makes the ministry of teaching delightful, challenging, exhausting and fresh. I will be speaking about the promise “I will be with you always” of the great commission being fulfilled in the work of Pentecost. If Jesus is with me I have ENOUGH! God supplies all you need to obey all He commands. Courage comes by believing God with me is enough! The Spirit has changed the world, and is changing me continually. WOW!


  2. Pingback: The day tribal ended | Thoughts Worth Having?

  3. Judaism is considered an ethnic religion by some authors (defining of the Jewish people , but not by others. Hinduism as a whole is mostly classed as one of the world religions , but some currents of Hindu nationalism take it as definitive of an Indian or Hindu ethnicity or nation. Within Hinduism, there are regional or tribal currents with ethnic traits, sometimes termed Folk Hinduism .


  4. Pingback: Trick or Theses | Heart Language Observations

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