In Christ and in Humanity We Stand!
On May 29, the representatives of 40 Dutch Protestant Churches; Assemblies of God in the Netherlands, Baptist Union, Migrant Churches, Reformed Churches came together in the City of Dordrecht to sign an agreement of unity and collaboration. Diverse in Theology and tradition but united in Christ. The National Synod took place in the Church of Dordrecht, in the very same building where the protestant Churches 400 years ago had a theological dispute at the Synod of Dort, which led to 400 years disunity. On this day, I was asked to speak; there were politicians, representatives of churches, and even the Roman Catholic church was present.
Below you read the text of my speech, translated from Dutch to English. It is also important to mention that Christianity (be it conservative, be it progressive/liberal) is declining in the Netherlands. Not many people are interested in religion and have stopped being part of a traditional church.
Together with You!
On this historic day in the Dordrecht church, I start my speech with the words of a friend who once wrote "... I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist / Calvinist, Anabaptist / Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, green, incarnational, depressed yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian. "[i]
Perhaps this description does not fit my profile: a migrant Pentecostal pastor! Most likely, you are wondering, "Who or what is Samuel Lee?" When I decided to give my life to Jesus and follow Him about thirty years ago, I had no idea at all that there were so many Christianities, so many different denominations at all. Born in the Middle East, I come from a region where minorities, both Christians and people with different religions, views, or sexual orientation, are systematically persecuted!
Thirty years ago, when I gave my life to Christ, I thought that all Christians are one, that together, they have dreams to make the world a better place and preach the Good News. Little did I know that within Christianity, too, there are preachers who have extreme lines of thought: who call to burn the Korans, or other non-Christian religious books in public, pray for people to die or advocate to kill the LGBT people! No one deserves death, discrimination, or racism, even when they do not follow what we believe. (added later). I discovered as well that there was a lot of competition within my new faith, Christianity. Who is right? Which Bible interpretation is the correct one, and which denomination is the true one? Because, like many others in non-Western countries, I have come to believe through spiritual experience, I naturally became a member of a Pentecostal church. Here they prayed for miracles, healings, and they practiced speaking in tongues. At the same time, I struggled with Christians from other traditions who tried to convince me that I had to join their church or denomination. I chose for the Pentecostal church (and so far without any regrets)! Also, some of my Pentecostal friends tried to convince me that the other denominations are not the right ones. I realized that within my Pentecostal world, not everyone was healed after prayers and that some people who so passionately prayed in tongues were also capable to hurt others with their words and actions. We are now talking about thirty years ago; that is how I grew into a pastor, a pastor who has been active for 25 years in an independent Pentecostal church in Amsterdam among migrants, from Africa and Asia.
As a pastor, I gradually discovered that theological disagreements are deeply rooted among the churches in the Netherlands: some churches do not accept each other's baptism and the sacrament. Even now the conservative churches and the progressive churches have difficulty with each other, partly because of theological interpretations on various social issues such as migration, undocumented migrants, whether or not to accept those with other sexual orientations. As a migrant Pentecostal pastor, I wonder: are all these disagreements and enmities worth it? What is the value of being a Christian when we cannot deal with each other humanely? We claim that God has become human, the more we must strive for humanity in Christ. Only then do our Biblical interpretations and differences matter less. God has become human, and we should be too!
We can and may disagree with each other. Healthy diversity, on the other hand, is constructive and beautiful — two things bind us together as believers: Christ and humanity! Doctrines, dogmas, and Biblical interpretations are not, in my opinion, above Jesus, and humanity!
I think that it was not Jesus' intention to found so many Christianities who dislike each other and argue about many things. He came to teach humanity to love one another, and that love is above everything else, including religious laws and rules! Lost humanity is then restored, born again! I learn from Jesus that being human goes beyond denominations, whether we are conservative or progressive; we are all made in the image of God. In love, we can interact, work together, and dream together!
Four hundred years ago, in 1619, Africans and Asians could not stand here in the Synod in Dordrecht— as victims of colonialism and slavery, they had other problems they fought against! It took us 400 years to arrive! We are here now in the Dordrecht church.
Most probably a large part of us migrant churches are conservative in our Christian views, but we are here, and we root ourselves in the Dutch soil of Christianity; we will continue together with you! Different, but connected. Christianity in the Netherlands is not dying but is taking a new shape: new life is being breathed into Dutch Christianity: on the one hand by the arrival of migrants and international churches and on the other side by the younger generation of believers who no longer think in denominations and systems but act in and out of love. In this way, we continue together with our traditional churches. Together we make something beautiful out of it, together we build the dream of Jesus: where everyone is loved, where His Sermon on the Mount and prayer become a reality - until His Kingdom comes, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Finally, I speak for my Christian friends who are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, Reformed, Remonstrant, Restored, Liberal, Conservative, Progressive - you are all my sisters and brothers. You are welcome to me, and I also hope that I am welcome to you. By your being, I am enriched, and I can learn a lot from you. Together with you, my faith is complete! In such times of worldwide persecution of Christians, we cannot afford to be disunited based on our biblical interpretation but united in love.
[i]McLaren, D. Brian. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2004).