Brightly colored saris filled the banquet hall. Ornate jewelry bounced light off the ceiling. Chandeliers hung like celestial bodies in a night's sky. And flower centerpieces made each table a lush garden. My first attendance at a Pakistani wedding was one of amazement; the lavishness brought me to awe, and the attention to detail impressed me. Pakistani weddings are not only beautiful but also deeply religious. After my eyes gazed on the regality of the bride and groom, my ears heard the prayers of the pious. Esteemed men of the Muslim community made speeches and addressed spiritual matters in Arabic.
Afterward, I discussed with my husband, who is a Pakistani Christian, about the use of Arabic in the ceremony. We talked about how Pakistanis who are Muslim learn Arabic from a young age in order to recite prayers from the Quran, which is Islam's sacred text. Though Pakistan's national language is Urdu, many Pakistanis know Arabic because it is an expectation in the Islamic faith.
Islam views the Quran as God's holy speech; thereby, Arabic, in which the Quran is written, becomes the holy means of drawing near to God. Praying in Arabic, also called salah, is one of the Five Pillars, which are required acts of worship. Even if it is not their native language, Muslims are expected to learn some Arabic in order to obey the requirement of salah.
There are advantages in knowing the original language of a holy text. This Islamic value is one from which Christians can benefit. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Becoming familiar with these languages can enrich Bible study by enhancing understanding of a word, grammar, or theological concept. However, in Christianity, there is no expectation to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek to fulfill some condition or requirement.
In fact, Scripture affirms that God's Church is multilingual. Christians worship God in Spanish, Urdu, Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, Zulu, and much more. Here are some Scriptures that highlight this characteristic of the Church:
"This is the Lord's declaration. 'Knowing their works and their thoughts, I have come to gather all nations and languages; they will come and see my glory.'" – Isaiah 66:17–18
"And they sang a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.'" – Revelation 5:9–10
"After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" – Revelation 7:9–10
The diversity in languages uttered to the Lord echoes His redemptive work. As the above passages note, God saved His people, a people from all cultures and tongues. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God redeemed our whole selves. Therefore, through faith in Christ, we can come before God's throne in prayer, not forsaking our languages but directing them to praise the Lord.
Though God first made His covenant with the ancient Israelites, we are not restricted to view Hebrew as a language more holy, pure, or effective at drawing us to God. All believers are one, holy, and pure in Jesus Christ's perfection. All believers can enter into relationship with God because God first drew near to us. The Son of God came to earth, took on flesh, and exceeded the requirements for worship on our behalf. Jesus liberated us from the standard of the Old Testament Law and ritual. When we trust in Him, Jesus covers us in His righteousness and gifts us with the reward of eternal paradise.
How can congregations reflect the multicultural and multilingual principles of Scripture? Below are some ways to encourage our churches to embrace the God's vision for His Church:
¬∑ Outreach: Is your church able to partner with a local immigration organization or other non-profit that addresses the needs of people who are not native English-speakers? Such a partnership could provide opportunity to serve, share the gospel, and invite people in such program to your church.
¬∑ Diversify Worship: If your congregation has attendees who are from other countries or homes where another language is spoken, consider incorporating worship songs that are in the native tongues of these attendees. If these congregants are members and mature in the faith, invite them to pray in their language during services.
¬∑ Support Bible Translation Initiatives: There are many Bible translation programs whose goal is to make sure God's Word and its message of salvation through Jesus Christ reach all people. According to the Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are 7,378 languages spoken in the world, and the full Bible has been translated into 717 of them. Though much progress has been made, there is more work ahead. If God is leading you, volunteer or donate to one of these Bible translation initiatives. You can find more information on the Daily Grace Foundation's efforts in this area here.
Wycliffe Bible Translators. "Our Impact." Wycliffe.org.uk. Accessed June 20, 2022. https://www.wycliffe.org.uk/about/our-impact/.