On the language issue in the Chakhesang churches

For Chakhesang Baptist Church Kohima, Annual Youth Magazine.

The language issue among the Chakhesangs is often called as ‘Chokri-Khezha issue’. But the Chakhesang community is composed of more dialects than Chokri and Kuzhale. So, even as the issue is spoken of in terms of the two major groups, the matter pertains to all the language groups of the Chakhesang community. Some people are of the opinion that the issue is not simply the difference in tongue, but have social and political ramifications and will have far reaching consequences for all Chakhesangs, including the future of the existence of the tribe itself. A Poumai and a Mao friend said that we are heading the same road. The Poumai-Mao tribe separation started from the church. Then election campaigns were played in such lines and so on, leading to ultimate separation.

I am not informed enough to speak on what’s going on at present or predict the consequences. But as a concerned Chakhesang Christian, I want to spell out some thoughts on this very crucial issue. Two instances which spurred me to write on this are two separate pieces of writings. One is a press statement by Dr. C. Cho-o, and the other is an unpublished article by Rev. L. Ritse, both on the issue mentioned. Discussions are going on online and it will be helpful if you can help yourself by going to United Chakhesangs group in facebook. Elders and leaders will find there what young people think. Although I may indirectly respond to the two articles somewhere, there wouldn’t be space here to quote the passages I am responding to. I have a word limit enforced on me by the editors, although I’m afraid I’m going to cross the limit by miles.

First, let me mention here that the Chakhesang experience of having multiple tongues in the church is not unique. Go to any city and you will find it. In a village, everyone speaks a dialect and there is no language issue. But as people move to towns like Kohima or Dimapur we meet with different people groups. So, it is a natural process encountered due to urban migration. In a place where there are multiple ethnic and cultural groups, there is intermixing of cultures and languages. And the feeling to assert and preserve one’s identity grows stronger. That is also when in the name of preserving one’s identity; ethnocentric chauvinism rears its ugly head. What we need to do is to learn from churches where congregation is multiethnic and multilingual. Perhaps our minds will be broadened and we’ll be able to find fresh perspectives. There are numerous examples where churches existed where not only language differs, but cultures of people in the congregation are alien to one another’s. The first gentile church at Antioch is said to have members who are Jews, Greeks, Asians, Arabs, and North Africans.

Second, we do not go to church primarily to learn our language or to preserve it. We go to church to worship God. The church has no obligation to teach or preserve a tongue. God has not placed any commandment that each one should worship in his/her native tongue. I can go to an English speaking church and still be a full-blooded Chakhesang. Use of Tenyidie has not made us any less Chakhesang. English has already become the ‘New-Tenyidie’, the uniting force at least for our youth fellowships. There are various cultural and social organizations and platforms where I can express myself as a Chakhesang and learn more about my roots. It is important to know one’s own language. But that is something that I ought to learn at home. If we have to preserve or develop our language, we can do it outside the church. Bible translation is said to have preserved languages which could have become extinct. But that is only a side-benefit, so to say. Translation is to make the Word of God accessible to the people. But there is a difference between that and the intention of preserving a language/feeding one’s ethnocentrism. The motive behind translation can be very different although the end seems to not show much difference and can be easily justified.

Revelations speak of all tribes and tongues worshipping God. We are speaking of one tribe with a handful of dialects, but actually a local city church ought to be multilingual and multiethnic. That is the direction where we should be heading. Setting up churches along tribal lines may be a particularly ‘Baptist’ problem. Some people justify that ‘most people love to be with their own ethnicity’ and forming a multilingual group would only ‘create an extra barrier to the Gospel’. But that notion does not come from the Bible.

Third; having said that translating Bible into our tongue is not primarily for language preservation, or that going to church is for worshiping in our dialect; we wouldn’t like to go to a church where we don’t understand what’s going on. I won’t want to attend a Sapu speaking church every week when I can’t understand the dialect. So, is separation of the church into Chokri church, Kuzhami church, etc (or even the split of CBCC) the answer? This is where opinions differ and the battle lines are drawn. Before we study ground realities, carry out feasibility research, or conduct opinion poll, etc, etc; the question that we must ask is, ‘What should a church be like?’ I think that separation will go against the very purpose of the church’s existence. It is said that the church is God’s answer to the ‘separations’ in the world. It is the perfect example of ‘unity in diversity’, to use the Bible allegory, ‘one body with many parts’. No nationality or ethnicity can give us such unity that we have in Christ. But if the church is the point of split for a people belonging to one tribe, that will be a really bad testimony to the body of Christ.

Now, how does the church maintain unity in the midst of diversity? Wayne Grudem in his book Systematic Theology says that unity in Christ does not mean one worldwide church government for all Christians. The existence of different ministries with different emphases, and even different denominations, mission boards, Christian educational institutions, etc Grudem says is not necessarily a mark of disunity of the church. The Apostles agreed that Paul preach to the Gentiles while Peter would emphasize his mission work among the Jews, while being united in the cause of the Gospel. So, there are options before us where we can tackle the issue without being divided. Several services (Chokri, Kuzhale, Sapu, English) in the same church is a possibility. Or sermon interpreters can be used. Service may go longer, but for the sake of my brother, I can sit a little longer in the church. Self-giving love for one another is required. This issue may present us with an opportunity which other monolingual tribes don’t have, to become fuller Christians.

Fourth, in the Bible we read that Jesus’ prayer for his disciples emphasized that they all may be one. It is remarkable to note that he not only prays for his disciples but for all those who will believe through their word, that they may be one. Paul in deed and word preached that the unity which we have in Christ is stronger than all human divisions. After reading the two articles mentioned earlier, I turned to books and internet resources which may present a biblical perspective on the issue. Nothing inspired more than reading the book of Acts. While trying to think through the issue facing our church, it is impossible to read through Acts and not be deeply moved. The fire of the Gospel spread throughout the Mediterranean region. When the gentiles came to believe the Gospel, the Jewish believers were reluctant to accept them. Even Peter initially hesitated. But through the preaching of the Good News, all barriers were breaking down. Roman soldiers were getting converted. The Africans were getting baptized. Greek women were joining in prayers. It was amazing. The Gospel was absolutely counter-cultural. All racial and cultural divisions seem to have been lost in the love for Jesus and the love for one another. What language did they use in such city churches? I don’t know. But we know that they found a new kind of love for one another which kept them together.

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’. John 13: 35


  1. Sao - the Spirit is on you brother. Thank you for writing this - brought tears to my eyes. May the Lord continue to help all of our local assemblies build each other up and sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron - and may the Holy Spirit help us overcome our linguistic barriers and fears.

    One additional thought that comes to mind is the Strong / Weak believer bit... perhaps those who are strong in their language should accommodate those who are weak? through translation? through walking the extra mile of inclusion? we are urged to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5.20) perhaps this is another opportunity for us to show Christian body-life in this key area?

    Thanks for writing this. May the Lord bless these words.

  2. Thank you very much bro Andi. That is what we require: walking the extra mile, and offering self-giving love. Please pray that we (especially our warring leaders) will find a way that is pleasing to God.


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