We live in a distinctly multicultural country with ever increasing diversity in religion, language, politics and morality. Filtering through the different categories of diversity within our church communities can become quite a challenge as we fall upon more opportunities to resolve ethnic and cultural tension, provide clarity on essential doctrine, and seek to eliminate needless argument over the “un-essentials”. In scripture we see both broken and sinful attempts at unity as well as righteous examples of coming together to “be of one mind” (I Peter 3:8). In taking on the challenge of building unity in diversity within the church there are 5 truths to consider.
5 Thoughts On Diversity and Culture in the Church
God is not schizophrenic
The “coexist” bumper sticker, representing a different religion with a symbol in place of each letter, really just represents a modern day altar to the “Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). It’s creative and quite possibly wrought with good intention; however, true Christianity subverts this whole system of idolatry. Culture and ethnicity may bring a beautiful blend of gifting, perspective and expressions of worship but it must never offer a redefinition of God and who He is; or in any way, shape or form replace Him. Those that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), it doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from. The response that God gave to Moses when he asked for His name was “I am that I am”. God is who He is, nothing can be added to His name and nothing can be taken away.
Avoid the sin of Babel
There is definitely a right and wrong way to go about unity. Having the same mind void of other vital conditions can have disastrous results. What is your common goal? Is it one seeking to glorify and honor God, or is it simply to make a name for yourself. To be like God, in other words to move independent of God’s word, is a sin that has continued to manifest itself throughout all of history. It was what serpent used to lure Eve and it again reared its ugly head at the building of Babel. All were focused on a collective goal with complete cooperation. The extent of their imagination was limitless to the point that only God was able to put a stop to their efforts. Unity to build a name for anything other than God is arrogant and will ultimately fail.
The remedy for disunity is the spirit of God
No other Jewish feast would attract such a diverse group of people as the Feast of Pentecost (or Shavout). God chose this day to empower His people with the Holy Spirit and the group of about 120 people began to speak in various languages: “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2:5-6) This group of disciples was empowered to witness to a diverse group of peoples “from every nation under heaven”. They were all of one mind and the results were dynamic.
Biblical unity is further defined: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:13).
The common thread of all believers is that we are not of this world
Jesus said in John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here.” The revelation of God’s kingdom through His word will be uniting force behind a successful multicultural church. Be of the same mind – that is the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:2). Work, eat and pray together celebrating the diversity of the many God-given gifts. Maintain the same love, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose; and be about the business of looking after the interest of others (Phil. 2:2).
In John 17 Jesus specifically prays for those of us who are His: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” In cultural difference that threaten to divide, focus on the identity we have in Christ (Colossians 3:11),
Our supreme goal is ultimate worship.
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).