It’s the church.
This is a topic we’ll look more deeply at in Re:Discovering the Mission of God, but this question has come up recently, so I’m taking some time to cover it here.
In Re:Discovering the Mission of God, we are taking time to go through Scripture and challenge our assumptions. We all have many assumptions that are shaped by our culture, and we are on a mission to rebuild on Christ alone, looking to God’s word as God’s tool to sanctify us and bring us into greater Christlikeness. The things that were being addressed are issues that may emerge within our own hearts, lives, and churches, issues that there is always opportunity to receive forgiveness for when we confess our sin and receive forgiveness in Christ (1 John 1:8-10).
When the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write the letters that are in the canon of Scripture, a few of those letters were originally written to individuals, but most were written to saints gathered together as the witnessing community and the body of Christ…the church. Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, the names we routinely call these books are derived from the key cities in which the recipients lived. Many of us are familiar with the passage regarding the meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8), the famous verse that there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female in Christ, but unity in Christ (Galatians 3:28), and various passages written to bring truth to lies of legalism.
When we consider the context of these passages, it wasn’t necessarily individual sin being addressed, but sins that were emerging as normative within churches, patterns of thought and belief that were affecting the church’s witness of the Gospel and rootedness in Christ. Many of these issues could have been easily avoided by doing one simple thing: planting separate churches for Jews and Gentiles. But ever since the Holy Spirit confirmed to Peter that the Holy Spirit had come upon Gentile in Cornelius’ home (Acts 10-11), the only language that distinguishes any church from another relates to geographic location, such as those addressed by Christ in Revelation 2-3.
If we look at Scripture alone, multicultural would be to church as tall is to giraffe. It goes without saying. So why talk about it now? As the Gospel goes forth into every tribe and nation, there are many cities, towns, and villages, in which there is a single culture. Throughout the world, in places as diverse as some rural Wisconsin farming communities and villages in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, multicultural church would simply be foolishness. Our church family doesn’t congregate in one of those places. We are the ekklesia in a community that is home to people with many different backgrounds. Some are even from unreached people groups, having never had the opportunity to hear and understand the Gospel of Christ.
To reach these people, the leaders in our church need to grapple with the reality of culture. In Re:Discovering the Mission of God, after we look to Scripture to inform our understanding of the church, giving it permission to challenge our preconceptions, we will also grapple with how to best communicate the Gospel within our multicultural context.
Putting off the comforts and values of one’s culture so others may be reached is not just the call of an overseas missionary, but it is a lifestyle all Christians are called to as we look to Christ, the Son of God. In Philippians 2 we read that Christ emptied himself and came incarnate into a family displaced from their home due to political oppression, grew up in a foreign country and then the backwoods of Israel, living in such perfect obedience to the Father that he gave himself up on a cross for our behalf. Because of this, we are called to do nothing from self-focus but considering others more important than ourselves.
In 1 Peter 4:13 we are encouraged to rejoice if we share in Christ’s suffering. If we have this opportunity before us to be the church…(multicultural)…the church of this community…it’s not going to amount to suffering. That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. In fact, it has to be hard. Because putting others first is difficult. Dying to self is meant to be difficult. If we desire the harvest, we choose what is difficult. This doesn’t mean choosing what is joyless or burdensome. It means that in the struggle, we find a greater intimacy with Christ, and we discover that’s worth more than what we lost.
A few people have brought up questions about why some things are being done a different way, or being moved around. Some people heard the reasons when they were shared with the congregation, some didn’t. Likewise, some are confused on why these questions are coming up, because they understood that these things are in line with why the church called a new pastor. All of that is OK! This is a reminder that even within the same culture, communication can take on such nuance that individuals can leave with different understanding of what was said. That’s why it’s so important to dedicate ourselves to understanding our mission, vision, and values, which are all focused and flowing from Christ.
To expound on this: just as we can have difficulty communicating and understanding each other, it was the same in the First Century church. In Colossians 2:6-10 we get a sense of what can bring confusion, and then how to overcome it: “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as LORD, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude. Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ. For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.’
What brings confusion? Philosophies, traditions, and deceit that are from the world. What bring unity and clarity? Being rooted and built up in Christ, overflowing with gratitude, being filled with Christ’s Spirit.
It’s easy to become myopic and forget that the things we are doing as a church are small and active steps toward setting aside the things that draw our focus away from Christ, toward finding unity in Christ. God doesn’t need us, and He doesn’t need our church. But we want to be with Him, as close to Christ in his suffering as we may be.
We need to be ready to receive—radically welcome!—those who aren’t like us. You’ll see over the next few weeks and months how moving a particular thing creates space for employing effective methods of teaching Christ and his Kingdom, for more healing ministry, helping us to be more conscientious toward those in our community who we want so desperately to know and enjoy Christ.
It’s not the responsibility of every person in the church to grapple through the questions regarding culture, and it’s not good to continue using sermon and teaching time to try and cover these things. But Re:Discovering the Mission of God is about engaging with the word of God, praying together, learning together, and listening to one another because these are the steps toward laying off other traditions and philosophies and finding unity in Christ. It’s a path to leadership that requires faith.
Faith is action based upon the word of God. Faith is never inactive. It prepares. It anticipates. Faith prepares the soil for harvest. In Ecclesiastes 3 we read that there is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven, including “a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build.” If we do not uproot, if we don’t tear down, we can’t expect to be built up again. We must allow the truth to wound our pride, to tear us, so we can be healed, bound up, and revived, and experience a renewal of the LORD’s presence in our midst (Hosea 6:1-3). Then we may dream together of being the church in this city that shows Christ is for all who live in this city.