Saturday, November 7, 2009

Adoption, Ethnicity and Worship- Part 3

I once asked a very aged and respected Christian about the issues of ethnicity in the American church. He has authored books, pastored, and is one of the wisest men I know. He also has preached in various churches around the country (and around the world), addressing both “white” churches and “black” churches. I was quite surprised by the answer he gave me when I spoke to him about what I see as the Biblical vision of intentional pursuit of ethnic diversity (since God the Father has intentionally purchased a multi-ethnic bride at infinite cost, the blood of His dear Son). He agreed with the things I said, but finally stated that it is just NOT possible because of the vast chasm that divides the white and black church in America. He sighted both preaching style and worship as the two main dividing factors, unbridgeable because of the vast differences in heart-expression and practice.

Since that conversation I have thought much about that conversation, trying to see the issues clearly, yet I am unable to come down on the side of “unbridgeable” simply because of differences in heart expression or culture, especially after living here in Uganda. Of course, if the goal is simply to have a church that is multi-ethnic for the sake of being multi-ethnic, IT WILL FAIL (it is not humanly possible as we are too selfish by nature). Yet, if the goal is the very heart of the Gospel itself and if the commitment is grounded in pursuit of our Glorious God and His Kingdom above all things then through the work of the Holy Spirit it is more than possible.

It helps me to think about marriage. Rarely do two people get married who come from the exact SAME family culture, expression, ways of doing things, ways of looking at things, etc. That’s what makes marriage SO MUCH WORK in those early years. It takes two people committed to each other and to moving towards oneness out of their two-ness. Throw in cross-cultural marriage and the issues are even greater and the work harder. Yet, no Christian in their right mind would say, “Hey, don’t even try to get married, after all people are just too different to be able to come together as ONE and survive as husband and wife. The gap is unbridgeable.” The world has no problem agreeing with that statement, especially when things just “don’t work out” because of the vastness of differences in two people often clearly seen AFTER marriage (selfishness exploded), and divorce is common and almost expected in our Western cultures. Yet, Christians are pushed to fight to make things work in marriage both because of the sanctity of the covenant entered into and what keeping that covenant means before God Himself (not to mention the effect on the children). And of course, through the beauty of living out the Gospel in relationship with one another and through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, two selfish and vastly different people ARE ABLE to come together as ONE. Yes, it takes a dying to self and for God Himself to intervene IN that marriage, yet the product is a “new” culture (a family culture) that comes from the uniqueness of the two individuals entering into covenant relationship, while the uniqueness of both individuals is also maintained. The children see the power of God at work in their homes and they are able (therefore) to grow up with a vision that marriage CAN actually work and be a good thing (which is a vastly different view that most children grow up with).

How much more should this be lived out on a church level!?! We are truly a Covenant Community, brought together through Jesus’ unveiling of the bride He came to purchase for Himself through His death and resurrection. He has stated the incredible implications of this purchased and available ethnic oneness (John 17), and while it takes MUCH WORK to push through our own “preferences” and cultures, much revealing of our selfishness and even ethno-centrism (viewing our own ethnicity as better or superior to others), Jesus meets us in that place, offers cleansing forgiveness to our repentance, and empowers His people through His Spirit to love beyond ourselves and to come together in committed love.

I attended a church in Chicago for a couple of years that was incredibly diverse ethnically. One Christmas the church decided to begin its Christmas program with a procession of flags representing the various cultures within the church. A non-Christian journalist came to write an article on the Christmas program. As she sat and watched the procession of flags, the procession of men and women of many different colors, it was obvious that she was not prepared for what she was beholding. Tears began rolling down her cheeks as she witnessed the awesome display of Christ’s Bride, an ethnic unity she had never seen before. It IS as Jesus said, “then the world will believe that You sent me.”

The beginning point for all of us is recognizing that this intentional pursuit of ethnic diversity within our communities of worship is a Biblical mandate, not just a “good thing” to pursue. And like broken marriage, there is also a GRAVE effect on our children. When churches remain ethnically isolated, children grow up assuming that it is "just how it is", and what is assumed is that their own expression is the right one, and the issues are propagated through the generations, both directly and indirectly. The opposite is also true, that when children grow up in a diverse community, there is a natural love and respect for the various ethnicities and expressions, and they are able to see their own culture in relationship to all of the others, not as superior, but in its proper relationship to the others. What a vision of the Kingdom of God is held out for our children!

One other issue that often comes into play here is the way churches deal with differences in age groups within the church (as one friend who commented on the facebook post noted). Isn’t it interesting that churches often deal with the whole “traditional” versus “contemporary” issues like they do with ethnicity, only the division isn’t as clearly seen. The quick answer is to separate age groups by holding the hymns service for those who find their HEART EXPRESSION being met there, and then the contemporary service for those who “prefer” that (or because of the outreach appeal to a “modern” or “postmodern” people. What happens is a clear division between the generations, and what is lost is the age diversity that is also desperately needed in the Body of Christ for its health and building up. Rather than intentionally pursuing diversity of style (expression), one group is typically called to die to its own preferences for the sake of the other or the two are completely separated. Churches can't even see how this way of dealing with age diversity is an outflow of how they deal with cultural diversity!

So what is the way forward? How should our view of the Gospel, and hence the Spirit’s work in our world, drive our churches in all of these areas. What can be done practically? I still see the doctrine of adoption as central here and all that I’ve written below becomes a key factor, but first I want to ask:

Do you agree?


Kathy said...

Yes, I think what you have observed is true. When we are born again, we become new creations, and it is at this level that we should be able to unite. Our past culture has shaped who we are to that point, but our new "culture" should be to worship and serve together the God who has redeemed us and made us new. We are now citizens of heaven, and we should be serving our new Lord together.

I think your analogy of how the church deals with worship is right on, too. When we can't meld our worship styles together so that we can worship our King together, I think it must make His heart sad. I have worshipped in Ugandan churches, and while it was very different from what you term the HEART EXPRESSION of worship that I am used to, I felt a unity with the believers and a communal sense of worship that was amazing and beautiful. And I think that makes God heart glad!

Tremonisha said...

Uncle Keith,

I totally agree with the statement,"if the goal (of a multi-ethnic church) is the very heart of the Gospel itself and if the commitment is grounded in pursuit of our Glorious God and His Kingdom above all things then through the work of the Holy Spirit it is more than possible." However, I think that the reason that the gap between churches with predominately one ethnic group is so vast is because one ethnic group feels like they might have to concede their style of worship to another group if they allow others in. I used to attend a predominately "black" church and if you asked the worship pastor to incorporate some contemporary Christian you would have been speaking Chinese; however, at a predominately "white" church I attend now, gospel music is considered a venue and apparently not necessary for the "main service".

I like the analogy of marriage.