As I type this post, I’m on my way home from a few glorious days away. It was a terrific trip and as I sat in a Starbucks and spent some time reflecting on what it is that made it so fun, I think it can be summarized by saying that I saw the body of Christ on display.
This weekend, I shared a cute little Airbnb with two women I had never met before, but within a few hours it felt like we’d known each other for years. We shared stories, went deep, and prayed together – all within the first 24 hours of meeting. We are different ages and in different stages of life, from entirely different parts of the country, with different family backgrounds and different marital statuses. And yet, our little trio felt like a loving, unified troop. The only reason that isn’t entirely absurd is that we share a bond in Christ. I love diversity within the body of Christ! When we do diversity well and celebrate the variety of people God has gifted to the body, it paints a beautiful picture of what God has intended all along.
I’ve spent the past year and a half or so journeying with a group of people that are intentionally thinking and talking about racial diversity at our church. It’s been an absolutely life-changing experience. I’ve learned so much, been able to ask questions that I’ve pondered for years but never felt the freedom to do, recognized my own white privilege as part of the majority culture, and made friends with people who are different than me. It’s been hard at times, but it’s been good, and I still have so much to learn.
My heart in this post is not to lead you to think I’m an expert on this topic, or that I’ve figured anything out. But, I am learning and thinking and asking the Lord for help to see things biblically and wanted to share a few passages I’ve been mulling over as it relates to this topic of ethnic diversity and the church.
1. God is glorified in diversity.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10
I have always loved reading this passage in the context of thinking about and pursuing global missions, but in the last year or so have realized that this pertains to my very own diverse country. God has designed His kingdom to be made up of people from EVERY nation, tribe, people, and language. So shouldn’t our churches reflect this here and now? Not just as an “if it happens” reality, but as an intentionally pursued reality? God created culture and parts of His character and likeness have been imprinted into various cultures and ethnicities… if we’re not experiencing diversity in our worship, we’re not getting after all of who He is. I want it all.
2. The gospel gets underneath cultural categories.
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free: but Christ is all and in all.” Colossians 3:11
Christ is all and in all. As believers, the church has an incredible opportunity to display the glory and unity of the gospel. If we believe that we are one in Christ, that we literally belong to one another, regardless of our ethnic or cultural backgrounds, then we get to show a watching world the power of the gospel! That there’s something we value even more than our God-created differences—namely, unity in Christ. As believers, I think we’re the only group of people who are equipped to actually make some significant strides when it comes to racial reconciliation. We’ve been given the opportunity to love one another in Christ. To serve one another in Christ. To celebrate diversity, but in such a way that points us all to the same person of Christ. That’s pretty amazing, and uniquely Christian.
3. We’re called to love and learn one another for the sake of the gospel.
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God, but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Paul’s whole point in describing how he has approached people in different cultural contexts is to show that he pursues all men for the sake of the gospel. That sheds an entirely different light on getting to know your immigrant neighbor, doesn’t it? Or serving someone with different color skin? Regardless of whether that person knows Jesus, we have countless opportunities to learn about and love and serve people who are different from us “for the sake of the gospel, that we may share with them in its blessings.” So yes, it may feel awkward, and yes, we will likely make hurtful mistakes, and yes, it won’t necessarily come naturally… but when we can see clearly what’s at stake, how can we turn a blind eye?
Like I said, I have by no means figured out what it looks like to pursue unity in diversity, nor do I have answers for all of your potential objections or hypothetical scenarios. As I learn, all I know is that God made people to be different on purpose, and that I need to lean in to celebrate His goodness in that, loving my neighbors more intentionally, and hold the gospel high as I pursue something vastly different than the world, and even my own background, have offered me. Will you think and pray about doing the same?