Diversity is such a beautiful picture of God’s kingdom. In my life, I have tremendously benefited from being a part of different Christian communities. In college at Arizona State, I was a member of a predominately African American church in Phoenix. While at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I was a part of a Korean church. I’ve pastored in a church in small town, rural Iowa and in a church in the very affluent East Valley outside of Phoenix. All of those experiences have been wonderfully shaping in my life. A fuller expression of God’s diverse kingdom is good for our discipleship.
However, as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously pointed out, “Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week.” A sad reality, full of a variety of complexities. And even though local churches can tend to be dominated by one ethnic group all over the world, we know that the Kingdom of God is not.
God’s Kingdom is diverse. We see this in Revelation 7 when John describes the sight of people from every nation, tribe, and language standing before the throne. And yet, in our broken world, unity in the church is still a struggle, despite a prayer request from Jesus himself. In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers, the ones that will come in the future, would be one. Jesus also said in Luke 12, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” The reality is Christ both unites and divides.
For the Christian, though, we should not be divided over skin color or age or gender or economic status or language or ethnicity. Christianity was revolutionary in breaking down those barriers. As Paul argued, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28). Christ’s radical call to worship Him as Lord and Savior, bidding others to come and take up their cross and follow him was enough to divide people. But anyone from anywhere that answered that call became family.
In this blog post I want to briefly address the local church and the pursuit of unity. We will look more at the individual Christian and the pursuit of unity in the next blog.
Today, there seems to be a lot of pressure for churches to better pursue diversity. To me that is both exciting and concerning. It is exciting because God’s kingdom is diverse and greater unity among Christians of different ethnicities would glorify God and be good for our own spiritual development. It is concerning because too much pressure applied in the wrong ways can mess with priorities. The goal of the church is not to look more like the community it is in, but to help the community it is in look more like Christ. The paradox to that is when the community begins to look more like Christ, greater unity will be a byproduct. This conviction leads us to see a focus on evangelism and discipleship as the best strategy for unity.
When diversity becomes the focus, we tend to perpetuate division, focusing on our differences, our cultures, our situations. But, when Christ is the focus, we foster unity. For example, that great picture of unity in Revelation 7 of people from every nation, tribe, and language standing together before the throne. They are unified, but how? What has brought about this unity? They are all worshiping Jesus!
We can chase after unity by trying to better understand each other, but that puts man’s efforts at the center. Unity is deepest when people share the same purpose and worship the same Savior. It is certainly good to learn about each other, but that is not what unites us. A better understanding of people different than you can help improve civility, but only Christ makes people different than you family.
A church’s pursuit of unity must come down to a belief on what it is that unites us. For the Christian, our unity is in Christ. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility,” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
We are united in Christ through the work of Christ. Our unity is something Christ has already accomplished on the cross, now we need to live it. The church’s role is to help our positional unity in Christ become a practical, experienced unity in the body of Christ. Which means, for a local church, a focus on Christ as the pathway to unity.
We want to make disciples of all people, living incarnationally on mission, showing the love of Christ to those around us no matter their skin color, age, or economic status. And when others, of any background, come to faith in Christ, a unity is accomplished that goes beyond any cultural sensitivity training. It is blood bought unity that makes us family.