Dan Herford

Receive, juggle, pass

One People in Jesus

Adam and Eve carried within their DNA the potential for all of the physical variations – obvious or subtle – of the human race.  Ever feature and hue woven into the tapestry of humanity were hidden possibilities.   Every culture and clan; every nation, tribe and tongue; they all spilled forth, splashing and splitting and breaking into a thousand rivulets from the headwaters of creation.

At every division, sin was the stone in the way.  Like a massive rock outcropping in a stream, jealousy, pride, hatred, and murder split the flow, sending one group this way and others that.   Along the way God interacted, protecting and redirecting, sometimes encouraging the division, other times bringing divergent streams back together.  The Flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses.

Ultimately, when the time was right, Jesus.

Jesus is the second, and final, Adam.  As Adam was the source from which humanity flowed, Jesus is the river into which all humanity is meant to flow.  Diverse humanity scattered from Adam.  Scattered humanity finds unity in Jesus.  What was broken is made whole.  Painfully.  Slowly.

The reality is that from the start, followers of Christ have found a multitude of reasons to separate and divide, carrying on the sad pattern.   Loving the different, let alone loving enemies, has not come easily, but it is precisely there that we must carefully and intently follow Jesus, for nothing demonstrates the new life in Christ more clearly than loving the unlovable, the different, the other, the enemy.

I listened to a very interesting interview yesterday on the Seminary Dropout podcast.   The host, Shane Blackshear, talked to Kyle Canty about race, privilege, history, and the challenges to experiencing multiethnicity within the church.  Canty is a husband, father, writer, and leader within the church.  He is also black, and offers a perspective that I need to hear.   In addition to the interview, he shares his thoughts on his blog, and he recently wrote an article about racial reconciliation for Christianity Today, which you can read here.

I was thankful to hear his perspective.  And, I’m thankful that we share a desire to experience oneness in Christ.  But, I was dismayed when the conversation turned to the question of the viability of the multiethnic church, because the message conveyed was that there is little hope for a truly multiethnic church in the United States.

I think he’s right.  At least that it is very, very hard to experience the kind of multiethnic church as he envisions it.  And, I recognize that it is especially challenging to consider the changes necessary to achieve a multiethnic church, when viewed from the perspective of the forever-submitting.

But, I also think he’s wrong.   The church already is multiethnic, and has been since Cornelius embraced Jesus as Lord.  That’s true of the church universal, and true of the church in the United States, and true of the church in Philadelphia, and true of the church in his neighborhood.  Where it’s not true is in the chunks of the church that we have cordoned off and stuck labels on.

We can’t take a small part of the church and put a wall around it and define it by some subset of characteristics and hope that it can be any more than that.  But, we can recognize that the church is all those who follow Jesus, and we can connect with them freely, and we can love them freely.  In this way, the realization of a multiethnic church is entirely possible.

Ultimately, the culture we want is the culture of Jesus alive and active in our midst.   His culture does not lead us to homogeneity, it leads to a shared diversity.   Can you picture that?  Can you picture what the church would look like in your city or neighborhood if we recognized that there is but one church and we saw each other as siblings and we sought to honor and care for each other in spite of differences?

There’s much to unpack in that vision, and I realize you may be shaking your head, full of objections or questions, so I’ll stop here for now.  Please, if you do have questions or objections, share them in the comments and I will address them in a future post.

Action:  What barriers do we hide behind to keep us in our comfort zone?  How can we cross lines to love the different, and especially those from a non-dominant culture?   We have institutionalized differences; in what ways has that limited our ability to experience and demonstrate to the world the unity that Christ desires?  Are there changes you can imagine that would foster the kind of interaction that the New Testament exhorts us to?  Please comment!

7 Comments

  1. Thanks Dan for continuing the conversation. The reality of an existing multi-ethnic church is something that I totally agree with. What you’ve highlighted is not at all what I pushed against in my interview. There is the multi-ethnic church which is made up of many nations, tongues and tribes but what we are stretching for is a reality on earth as it is in heaven; a multi-ethnic community. This is the practical outworking of the universal truth of ‘one body in Christ’. So while we have the church of Acts 10 we still struggle as the ONE church did in Acts 15. Those things that divide us are there, whether we acknowledge them or not–for genuine community to exist beyond the surface we must reckon with structural and systemic injustice that has and continues to hurt a large part of this ONE church. My experience as a minority within a dominant cultural worship context is that it was best to remain quiet about these particular sin issues because they created ‘disunity’. I’ll stop there but again I appreciate the dialogue and your viewpoint. Blessings.

    • Dan

      November 23, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Kyle, thank you for the comment! I know that you weren’t arguing against the reality of multi-ethnicity within the church. I laid it out partly for the value of recognizing what God has already accomplished, and partly as a stepping stone toward what you are speaking to – a visible multi-ethnic community.

      I recognize that we must deal with the structural and systemic injustice. We must. What I want to encourage us to consider is whether we look for a top-down solution delivered through institutions, or a bottom-up solution that looks like individual believers connecting cross-culturally in a place.

      My concern is that the institutions we look to for leadership are limited by their own walls. I agree strongly with you that institutions should speak clearly and strongly against the injustices that exist, but I question whether the ultimate solutions will be found in that process. Perhaps more importantly, we each should speak clearly and strongly by seeking cross-cultural relationships in Christ.

      I think that the problems that you identified in your interview can largely be avoided when we shift the context from an institution to neighborhood relationships. There are still problems, but they are the kinds of problems the NT talks about, versus the kinds of problems we talk about in our religious institutions.

      Hopefully that’s a little more clear. I will unpack this further in another post, and would appreciate your further interaction!

  2. You wrote that “…the church is all those who follow Jesus…” I understand and agree with the sentiment, but take issue with the wording. With all due respect (and I have unlimited respect for those Christians who actually walk the walk instead of just talking the talk), the statement that “The church is all those who follow Jesus” is too parochial. That statement and its variants are probably the biggest stumbling block to those “cross-cultural relationships in Christ.” Personally, I’m even cautious about using the word “Christ” until “Jesus” and “Christ” are well enough understood and differentiated in the public mind.

    I’m not sure how to improve on that definition of church. Perhaps simply something like, “The church is all those who love like Jesus did.” There are people like that in all religious traditions. There may even be people somewhere who never heard of Jesus, but love like Jesus did.

    Reflecting on that, I think that, deep inside, each of us yearns to love in the way that Jesus did. What stops most of us is all of those environmental (in a social sense) factors that affect our development since infancy, perhaps even since conception (or before, if there’s anything to the idea of reincarnation). But it is only by personally experiencing the pure, unconditional love of God, as bestowed upon us by one of “His” children, that we are enabled to reflect and increase that love. Bestowing that love is initially the job of the parents, but all fall short. The sins of the parents are visited upon the children in a progression that doesn’t end or even lessen until we awaken spiritually. So it is critically important that those of us who have ever experienced God’s pure love keep remembering to pass it on.

    As your further remarks indicate, the church includes everyone. But not just our spiritual siblings; not just those people who strive for a proper relationship with God. It also includes those who have not yet awakened to God’s love because we haven’t yet given them enough of it. The church is absolutely everyone. Whether each individual knows it or not. Whether they share our beliefs or not. Whether we like them or not.

    As for social injustice, human nature makes hierarchical social structures and systems inherently unjust. The injustice can only be resolved through a bottom-up solution by believers as well as unbelievers working together in community, starting at the local level.

    • Dan

      December 12, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Lutek, thanks for the comment. Chewing on the definition of church is important, but defining the church as ‘absolutely everyone’ doesn’t really take us anywhere useful. First, it is incorrect at a word meaning level – the basic definition of the word (in the Greek) is ‘called out ones’, which indicates a separation and differentiation. Second, if the church is absolutely everyone (ie church = all humanity) then we’ve just shifted the language of the discussion without advancing the discussion.

      Your other definition – ‘The church is all those who love like Jesus did’ – is interesting and warrants some unpacking and mulling over. That will have to happen in another post or posts. Hopefully you’ll check back in or subscribe so you can interact in those discussions.

      At this point, let me suggest this: the church is defined by and identified with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the foundation and head of the church. There is a differentiation between those who are ‘in Christ’ and those who aren’t. The important thing we can recognize, which I think is part of what your are advocating for, is that as the church -individually and collectively – our call is to express to ALL – both the ‘in’ and the ‘out’ – the same love that Jesus demonstrated and taught. What do you think?

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Dan, and the invitation to subscribe. I just did that, and I look forward to some enlightening dialogues.
    “… our call is to express to ALL – both the ‘in’ and the ‘out’ – the same love that Jesus demonstrated and taught.”
    Absolutely right. After all, who can judge who’s “in” and who’s “out?” I’m certainly not qualified to do that, even if there was any reason to try.
    You say that “There is a differentiation between those who are ‘in Christ’ and those who aren’t.” How do we know who is “in Christ” and who isn’t? I think you’ll agree that not one of us is “in Christ” a hundred percent of the time. So where do we draw the line? Are the fifty percenters in? The twenty percenters? What about the five percenters?
    Also, what, if anything, is the difference between the church and the body of Christ?

    • Dan

      December 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks, Lutek.
      2nd Q first – Ans: “…[Jesus] is the head of the body, the church” (Col 1:18). They are synonymous. The church, in my understanding, isn’t those who gather somewhere on a Sunday. It includes some that aren’t at those gatherings, and doesn’t include some who are at those gatherings.

      “How do we know who is ‘in Christ’ and who isn’t?” If there’s a line – an ‘in’ and ‘out’ – I think we let people decide on which side they are standing. How we interact with them might differ in important ways, depending on which side of the line they stand, but fundamentally we should allow people to self identify and then interact on that basis. As to percentages – five, ten, or fifty percent of what? Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! We are saved – brought into a right relationship with God – by trusting him. God, I trust you – now what?

      There’s a bunch of unpacking we would need to do, and that I hope to do in future posts. There are fundamental concepts that I think we need to look carefully at, including what the church is, what faith is, etc.

      I appreciate the interaction. Just FYI, I am working on another blog post that should be up today or tomorrow, that will follow up with some more thoughts on the multi-ethnic church.

  4. It seems there’s always lots of unpacking to do. I guess it’s the only way to deal with the baggage we seem to like to accumulate. 🙂
    The percentages were just a way of emphasizing my point that, as none of us is “in Christ” one hundred percent of the time, we must be careful not to judge anyone else who does not appear to be “in Christ,” to whatever degree.
    Your statement that “… we should allow people to self identify and then interact on that basis” is another one that needs unpacking. One one hand, it could lead to better communication and understanding. On the other hand, it may lead beyond a helpful and necessary discrimination to judgement and condemnation.
    There’s more I could say about that, but I’ll save it until I’ve read your next blog post, which I’m looking forward to.

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