I plan to put forward an apologetic for multiethnic churches (where possible of course) over the course of several posts. Here’s my start that ends with several key questions I’ve heard asked over the years:
Imperative or Immaterial?
Church fellowship is not an optional part of the Christian life. It’s the God ordained structure whereby we corporately worship him, are refined in our faith, and serve others. It is to be a place that exemplifies the character of God: united (i.e., as the Trinity is united and as God is actively breaking down the walls between Himself and his children and between his children), pure (e.g., leaders and members that honor God in all of life), full of mercy (e.g., care for those within and outside the body), lovers of justice (e.g., Matt. 23:23f, Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.), and lovers of the Gospel of reconciliation. The body of Christ is a complex organism, needing every member, every gift, in order to function properly. The church, when it functions well, balances discipleship, evangelism, and worship as a means to root the Gospel into the whole of every member’s life. Although the church is its own community, it always exists within a larger community and is called to love its neighbors both near and far. To reach that end, the church must be a welcoming community to all in order to bring the Gospel to all. The welcoming church strives to exhibit more of the culture of the Gospel and less the dominant human culture. This does not mean that human culture is somehow irrelevant or that any people can remove themselves completely from their own culture. However, it does mean that we do not pay homage to our human culture in ways that hinder others. Instead, we willingly respond to the cross by sacrificing our own comforts for the sake of the spiritual growth of others. So, we always labor to shape the church’s culture by questioning how we best serve the lost around us.
But, when the church no longer represents her local community, how does she create a welcoming environment that emphasizes Gospel culture and welcomes cultural minorities? Is there more to this than greeting new people and inviting them to join our groups? More fundamentally, we must ask ourselves why we do not attract the culturally different? Do we have the option of remaining a monoculture, instead only financially supporting those ministries that minister to a particular ethnic group (because we believe that those churches will minister more effectively to that group)? While funding other ministries is a good idea, the church that desires to be a welcoming community must be willing to enter the world of minority cultures in order to know its issues, concerns, desires, beliefs, etc. Only then will we know how to welcome them and how to point them to Jesus. This will require us to be uncomfortable and to work against the tide of indifference. If you are like me, you have to admit that we more comfortable supporting ministries half way around the world than we are crossing the street to reach the culturally different in our own world.
When people from the dominant culture begin to wrestle with the prospect of multiethnic churches, a variety of questions arise:
a) Is multiculturalism part of the Gospel or a relativistic fad? Is it really practical?
b) If “they” are most comfortable in their churches and we are most comfortable here, is it really necessary to work so hard to make us both uncomfortable?
c) Won’t we lose our own culture and identity if we integrate with people from other ethnic and cultural surroundings?
d) Are we really doing anything that would discourage others from coming if they wanted to be here?
e) Is it really practical or possible in this racialized world?