Many years ago, I had a chance to talk about evangelism with a fellow pastor who was ministering to one ethnic church: how to reach out to the lost and share the good news, and how to create more opportunities to meet our non-believing neighbors. At the end of the discussion, he began to talk about another group we need to be aware of and the Lord may also be asking us to reach out to.
He said that a considerable number of believers in his ethnic community in Calgary do not go to a church. They think that reading the Bible at home and worshiping the Lord by themselves would be ok or is good enough as Christians. They usually avoid relationships or interactions with fellow believers. No one knows they are Christians. Their faith is not growing, and they are losing their faith. They might become non-believers eventually.
He said that there were various reasons why they were not going to church. Some of them got deeply hurt emotionally or challenged by church members. Some of them were disappointed with their church members or leaders. Many of them experienced conflict, disagreement, or division within a church.
At first, they usually tried to find another church, but they concluded that all churches were similar, and that it would be better not to go to a church. They were wounded in spirit. Of course, there were also personal faith-related issues as well. This situation still remains the same.
You may know that this is not only their problem. This issue is quite common in other ethnic Christian groups too. Maybe in all Christian groups. I do not intend to focus on how to resolve the issue now but to bring it up as one of the big unity related issues of churches. Churches are making every effort to reach out to neighbors, but they are losing a considerable number of people on the other hand.
We live in the 21st century and are facing broader and more complicated political, economic, or social issues. How are we dealing with those issues to find a God’s way as a church? Is our unity safe in discussing and working together? Are we doing differently than this world?
The Lord continues to bring diverse people into our city from all over the world and to lead us to a new adventure towards His new dream for River Park Church: a diverse and unified family of God, mosaic community, multi-everything church.
Which means that God is inviting us to expand our boundaries and to grow in the relationships with all brothers and sisters regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, or socioeconomic status. We can quickly guess that unity will be very critical for this adventurous journey.
We already talked about how to create a mosaic community in the sermon series on our vision. So, this morning, we are going to think about being united as a church community.
It would be helpful to remind ourselves how the Bible describes the church community, to understand who we are as His holy community. There are many good metaphors for the church in the Bible. In Ephesians 2:19-22, we find three metaphors that help us see what the church community means. In this scripture passage, the church is described as a nation, family, and temple.
We Are His Holy Nation
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people
There was a time when we were foreigners, strangers or refuges in the wilderness. We had no relationship with God, no home and no right to citizenship in His kingdom. But Jesus has brought us back to God and we are now fellow citizens in the new nation created by God.
We are a holy kingdom, a new nation that belongs to God.
We Are His Holy Family
and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
God became our father, and we now live in the same house with God as His children. We are in the family relationship as brothers and sisters in His household. We are a holy family.
We Are His Holy Temple
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
We are being built together to become a holy temple in the Lord. In order to build up a building or house, many professionals must skillfully work together to make all the necessary kinds of building materials to be connected in the right way, in the right place. All the connected parts support each other and hold it all together to stand as one building.
The only perfect builder, our God is building up His holy temple by letting us be connected in the right way, in the right place, so that we are all supporting each other and holding it all together to stand as His holy temple. We are His holy temple.
We Are His Body
We can find another great metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12. It presents the church as a living body because a human body is a unified whole.
This scripture passage is well known, but I’d like to invite you to carefully read it again in your mind as I read it slowly, thinking about the way God’s church is supposed to work, unity we need as we pursue the mosaic church vision, and in which areas we should work more.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
All the members are united in Christ. We are the church and the body of Christ. This passage is stressing the unity and interdependence of each member of the church. As part of His body, each member has a God-ordained job to do, roles to play, and a place to belong. Each member has his or her purpose in the body to fulfill.
Each part of the body has life and contributes to the well-being of the entire body. Each part of the body is necessary for the proper functioning of the entire body.
Christians do not rejoice or suffer alone. If one part suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. When we get injured, we suffer as a whole body. If one part is not functioning properly, damage may be done to the whole body, and the functioning of the whole body may become impaired.
If people of a church with one cultural background heard this Scripture passage, they would tend to apply this teaching to members only within their group. They would not think about it at a group level such as ethnic, or socioeconomic groups.
Verse 13. ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’
‘Whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free’, in other words, anyone who is united with Christ belongs to the body of Christ, and they are one body with us in the Lord. At a group level, they also have a God-ordained job to do, roles to play, and a place to belong. Each cultural group of the body has life and contributes to the well-being of the entire body. Each cultural group of the body is necessary for the proper functioning of the entire body. Together with them, we are interdependent, rejoice or suffer together as the whole body.
We may think our vision is new or big to our church. Yes, it is a big picture, but remember how God started His church at Pentecost. God’s picture of His church was like that from the beginning. The Lord has blessed so many people and communities through us for about 70 years. Now, the Lord is inviting us to open our eyes and to see His way with the mosaic church vision for us.
How Can We Be United with Believers with Diverse Backgrounds as We Build a Mosaic Community and Where Can We Start from?
Firstly, We Need to Be Humble in Love
Paul was the number one oppressor of Christians before he was converted. Paul was strongly confident as a Jew and full of pride. That Paul was converted later and became united with Christ. He became humble and Christ-centered. He didn’t evaluate people by what they had or how they looked anymore. He became a passionate missionary for gentiles who looked and lived differently than himself.
We are also united with Christ, and we need to strive to be united to one another in the same way. In Philippians 2, Paul reminds us to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose”, and to put away conceit and selfishness, he said, “but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
When we see someone who is coming into our building, or sitting around you, do you see the person as Christ sees them, do you accept the person as Jesus accepts them, and do you value them as the Lord values them?
We should be others-focused, not self-focused. If we’re putting others first, we won’t be conceited or proud or overly ambitious. It’s hard to be self-centered when we truly understand who we are and who they are in Christ. Tensions, hurt, and division begin to rise from where pride is.
We are the church and the body of Christ. Each one of us or each cultural group has a unique beauty and purpose as God’s creation. They are all an essential part of His body. All of us are interdependent. Each member or cultural group of the body has life and contributes to the well-being of the entire body. They are all necessary for the proper functioning of the entire body.
Secondly, We Need to Be Accommodating
When missionaries go to other countries, they carefully learn other lifestyles and cultures in their mission field to share His love and word effectively. We need to do a similar approach to welcome others to our community.
If a missionary treats people in their mission field just as they can imagine from their own view, they would often hurt or offend people there regardless of their good intention. They would also get hurt and disappointed with the result.
That could happen if we see and interpret others from our own view. If the Lord blesses us as we pursue our vision, more diverse people will come to our church. But there are so many cultures around the world, and we cannot understand them all. Each cultural group knows their needs best. You cannot create room for them by yourself because we don’t fully understand their cultures.
A practical way to welcome and to do life together with diverse believers is to learn their needs by asking, and to support them in creating room to meet their spiritual and relational needs. When you see some differences as you work together, you just need to ask them and accommodate their ways without any prejudice or assumptions.
Remember that we are the body of Christ, and each part of the body is necessary for the proper functioning of the entire body. We are interdependent.
Then, from some point, you may begin to enjoy another way of working that God provided the group. Your cultural competence, in other words, your ability to do life together with diverse others will grow. The Lord will continue to broaden your view and bless many people through you with much wisdom.
Thirdly, We Continue to Look to the Lord in Unity
As I mentioned earlier, we will face broader and more complicated political, economic, or social issues. As we are growing as a mosaic church, we may hear more diverse views or opinions.
We need to keep in mind that Jesus is the only one who knows the answer, not us. If we see divided opinions on issues, that means we don’t know the answer. One of us might be right, but we still don’t know who is right. Of course, even when all of us agree, we could still be wrong.
It is not wise if we judge or harshly criticize others while we don’t know the answer. All of us fall short of wisdom. It is ok and natural for us to disagree on some complicated issues. But it is not right to be divided because of that. We are His holy nation, eternal family, holy temple, and one body. We may need one another as we continue to seek answers from the Lord.
When we disagree or do not understand, it is still true that we are one body in Christ that need each other, rejoice together, and suffer together. What do we need to do? We continue to look at the same direction, where the Lord is leading us. That is what we agree on all the time as Christians. It may not be about getting answers right away. God may be leading us in a long process for a reason.
He knows our struggles, He knows the answer, and He also knows how to teach us. Let’s trust in the Lord and continue to be united, looking at the same direction and seeking His guidance.