I noticed some interesting things about how people interacted with each other when I lived in South Carolina. In all kinds of social settings it was unremarkable to see blacks and whites together but come 11 AM on Sunday everyone went to their separate corners. It still is true that churches are can be some of the most segregated places in society. The funny thing is now I’m back in California and I’m a member of a predominantly black church.
I might be going out on a limb but it seems to me that most religions exist within a particular region, time, and people. What makes the gospel unique is that it is a universal message that is not bound by any culture, and yet we often fail to transcend our culture when it comes to our spiritual lives. Why are churches so segregated? Why so parochial?
As I was making my way through Jonah it dawned on me that this topic fits in with this story. The prophet resisted God’s calling to preach to the Ninevites because they were pagans. He knew (so he thought) that God was merciful and that if they repented then God would not destroy the city. He had the audacity to begrudge God of His compassion. Jonah’s people were God’s chosen (favored, in his opinion) people and, alone, deserving of His blessings. Peter had this same hang up and had to learn that God was no respecter of persons. As banal as that sounds to us that was quite the epiphany for the Jewish apostle.
The connection is that a parochial view of God leads us to think that we are the best and the greatest. We get puffed up as we confine ourselves to our insignificant corner of the world. Then we become indifferent or hostile to the outside world. This is when we must remember that God is the creator of all men and the respecter of none. His kingdom transcends every cultural and racial barrier.
Application time. How do we apply these lessons? Well, are you comfortable sharing the gospel with people from other cultural backgrounds? I’m not just talking about having enough confidence to be a witness but being able to converse with the person and show them the truth and relevance of the gospel. We’re not looking for people to just change the way they dress when they put their faith in Christ but we do expect to see a change in their heart.
It’s easy erase the distinction between gospel and culture but the Christian life properly lived comes in many forms. It’s easy to lump pagans and Christians together into the “foreigner” group but then we’d be judging by appearances. The real distinction is the fruit of their faith. We are looking for the qualities that the apostle described in 1 John to mark the true believer.
Your church may be homogenous and I don’t want to leave the impression that we need to set quotas as if this is a public university. Culture itself isn’t evil but we don’t want to be conformed to any given culture. Instead, we want the gospel to shape us and, in turn, influence our culture. We need to remember that the gospel is a universal message that transcends all boundaries. There is only one church with one Head, one faith, and one Holy Spirit who resides in all our hearts.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.