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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Multicultural church

"I will say as strongly as I can, you should not start (or have) 'a black church' or 'a white church' or a 'homeschooling church' or a church for professional people and another church for poor people. Nor should you start a church aimed at younger people or older people. In this the modern church has erred. I do not mean that we should not be evangelistic toward all categories and types of people (actually, that is my point), but in building the local church our aim is too low, and frankly, sometimes selfish. We are forfeiting something of the glory of the church by not seeking to blend all kinds of people together, even if we cannot fully accomplish it." -- Multi-cultural Glory in the Church: Should We Have Black Churches and White Churches? Or Cowboy Churches? by Jim Elliff

Demographics are God's business; ours is to "teach all nations".

11 comments:

David said...

I believe we need to be careful here. I think I'd have to take exception to something in Mr. Elliff's quote. He states,

"We are forfeiting something of the glory of the church by not seeking to blend all kinds of people together..."

Whereas I would agree with him Christians should not intend to set out, and establish a Church based solely upon some artifical "niche" such as homeschooling, etc. - I'd disagree just as strongly that it's the purpose of the Church to be about positively "seeking" to blend all kinds of people together. This is not the mission or purpose of the Church either.

Each local Church is a unique manifestation of the Body of Christ. Believers are given the liberty in Christ to express various biblical doctrines and preferences, thus expressing the true diverse nature of the universal Church. This would seem to be the real sense, and a more biblical understanding, of the term "multi-cultural".

God created us different (He created "multi-cultures"). We have different tastes, like different foods, different music, etc. These preferences become expressions of our God-given faith in various cultural context. As a result, I'd suggest the Church is glorifying God the most when we understand, appreciate and seek to express the fact it is the Lord that has created within us these unique differences.

This is not to say one way is inherently better than the other - it is simply different. All are ultimately from God. But may I suggest, we're not forfeiting something of the glory of the Church by not seeking to blend all kinds of people together, rather we are forfeiting the Church's glory when we minimize the God-given diversity among God's people and the Body of Christ as a whole.

Therefore - maybe it should be our goal - as we come to the place where our apprecation and understanding of God-given diversity comes through, not only the unity of the Faith shared between all kinds of believers - but the mutifaceted manner in which God allows for His Church to flourish in it's various truly multi-cultural context, that we honor Christ and glorify His name the most.

R. L. Vaughn said...

David, thanks for stopping by and posting. I appreciate your comments and hope you will have more to say.

IMO, you are very perceptive in your comments about "...forfeiting something of the glory of the church by not seeking to blend all kinds of people together..."

The purpose we should have is preaching the gospel to every creature. Particularly setting out to deliberately (and artificially) "blend" is a mistake on the same scale but different order as deliberately setting out to have a church based on some niche group. I would be a little cautious in stating whether this is actually what Elliff has in mind or if he just stated it poorly. But a response to a question in this interview sounds like an attempt to purposefully do the blending rather than what he states in the original article -- "The actual demographics are God’s business."

For all readers, a link to Elliff's article might be both helpful and fair to him. It can be found HERE.

My initial reason for posting this was (1) to see what responses my readers might have to what Elliff says, and (2) because I am troubled by the growing trend to establish churches that target a "special interest" group -- e.g. Cowboy church, homeschool church.

David, thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.

david said...

Mr. Vaughn,

Thank you for your kind response. I read the article and the interview by Mr. Elliff and I must admit I found them a little confusing.

In one sense he appears to be minimizing the importance of multiculturalism in the Church and then he seems to embrace, advocate and endorse it wholeheartedly.

I believe one of the problems facing, not only Mr. Elliff's, but the Church's understanding of multiculturalism in general, is simply the definition of the term itself.

To my mind "multiculturalism" means a respect and admiration for "multi" (many) varied cultures. Therefore, a Christian who embraced multiculturalism would consistently embrace the God-given diversity within the body of Christ and seek to respect and preserve it as from the Lord.

So, in my mind - and maybe you can help me understand - I fail to see how "blending" all kinds of different people together accomplishes a truly "multi" cultural end.

And this is where I see our ungodly secular and humanistic world creeping into the Church. They use the term "multicultural" but they really mean by this, "uni" cultural or "one" cultural. IMO, they often intenionally misuse the word multicultural so it sounds more appealing. It doesn't sound like they're trying to destroy the God-given diversity of man. But I'm afriad that's one way the adversaries of God are attacking His people.

And I see this, to some degree, played out in Mr. Elliff's interview. Towards the end he was asked what he'd tell people who didn't have a "multicultural" (and, having read his article, I'm afraid he means by multicultural - "uni"cultural) pursuit of the Church to do?

He replies something to the effect, that they should "Get one" - that they will not enjoy heaven without it.

Now, either he means there will be people in heaven who are not enjoying it - which seems contrary to all biblical evidence and without Scriptural warrant, or he could mean without this "multicultural" vision for the Church you simply will not get to heaven.

Either way though, he seems off base, but I pray he simply meant the former, rather than the latter. If not, he doesn't understand the character and nature of the Gospel itself.

R. L. Vaughn said...

David, you again put forward some good thoughts. I tend to agree with you that much of the secular world views "multiculturalism" in a way that destroys cultures and seeks to blend them into one. And probably many Christians are drinking from that well.

I'm not sure I can help you to see how "blending" all kinds of different people together accomplishes a "multi" cultural end. If I understand your point correctly, I agree that it wouldn't. Blending cultures and preaching the gospel to every creature are not the same thing.

Concerning Elliff's "Get one" comment, I hope this was just an off-the-cuff response in which he was trying to capture the idea of how we ought to get used to other people now because we'll be dwelling in heaven with them eternally (and even that is a kind of vague idea that fails to fully recognize differences between temporal and eternal things). Unfortunately the words he used don't say that.

I think there is reason to bring close and careful thinking to this subject. Your thoughts do so.

I believe there is a Christian culture in which all Christians are supposed to similarly assimilate -- love one another, pray for one another, bear one another's burdens, preach the word, be baptized every one of you, assemble together, exhort one another, speak to one another in psalms and hymns, etc. But this "Christian culture" does mean we all have to look alike, act alike, eat the same things, enjoy the same past-times, etc. When a council of apostles, elders and believers met at Jerusalem (Acts 15), the consensus was that Gentiles did not have to become culturally Jewish to be good Christians.

david said...

Mr Vaughn you wrote,

"I think there is reason to bring close and careful thinking to this subject."

It sincerely encourages me to see you write that. I fear, we as Bible-believing Christians, often fail to think through many of the ramifications of a thoroughly Christian world & lifeview. As a result these "gaps" in our thinking leave open the door for ungodly ideas.

Additionally, your tempered responses reflect a great deal on own godly character. Often when criticism is offer, even in love and with grace, it isn't well received. I'm gald to see my posts were received in the spirit they were intended.

I wish I could share the same "benefit of the doubt" approach you have with regard to Mr. Elliff's comments - both in his interview and his article. But when he presumes to speak as a church leader and pastor, I hope you can appreciate my holding him to a higher standard than a layperson (James 2:1).

If it is simply sloppy language, he should revise and republish his comments. But I fear there is a stronger underlying principle of misunderstanding at work in his (and many, many others) theological outlook at this point.

I believe, as Christian people, we should come to realize that doctine divides, but it also unites. People who share common interest, common backgrounds, common beliefs will naturally tend to come together. So, if you happen to have a small Church were all the families homeschool - you may have the appearence of a "homeschool" Church. Yet, it is more often the case than not that these labels come from outside rather than from within these congregations. Remember:

We serve a Trinitarian God:

1 God - 3 Persons

Within the unity of the Faith, we embrace a diveristy of persons - not seeking to blend everybody into one. This is a reflection of true multiculturalism.

We need to remove the notion from our minds that commonality is an inherently bad thing. And bear in mind this commonality doesn't have to stop with "The Five Essential Truths" of Christianity. But that as individual Christian families and other like-minded believers share in each others lives and make application of God's truth within their own cultural context - their common faith, life and practice is a God-given blessing, not a forfeiture of glory.

I pray my words have been a blessing to you and your readers. Please feel free to continue the discussion as you deem fit.

R. L. Vaughn said...

You mention that a small church where all the families homeschool may have the appearence of a "homeschool church", while it really is not. I think you are correct (and of course this principle could apply to any other groups as well).

For several years we were part of a small church in which the majority of families were homeschoolers. No one ever set out to make it a "homeschool church", no one ever thought only homeschoolers should attend (and in fact some who were not homeschoolers did attend), and no one ever targetted homeschoolers as the demographic group the church should reach. But it turned out to be what some might have looked at as a "homeschool church".

I think some of what you mention was in play -- common interest, common backgrounds, common beliefs -- the fact that reaching out to your friends usually meant reaching out to homeschoolers because of regular contact. Nevertheless, I would have never been party to the idea that "this church is for homeschoolers".

Perhaps being too close to the situation could partially blur my vision, but it seems to me the concept of "Cowboy Church" or a church designed to specifically (or only) reach a certain kind of people is a very different concept than what you and I are agreeing on here.

david said...

Mr Vaughn,

I think you're exactly right. Whereas I don't believe the Church should pursue this or that specfic demographic per se - I equally believe there is no moral mandates to blend people from various cultural, ethnical, economic or whatever backgrounds.

If I may be so bold: This is a novel secular phenomena which has captured the modern evangelical church and should be abondoned for a more consistent Christian understanding of the Faith once delivered to the saints.

The relationships found within the local Church should grow organically - out of the convictions and preferences found in those who choose to fellowship there. This, I believe, will tend to natually bring together like-minded believers who share common interest and a more unified faith and practice.

I'm convinced that until the Church dismisses the worlds understanding and definition for multiculturalism, and embraces a more Biblical worldview, we will continue to struggle in our efforts to impact the lost and dying world around us for Christ and His Gospel.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Yes, I agree that there is no moral mandate to blend people from various cultures, ethnicities, etc., nor is such a consideration within the pale of the work of the church. We plant, water and God gives the increase. We should accept whatever that increase is.

But, on the other hand, we should not set out deliberately to preach to only a certain culture, ethnicity, economic status, interest group, etc.

david said...

"we should not set out deliberately to preach to only a certain culture, ethnicity, economic status, interest group, etc."

Exactly. These things tend to work themselves out in the best interest of the Church when allowed to develop organically...not forced from a pulpit or a pew.

Bro. Matt said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks like this! You two have very closely stated the opinions I hold.

Although, it might be nice to start an Aggie Church...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving me much to think about. My view is that all people are challenged by an old sin nature. The sin nature reveals itself in the manner that people will gravitate to comfort and security rather than obedience and love. We find excuses, even biblicaly thought out ones to not follow through on going to all the (ethnos) Matt. 28:19. Being multi - cultural (In my humble opinion) simply means walking out your church doors and seeing who's there. Whoever you see as your neighbors should be a person you share the gospel with, lead to the Lord and maintain fellowship with. They are our Jerusalem. We should then consider the surrounding neighborhoods (Judea and Samaria). If our neighbors eat different foods and enjoy different worship music or even speak a different language being multi cultural does not demand that you somehow mix the two or three. Although, I do believe that we could be more creative than just food, language and music. The Bible says that
we are responsible to teach them to obey all that God has commanded. The fact that someone may do it better (from their own culture) does not disqualify or relieve you of the responsibility. You cannot teach them without living beside them and fellowshipping together. Isn't that what fellowship is "Koinonia", suffering together as Christ suffered for us. Please remember that It was Babel that divided us. It is heaven that will unite us. I think we should lean towards heaven myself.