I have been thinking a lot lately about cultural diversity in the church. Toronto is still widely regarded as one of, if not the single most ethnically diverse city in the world. And thankfully that is reflected in many of our churches.
But guys like me did not grow up with this kind of diversity. There were two visible minorities in my public school. Yet that demographic has completely flipped in my lifetime. I love it! Standing with my daughter at a college expo a few months ago I looked around the massive room and saw one other white person. One! That was amazing for a guy who grew up here.
And I am not lying about loving it. I find the process of learning another culture totally fascinating and at times, dumbfounding. As a pastor, I am constantly asked to step into people’s lives and ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” which is an entirely different question than, “What do I think they should do?” I think (or hope, at least) that our situation has made me a better reader of the Word.
Our church really does enjoy cultures. There is, in my opinion, a very healthy mix of culture-respect, culture-denial and culture-enjoyment and so much of this is fuelled by a kind of self-deprecating humour toward one’s own culture. I think that is one of the ways the Gospel changes people. We stop idolizing culture, learn to enjoy parts of it for what they are worth, and even laugh at some of our weird eccentricities. All because we worship a Saviour who rescues souls out of “every tongue and tribe and nation.” The Gospel is of far greater importance to us than our culture.
Still, I worry sometimes about how to keep things good. I recognize that my culture is the dominant culture of my church, if for no other reason than I planted this church. I watch with real interest certain countries struggle to understand the needs and pains of their non-dominant cultures. It is almost like one of those conversations where two people are yelling at each other in two entirely different languages. They just cannot comprehend what the other is saying. So, I worry that the same thing might creep into our church. But the Gospel answers this. If Christ left the glory of heaven to die in my place, it ought be my joy to leave the comfort of my culture and actually give preference to the culture of another. Isn’t this what Paul was doing when he became “all things to all people?”
I also worry that we will feign oneness in the church, without risking cultural offense. This might seem the opposite of what I was saying before, but I think part of learning to really love folks of wildly different cultures from your own is learning to ask questions that might get you in a lot of trouble. If we let fear control our church relationships, we will never come out and ask the things that would really help us understand each other. But this too, is exactly where the Gospel is needed. If you and I are both saved by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, even if my question is dumb and offensive, you have to confront me, I have to repent and you have to forgive me. Done deal.
That is why I think Christians are the ones leading the way when it comes to crossing ethnic barriers. I recognize that place and history have put me in a very unique and advantageous situation to live an ethnically-diverse church life. But it will take more than immigration and social policy to make it work. Praise God for His one Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Saviour of the world.