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Our correspondent continues his penetrating cultural enquiry and its implications for the church and mission. He asks:
Is our goal a multicultural church where we are all brothers and sisters together? Sounds good but in practice I think it reflects an imperialistic desire that they should join our model. But if we chose a distinctly Kurdish model, where is the unity in Christ? There is no place in the scriptures where there is a requirement that the local gathered community of believers reflect the complete cultural diversity that is around us; it’s just not possible. Firstly culture is difficult to define; My wife and I are both British, white, middle-class, rural-suburban but we are culturally so different in our personalities and family upbringing that we often joke about having a cross-cultural marriage.
It is impossible to define any individual culturally as if we can put each person into a box and say the church must have one person from that box, one from another box and then another from that box to truly reflect unity in Christ. People, communities and culture are much too complex for this to be the answer.
Secondly assuming we could define different cultures what does it mean to express cultural diversity within the gathered community? Simply to have people from different countries as members of the church surely doesn’t express cultural diversity… it has to be more than that? Some communities work hard at celebrating cultural diversity by having different styles of worship, different languages spoken, different ways of meeting.
This is commendable but even this seems to reduce the expression of culture to something very tokenistic. It doesn’t fit well with my understanding of being God’s people.
Church is more than just meetings in which we celebrate something (although it is at times that); it has to be the relationships we have with one another. So you could have a very diverse church in terms of those who attend, you could have a very diverse church in terms of how things are run, but for all that culturally-diverse believers don’t share genuine fellowship with one another and believers don’t celebrate their cultural differences as they relate.
I feel very passionate about the uniting power of the Gospel… Ephesians 3 vv7-12 is the scripture I have chosen to put on my blog expressing what motivates my wife and I. But I believe people misuse the passages in Ephesians and make the unity we have in the Gospel simplistic. There are those who use it as an excuse to be imperialistic, as expressed in the question, insisting that people essentially become like us to express unity. This is often used by those in the majority culture in a given location. So what is the kind of unity that Paul is talking about?
Paul is explaining how the gospel is now for the Gentiles and not just for the Jews; that the new humanity that God is creating will come from all nations and where once the promise was confined to the people of Abraham now it is for those who were seemingly outsiders. We now have a new ethic; an ethic of reconciliation and we’re called to find ways of demonstrating reconciliation within this hew humanity. We are to be a defiant sign, a rallying call against the divisive and destructive work of Satan. Wherever humanity’s sin has caused division, wherever there has been a wall whether it the apartheid of South Africa, the castes of India, or the class system still operating in Britain today, the church is called to defy it.
This calling is much greater and more expansive than simply having every language spoken or different songs sung (although this might be part of it) in a church service. This is a call to see God’s people being in every corner of our cities, in every corner of our country and in every corner of this Earth. Church planting is my commitment, our community’s commitment to this great call for unity across diversity. And in doing this we will make choices for mission that accommodate and preference some cultural norms over another because to do this is not to deny unity over diversity but rather to uphold it… it is to pursue it.
Our preferring some cultural norms will never be the thing over which we unite, we will be careful to not let this happen. It is the gospel over which we will unite and the call to be missional. We will present to Kurdish believers the call to love their neighbour and to offer the gospel to those different to themselves. They will also be invited to participate in mission to their neighbours; Arabs, Turks, Persians and Brits. We fully expect that in the years to come Kurdish believers will band together with believers from other cultural backgrounds to form believing communities that operate in Arabic, or which preference Somali culture or indeed seek to reach the British. We will also look at ways of relating to and working with other believing communities; this is possible in The Crowded House as we are part of a larger network and we come together periodically to celebrate the fact that we are all one in Christ.
The reaction to apartheid in South Africa is not to insist that every church in South Africa represents black and white. The response surely should be to teach each believer of the equality we all have in the gospel, the value that God places on each culture and to equip one another to love our brother of a different colour in all our dealings with them and never, never to exclude them from fellowshipping with us.
The Kurds themselves come from 4 different nations, they speak 2 different languages and they are living in the UK. The political lines in Kurdish culture are deeply entrenched and the allegiance to family and tribe is as strong as any other country I have been to. There are dividing walls abounding in the Kurdish community; for God to bring together Kurds in a believing community will be a demonstration of the power of the cross. I don’t feel any anxiety that we will somehow be too mono-cultural or lack opportunities to express unity across diversity.