Tuesday Re-mix –
There is a public park in Luhans’k, Ukraine where my ministry has gone to work with churches in the past. The park is in a “forest”. It is a beautiful place. But there is something eerie about it. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but there is something about it which just doesn’t seem right. You feel like you are out in nature, but not really. Then you learn the story…the “park” is a man-made forest built by the Nazis. The trees are all lined up! Then it’s not eerie anymore…it’s just funny.
I had a long conversation with “Thomas”, a church leader whose church was blessed with a diversity of people. The topic of the conversation was worship styles, but the principle at issue was much larger than that. When confronted with the reality that a variety of preferred worship styles (I usually refer to them as “languages”) existed in his church, this leader sternly refused to use any other styles other than the one they currently used, the one they had been using for many decades. His premise was this: in our worship we must stay unified, with a common “language” or style, because the more homogenous we are, the stronger we are…diversity only weakens us. Hmmm. It flustered me a little, because it was an entirely new argument for me. I honestly never thought anyone could make an argument against diversity among God’s people. Frankly, pictures of a Nazi forest came to mind.
I have always seen our diversity as an incredible strength. It challenges us, to be sure. It is difficult at times, to be sure. But it stretches our understanding of God and of one another. It is that whole “you complete me” thing. I actually am energized being around people who are different from me, particularly when we are talking about Spiritual things.
I am no church historian (or any other kind of historian, for that matter), but I would be willing to bet there was a similar argument made when some in the Catholic church began to suggest that perhaps some of the mass could be conducted in the people’s native language rather than in Latin, since they could better understand it then. Surely there was an argument then that keeping the services in Latin was a “unifying” characteristic, one not to be lost.
I suppose “Thomas” also believes, then, that churches should be segregated into as many different cultural (and language) groups as possible, so that everyone can have the opportunity to worship with people with whom they have the most in common. That way, nobody has to deal with the hassle of being stretched to consider some facets of God other than those with which they are comfortable. Everybody can be lined up in nice clean rows, and it is much more “manageable” then. Nazi forest.
In reality, “Thomas’” vision for church is born out in churches all across the world every week. There are churches in every country where everyone looks the same, acts the same, and thinks the same. Indeed, there are some environments (spiritually abusive ones) where thinking differently isn’t even permitted, let alone encouraged. And many of these same churches seem to have very little conflict, because disagreement is either rare or is outright forbidden. They would call it “unity” and be proud of it. I would call it “uniformity” and be afraid of it.
You can read Paul’s letters to each of the New Testament churches from one to the next and it becomes very clear very quickly that diversity was actually a strength of the New Testament church. The early church was a confluence of cultures and languages and religious heritages. It was the Spirit of God which bound them all together in unity. It was definitely NOT that they were all alike in any other way at all. Why, then, do we work so hard today to stay all alike?
Unity among God’s people is all about our ability to see beyond the worldly exteriors and to find Christ in one another. When you and I are exactly alike and in agreement all the time, it makes it virtually impossible to know whether it is Christ I am finding in you, or just an amiable, comfortable version of myself. But in the midst of diversity, when I do not necessarily understand your culture or your exterior, but nonetheless I find qualities and characteristics in you which look and sound like my Savior, then we have found real unity. In the midst of diversity…indeed, perhaps because of diversity, we have unity.
So, I must disagree with “Thomas” and his vision for church. I don’t want the church he wants. I want one filled with different cultures and different looks and different preferences. I am not interested in uniformity. I am interested in unity, with all its difficulties.
© Blake Coffee
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