The Red Sea Judgment

The Red Sea Judgment

Exodus 14:10-31

 

‘Yahweh fights for his people,

Turn back, turn back.’

 

‘It is too late!

Judgment’s jaws have set

There is no escape

We are lost –

Despair!’

 

Horrendous, horrible.

Praise Yahweh for His dreadful power?

 

Praise Yahweh for his dreadful power.

His strength to throw into disarray

To confuse the wicked,

To quieten their destructive clamour.

Praise Yahweh for His judgments,

His awful destruction of those who disobey,

Those who hate Him and his plans.

 

Praise Yahweh for His protection,

His presence near His people.

That same hand crushing and collapsing

So too enfolds those who are His.

His, chosen not by intrinsic value,

But by their bestowed worth.

 

Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation wrought

Quieten my fears, be still the murmurings of my heart

Flee from me my stricken disbelief!

Repent and believe.

 

Praise Yahweh for His dreadful judgments and merciful salvation.

The Red Sea judgment

 

The Red Blood flowing

The parting this time of the heavens

The overflow of God’s wrath

The Son standing, bowing his head

Dead for the disobedient

The hard of heart, unloving, unmerciful.

Me.

The hand that confused the Egyptians

Hands now openly outstretched,

The Judgment-bearing Son.

 

The choice before us:

Red sea judgment or Red Blood flowing?

 

Come, and be His!

Red Sea Judgment

#4 Conclusion


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Here is the brief conclusion I offer to the previous 4 posts, as well as some suggestions of areas that deserve further thought ( – language, welcome, race, gender, preaching).

It is true that any church of God, no matter how homogeneous, stands as a testament to God and his actions in this world. Any church, even one made up entirely of a bunch of whiteys who look pretty much the same, have the same background, like similar things etc etc – this still declares the greatness of the God who gathers people under his Son. However, the diverse local church could be classed as a megaphone of these things. The diverse church is the closest this side of Christ’s return to us being who we will one day be in perfection.

Should we seek it?

I do not think that it is wise to push to an imperative at this point. The imperative is to make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the One name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And, this can be carried out without being in a particularly diverse church. There is scope for that.

Based on some of the things we have seen, if the conclusion isn’t an imperative then what is it? I think that the language which must be drawn on is, instead, the language of invitation. Our eyes must be lifted to see the wonderful opportunity to display the Triune God and his salvation wrought in Jesus. We have the opportunity to display what God is doing in this world (Post 2).We have the opportunity to be a part of something which is for our good (Post 3a). We have the opportunity to be a powerful witness in this world of the unity achieved in Jesus as people watch us, God’s people, God’s church (previous post 3b). We have the opportunity to delight in the differences and the people which can be united under Jesus. It is an imperfect display and enjoyment now before Christ returns, but it is still powerful and delightful – and praise God for that! It is the language of invitation that in turn invites us to prayerful creativity and intentionality as we work out the practical implications of being the diverse church of God in the here and now.[1]

There is so much more that needs to be said on and around this topic of diversity in the church. In particular, there are a few key areas that need more elaboration. These are areas into which it would be delightful to accost with that prayerful creativity and intentionality. So for example:

  • A practical theology of language. Language appears to be the major practical barrier to the multiethnic church ‘working’. So, how might that be overcome? Actually, how do different languages operate within the scope of Scripture’s narrative – the fact that there are different languages, is that good or bad? A blessing or a curse?
  • A practical theology of welcome. How do we welcome people into the church who are different to us? What kind of mindset do we need? What kind of questions can we ask? How do we overcome our fear and love? And again, what about language differences?
  • A theology of race. I alluded to this in the first introductory post, is ‘race’ even a legitimate term for us to use? In my mind, there is only one race – the human race. Ethnicity is a far better term to be using.
  • A practical theology of gender. Gender is one of the major markers of division and diversity. There would be benefit in spelling that out more and perhaps engaging with writers such as Storkey, Coakley, Milbank and Tanner.[2]
  • A practical theology of preaching. How, for instance, does having a church of diverse people impact how we preach. Can we go ‘And have a look at verse 7’ when we have a dozen people in our church who cannot read? Should we make better use of narrative – stories seem to work for everyone? How do we craft a message and application that can impact the hearts of a completely diverse set of people?

********************************


[1]A starting point: Robert Calvert, ‘Why Become a Rainbow Church?’, Exchange 34/3 (July 2005): 177–84.

[2] So: Elaine Storkey, Created or Constructed?: The Great Gender Debate (New College Lectures (Sydney, N.S.W.); Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000).; or Sarah Coakley, ‘Why Gift? Gift, Gender and Trinitarian Relations in Milbank and Tanner’, Scott. J. Theol. 61/2 (January 1, 2008): 224–35.

#3b The church of God

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The end-time church of God shows an incredible diversity in unity, that is to say, an incredible diversity under Jesus. How diverse should the local church be? Often the local church just doesn’t seem to represent what Jesus has achieved ( #1 Introduction, How diverse should the local church be?). Sometimes, part of this is understandable – you live in a township where, well, there ain’t a white face within 20km, so how do you expect whites to have a real presence in your otherwise completely black church.  Other times it simply seems that we’re either being lazy or, worse than that, we’re not actually thinking properly about who God is (#2 God, Diversity in unity under God, a sort of Biblical theology of diversity within the plans of God).

How diverse should the local church be? Actually, what does diversity in unity look like? – what does diversity within the church of God look like? What does it do? How is it used by God? Diversity in the church of God involves at least two things. The first is that it involves space for particularity and God uses it to give us opportunities to love and learn.

Here is the second element, namely that it involves

ii)                   God on display (and a drawing of people)

One of the major themes in Ephesians is a unity which has been achieved. So, Ephesians chapter 4 verse 2 reminds us that we are to keep the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace. To keep it, not make it.

This unity which has already been achieved is, surprise surprise, the work of the Triune God. The Triune God stands behind it, and over it. Chapter 1 shows us that the Father chooses, that the Son redeems, and that the Spirit seals. And in chapter 4, Paul likewise situates the church’s unity in the Trinity as he draws our attention to the one Spirit, the One Lord and the One Father of all (vv. 4-6). The very existence of the church displays God and Him at work (cf. post 2).

Chapters 2-3 of Ephesians drive home the complexity of this unity: it involves dirty pagan Gentiles with kosher set-apart Jews. Think about it, we have devout Jews who for ages and ages have been told ‘look, don’t mix with those types!! Don’t!’ And yet now, the kind of unity achieved mirrors marriage language: the two become one (2:15); they are co-heirs and partners (3:6). Really? Not only is the unity that stark, but it is the unity of groups which previously were not allowed to mix. The diverse, even to the point of being enemies are united ‘maritally’ with the peace that Jesus brings (2:15-16). They are harnessed together to be one, co-heirs and partners. Here is the church: diversity in unity through the Son displaying God’s wisdom (3:10) and bringing Him glory (3:21).

We know that it is difficult (a difficulty compounded by our sin) for diverse people to relate and so Paul urges the Ephesians to accept one another in love (4:2). Love is the way of relating. With God revealed to us as Trinity, we should not be surprised that relationships and love are so central. With one another we are given the opportunity to reflect the things that matter.[1]  Have a think about the first multiethnic church of Acts 11 at this point. While we’re reading about the church of Antioch in Acts 11, we’re slipped the line that it is here that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Go have a look at it. It is a very diverse church, even the leadership is diverse. Why might people have stopped there and gone ‘These are followers of Jesus, these are Christians!’? Well, I must admit that I can’t help but remember Jesus’ words of: ‘By your love for one another will they know that you are my disciples’ (John 13:35). Amidst the obvious difficulties of loving within a multiethnic church, we have God’s relational love on display, highlighting these people as followers of the Jesus who showed us love.

The HUP (Homogeneous Unit Principle – see previous posts), as espoused by McGavran and others, is presented as a missiological tool, in other words it’s meant to help us with the fulfillment of the church’s mission. And it has the aim of having a church in every culture.[2] Much about the HUP makes sense: like reaching like is often easier. People are more likely to interact and respond positively to people who are like them in either looks or interests or speech. But!, there are at least two critiques to the HUP way of thinking.

Firstly, the HUP misses church as an end in itself, not only as a means to an end. God’s church initiated by Him is a group of diverse people loving Him and loving one another. It’s not only a means to getting the church of Revelation 7 when Jesus returns but it’s a great opportunity now for us to see the kind of unity that Jesus brings – people who might not normally hang out, actually being united by their common faith in Jesus.

Secondly, the diverse church should be considered missiological! Bentley Hart’s apt description of the world watching the early church states: ‘Men of high attainment—literate, accomplished, propertied, and free—had to crowd in among slaves, laborers, and craftsmen, and count it no disgrace.’ [3] Diversity which is divided within the world but united in the church, well, it gets people asking questions: ‘What the heck could do that? What could possibly stand behind those people, so different from one another, actually hanging out? No, no. more than that: actually, genuinely, loving one another!’ What they see on display is the kind of love of Jesus which is initiating, personal, and sacrificial.

The Revelation multiethnic church could not help but cry ‘Salvation belongs to our God’ (7:10).

God-willing the church reaching and including all kinds of people, will render the watching world almost unable but to utter the words ‘Truly, salvation belongs to your God.’ 

For no one else but the Triune God could stand behind the Christian church of diversity in unity.

Go here for the conclusion to the series.


[1] Here I have no desire to forget the ‘categorical distinction’ for which Husbands lambasts Volf (Mark Husbands, ‘The Trinity is Not Our Social Program’, in Daniel J. Treier and David Lauber, eds., Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2009), 121, 123. Cf. Miroslav Volf, ‘The Trinity is our Social Program: The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Shape of Social Engagement’ in Alan J. Torrance and Michael Banner, eds., The Doctrine of God and Theological Ethics (London: T & T Clark, 2006), 105–124.) Instead I am asserting that God is: i) relational even as Knox reminds us that ‘unity is the basic concept underlying the doctrine of the Trinity’ (Tony Payne, ed., D. Broughton Knox, Selected Works, Volume 1: The Doctrine of God (Matthias Media, 2000), 78.); and ii) love (1 John 4:8). This is the God revealed in Jesus and Scripture.
As image bearers we should not be surprised at the importance of both of these. Husbands’ mostly valid critique of Volf’s perichoretic personhood’ as over-realised eschatology (Treier and Lauber, Trinitarian Theology for the Church, 126.), in turn shows Husbands bordering on an under-realised eschatology in terms of his understanding of Christian fellowship now, even given the presence of sin.

[2] Donald A. McGavran, ‘A Church in Every People: Plain Talk About a Difficult Subject’. Available online at: http://www.worldevangelicals.org/resources/source.htm?id=420

[3] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 170.

#3a Diversity in the church of God

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We have a strange relationship with diversity and unity.

Diversity, on the one hand, can peak interest. It is part of the allure of overseas trips and seeing other cultures. So, the tourist pitches up weighed down by a thousand kgs of telescopic lenses and travel maps and exclaims ‘My, my, isn’t that so very interesting. Look at how they [look, dress, eat, act, dance, sing etc etc] . It’s so very different to us.’ It’s interesting, like how X has a vase or rug from [insert some bizarre place] or how, Suzy down the road has started dating that boy who quite obviously isn’t Caucasian. ‘ Oh my, isn’t that interesting?’

Diversity can also simply equal fear of the other, of those people or those things that are different to us. They unnerve us, unsettle us. They make us shudder, have nightmares or fear for our kids, the future of our country even. Xenophobia, racism or a simple lack of generosity can be the result (or are these the starting point?). ‘They’re not me/us – and I don’t like it.’

Unity is likewise a mixed concept.

The inherent danger is the possibility of being united for or under iniquity. Vanhoozer remarks that ‘Everything depends on what unites the community: hatred, prejudice and ideology can be as binding…’[1] A group of bank robbers, or skinheads are united and can perhaps accomplish ‘great’ things. But what unites them (and us) matters. The end time picture of Revelation reminds us that there is unity under the Beast, as there is under the Lamb.

Most times, even when the cause is genuine or good, the bond under which we unite is simply ineffective. ‘Unity in diversity’ has become the catch phrase of troubled countries such as South Africa, and India and of organisations such as the EU. But, coming from one of those countries, I can tell you that it doesn’t always work as well as we’d hope.

God’s good news declares that there is true unity in Jesus Christ. No matter who. Are you a sinner? Yes you are! So come and be under Jesus, united with him and with His people. In Jesus, diversity in unity is possible. And the place where we are to see this is in the Christian church, the gathering of those trusting in Jesus.

What does diversity in unity look like? – what does diversity within the church of God look like? What does it do? How is it used by God?

I want to show you that diversity within the church of God involves at least two things.

  • Space for particularity (and used by God)

and

  • God being on display (and a drawing of people)

Here is the first…

i)                   Space for particularity (and used by God)

Personality, interests, and preferences already diversify us. And they are difficult enough to find unity in. Even if people look the same as me, share the same socio-economic or educational background, why would I want to hang out with them when there are people who are, well… just a lot more like me, exactly like me. The more diverse people become, the harder unity seems to achieve; diversity appears as a threat to unity.

Perhaps why the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) has support is that, with people that are largely uniform together, it feels relationally strong – there is the appearance of unity. Uniformity is confused with unity.  Added to this, the implicit impression given can be that, in order to belong, one must become as the rest of the group. So for instance ‘being Christian’ could equate to being culturally white middleclass. Gunton speaks of the homogenising ‘forces of modernity’ where we all drink Coke and eat McDonalds, and then he remarks regarding the danger:

Wherever we look, the many – particular people with all their differences – are depersonalized by being swallowed up into the one, the mass, where individuality is suppressed in the interests of efficiency, economics and homogeneity.[2]

Here, however, is the contrast offered by a common faith in Christ: this unity is so strong that it creates space for particularities to be. The individuals don’t need to be depersonalised, the differences don’t need to be destroyed. Unity is achieved without totalitarian uniformity. Instead of diversity as a threat to unity, the unity in Jesus is a place where the different individuals can be exactly that in safety and confidence. There is not a suppression of differences but instead a beautiful enjoyment that here, in the body of Christ, different individuals can share in Christ’s sufferings and share in one another.

And there is more than simple and beautiful enjoyment: these differences are often used by God for the good of the body (cf. Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 12). There is a pointed end to diversity.

Firstly, they provide opportunities for love. For instance:

  • The rich are afforded the opportunity to love the poor in practical ways (cf. Gal. 6, 1 John 3; 4).
  • The educated lovingly think about ways to run the bible study, taking into account their uneducated brothers and sisters’ lack of reading skills.[3]

Secondly, there are opportunities to learn from one another.

We know this from when we’re at a party or some gathering and we get chatting to someone different to us: different background or experiences of life. And we come away having learnt something, some outlook, some understanding of how people tick or what shapes people, we learn something and perhaps our own life-outlook is challenged. And if we’re talking elements of diversity that we raised in the first post then, for instance, the poor can teach the/us rich. From the poor we are reminded of the upside down nature of the kingdom (James 2:5); some poorer Christians are godly models of joyfully finding our all in Jesus. And so in interacting, the rich are shown that the materialism which they/we grasp so tightly is in reality little more than canine faeces (cf. Phil 3:8) – yuck! (Chuck it away)

Space for particularities does not necessarily entail distinctions never being separated into their own spaces. So, as we know, Titus 2 has women teaching women – there is good to that! But even this entails diversity: it has older teaching younger. And perhaps then we consider the poverty of relegating the oldies to the early AM prayer book service or having family morning congregation separated from the evening ‘youthy’ service. Are we stealing from ourselves?

Diversity and unity are strange concepts for the world, there is a love/hate relationship with them. In God’s church though, we see that because of the strength of being united in Jesus, there is space for particularity. Diversity is not seen as a threat to unity but is actually used by God for us to love and learn.

In the next post we’ll consider the second aspect of diversity within the church of God, namely that diversity in the church involves God on display (and a drawing of people). We’ll interact further with the HUP too.

Previous in this series:

First post: #1 Introduction, How diverse should the local church be?

Second post: #2 God, Diversity in unity under God (A sort of Biblical theology of diversity within the plans of God)


[1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 161.

[2] Colin E. Gunton, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology (London: T & T Clark, 2003), 15.

[3] cf. Tim Chester, Unreached: Growing Churches in Working-class and Deprived Areas (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), ch. 6.

#2 Diversity in unity under God

 

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‘In the beginning God

created the heavens and the earth’

~ Genesis 1:1 ~

The charge of ‘monochrome and monotonous’ cannot be levelled against the perfect God’s creation. Instead of dull neutrality, God brings forth a vibrant creation bursting with inherent diversity enacted ‘according to their kinds’. There are similarities: some of creation shares being part of the vegetation or, of belonging to the realm of living creatures. And all of these count as created by God. But with the similarities, there are also differences: there are seed-bearing plants, fruit trees, fish, large sea-creatures, birds, livestock, crawling animals and wildlife. Even within those kinds, the differences spiral like the beautiful twisting and turnings of a gymnast completing their routine so that creation details a kaleidoscope [kalos, beautiful + eidos, form/shape] of diversity.

Humanity includes the same pattern of similarities and of differences. There is sameness. Firstly, like all other things they fall into the category of created but secondly, they make up the kind called humanity, a category uniquely created imago Dei. Within these similarities there is also an initial diversity: humanity consists of man and woman. They are united in being both under God and forming human kind, but they are different in being man or woman. After the initial creation of humanity, the subsequent union of this man and woman sees diversity (the two different) being united (in one flesh) as they are married under God. Thus, diversity is brought together in a way that is for good and for the benefit of what surrounds it, in this case the creation which humanity is to care for.

The creation picture places God as the ultimate uniting setting under which the human race is to properly relate to one another and to the world. Unfortunately, the mirror reflecting that exquisite truth is shattered by humanities sin, and instead of remaining under God, there is a bid for false autonomy. It is the kind of man-made freedom that results in death and destruction as even brother forcefully crushes brother. The Babel incident displays the human heart: a search for human-made and human-centred unity. Together, when united by sinful anthropocentric desires, humanity is as safe as children fiddling with a nuclear bomb. So, for their good and also in judgment, God divides them.

It is from the scattered ruins of the human race that God, in grace, calls a man named Abram.  In Abraham we find a pre-Christ figure of the one who will be a blessing to the many. From Abraham we find a nation saved and called to be God’s people out of all the peoples of the earth. Part of Israel’s raison d’être (besides simply being God’s people) was to be a light to the nations, to show them the One true revealed God, who was in fact also their creator and God.[1] But, instead of shining forth displaying God’s glory, Israel herself is lustfully drawn into the darkness and the witness to God is marred. Israel shows that she neither values the striking worth of her God or the unique relationship she has been privileged with. In this she simply reveals our own sin (Rom 1:21-25). Yet, even in the midst of the resulting judgment, the Old Testament still ends containing elements of hope, both for Israel and the nations.

 

‘It is not enough for you to be My servant

Raising up the tribes of Jacob

And restoring the protected ones of Israel.

I will also make you a light to the nations,

To be my salvation to the ends of the earth.’

~ Isaiah 49:6 ~

The pencil marks of hope take on flesh in the arrival of Jesus, the Son of God. He is the second Adam, the descendant of Abraham and crucially, this Saviour of Israel will stand as the light to the nations (Matt 4:12-17). He embodies the good news of Gentile inclusion in God’s reconciliation plans. His ministry will include the weak and marginalised, the obvious outcasts, all kinds of men and women who this One will serve. He stands (and is crucified) as the One who offers the hope of humanity coming back under the good rule of their Creator.

God’s creation shows a delight in diversity. God’s reconciliation plans show a desire to see the different nations and all kinds of people, gathered under his Son. However in all of this, there is one element of diversity which God detests, one which he absolutely abhors. It is a deviancy called heresy, although in our culture it might better be known as open-mindedness. God is utterly uniform when it comes to truth and will not stand for a diversity of opinion regarding the truthfulness of his existence, of his character, and of his plans in this world though his Son. So in John 4, Jesus invites the Samaritan woman to come worship the Father in spirit and truth. Jesus is the one who is the only way and truth and life (John 14:6). And likewise the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (14:17). Truth is important – what an understatement! – truth is the difference between life and death. Truth confronts the reality of our sin with God’s gracious reconciliation offer: initiated by the Father, achieved in the Son and completed by the Spirit. And, as per Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 (which draws on the relationships within the Trinity) part of how the world will know that Jesus truly was sent by the Father is in seeing different people being united as one in Jesus.

After Jesus’ ascension, the very same Holy Spirit who Jesus prayed for is poured out. With power he accompanies the message of Jesus’ resurrection. It is a truth projected to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8 cf Isaiah 49:6) and Pentecost becomes our first major marker of this. In contrast to blubbering Babel, language is being used not to separate, but to have the gospel proclaimed to ethnically diverse people.[2] Peter explains why this is happening: it is so they realise that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus] will be saved’ (2:21). While in our sinfulness we might set up false parameters, according to God via Peter, there is no distinction that can bar anyone from coming under this salvation. It is in this sense that ‘there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28).

‘After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude

from every nation, tribe, people, and language…’

~ Revelation 7:9 ~

Given salvation history, the end-time picture of diversity united under Jesus should run no risk of coming across as a wet fish to the face. It is a diversity epitomised by having the world’s ethnicity, which so readily separates us here on earth, united under the Lamb. There is diversity in unity.  What should we do with this? ‘Oh it’s over-realised eschatology [i.e. you’re looking for heaven on earth] if you expect that to be displayed here’. Well, be consistent then (!) and please resist pursuing things like mercy and justice and even holiness (cf. Heb 12:14-28) this side of Jesus’ return. It is contrived to label a desire for this coming reality to be displayed (as much as is possible this side of Christ’s return) as ‘over-realised eschatology’. The expectation of perfection to come does not dismiss a present pursuit. Instead it allows the present pursuit to be conducted within the secure context of knowing that it will one day be ours in perfection! I.e. go wild!

‘Ok, well, what does this mean for the local church? How does diversity in unity work within the gathering/s of God’s people? Is this for our good? – could this be for our good? – how? And what about the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) which was (is?) all the rage?’[3]

In the next post we’ll look at how diversity might be able to operate within the local church.


[1] Cf. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: a Biblical Theology of Mission (New Studies in Biblical Theology; Leicester: Apollos, 2001), 252–254.

[2] I’ll need to talk about different languages at some point.

[3] A homogeneous unit is a group of people that have, for example, linguistic or ethnic or educational similarities. For a church congregation then it would look like a church made of up people who either look the same, have the same educational or socio-economic levels, or who all speak the same language.

How diverse should the local church be? #1 Introduction

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‘After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude

from every nation, tribe, people, and language…’

~ Revelation 7:9 ~

 

‘Multiculturalism’ is ‘so hot right now’. That is good in some ways – it poses worthwhile questions for our practise and, even more importantly, the foundational theology out of which those practises flow. But, we certainly don’t want be thinking about these things so that we can be trendy (‘oh we’re so mul-tie-cultu-ral’), but rather because our aim is to be living in line with God and his plans in this world. The end-time picture of the people of God contains incredible diversity in unity achieved by God in Jesus (Rev 7:10). How diverse should the local church be? How diverse should the church you and I go to be? Does it even need to be diverse? Actually, what do we mean by diverse and diversity?

Firstly, let’s be clear in saying that what we might call a homogeneous church (i.e. made up of same or similar kinds of people) is still diverse simply because inherent in diversity is the idea of plurality. One person means no diversity. But even if you put twins into a room, there is still diversity because, as The Life of Brian reminds us: ‘we’re all individuals; we’re all different.’ If you had a church that was completely black or white, well the people might all look somewhat similar but there is still diversity. It might be personality, it might be country of origin – there is diversity present. However, that is not saying enough and is sometimes used as a way out of actually considering what diversity looks like. And so, secondly, it is worth considering major markers of diversity contained in Scripture. While I will need to try and show later on why these are major markers in Scripture, they include markers or categories such as:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Socio-economic and educational factors
  • And ethnicity which includes: nationality, culture, and language. Importantly, I haven’t mentioned race here because I consider it a social construct. Ethnicity is a better term. Even if racism is real, there is only one race, ‘we’re all blood, we’re all blood, blood brothers’ – as Ingrid Michaelson sings.[1]

 

 ‘And behold, there was a local congregation of people who

pretty much looked like me, spoke like me,

and liked the same things as me’

Our churches (with notable exceptions it must be said!!) are in danger of not reflecting the parishes they belong to. Even if you think that the parish system is archaic, there is at least one thing that it does: it keeps us accountable. Yes, there are certain areas where people do not settle for long and this needs to be given careful thought and strategy. Yes, we often travel out of our living areas for work and for sport and for entertainment. But evangelism and community based only off of these hubs means that there are people who are not like us who fall through the cracks. And yes, I’m thinking in particular about ethnicity here. We pass these people off as someone else’s ‘mission field’. But no one gets around to loving them and often we simply end up with churches full of people who are just like us, it’s a bit easier that way. The result can be that those who God has placed around us remain unreached and we run the risk of irrelevance as the Christian message is otherwise ‘undermined by its own segregation.’[2] For most of the people who might read this, let’s be blunt, our danger is of being white middle class churches in areas which are usually more diverse than that. If you live in an area that is particularly not diverse in terms of ethnicity, then it is still worth considering what other markers of diversity (perhaps socio-economic?) you might be lazy on.

Given the end-time picture of God gathering a diverse group of people around Jesus, is there perhaps a problem with our doctrine of the church? Are we thinking correctly about what the gathering of God’s people looks like, or should look like? Or, does it run even deeper than that? When John Webster asserts that ‘the doctrine of the church is only as good as the doctrine of God which underlies it’,[3] does this mean that perhaps our foundational issue is with our understanding of God? Perhaps we’ve simply grown hazy about what our God is like and what he is doing in this world?

With this in mind, the next few posts will follow this plan of action: firstly, we will look at diversity in unity as it relates to God, this is our starting point. This will be more of a biblical theology of diversity in relation to God working out salvation in the world. And then secondly, we will turn to diversity in unity as it relates to God’s church. What does that look like in the congregations many of us are a part of? Why has God given us diversity – does it do anything? After that, I’ll offer a brief conclusion and then perhaps try and engage with some strands that were not directly dealt with.


[1] A useful starting point for thinking about race is work by Thabiti Anyabwile (for instance http://t4g.org/media/2010/04/bearing-the-image-identity-the-work-of-christ-and-the-church-session-ii/). I’m not sure I would quite land where he does with some of the Adam/Christ thinking – we’re still one human race, just some of us have restored humanity in Christ.

[2] Mark DeYmaz, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation (John Wiley & Sons, 2010), xxix.

[3] John B. Webster, Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 196.

The setting sun

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Amber setting sun closing the day

The concoction of disappearing light

And approaching night

Haze on the horizon,

A whisper of what has been

Memories floating reminiscing

Glimmers of the goodness of God,

Perhaps of time with friends, relationships,

Kindness, words that warmed, love, work,

Beauty, tenderness and a full heart as the day ends.

 

The other side: that of gloom

Difficulties of the day

Oppressing thoughts

The curtain of night brings unsettled need

Memories pierce and prod and pull, unceasingly wearingly

Oh the need to rest!

To entrust troubles in prayer

To the God who brings close of play to the day.

Thoughts rush the gates of sanity

Threatening, tumbling, jostling,

Drowning out all hope .

The need again, acute…

Into His hands a laying down, a passing over

His hands open, ready

Inviting a child-like trust of Daddy in the fear, the unknown.

 

The setting sun.

The setting of the Son over our histories.

And over our future.

The Spirit tender ministers to us from the inside out.

All the moments: both good and bad

All the decisions, released.

Not under our control, they can be settled

Under a life of breaking dawns of mercy anew

The sun also rises, God working through the darkness

To proclaim His goodness,

Sufficient to meet the holdings of the time between

The rising and the setting.

 

The Son has risen, so the sun sets with thanks expressed

and opportunity for a re-trusting of Him who holds it all.

 

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Similar:
Despair, meet hope

The loosing of eternity

I lie down and sleep