The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 3)

Part 3 of my review covers chapter two of the book, and I must say from the outset there is much in here that is commendable and helpful. The author is Irwyn Ince, graduated of Reformed Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary. He is Pastor and Director of the GraceDC Network Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission.

Much of the chapter is spent demonstrating the undoing of the Tower of Babel in Acts 2, where the nations are gathered, the Spirit is poured out on them, and the unity of the nations is seen in the power of the Spirit bringing the nations to faith in Jesus Christ. Ince opens with Col. 3:11 and Gal. 3:28. The religious bond, the bond that we have in Christ, runs deeper than any other bond. We have one Lord, one Father, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit. We are the body and bride of Christ, and Christ's body and bride is comprised of human beings from every tribe, tongue, and nation. That is a very beautiful and glorious thing. that's the power of the cross.

Ince argues that "the good news in Jesus Christ contradicted the acceptance of ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic division. The reality of union with Jesus Christ manifested itself in his people striving for union and unity with one another across dividing lines. Thankfully many American churches are taking more seriously the biblical call to build and participate in multiethnic churches and communities." Further, he sets out to show that the new normal of "redemptive ethnic unity" was possessed in the 1st century church and that we need to today regain what we have lost.

Ince uses Isa. 19:23-35 to demonstrate that the New Testament church is to be one of multiethnic worshiping communities. On the Day of Pentecost, all the nations are represented (Acts 2:9-10) and receive the Spirit, and three thousand souls are added to the church from among the nations (Acts 2:41) and are committed to Christian fellowship, love, and peace with one another (Acts 2:42-45). This is a beautiful thing. However, I would want to point out that the miracle of being able to hear in one's own language was not a new normal. There are still language barriers, and I would argue potentially cultural barriers, that can make worshiping together difficult, and if one cannot hear the Word of God and understand it, that is not a profitable situation. Does Ince want us to believe that our aim should be that we all speak multiple language, even all the languages, so that we can all worship together and understand each other? I doubt he would take things that far, but my point is simply that the picture of Pentecost is one of a consummated reality, which can only be fully realized when Christ returns. I agree that this reality is present now, and that it will grow by the grace of God. More and more nations and cultures will stream into the Kingdom of God, and will worship Him. There will be churches that are ethnically diverse and the diversity and breadth of the Kingdom of God will be displayed in some individual churches. But is this diversity within each individual church something that we must seek to achieve? Is God promising this kind of diversity for every or even most churches that are on the face of the earth today? I do not believe so.

Ince brings out helpful and relevant material when he notes the ethnic diversity of the Greco-Roman world:

Migrations and invasions occurred, such as that by the Celts into Macedonia and Asia Minor. Merchant-driven colonization occurred. Jews were scattered throughout the region. Roman soldiers and foreign auxiliary soldiers retired and settled in areas away from their homes; and slaves were captured from a variety of areas of the Roman frontier and transferred throughout the Empire to be incorporated into the diverse mix of peoples that inhabited the cities of the first century AD.

 Ince notes how quickly discrimination spread in the early church, looking at Acts 6 and the neglect by the Hebrews of the Hellenists' widows, who were not receiving the daily distribution of resources. Acts 10:15 shows Peter needing to be taught that all persons have been made clean, that Christ is saving people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Acts 11:19-20 is also noted, and Ince points out that at the Tower of Babel and throughout history since, man has turned his ethnicity into idolatry. The church is not supposed to be like this.  One can only amen the following:

The new normal of the multiethnic church in the New Testament moves the focus to Jesus Christ, and finding our identity in him helps avoid cultural idolatry. Jewishness was not to be at the center of anyone’s identity. Egyptian-ness, Libyan-ness, and Arabian-ness were not to be at the center of anyone’s identity. The Spirit of God worked to press the people of God into the new normal with Jesus Christ at the center of identity. Again, this did not mean that ethnic identities were no longer apparent or significant. The work of God was not a call to strike a balance between identity in Christ and ethnic identity, as if too much of one washes out the other. Instead, those who belonged to Christ were to understand ethnic identity as subservient to identity in Christ.
Ince closes with a powerful statement about our unity in Christ. Jesus is the center, bearing the weight of it all, for our ethnicity and culture cannot do it. God brings together the different threads of the nations and produces something beautiful and amazing. This is the new normal that we have lost from the early church and must regain, says Ince.

Well, as I have said throughout, there is much to commend here. However, I am not sure how to regain and recreate Pentecost. I am not convinced that is the point of Acts 2. Acts 2 and all of the book of Acts indicates that there is neither Jew nor Greek, that the Gospel is to go out to all indiscriminately. I should desire to tell anyone and everyone about salvation in Christ. I should not get mad at God if He is only calling one primary ethnic group into this or that particular local church, despite my efforts to proclaim the gospel without partiality. Then there is the consideration that many in our churches are not evangelistic, or at most talk to their closest friends about Christ. And here we have to recognize that for particular cultures to continue to exist at all, there has to be some people in one culture and other people in another culture. Otherwise, all cultural distinctions are blurred and bleed together. One does not have to repent for growing up in the South and enjoying much of southern culture, nor does one have to repent for growing up in the North and enjoying its culture. But these differences will have to be recognized and overcome in churches where northerners and southerners are together. Can they be overcome? Of course, and they can enrich one another. But does one have to give up their culture in order to overcome barriers to the cultures of others? No. But we know that even different personalities come into play, not to mention different theological traditions, when one decides what church he is going to attend. I want to be winsome and passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who calls all men to repentance and to trust in Him for salvation. We are to do so without discrimination.

Churches and church services, to some extent, are going to be shaped by the predominant culture that its membership comprises. I know of one author who is contributing to this book, and his church is said to be multi-ethnic. I went to a Presbytery meeting that was hosted at his church, and their worship service and style was not familiar to me and "my culture". And as long as the expression of worship is biblical, worshiping with reverence in spirit and truth, and is not salacious and is done with decency and in order, that is perfectly fine. But it was evident that this multi-cultural church was not really incorporating multi-ethnic worship into its service. But how could one do so anyway without obliterating the distinctives of each culture, or without the absurdity of having multiple services, multiple preachers of different ethnicity perhaps, and/or each worship song and part of the liturgy is fashioned after a different cultural groups traditional liturgical expression in worship. Again, this would yield something more like a platypus, not the most elegant and beautiful of God's creatures, and less like a well-turned 6-4-3 double play. So take that one element from baseball, then tack on an alley-oop slam dunk, then a flea flicker, and try to make them come together in a brand new sport with perfect harmony. I don't think we want to lose all our other sports to create one new mega-sport.

At the end of the day, I would say our focus needs to be on the preaching and proclamation of the Word of God, the quality fellowship we should have with the saints, and the loving bond expressed in that Christian community. Whether the music is what I am used to or not doesn't really matter in comparison. The theology of the church, the quality of its preaching and pastoral care, the breaking of bread and fellowship with the saints, the proper administration of the sacraments and church discipline, these are the things that should unite us. I think this will lead to some congregations that are very integrated, but some, perhaps many churches, are going to retain a certain liturgical identity, and that identity is going to draw certain cultures and ethnic groups more than others. And that, I do not believe, is an inherently wicked thing.   

Next time, chapter 3 with Jarvis Williams, entitled The Gospel: A Uniquely Planned Strategy For Reconciliation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment