Thursday, August 24, 2006

'Mystery' of the Gospel = Multiethnic community?

Eph. 3:3,6,9 seems to teach this. I'm wondering if the 'body' in view is the cosmic ecclesiastical community only or if particular local bodies are envisioned as well.

"Let me offer some discursive ramblings in favor of considering the racial composition of a church, of thinking about ‘races’ and not just ‘persons’ if I may. This statement stings me: '90 percent of congregations are at least 90 percent one race'. To my mind, this fact suggests that the Christian church, whatever else it is, is not less than racially/ethnically tribal. Empirically speaking, it says that race & ethnicity constitute as much a ground for inclusion in particular local churches as any other factor. We can look at that and say 'fine' I guess. But in light of increasing diversity in schools, neighborhoods, marriages, gov't, military etc., in the face of persistent monoethnicity in churches (still the most segregated hour of the week), many are provoked to ask, 'What's wrong with the church? If the 'mystery' of the gospel, (a la Eph 3:3, 9) is the bringing together into one body, Gentile and Jew (by extension gentile and gentile in our day) and the effect of the gospel mystery is to move us toward deep, self-donating one-anothering (regardless of race/class/gender), shall we be content to allow this mystery to play out at every level but the actual local church level? I’m inclined to answer in the negative. So, why talk about bringing other ‘races’ in to the church and not just ‘persons’? The working out of our new humanity within a new community demands a counter-cultural racial inclusion in the body. This inclusiveness, I would suggest, is more demonstrative within local assemblies than just between them. I am painfully aware of cultural clashing and can only say that patience, forbearance, and love have led to increasing oneness and unity with the racially ‘other’ in my life. I have a long way to go though. One can not be too prescriptive concerning exactly how this should look in every believer’s life of course. Callings are particular and varied. But at the global, north american ecclesiastical level - 90% of churches having 90% one race - is definitely not it wouldn’t you say? I don’t want to have an overly eschatological ecclesiology that insists on seeing the ‘not yet’ completely in the ‘already’. There are obviously limits and qualifications.

I suspect that the monolithic landscape is less a result of intentional exclusion (‘blacks are not welcome here!’) than the unintentional persistence of deeply formed patterns of social relating which we seldomly, self-consciously disrupt in the interest of inviting in the racially ‘other’. In fact, I rather suspect that most churches would welcome greater diversity, say they even want it, but do relatively little in the way of self-denying, discomforting social re-arrangement (again, in the interest of making room for the ‘other’) which might pave the way for inclusion. Would it look noticeably different within most churches if they were intentionally exclusive? 90% is A- grade de facto segregation (B+ at WTS ;-). So many things to say/discuss.........Please feel free to challenge this vigorously" (comments from a previous post)

"To sum up, we may say that 'the mystery of Christ' is the complete union of Jews and Gentiles with each other through the union of both with Christ[cf 3:6]. It is this double union, with Christ and with each other, which was the substance of the 'mystery'."
-Stott, BST, p. 117.

I never thought of union with Christ as having a racial component to it.

5 comments:

Anthony J Stiff said...

"I never thought of union with Christ as having a racial component to it." Nor did I brother, I don't why but many of our exegetical resources we use to study this passage fall down hard on the cultural exclusions of Greeks from Jews and not the racial ones...Mark, you make a pretty penetrating point here.

I'm wondering do you think that this lack of observation is due to poor exegesis of the original horizon by previous biblical scholars or do you think it says something more about our contemporary horizon adding something to the breadth of applicability of this middle wall of partition being torn down? As though the more Christ's Kingdom presses upon human relations the goodness of his mystery becomes more apparent as well as the nature of the partition?

I'm going to be thinking about your post for good season, thank you...

Anonymous said...

'The working out of our new humanity within a new community demands a counter-cultural racial inclusion in the body. This inclusiveness, I would suggest, is more demonstrative within local assemblies than just between them.'

Amen

In my situation, currently wherever I go - home, work, the youth outreach I am involved in - it is mixed ethnically, but not my church (well not to any serious extent).

I think in answer to the brother, who commented above - the reason for the lack of exegesis and then application re the need for multi cultural local church as a demonstration of the visible union of Christ to His church and then that all cultures (in Christ) are then united, is that all cultures have their sins that they are either blind to / wilfully ignore.
(and I'm not just talking about white churches, I see this with black churches etc etc) In the UK where I live, it seems we have plenty of other things we think about, but not this.

And like you I agree the 'others aren't welcome attitude' is not the main problem (not in the same way it has been in the past) - it is we are all so used to separate worship and lives, and different sorts of people related to class (particularly) and ethnicity are not in our circles - so how will we invite them to church ?

Will anything ever give or will we have to wait to Glory ?

Colin

Mark Robinson said...

"It [Justification] also means that mono-racial churches in areas where there are Christians present from different races are displeasing to God. If Paul could have broken up the Roman Church into separate Jewish and Gentile congregations, none of the friction he addresses in Romans 14 would ever have caused a problem. On the contrary, Romans 14.1 commands them to invite one another over for dinner (See my sermon where I argue for that meaning).

Justification has always been of importance to Presbyterianism, central or not. But it has coincided with some amazing sins and blindnesses. Maybe revisiting Paul’s doctrine of justification might help us avoid such dissonance in the future."

From an excellent little essay entitled "The Centrality of Justification" found at http://www.hornes.org/theologia/
content/mark_horne/
the_centrality_of_justification.htm

Anonymous said...

"It [Justification] also means that mono-racial churches in areas where there are Christians present from different races are displeasing to God.'

Many (12 ?) years ago, I went to a 'very' reformed baptist conference. In a talk entitled 'a pastors checklist', the brother speaking said something, which has always stuck with me. He said it is the duty of the pastor to look around his church and then look around the neighbourhood, to see who was in the neighbourhood, but not in the church and then seek to reach them with the gospel. I have been around the UK and the only church I have really seen take that advice with any seriousness was the one where I heard that talk.

But again in the circles I have moved in, we struggle to invite each other (church members) to our homes, let alone look outside the church building...(same in the US ?)
I do not hear these things taught, so what can we expect ?


Colin

Cynthia Nielsen said...

Hi Mark,

So glad that you have launched this blog. Have you considered joining in the conversation at "the church and postmodern culture"?
Right now the discussion is centered on an essay by Anthony Smith. Here's a short bit to whet your appetite:

“The purpose of this particular engagement is to bring together conversation partners and philosophers James K. A. Smith, Michel Foucault, and George Yancy to examine the relationship and resonances between the Christian tradition, postmodernity, and race. Specifically this essay focuses on whiteness as an extension of the conversation on race.”

http://churchandpomo.typepad.
com/conversation/2006/08/the
_panopticon_.html

Your voice would be a wonderful contribution!

Cheers,
Cynthia