There’s a lady in our house group called Brenda. She’s been a Christian for decades. And in a group of 20 to 30-year-olds she’s at least twice as old as the next youngest. And in a group of graduates (or students) she’s never been to university (nor ever wanted to). And each Wednesday we pile into our place and eat and chat and laugh and study and share and pray together.
And I love Brenda because she’s prepared to speak her mind. She’s not at all like the rest of us and doesn’t come up with ‘pat answers’ and is prepared to really wrestle with the text we’re studying and express her frustrations or surprise with what it really says.
She makes us feel uncomfortable (in a good way). She exposes our cultural blind-spots, respectable sins and our lack of love for the lost as she pours her heart out over – and opens her door to – the homeless person who’s been flooded out of their tent for the winter.
In our church we looked at Ephesians last autumn and saw the incredible diversity that the gospel ought to bring in local churches. It shows us that in a world of war, the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile was removed and that they were united around the cross in small communities (or churches).
This shows both a watching world where everything is going (a foretaste of us living under Christ’s headship) and also a watching cosmos: God’s astonishing wisdom in His glorious plan of reconciliation for His people.
We love Brenda. She’s a vital part of who we are as a group and I could talk of many others throughout the church. And yet why are churches often so mono-cultural – expressing uniformity rather than unity? Why do we only hang around with people like us? Because we’ve realised that the problem with that is that inside the Church our cultural sins are not challenged while outside the Church the message heard is ‘Sorry, Jesus is only really for people like us’.
In eclectic east Oxford where I’m based, we long to be a church that unites town and gown, but also represents the diversity of the patch in which God has placed us. Where else in the world would you find the street-sweeper not just sat next to the university professor but actually caring for them (and vice versa)? Or the businessman sat next to the builder or baker?
You see, my concern is that if we were Paul and penning our epistle to Ephesus (Or to the Romans, Galatians or Corinthians) would we not just suggest they simply divide and ‘plant’ both a Gentile church and a Jewish-background church? It would multiply ministry! And if we were James, would we not just suggest a rich church and a poor church? Why bother having to work at unity and hard relationships?
Of course it’s easier to be in a gathering of people just like us, there are definitely fewer cultural issues, and life (and church) is much less messy. But are we not, in some sense, diminishing the glory of the gospel as we do that?