To Be A Diverse Family

Topics of race and ethnicity are currently hot button issues in our country, to say the least. Turn on any news channel and watch for more than a few minutes, and you'll likely hear a story related to race violence or conflict. From Trayvon Martin, to Michael Brown, to Eric Garner, and now recently  Walter Scott, we can't try to pretend that race issues don't still exist in America.  Regardless of how you interpret any one of these tragedies, the reality is that we are still living in a society of racial tension and divide. My house sits less than three miles from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city of Birmingham, which also happens to be over 70% African American. Two miles in the other direction is the 10th wealthiest neighborhood in the country. It's over 90% white. It is 2015 and there are still glaringly obvious, massively clear lines of ethnic and socio-economic demarcation in Birmingham.  However you interpret the relationships and correlations between the ethnicities and socioeconomics of the data above, the fact remains that we are now well into the 21st century and racism continues to manifest itself.  

As the church of Jesus Christ, what is our response to the perpetuation of dividing lines in our city? Is such divided-ness an inevitability that we should just accept or try to ignore? I've been told as much over and over since moving to the south at age thirteen. "It's just the way it is" is the repeated refrain from Christians and non-Christians alike. At best, I've been told that we can be friends and perhaps loosely associate with one another, but generally speaking, the pervasive mindset is still a "separate but equal" mentality. 

At Immanuel, we can't reconcile this way of thinking with what we read in Scriptures. We dream of having a church that defies the homogenous unit principle and refuses to live in the status quo. Our vision is to be a diverse family of disciples. Let me give you 3 reasons why we think diversity is something worthy of being pursued.

 

3 Reasons Why We Should Pursue Diversity

 

1. Jesus told us to pray for it

In Matthew Chapter 6, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10).  We get a glimpse of what it's like in heaven in Revelation 5:9-13:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 

The picture we are given of heaven is one of diversity. Around the throne of God will be gathered a ransomed people from every tribe, language, and people group. When Jesus said to pray for where we currently live to increasingly become like what is in heaven, unity in diversity has to be a part of what is in view.

When Jesus said to pray for where we currently live to increasingly become like what is in heaven, unity in diversity has to be a part of what is in view.

So pray for God's Kingdom to come in Birmingham. Pray for our city to reflect the City that is to come. Pray for diversity to fill our gatherings and our homes. And as we pray, let's also proactively seek after it. In the same chapter of Matthew's gospel that Jesus taught us to pray "Your kingdom come, your will be done..." he went on the tell his disciples, "Seek first the Kingdom of God." What we pray for let us also seek after. Let's live to see God's Kingdom a reality! Let's seek to become a diverse family. 

 

2. Paul said it would happen  

Diversity is one of the most immediate implications of the gospel. In Jesus Christ, all kinds of people are drawn together as brothers and sisters. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28-29, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:28-29). At the foot of the cross everyone is equal. Our ethnicity doesn't matter. Our social status doesn't matter, our sex doesn't matter. The cross tears down the social structures that we tend to look to for ranking ourselves in society. Jesus says in essence, "You are all equally in need my grace. And you're all equally accepted, loved, and treasured through faith in me." Notice, Paul says that if we are Christ's, then we are Abraham's offspring. To belong to Christ is to belong to one another. We're all in the same family together through faith in Jesus. We're brothers and sisters of one another–whether black or white, rich or poor–by virtue of being in Christ. So if in Christ blacks and whites are siblings, ought we not to live like it? 

We're brothers and sisters of one another– whether black or white, rich or poor– by virtue of being in Christ. So if in Christ blacks and whites are siblings, ought we not to live like it? 

Ephesians 2:14-15 teaches that through his death and resurrection, Jesus has created in himself a new "Kainos," that is, a new race. Jesus gives us a new identity. We tend to look to our family, our culture, heritage, or our job as that which gives us our primary identity. But when we come to faith in Christ, he becomes our primary identity. Every other thing that we would point to as that which gives us meaning, significance, or purpose falls beneath Jesus. He is our meaning, our significance, and our purpose. That's not to say that other things, like our biological family, or our heritage, are no longer important. But it does mean that they are no longer primary. At one point Jesus was approached by one of his disciples to let him know that his mother and brothers were looking for him. Jesus responded, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?  Is it not those who do the will of my Father in heaven?" Radical words. Words that totally reorient our way of thinking about the primary relationships and identity-giving structures of our lives. In Christ we have new family that, according to Him, takes precedence even over our biological family.  

Before the gospel was made manifest, Jews and Greeks were irreconcilable. When the mystery of the gospel was revealed, Jews and Greeks became brothers. The same is true for us. When the mystery of the gospel is truly made manifest in our city, believers will no longer live as aliens and strangers of one another, but we will live as fellow citizens and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19). 

 

3. Nothing would put the gospel more visibly on display

We should pursue diversity in our church because nothing will put the gospel more visibly on display in Birmingham, Alabama than the people of God supernaturally transcending the ethnic and social divides that are natural and pervasive. If we want people in our city to see the power of the gospel at work, few things will demonstrate the gospel's power like a group of people who have no business associating with one another, not only associating, but loving each other. Francis Schaeffer famously said that the final apologetic for our faith is our love for one another. He wrote,

"After we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians." 

When a lost world observes true love amidst real diversity, such a sight will be confounding and compelling, much like encountering the real Jesus. This is what our city desperately needs. 

When a lost world observes true love amidst real diversity, such a sight will be confounding and compelling, much like encountering the real Jesus. This is what our city desperately needs. 

 

By pastor Andy Adkison