God’s Diverse People!
One of the great delights in Newfrontiers is the representation of our biblical and apostolic value of diversity. I (John Lanferman) love our international events that gather Africans, Pakistanis, Russians, eastern Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, and other nations from across the globe. We all gather as one family, praying for each other and worshiping together. In Jesus we find our oneness; racial and cultural barriers are eliminated and the presence of the Holy Spirit unifies us in Jesus, making us one people.
Cultural diversity was built into the Christian faith. When Peter first preached to non-Jewish people at Cornelius’ house (a Roman centurion) the Holy Spirit came upon these Gentiles in the same manner as the Jews… to Peter’s amazement! Early on it was evident that the inclusiveness of the gospel brings us together as one new family. Christianity embraced various Gentile cultures (as seen in Acts 15) and these Gentile Christians weren’t asked to enter into Jewish culture. These new Christians were free to work out their faith in a culturally sensitive way. While some in the world today view Christianity as a western expression that destroys cultures, the fact is no one owns the Christian faith. Christianity takes more culturally diverse forms than other faiths. In Christ we are a new people; a new family. Our roots go back to God’s promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed. Even at the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost, the many languages testify to the phenomenon of a new family in Christ that is international.
The church doesn’t represent a western culture. It represents Christ, who makes us one new people and culture from all nations. We do not impose western values or forms upon any other culture. I do understand that western missionaries have often imposed western culture, but that is not true of Newfrontiers. Our value of diversity is based on our understanding of the gospel, which celebrates diversity with a unity found in Christ. At the beginning of creation God, as Creator, celebrates diversity; creation is not uniform. Personally, I am thrilled as I worship in my home church with people of many nations and cultures. I find my own worship experience is greatly enhanced by experiencing other cultures, and the miracle that we all are brought together in Christ.
In Christ we express our oneness with healthy diversity in our church families. Being diverse in age, race, socially, economically, and educationally, we demonstrate genuine love and respect testifying that the gospel is inclusive. It is interesting that in the church at Antioch the leadership team was racially diverse: Simeon and Lucius were two black men, Paul a Hebrew, and Barnabas a Cypriot, and this team was undoubtedly a reflection of the diversity in the Antioch church.
However the church’s purpose is not to make diversity, but to live it out. We are to not allow race, religion, culture, age, or gender hinder us from embracing any particular group of people. How do you label such a culturally diverse group? They were first called Christians in Antioch as that was they only way to describe them! It was Christ and the Spirit’s presence that united them.
We must rise to the challenge we face in today’s world of increasing hostility and misunderstanding toward those of other races and cultures. We do this by teaching about Christ and embracing, fully, the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence that unifies us. We reach out to those different than we are and demonstrate the inclusiveness found only in Christ. In a world of hostile attitudes and prejudice I want our churches to understand and live out Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ house: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)