On 30 May the Lawson Rd Church of Christ celebrated our 2nd annual “HARMONY Sunday”. While the impetus for this annual event arises from the number of races, nationalities and cultures that make up our membership, we also use the day to acknowledge the truth of 1 Cor. 12. The church consists of people with many differences. Each church must address the question of whether those differences will enrich the church or tear it down. In musical terms we might ask will the different notes work together to create music, or noise?
Calvin Bacon from the Northside Church of Christ in Syracuse, NY, was our guest speaker. The Northside congregation was only planted a year ago and serves one of the poorer areas of Syracuse. I appreciated Calvin’s story of the church’s conception and first year as they seek to represent Christ in that community.
The theme for the day, Harmony, still fits within the series I’ve been teaching that asks the question, “What are the implications of having the name The Church of Christ, rather than another name?“
In merging these two thoughts, my mind turned to Romans 8:35 which asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The answer is no one! Nothing! It’s impossible! Nada! Zilch! Hardships, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword nor any other circumstance in which we may find ourselves, can separate us from Christ’s love!
However, the sad truth is, that while we can’t stop Christ from loving people, we can impose barriers that prevent people experiencing His love through us. The church can sometimes function as a filter determining who will receive God’s love. I believe that God will find a way of still touching these people’s lives, but my point is that the church was never intended to act as a filter! Which brings me to today’s thesis:
Since we’re the Church OF Christ, we don’t the determine membership.
It’s my understanding that most people have a natural urge to associated with others who look, sound, and act similar to ourselves. While that urge may be a natural, subconscious means of providing comfort and security to a person, it unwittingly erects barriers between those who look, sound or act differently than we do.
This separation may be as obvious as those in the first 3 chapters of 1 Corinthians who claimed allegiance to Paul, Peter, or Apollos. It may be as obvious as black and white churches meeting at the same time in the same small town. It may be as obvious as one church having many professional members, and another having many members unemployed or working for minimum wage.
At other times the separation may be as subtle as that found in 1 Corinthians 11 where the wealthy and poor at the congregation were “sharing” a meal together, but eating at different tables and eating different food, even to the extent that some didn’t eat at all! I suspect that the tables at many church fellowships also function in this way at times. The same people eat together each time, thus leaving little, if any, space for newcomers to the church. We might have all this diversity in the building on Sunday morning, but that doesn’t mean we’re really working together or fellowship during the week and creating Godly harmony.
I don’t know of any churches that deliberately exclude people with particular characteristics. But I do know churches that establish particular social standards that make “different” people uncomfortable, and therefore unwelcome. It might be a formal church culture that frowns on someone wearing a t-shirt to worship. It might be a “family friendly” church that has few opportunities for singles, or childless couples to get involved. It might be a male dominated church that gives women few opportunities outside the kitchen to explore their spiritual gifts.
On the flipside, I know of some (not lots) of churches that make deliberate efforts to include different cultures and characters. The difference in my mind is often one of awareness and purposefulness. The barriers we at times erect are more often a consequence of lack of thought, that deliberate hostility. It’s easy to become consumed by our interests, relationships, needs etc. and overlook the opportunities we have to extend God’s love to others.
When we take seriously the mission Christ has given us to embrace the people God sends our way, then we are living up to our name, The Church of Christ. When we consciously reach out to those who are different from us, to those on the margins, we ensure that Paul’s words become the message of Christ’s church.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither hight nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [not even self-absorbed churches] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Have you attended a church where the culture subconsciously excluded you? What could the church have done differently?
- How much responsibility does the individual coming to the church have to adapt to the culture of the church?
- What are some ways churches can embrace different cultures without compromising their beliefs regarding Biblical worship or church structure?