God did something amazing in Genesis 12:1-4, and the church has been racing to keep up ever since.
I remember when I first got a sense of it. My wife and I were sitting in the small sanctuary of Iglesia Cristiana Reformada de Bayamón (Puerto Rico). The joyful smiles and the camaraderie of the Sunday gathering started to build. And then worship started.
There were guitars, maracas, tambourines, and my personal favorite, the guiro, a notched gourd that is scratched to the musical beat. It was loud, it was hot, it was in Spanish, and it was a window into the beating heart of God’s diverse church. I loved it!
I will never forget dancing down the aisles of our church in Donga, Nigeria, with an offering of mangos, or grabbing paper towels and joining the congregation of a Reformed Church of Japan as it reverently cleaned its small church immediately after worship (I’d expected to be sipping coffee while the children spilled their red fruit punch on the carpet). I still remember sharing in the lament of an all-night vigil for a recently deceased church leader in Belladaire, Haiti.
The diversity of the church is a window into God’s soul. And we’ve been trying to catch up since Genesis.
When God first called Abram in Genesis 12:1-4, God promised to make him into a great nation through which God would bless all peoples. A few chapters later, God made a covenant with Abram and Sarai to make them the parents of many nations (Genesis 17:4-5). Israel existed to invite the nations to join them in covenant relationship with the Lord (Isaiah 60).
It took a visit by God’s own self as the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to convince a group of confused Jews that God’s vision for the church was a body made up of every nation, tribe, and tongue. Even Peter had a hard time catching up with that vision—Paul had to correct him for insisting on a church characterized by Jewish customs (Gal. 2:11-14).
Perhaps the greatest question we face as a denomination is whether we want to catch up to God’s vision for the church first articulated in Genesis 12. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the most racially segregated hour of the week is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. While he was speaking of churches in the United States, my experience is that the same is likely true of just about every country where Christians are numerous.
The Christian Reformed Church has identified “growing in diversity and unity by seeking justice, reconciliation and welcome, sharing our faith as we build relationships which honor the cultures of our neighbors and newcomers” as one of its four ministry plan “milestones.” The most exciting aspect of this vision is the way it has already grown the denomination.
In fact, the vast majority of the CRC’s growth in the past decade has come from church planting and affiliation among ethnic minority groups. Today almost 10 percent of our denomination is Korean, and Latin Americans are joining apace. What a blessing and an opportunity to catch up with the Holy Spirit in God’s vision for our churches!
I hope that you will appreciate the inspiring stories of ethnic diversity in this month’s Our Shared Ministry. Living, worshiping, and serving in ethnically diverse contexts can be intimidating. We’ve made mistakes (and continue to make them). But it’s God’s call for our denomination—and it’s wonderful!