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The Church Should Not Be Homogenised

In the current situation, where ethnic identity is very much in the spotlight, the issues of diversity in the church are once more in focus. The temptation is to say that we need to be colour blind, we need to treat everyone the same.

One of my childhood memories is milk arriving on the front doorstep in glass bottles with a distinct layer of cream at the top. Timing your breakfast so that you could open a fresh bottle and get to have the cream on your cornflakes was a fine art. I remember that my dad used to cheat and would open a new bottle even before the last one was finished!

Then sometime in the mid-sixties, I remember my parents discussing the new idea of homogenised milk. Apparently, it was some sort of advance, but what it meant in practice was that you no longer got the delicious layer of cream at the top of the bottle. There was no need to hang around till the previous bottle was finished in order to get the cream on your cornflakes, because there was no cream to be had. All the milk, all the way down the bottle, was the same.

Apparently, homogenised milk stays fresh longer than the untreated form and it is better for cooking, but I can’t be the only one who misses the cream on the top of the bottle.

So why this nostalgic discussion about the halcyon milk bottles of my distant childhood?

Well, I think that it might help us to think about the reality of the church. Let’s start with an axiomatic point, the church worldwide is a worldwide body with people from a vast range of linguistic, social and ethnic backgrounds. We are the most diverse group in the world. Interestingly, at no point does the New Testament try to erase this diversity. In Acts 2 we get a long list of the different languages spoken in the Jewish diaspora and Peter’s words are understood in all of them. In Revelation 7 we are given the picture of a multitude from every tribe, tongue and nation. Even in eternity, we retain our linguistic and ethnic diversity. The church is one, unity is to be prized and preserved, but it is also diverse and that diversity is also important.

Maintaining this diversity within a local congregation is a significant struggle. Going back to my childhood, we were given a clear, if subliminal, message that to be a Christian was to be middle-class. Sunday by Sunday, I would try to fit a certain stereotype, while being someone completely different during the week. This led to a dislocation between my real personality and my faith that I’ve struggled with for my whole life. That early formation, was not healthy. I never learned what it was like to be a faithful working-class disciple, I just learned to fake being middle-class.

I never learned what it was like to be a faithful working-class disciple, I just learned to fake being middle-class. Click To Tweet

In the current situation, where ethnic identity is very much in the spotlight, the issues of diversity in the church are once more in focus. The temptation is to say that we need to be colour blind, we need to treat everyone the same.

NO!

If we treat everyone the same, we will inevitably squeeze people into the same white, Anglo-Saxon mould and this has three dangerous consequences.

  • Firstly, by acting as though everyone is the same, we won’t help people to learn to be followers of Jesus in their specific cultural and ethnic contexts. The issues that an Iranian asylum seeker has to deal with are different from those of a member of the settled British community and they need support with those issues.
  • Secondly, when we assume that everyone is the same, we lose the richness that comes from diversity. The British church has a massive amount to learn from Christians from other cultures and contexts. If we homogenise the church, we simply end up listening to voices like our own and our capacity for growth is limited.
  • Lastly, when we homogenise the church, people who don’t fit into the majority culture will feel unwelcome and will move elsewhere. The rise of black majority churches in our big cities is understandable, but it is also an admission of failure. We are going to spend eternity together, so we need to work out how to worship together and learn from each other here on the planet. This will mean some major concessions from British churches who can’t carry on in the way they have always done.

I don’t want to minimise the challenges that this poses for churches and church leaders, but if we are to live out the reality of the church, we must learn to express our unity in diversity. Homogenisation is not an option.

If we treat everyone the same, we will inevitably squeeze people into the same white, Anglo-Saxon mould and this has dangerous consequences. Click To Tweet

3 replies on “The Church Should Not Be Homogenised”

All good stuff, as usual.

But I still struggle to understand what it is that “working class” people see as “middle class” in most British churches. Perhaps that’s because I’m “middle class” (in that my father had a degree / professional job, and so do I – but his father didn’t: so what ‘class’ was Dad?)

Is it our tendency to invite each other round for meals? To have tea & biscuits after services? Where can we – a “white middle class” church – find out how to make other people welcome? They seem reluctant to tell us even when asked.

I guess behind this “problem” of mine is that it seems the “classes” in the UK aren’t that well defined – some do it by income, some by expenditure, some by job, others by hobbies or aspirations, others by renting/mortgage/outright ownership …

The thing is the diversity is already there. We don’t need to pursue it, but we should reflect the reality of the communities in which we exist.

In general, I agree with this post. We should not be “colour blind.” Yet, we should also not PURSUE diversity. Christians from any ethnicity should be welcome in any Bible believing church. However, PURSUING diversity (e.g. making it an objective to hire pastoral staff simply because of the colour of their skin) is racist in itself. The Bible is clear that there is only one race…the HUMAN race. We all have the same original father (i.e. Adam). It is true that there are many ETHNICITIES, but there is only one RACE. And, while some may judge others by the color of their skin, in actuality, most people accused of racism are actually judging people not by the color of their skin, but by their CULTURE. For example, blacks with conservative political views are often considered “racist” by other blacks who espouse a liberal political ideology. It has nothing to do with race; rather it is culture/ideology.

Galatians 3:26-29 states, “…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Diversity is a fine thing, but it must not be pursued as a goal. Drawing attention to diversity (e.g. “race”) only breeds division. For example, Christians in an Iranian church would, no doubt, welcome believers from different cultures; yet, that does not mean that they should pluck people from different cultures to insert them into their local church body for the purpose of making it more diverse. Doing so would actually result in homogenising the church body; diversity would eventually disappear as the mixing of cultures would create its own new culture. In the Apostle Paul’s day, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in Rome were both part of the same body of believers. No doubt, their culture differences (i.e. their diversity) created challenges. As members of the church, they needed to look past their cultural differences and embrace one another in Christ. I know of no Scriptural passage where church members are commanded to seek out others from a different culture, ethnicity, etc. for the purpose of incorporating them into the local church body for the sake of diversity.
Instead of promoting the doctrine of diversity, let’s proclaim the Biblical doctrine of Christian unity and the proclamation of the gospel to every tribe and nation.

Acceptance of faithful followers of Christ from every tribe, tongue, nation, and ethnicity-YES!
Organic diversity within the church-YES!
Intentional pursuit of diversity in local church bodies-NO!

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