In the light of the EU Referendum vote that led UK citizens deciding to pull out of the European Union there has been lots of conversations about Brexit and its implications for economics, commerce, trade and society in general. But what implications will Brexit have on the church in the UK or to rephrase the question how shall we do church in a post-Brexit world? If Brexit is dividing people into us and them, migrants and British citizens, elite and uneducated, racist and accepting of others, how should the church responds and handle these differences? In order to respond we have to comprehend God’s vision of Every Tribe, Nation and Language as articulated in Scriptures.
The vision of a multicultural, multi-ethnic church is very essential to the Gospel, in essence it is a Gospel imperative that started with Creation itself and runs through the biblical narratives. The creation story is a witness to the fact that God loves and intentionally created diversity in all its beauty. The promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed through him reveals that God’s plan in salvation history was to draw to himself people from every nation (Genesis 12: 1-3). Paul in the New Testament expounded on this theme both in the letter to the Galatians and Ephesians. In Galatians he confirmed the Gentiles (non-Jews) by affirming that God’s promise to Abraham was not only meant for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. One implication is that we are all one in Christ whether we are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Paul seemed to be saying that in Christ, culture, class and gender should not divide us. He pressed this message home in Ephesians 2:11-22, when he talked about how Christ’s work on the cross reconciled us back to God (vertical relationship with God), but that in addition, he pulled down the wall that divides us as humans (horizontal relationships with our neighbours).
In the time of Paul and the other Apostles this wall would have been the various separations that happen in Herod’s temple. There is the Holy place only for the High Priest, the court of the priest for the other priests, court of Israel only for the Israelite men, court of women for Israelite women and the court of the gentiles for everyone who is not a Jew. These various separations were taken seriously so that if a gentile dare entered the court of Israel it would have been at the loss of his or her life. To illustrate this, when Paul was arrested, one of the accusations against him was that he brought Greeks into the temple area (see Acts 21:27-29).
Paul’s theology of unity in diversity saw Christ’s death on the cross as putting an end to these artificial segregations therefore uniting us together in Himself. He went further to say that this is why he has been chosen by God to be an apostle to the gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-7).
God demonstrated time and time again that His Gospel brings an end to whatever divides us. In Acts of the Apostles this was done through the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost which brought Jews in Palestine as well as Jews in Diaspora together. It was the cultural diversity of the church in Jerusalem that led to one of the earliest tensions in the church that emerged in Acts 6:1-7. The Holy Spirit also caused the disciples to scatter into Judea and Samaria therefore bringing the Gospel to the Samaritans whom Jews will not accept as equals (Acts 8). As if that was not enough, God had to convert Peter first through a vision in order for him to accept and relate with Cornelius (a Gentile) and his household in Acts 10.
All of these scriptures demonstrate that God the creator of diversity embraces cultural diversity in a way that it should bring us together rather than separate us. The implication is that whatever polarises us today such as our view on Brexit, race, culture, ethnicity, class, gender, and age, while recognising our differences, should not divide us when we are part of the body of Christ. A multicultural, multi-ethnic church is one of the spaces where this diversity can be lived out in togetherness. Multicultural, multi-ethnic churches are signs of God’s kingdom on earth!
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