reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ephesians and the Homogenous Church Issue

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |
Ok, so Phil Evans asked for a Biblical defence of my position on homogenous church.

I think the main place that I would go for my understanding on this issue is Ephesians 2.

First - an important issue to get clear, is that of "the fulness of God". In Ephesians 1, Paul says that the fulness of God is to be found in his people, the church. So even though God "fills everything in every way" his fulness is to be found in the body of Christ, the church.

Paul makes another reference to the fulness of God in Ephesians 3 - he prays that the Ephesians would grasp the love of Christ, so that they may be filled to the meaure of the fulness of God.

What does it look like for the church to become, or be filled with the fulness of God? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4: 13 - we attain to the measure of the fulness of God when we reach unity and maturity.

The upshot of all of this is that the church displays the power of the Gospel, and the very fulness of God himself when people are brought together in unity under the Gospel. So - displaying unity in the way that Ephesians describes (and we'll come to that in a second) is an important issue: because astonishingly, the fulness of God himself can be shown in the church. Amazing.

So: what is unity in Ephesian terms? It is the bringing together of Jew and Gentile into one man through Christ. Spiritually, he himself is "our peace", he has made the two one and destroyed the barrier between us, so that we can be built into God's house - that is, so the fulness of God can be displayed, not just to the world, but to all the spiritual powers in the heavenly realms: Ephesians 3: 10.

I suppose the question is, then, does the principle extend beyond this particular Jew/Gentile divide, or is it specific?

Now, it seems to me that the principle must extend to the church crossing ethnic barriers. It must have a mixture of ethic backgrounds, or at the very least be open to those of a majority of ethnic backgrounds; if it doesn't then we are failing in our task to display the fulness of God, God's huge wisdom isn't being displayed how it should be. All white churches, or all black churches are not right - in setting up churches that are for only one ethnic group we are failing to do the work of the Gospel justice, and the church fails in its' task to display the fulness of God. Now, I imagine most of us would agree with that: although some of the homogenous churches set up that I have read about are specifically because two ethnic groups are unable to get on together and so couldn't reach each other with the Gospel. That cannot be right.

Does that theological reason stretch to other types of groups as well? Well,it seems to me, it must do. Why? Because the actual practical instructions Paul gives for how this is to be worked out in Ephesians 4-6 aren't just Jew/Gentile things - they are just the normal bread and butter of different types of people getting on together in a church family.

So, the upshot: churches should be aiming towards diversity in every area - and where that makes life difficult and we have to be humble and patient and gentle with each other, speak slower, have a translator, or put up with music that we don't like, where we have to be friends with people who aren't like us, where we have to submit to decisions we don't necessarily agree with; that's when we show the fulness of God who fills everything in every way, and display his manifold wisdom to the spiritual authorities. And if we aren't doing those things, well, then we don't. Which seems to, according to Ephesians, defeat the purpose of there being a church at all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the basic principle, but if a local church exists in rural England for example, where the local population is almost exclusively white then I don't see that there is anything wrong with that church being all long as it is open to change and would welcome ethnic minorities if any moved into the area. The same would apply in an all-black community.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Caleb W said...

I think the principle applies more widely than just ethnic groups. It's very unlikely that a church is going to be amongst a population where everyone is identical in age, class, professions, musical taste and so on and so forth. There's no point in trying to overrepresent a particular group in the name of diversity, but that shouldn't make us complacent if the congregation we are in is homogenous.

One of the things that I'm not keen on as a student is when churches corral all their students off into a little ghetto of student Bible studies, student lunches, student services and so on. Taken to an extreme, it's breaking the unity of the church, because we should be united in fellowship with fellow believers from all walks of life, not just those similar to us. I'm really pleased that my church doesn't have a seperate student Bible study group any more, but has students come along to home groups in the same way as everyone else.

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Phil Evans said...

Thanks for writing this post Mo; really appreciate your time to get to my question.

If I'm honest then I don't think the Ephesians passages are conclusive. I certianly believe in the fullness of God's people being represented in the body of Christ, but would question whether or not this would relate to individual congregations.

Certainly we would see the body of Christ as one globally; we may disagree where the line is drawn concerning certain groups.

I've spent a lot of time working with church planting in context of the nations and I would come from the thinking that we need to see a church in every ethne (people group) in order to fulfil the Great Comission; the picture in Revelation of every tongue and tribe gathered before the throne of God and excites and challenges me, but I would look at the church as a global community represented by all people rather than indvidual congregations ticking all the demographic groups.

Unity is not about uniformity, but diversity; this is where I've struggled with the CU model for some time. In terms of church we need to encourage diversity for the sake of diversity, but also for ths sake of those who don't know God. I don't actually think denominations are a bad thing; they have the potential to be biblical if we let them..

What happens if a Skate boarder receives Christ and hooks up with their local congregation; before too long they will be subconcioussly be dressing differently and become alien to the community that came from. There will be aspects of their lifestyle that will need to be redeemed, but some aspects of who they are will be suffocated in a negative way, when in actual fact we need the spirit of God working in them to help them plant church into their community.

The bible talks about us becoming a part of a holy nation; I believe that this holy nation being drawn from all peoples should represent the fullness of God, but it doesn't translate into individual commnitites. This would give tokenism a bad name and could be considered as positive discrimination.

5:00 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Ok Phil, thanks for dropping by again.

There's a couple of issues about what you have said:

First, in Ephesians, does Paul mean the church global or the church local? It seems to me, Paul MUST be addressing the issues of a local congregation that included Jews, Gentiles, husbands, wives, slaves, masters and so on. If so, it will not do to say - there are other people different from me in different churches - I need to be displaying the power of the Gospel in MY local church. If it is the worldwide church in Ephesians it also doesn't help make sense of the practical instructions about local church life that come in the book. So I'm sorry - I don't buy that I'm afraid, I can't wriggle out of MY church not modelling the Gospel, just because someone else's is.

Your skate boarder example is interesting. What if he does join a local congregation that don't have a clue about his life and culture? And what if he does tone it down to help them, and what if they adjust their expectations of how people behave because they are welcoming their brother in Christ? It seems to me that Ephesians is teaching that the incredible power of the Gospel is there displayed, that's why, it seems to me the LOCAL church is the apple of God's eye and the vehicle of salvation, and why it displays the power of God.

Can I ask you a question Phil? Isn't it doubting the power of God's Spirit to put such a premium in meeting in church with people like them? It seems to me that the miracle of God's Spirit is precisley that we love those who aren't like us: we love like God, and homogenous church means that simply cannot be modelled.

Caleb - thanks for your comments also.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Something relevant to this discussion is the Antiochian church in Acts 13:1f. Acts isn't a handbook on pastoral theology - but what Luke reports is deliberate.

"In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul."

Bearing in mind the context in Acts of surprise and joy at God's inclusion of "the nations," this mention of a seriously multi-cultural pastoral team is surely reported to underline the radical culture-crossing unity the gospel brings:

Barnabus: from Cyprus
Simeon: known as the "black" one
Lucius: from North Africa
Manaen: from Jerusalem
Saul: from southern Turkey

6:49 AM  
Anonymous christy said...

I will be the shortest comment of this novels here :)

I might be wrong, but wasn't Ephesians a circular letter? In which case.. wouldn't that affect the dialogue here a bit.. ?

2:42 PM  
Anonymous JohnM said...

Mo, great to find your blog - some fascinating stuff here. Thanks very much for this very helpful analysis of Ephesians. I agree with your helpful stress on diversity and also agree that some church-based ministers may be quick to stress convenient strands of Biblical teaching over others to reach the conclusions they want.

However, I guess my remaining questions would be:
1. I'm not entirely sure what your conclusions are, other than 'leave my para-church alone!' (Which may well be a fine conclusion in your case). Does the importance of diversity in the local church mean a church (or CU?) should never have separate student Bible study groups? I'm not sure the NT model is that every meeting of God's people was of all God's people in a particular area - there seems to have been some flexibility in venue etc.

Our experience has also been that separating off international student Bible studies and students from a couple of different universities has helped the minority students feel much more involved in the church, better cared for, and has brought significant growth leading to a much more diverse congregation. Whilst I wouldn't want to argue purely from experience, it is striking that the church diversity (as well as size) has been significantly increased rather than decreased through these separate groups. There are obvious advantages of separate groups, eg more specific application and fewer cultural obstacles to understanding, which we're both well aware of.

2. If you do think all Bible study groups should be diverse ages, ethnic backgrounds etc, that surely has major implications for focusing CUs on mission rather than maturity. If CUs are trying to teach students outside the diverse church gathering, your analysis would suggest they are limiting students' growth (and may in practice reduce their mission capacity as they end up spending more time in Christian meetings, from CU and church, than with non-Christian friends).

3. Your comment on churches wanting to retain authority is insightful, but is it not right for church leaders to want to ensure that students are being taught the Bible clearly and rightly, and that student evangelistic events are gospel-focused and Bible-driven? Sadly, we both now that present UCCF staffing will never be able to cover every CU sufficiently to ensure this, and I might question the wisdom of students being left to organise all their events - it may work in some universities but certainly not in all. Before you come back on this, I agree with you that it can be helpful for students to hear a range of diverse styles in teaching the Bible, but still think that a church-run group may
have some significant advantages, not least that speakers are more likely to know what was said the previous week and so to tie the teaching together more consistently and helpfully.

4. Your question on holding on to authority could even be gently turned round to ask 'is student leadership, with the advice of older staff workers, really the only helpful way of reaching university students, in every university setting, rather than simply letting churches run Bible-based gospel-driven work?' Accusing people of quasi-Catholic authoritarianism is an easy attack to make, but there have been similar dangers from groups without a clear Biblical leadership down the centuries.

4. How many churches do you know that actively discourage students from meeting non-students? I can think of very few ministers who think that way (I'm not denying that some exist!) In my church, we are constantly trying to encourage mixing of people from different backgrounds and ages. In fact, your arguments for diversity are surely one of the main reasons for encouraging students to be heavily involved in local churches and keeping CU activities to a minimum, completely focused on evangelism. Ephesians would surely encourage students to play a full role in local churches, whilst recognising there may be some pragmatic advantages to evangelising as a CU on campus.

These really are meant as questions rather than outraged statements - I'm keen to think this issue through myself and I don't think I've got this right at all in my setting. I think your particular para-church is brilliant, but I do currently think that outreach and training in many cities would be strengthened by local churches doing more, rather than less, Bible-focused student work.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Johnm - do we know each other? I sense we may have once led a church based Bible study together - am I correct?

Anyway, I'll try to suggest answers to your points, but as you rightly said I was only aiming at one target: people who say that CUs are bad ecclesiologically, and campaign against them to replace them with a model which, IMO, is ecclesiologically even worse (and pseudo-Catholic).

On your points:
1) I'm not saying, I don't think that every church meeting needs to show diversity. What I AM saying is that diversity (and relating through rather than just in diversity) is an essential part of what it is to be a church. So, your system sounds great to me - because you did it to encourage diversity.

2) I agree. The great thing about the CU model is that the mission/ maturity mixture (or the Live for Jesus, Speak for Jesus mixture to use our new branding) is totally up for grabs depending on what people need in one place at a time. Of course, one of the reasons that I think that CUs as a place to be involved in for a short period of uni life is that it encourages us to value diversity in approach, personality and style which church based student work often does not: and that I think is one of the great blessings of the movement to the wider church. But yes, in principle, I agree.

3. Of course it is right for church leaders to want this. My question is whether the most loving and missiologicallly sensible way to ensure this is to set up a separate student church.

4. My question could be asked that way. And its a question my we need to think about as an organisation (and do!) However, remember, what I was discussing was people saying: we do our student work differently from you because we take ecclesiology more seriously. I want to suggest homogenous church takes it much less seriously than Cu "mission team" philosophy.

5. (which you had as a second 4) Several. I know some who do it deliberately and self consciously, and some who merely do it by the set up of their meetings (the "family service" and the "student service")

Look forward to chatting soon!


6:01 AM  

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