One of the points we frequently reiterate in our church is that the power of the gospel is seen more clearly in the fact that we are all different people, from different backgrounds, countries and ethnicities. For example, what do I – a white, British, postgraduate-educated man – have in common with a black caribbean lady who left formal education at secondary level other than we speak the same language? Even then, we don’t exactly use all the same words. We don’t look like each other, we don’t sound like each other, we don’t speak like each other, we’re not interested in the same things either and I’m pretty sure we both have very different myers-briggs personality test scores. By any measure, we have very little in common.
For others in my church, it gets even worse. Not only do we not look and sound like each other, and have very different interests, but we literally do not speak the same language. We are different ethnicities, nationalities and even language groups. We can do our best to communicate, but there’s no pretending that isn’t sometimes a struggle. Short of merely being people, what on earth do we have in common with each other on paper?
In both these cases – and in many more besides – I struggle to believe I would hang out and spend any time with these people if it weren’t for the church. I struggle to believe they would have any interest in hanging out with me if it weren’t for the church either. And not just the church, which is ultimately just a group of people gathering, but the gospel around which the church is built.
Because among these very different people to me are folks I count among my friends. People with whom I have nothing in common but Christ really. And though we may have nothing in common with each other on paper, we do have Jesus in common. When we meet, we don’t only talk about the football or whatever, we talk about Jesus. And there is far more to talk about Jesus than there is about how our team is doing or whatever.
To me, that is the great strength of the gospel. If people came into our church and saw people with shared interests, who all look and sound the same, who would be mates entirely apart from the church, what is the world going to make of that? I’m not saying such people aren’t saved or anything like that, but it doesn’t really show anything supernatural to the world. If the gospel was removed from such churches and all the relationships would broadly continue on in exactly the same way, it doesn’t say very much about the power of the gospel. It’s not to say the gospel isn’t at work, but its power is far from clearly seen.
But when there are countless relationships that just wouldn’t exist but for the gospel, doesn’t that show something compelling about Christ? There is something about him and the good news about him that means people who would never be friends seem to genuinely love each other. There is something about him and his gospel that means people you cannot see having any interest in each other are suddenly concerned for one another. There is something strangely and oddly compelling about that.
Far from being a problem, the power of the gospel is seen most clearly when churches are not full of people like me or folks I would naturally be friends with anyway. The power of the gospel is seen most clearly and fully when we have nothing in common with people we love and care for – and with whom we are genuinely friends in real ways – other than Jesus and his gospel. Then, we are community that has been founded on the gospel. Then, we are people who can only point to Jesus as the grounds of why we are even here and friends with these people. Then, I believe the power of the gospel is most clearly displayed to the world.