Many of us insist that our churches are open to everyone. We want our churches to express the manifold wisdom of God and the glory of Christ through the gospel. I am quite sure everyone who says these things genuinely means them.
But many of us are in contexts that make it harder to see. Our churches are largely drawn from the same community, the same ethnic background and often even have people with broadly the same political opinions in them. That’s not to say there are no differences among us. But most UK churches are monocultural, monoethnic and mono-minded.
There is not always anything that can be done about that. Sometimes, that is just the reality of where we live. We may live in a broadly white middle class area and so the only people liable to come into our church are white middle class people. We may be in an area with a strong political identity that has only voted for one political party forever and a day. In such places, it is that much less likely there will be a spread of political opinions. These things are just what they are and are not a reflection on the beliefs and values of the church necessarily. They are contextual matters.
But there is something wonderful about belonging to a multiethnic, multicultural church in which people of all different colours, cultures and backgrounds are present. Not that these churches are inherently better than any others, but they do outwardly and helpfully display God’s plan of salvation to the world. To have Western and Eastern Europeans, Black and White, South and East Asian all together in the same place – particularly in a town as divided by ethnicity as ours – is such a major witness to the power of the gospel.
Similarly, when we are able to express our various cultures freely in the church we again witness to the power of the gospel. To be able to sing songs in different languages, to hear people pray in their own languages, to see people dressed in their various cultural forms of dress, but all united in their love of the Lord Jesus, it is a great witness to the power of the gospel.
When we are able to sit in church together despite our different political views, it witnesses to the power of the gospel. When we can sit down next to Labour, Tory, Lib Dem or other voters united in the Lord Jesus, we witness to the power of the gospel. When we can sit next to people from other countries whose politics are wildly different to our own, we witness to the uniting power of the gospel.
It is increasingly unusual, outside of the immediate family unit, to find intergenerational spaces. But the church is one such place. People in their 70s and 80s can be genuine and real friends with people in their teens, 20s and 30s. Families are friends with old and young alike. When we sit together in such intergenerational spaces, we witness to the uniting power of the gospel.
Wherever our church exhibits any of these things we witness to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of our churches will have intergenerational relationships in them and a reasonable number of churches can point to cross-political relationships. Others can also point to international relationships, class-crossing relationships, ethnically mixed relationships. All these things outwardly express the power of the gospel and act as a real and living witness to the world.
We can often become blind to these things because we become used to seeing them week by week. But in our community – which is often called multicultural, but it is broadly monoculturally South Asian and Muslim – it is noticeable and well noticed that our church is truly multicultural whilst the mosques are monocultural. It is seen that our outreach brings together black, white and Asian people from all different backgrounds whereas much of the local outreach in our area from other sources reaches only into the South Asian community. It is known that the Farsi songs and prayers that happen most weeks in our church are not incorporated into the mosques (they may be bi-lingual, but only inasmuch as Arabic and a main operating language such as Urdu will be spoken, but they serve a monocultural, monoethnic group). It is notable that, outside of the church, there really aren’t many such places where these things happen.
All of that is simply a result of who the Lord brings to us. All of it is a result of his work. But all of it speaks to the changing power of the gospel at work in each of us and the uniting power of Jesus Christ in his finished work for us. We shouldn’t pretend we are more multicultural, multiethnic or multi anything else than we really are. But such as we have clear differences among us that are clearly second to our standing in the kingdom because of Jesus Christ and his gospel, I am minded to think we shouldn’t be shy about displaying that to the world.
It is, increasingly, part of what makes the church unique in a world that seems – despite its claims of tolerance and inclusivity – to be set on forcing conformity of both thought and action and imposing majority culture not only on minorities in our midst, but across the world. The gospel, as witnessed to in the church, speaks powerfully into that. This would seem to be a good case of not putting our light under a bushel.