Diversity is an increasingly important value within the emerging church movement. This commitment to diversity, not only in EC, but also increasingly in the Body of Christ, is a positive reflection of the health and growth of Christianity in the world. God is calling us even deeper.
There are threer major areas that I would like to consider as we strive to enter into this fuller diversity: Culture, Christian Traditions, and Genders. While there are many factors to consider, the development of these three aspects of diversity is key to reaching the unreached world. In an increasingly small world, where change is occurring at an unprecedented rate, these areas are necessary for us to be prepared to respond to the challenges coming.
I was once visiting a church where a First Nations woman began to dance to the worship. A (white) woman leaned over and said, “Isn’t it just lovely when they dance around with their feathers? The church needs to encourage that sort of thing”. While this woman was sincerely genuine in intentions, too often our desire to see culture celebrated never goes beyond external novelties, requiring nothing of ourselves as the Church. We need to go deeper.
We have seen the initial contextualization of cultural expressions such as dance, music, clothing, tools, protocol, and so much more. Redeeming these aspects of culture has truly been an obedient response to God’s call upon our lives as believers. God is unfathomably pleased with us, His presence dwelling in the truly diverse worship of His people. We have come so far in such a short time it is amazing! However, we would be losing out on far more if we didn’t push in further. These steps, while important, are only brushing the surface.
Within every culture, God has invested something unique of Himself. I believe that He does this intentionally, so that to truly know Him, we must embrace the uniqueness of all His created peoples. Let me repeat that, because it is important: To fully embrace God, we MUST embrace the diversity He has created in the people He created in His image.
Many people are describing the current age we live in as the post-denominational era. Some of the largest growing sectors of Christianity are the non- and inter-denominational congregations. This trend reflects a positive increase in unity within the Church, where differing theology, while still important, does not divide believers. This increased unity has created opportunity for incredible effectiveness in ministry and missions outreaches, their very diversity largely responsible.
Whether we are part of a Christian organization, a local church or even as an individual, we cannot be satisfied with simply being open to the diversity existing in these traditions. It is not enough to appreciate and welcome others who may see things differently. Rather, we must pursue this diversity, learning from traditions that we are not familiar with, deliberately developing a fuller view of our faith, strengthening where we are weak and being a strength were others are weak. With the guiding foundation of biblical truth, as we are intentional about allowing these traditions to invest in our lives, churches and organizations, denominational issues will begin to disappear.
Few topics have so consistently divided Christians throughout history than the topic of the role of women in the Church. Fortunately, in recent years, a greater freedom and equality for women is being experienced. Women are being released in their unique giftings and callings, breaking down barriers of the formerly insurmountable walls. But again, to go deeper in this is so key to our growth as the Church in this age, that our failure to do so would be one of the greatest failures in history.
While the increased involvement of women in every aspect of ministry has been a phenomenal breakthrough for much of the Church, there still remain more subtle barriers to their full involvement and investment. It is not enough to acknowledge the equality of women in both value and position, if we maintain systems, structures and even theological understandings that remain exclusive and patriarchal.
Generally speaking, men and women have differences in the way they view and respond to the world around them. Rather than contradictory, these differing perspectives reflect the intentional complimentary nature of humanity that God instilled. While this does not limit either gender to “boxes” into which they must fit, it does recognize that like culture, God has invested something unique of Himself into each gender, something we can more fully understand and appreciate through mutual relationship and unity. It is also something that can be lost if kept repressed, instead of released and valued as a necessary part of the whole.
However, as we study history, women have been humanities most consistent victims of subjugation and oppression. Sadly, the Church has too often been the leader in such repression, both through blatant prejudice or unwitting ignorance. Due to this, Western Christianity (which has gone on to be the dominant expression of the faith in missions) developed its systems, structures and theological understandings from a narrow, exclusively patriarchal perspective. And while these are all good and valuable within the context of the whole, their distinct exclusion of the other half of humanities view has left a huge deficit in our understanding of God and our practice of the Christian faith.
The reality we face as the Church, then, is to know God in a truer and deeper sense. We need to begin to encourage the development of not only women leaders, but also women theologians, thinkers, administrators and pastors. We need to allow the way we do, see and understand things to be changed to include the needed “new” perspective they have been given by God. We need to explore the fullness of God through the context of His most precious creation, humanity- both male and female. All of humanity is made in His image, neither gender being more central or significant. Until we can grasp this, our maturity and effectiveness as believers in this age will be seriously crippled.
Why should we pursue diversity with such passion? It would be a mistake to think it is about some misguided sense of politcal correctness or pragmatic balancing act. We would be equally mistaken to see this emphasis as an optional “side” issue that can be pursued if and when one is so motivated. There is a lot of rhetoric both within and outside the Christian world both for and against this diversity, so it is important to understand our own motivations in this process.
For me, there is no greater motivation to evangelize (next to loving obedience) than the promise that in every nation, culture, tradition, generation and individual, God has hidden some aspect, some truth about Himself, truths that can be discovered fully only as we enter into relationship with these people. This understanding naturally leads us into a form of missional community that is constantly celebrating the individuality of every person, as well as their Creator. Diversity is a direct result of humanity being created in the image of God.
Historically, missionaries from the west, while well-intentioned in their attempts to spread the Gospel, entered into countries and cultures with a triumphalism, THE message “from the West to the East”, thus alienating, even destroying, the way of life of the people who lived there. Even today we see the repercussions of such an approach to missions throughout the world, where many beautiful aspects of diversity have been lost in the name of “Christian purity”.
However, by understanding that God has equally invested in every person, that the message is “from God to Man”, we are now able to enter in as learners, humbly willing to receive, as well as give. In fact, missionaries to the frontier nations will tell you how important it is to be a learner before anything else when entering a new culture. While we do have so much to offer in the message of relationship, salvation and the Kingdom, this does not negate the powerful impact their cultures can have on our faith for the better, let alone to be able to properly communicate the Gospel to them in a relevant way. As the Australian Aboriginal artist, Lilla Watson once said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He is not calling us to a safe spirituality or a comfortable religion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, when Jesus calls us follow Him, He bids us to come and die. To reach these goals is not simply a high calling to which some aspire, but rather the whole Church putting right of our human failure by taking up our cross daily. The fact is that we would not have to rise to this challenge if we had not failed in these areas to begin with. For the Body of Christ to achieve the righteous unity of every tongue, tribe and nation is not simply a lofty goal to which we strive, but the redemptive work of restoring Gods intention for His creation.
This is an edited version of text from Jamie’s book ‘”Looking Forward: Facing the Future of Christian Leadership” published by Healing the Land Publishing. ISBN: 1897091281