No, I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I realized long ago that I don’t really know all the right questions to ask. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me give five reasons why I believe cross-cultural integration is necessary in the local church.
The United States has always been a melting pot of cultures. Unfortunately, what may be true of our nation is often not true of local churches. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously said that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning was “the most segregated hour of Christian America.” He was speaking of segregation between blacks and whites, but we are also seeing the same when it comes to cultures from around the world. Christians know that we need to reach people of all nations, languages, and ethnic groups. The challenge is: How?
As you look around the church landscape in America you find that a predominant strategy is one of cultural segregation. In other words, let’s have separate churches for whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, wealthy people, poor people, traditional people, contemporary people, younger people, older people. If we do reach another culture or people group, let’s put them in another building, or have them worship at a different time than everyone else. That way, everyone can play the music they like, speak the language they prefer, dress the way they like, and no one has to get out of their comfort zone or preference box.
But, is that the New Testament way? Is that how the Gospel is to shine in the world? Is that what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like?
I believe the church should be a living reflection of the Gospel message, which must include cultural integration. People from different cultures ought to be able to come together in one Body to worship their one Savior and Lord. Here’s why:
- In the Gospel, there are no cultural or gender differences (Galatians 3:28). There are no Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, male or female. We are one in Christ. Our churches should display that to the world.
- Cultural segregation feeds our selfishness and pride. Our flesh and the world bombard us with the idea that life is all about us, that our ways are the best, and that we should get it “our way.” Just like Frank Sinatra. Just Burger King. But not like Jesus.
- In Heaven, there will be no cultural segregation (Revelation 5:9; 7:9, 12). People from every nationality, ethnic group, and language will be worshiping Jesus together. We should be able to do so on Earth.
- Cultural segregation disobeys the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). No matter where you read the commandment of our Lord, it involves God’s children reaching and discipling all people groups. Focusing on one culture exclusively was never part of the Plan. In fact, it brought God’s intervention through persecution (Acts 8:1).
- Cultural integration is what God used to reach the world (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-4). Antioch is our model, not Jerusalem. Through this local church, God sent out the first foreign missionary team. Through their cultural integration, the Gospel eventually made it to America (and the world).
We must change our mindset. We must align our heart and perspective with that of the Lord and the Kingdom of God, in light of dying souls all around us. The need is too urgent to insist on our preferences and comfort zones.
What reasons could you add to this list?