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Diversity and the Church

It is estimated that between 5 and 30 million different species of organisms now live on earth. What a tremendous variety of living things! In our life time we see only the smallest fraction of all living creatures. We can hardly imagine where all the varieties of creatures could live. For one thing, many organisms are so small we can not see them. One drop of water from a pond when observed under a microscope reveals a whole new world of strange living creatures. Paramecium that look like mini submarines zipping here and there. Stentors that look like funnels sweeping water in with cilia around the perimeter of the wide end. Amoeba’s that constantly change into an infinite number of shapes.

Life also abounds in the soil upon which we walk. The abundance of life in even a half-inch-thick pinch of soil from your garden is astounding! Millions of miniature insects and 5 billion or so bacteria swimming within invisible droplets of water condensation can easily inhabit a mere pinch of soil. Even the coldest driest valley of Antarctica has rocks that are warmed by bacteria living within.

The things we can see are found in a variety of places and sizes. Flowers spring from cracks in a mountain slope, Kelp sways with the ocean waves, Red Wood trees dwarf people and provide a niche for moss and an endless variety of other organisms. Snakes slither across desert sand and hawks soar through the air. Elephants lumber along trails in the rain-forest while a nervous shrew scampers under a leaf. Life in all its diversity was created by an infinitely creative and wise Creator. The diversity itself reveals a God who finds delight in diversity.

The people which now populate the earth are also very diverse. There are big Dutchmen who live below sea level behind the dikes in Holland and Pygmies that build houses 200 feet up the jungle trees. There are red men, black men, yellow men and white men. The 4,000 to 6,000 different languages reflect unique patterns of thought and perspectives on the world. When God scattered man from the tower of Babel to the various regions of the world He scattered these thought patterns which developed into a colorful patchwork of different cultures. Cultures meet and mix and develop into subcultures. Within cultures are groups and families with unique individuals and personalities. And so we see that the human race is as diverse as life itself.

The God who delights in diversity is pleased to gather out of the world and unto Himself with the one Word of the gospel a Church chosen from eternity. That Church is one Church and united by one faith, but also very diverse in its parts. In gathering His church, God does not bring in people from only a few closely related cultures. Rather, the Church which God gathers includes representatives of all cultures.

Jesus said to his disciples “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). The word translated “nations” is the most general of four words used to describe groups of people. The word denotes the natural cohesion of a people in a body united in one custom (cultural unit) in contrast to a national unity, political unity, or linguistic unity. Thus, the gospel goes out not only to every politically united nation, but to every group of people defined by a particular custom or culture.

Though America is called a Christian nation and there are many churches found here, the churches with which most of our readers are familiar are only a small part of the Church as the body of Christ. We live during a mere sliver of history and experience only the smallest fraction of the diversity of human life on this earth.

The gospel preached has power to gather the people of God in all their diversity and unite them into one body. What an amazing miracle of God! Almost every day we hear about the tensions between the diverse peoples of the Middle East. This tension has existed for hundreds of years and human efforts to bring peace have been futile. In contrast, the diverse peoples that are gathered into the Church are not united loosely, nor are they forced together into a union filled with tension and dissatisfaction, but they function as a body that cannot live except all its parts work in harmony. This union is a wonder work of God that cannot be accomplished by any earthly power. When God looked down upon the tower of Babel and confounded the language of Nimrod’s kingdom, man had no power to restore a harmonious union. As a result of this confounding work of God, man can only splinter and become more divided. But the power of God which divides man serves God’s purpose as He by a wonder of grace takes from the splintering groups of mankind the parts He prepares as building blocks for the Church.

The unity of this wonderfully diverse body is found in the knowledge of the love and righteousness of God revealed in Christ crucified. That salvation we have in Christ by sovereign grace is ours by faith. Every sort of man no matter where he lives or what his language, is a man able to bear the image of God and know God by faith in Christ. (See Rev. Hanko’s article which follows for more on the image of God in man.)

The truth of God’s love and righteousness that unites all peoples is so deep and profound that no man by himself can see it all and give God the glory due unto Him. The Creator is so much greater than the creature that only an innumerable number of creatures can begin to glorify God as He is worthy to be praised. God in His eternal council is pleased to gather a host of men which can not be numbered to glorify Him. Each person is such that he or she has a unique perspective and experience of the one truth of the gospel and therefore glorifies God in a unique way.

Perhaps we can illustrate the relation between the one truth of God and the perception of that truth by each member of the Church with some geometric concepts. It is as if the truth of God is three-dimensional space. If we can think of the truth as three-dimensional space, then each man perceives only a small segment of a line that passes through that space. If we apply the analogy to the various cultures in the world, then each culture perceives a plane (lines placed side by side) within that space. The Church together as a combination of all possible planes knows God in the fullest way possible for the creature.

While on this earth we can only begin to appreciate the diversity of the Church. At first the different cultures and nationalities we encounter can be confusing and even frightening. Most people do not like to live apart from their own culture for very long. Even the various personalities within your particular church can be a source of tension rather than rejoicing. We tend to think that other people ought to be the way we are. It takes some work to live in harmony and begin to see how the gifts of others fit into the whole. It takes some work to discuss the truth in societies because we all see that truth from our own personal perspective, but such societies help us to grow in our knowledge of the truth by hearing other perspectives. Conventions stimulate spiritual growth when the truth is discussed by young people from various parts of the country and world. Your interest and involvement in the work of missions brings an even greater variety of perspectives. The excitement that comes with hearing the truth of Christ confessed by people of different cultures points us to heaven when we will see and enjoy the great beauty of the Church in all its diversity. ❖