I Belong (4): The Beauty of the Church’s Ethnic Diversity

I absolutely love ethnic food. I love Ethiopian, Mexican, Thai, Trinidadian, Chinese, Greek, Italian; oh my, there are so many excellent spices and tastes from around the world and so little time . . . and money. American food tends to be bland, but thankfully, as the melting pot of the world, many countries are represented in the US which makes choosing a restaurant much more interesting.  

What if food all tasted the same? Imagine everything tasting like white rice. I adore white rice, especially jasmine, but if everything tasted like rice – pizza tasted like rice, ice cream tasted like rice, red curry tasted like rice – terrible. We love diversity, and we want all flavors to be at their best.

Taste buds which discern certain tastes and dance in delight over different tastes are God’s gracious gift to us. With the assorted tastes of the world come assorted cultures and people. I think it’s true that most of us have a certain ethnocentrism about us. We love our nation, but there are many admirable qualities of other nations – foods, traditions, customs, architecture, landscape, etc. And in these other nations are people. These people are beautifully different from us. We should celebrate cultural differences as long as they are not idolatrous and displeasing to our Lord. Diversity of humanity is evidence of God’s glorious creativity.  

And here’s a comforting, exciting, and amazing truth. All across the globe in the nations of the world are Christians who are united to Christ and us. The body of Christ lives among the nations of the world. The church is Asian, African, North and South American, European, Australian, and even Antarctican. And like the diversity of food, God created a glorious diversity of people. As DC Talk sang of the church in the mid-nineties, “By God’s design, we are a skin kaleidoscope.” The Pantone company identified 110 different skin tones. [1] The kaleidoscope appears to be more than “red, brown, yellow, black, and white.” And this is worth celebrating. The church of Jesus Christ is ethnically and culturally and giftedly diverse, and this is comforting, exciting, and amazing.

Consider the small country of Maldives. Owning a Bible in Maldives is a crime punishable by death. If you convert from Islam to Christianity, you forfeit your citizenship. Churches are forbidden. There are tens of Christians in Maldives, and they are part of the one body of Christ; they are part of us. There are hundreds of Christians in Somalia where Christianity is greatly suppressed. They are part of the one body of Christ; they are part of us. In all of North Korea, there are only about 300,000 Christians. North Korea is a very difficult place to be a Christian, and those Christians are members of the one body of Christ; they are part of us as much as your arm, left ventricle, and tibia are all part of you.

Like the many parts of your body, the body of Christ is beautifully and ethnically and giftedly diverse. Would you want your left leg to be exactly like your liver? Same tissue, color, and function? How would that change your health if your left leg was exactly like your liver? Diversity is something you unconsciously enjoy every day, something that benefits you in ways you are not always mindful of.  

The body of Christ is catholic or universal which means the church is throughout history and also everywhere across the world. The church or body of Christ is not limited to one era or geographical location. Isn’t that wonderful and comforting? From the beginning, God has been saving His people and building His church. The body of Christ lives in Manheim, PA, and also in Alberta, Canada; New South Wales, Australia; Hesse, Germany; and Departamento de Managua, Nicaragua. This means that God has a heart for the nations and that God is graciously and powerfully working through His law and gospel to save people from the nations and your local church. God is saving, sanctifying, and strengthening His people with His grace and Spirit in ways that you and I are currently unaware of. A Chinese woman is putting gossip to death for the glory of God. A Russian teenager is abstaining from premarital sex for the glory of God. An Indian teacher is faithfully praying for his family. A Canadian little girl is obeying her mommy with joy in the spirit of Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20. God is sovereignly and graciously saving, strengthening, and soothing His people all around the world.

This is comforting and exciting because God is keeping His covenant gospel promise to Abraham. From the beginning of time, God has been gathering a people to Himself for Himself. That is His redemptive plan for His church. God promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The Apostle Paul helps us understand what God’s promise means. Galatians 3:8 says, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’” God gave the gospel to Abraham and his children. People from the nations would be united to Christ by true faith and united to Christ’s church or body. As more and more people in Tanzania, Uzbekistan, and Argentina recognize their sin and misery and receive Jesus as their Prophet, Priest, and King, their Savior and Lord, God is keeping His covenant gospel promise to Abraham, more people are uniting to Christ, and more people are uniting to you and me as members of the body of Christ. We don’t know these people and can’t really do the one another’s of Scripture with them, but we have an inseparable bond with them nonetheless. This is the catholic or universal church.

Article 27 of the Belgic Confession says of the church:

this holy church is not confined or limited to one particular place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world. Yet, it is joined and united with heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith. [2]

The Greek word translated as church is ekklēsia which means congregation, gathering, or assembly. The church is the body of Christ which God has been gathering since Eden. The true universal and invisible church or the true body of Christ are all those united to Christ by true faith.

Notice that the Belgic Confession rightly teaches that the catholic church is not “confined or limited to one particular place” or even people groups. The true church is a diverse church scattered across the world. But though the body of Christ is scattered, and though we don’t yet know many other members of Christ, we are truly joined to them. Indeed, we are united in heart and will. We are truly one. We truly share in Christ’s anointing (HC 32). We have a common faith.

I often have a very small perspective regarding the gracious work God is doing in His church. What I see is a small sample of what God is doing around the world in His church. I also only see things during my lifetime and not during other eras. Christ promised, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). He’s been doing it, and he’s still doing it. You and I don’t see all the ways he’s doing it, but we can be sure he is because he promised.

Rejoice in what God is doing in your life, and rejoice in what God is doing in his church all across the world. And rejoice that when your work is done and you go to be with Jesus, Christ will still be building his church. Christ is your hope and salvation, but he is also the hope and salvation of the world, and Christ continues to save sinners to be united to him and to become your beloved brothers and sisters.    

[1] https://www.ancestry.com/c/traits-learning-hub/skin-pigmentation

[2] https://canrc.org/the-belgic-confession#article-27

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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