Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always. Galatians 4:17f, NIV
Here’s a parable I came up with which I think illustrates what I want to say in this post:
A stone mason was at work one day, cutting stone from a massive bed of rock. After he got enough to fill his reinforced wagon he loaded the stone and drove his oxen to the small town nearby. The town was building a Cathedral and on the site, the stone mason would take the large stones and begin chipping and shaving them to fit the specific spaces created by the ongoing work. Then others would come along and lift the stones into the position he prescribed and pour the thick mortar into the small cracks.
Each carefully shaped block of stone was unique from all of the others in the structure, but by fitting perfectly into their fore-ordained positions each stone also continued to progress the vaulted walls and buttresses higher; closer to the building’s high and glorious crown.
But as the project progressed, a few within the town began to grumble and today a town meeting had been called. The stone quarry from which the mason cut the stone had several ores intermixed; giving the Cathedral a mottled and broken color scheme in some places. Most of the stones cut were a beautiful gray, black and white. However some ranged from a dusty brown to a reddish-orange, and none of the stones were perfectly cubed or straight. The motley nature of the arrangement contrasted violently from the visions the townspeople had when they began construction and so the whole project halted as they debated what to do.
The mayor of the town got up in front of everyone and, using his deep, booming voice to great effect, said, “My fellow citizens, hear me now!” He paused for a moment to entice people to attention, then continued, “Though our Cathedral is already two-thirds complete, the appearance of it is – I believe it’s safe to say – disappointing. Our intention when we began was to build a permanent reminder of our dedication as a town to the future; to build something lasting in order to memorialize ourselves and our community. Therefore, I propose we do one of two things to fix the varicolored and crooked nature of its walls. We can either raze the building and begin again, or we can pull out the stones which do not conform to our preferences and replace them with stones that match our grand design. Which option shall we take?!”
The townspeople began talking amongst themselves, trying to come to a decision. The two options both seemed like they would take care of the inherent problem, but they would both set back their building schedule and budget considerably. Half seemed anxious to begin again, claiming that they didn’t want to be a part of a project done haphazardly or halfway. The other half objected to the implication that ripping out the offending stones was at all a haphazard or halfway solution and therefore strenuously objected to “their” plan being a lesser option. Either of the plans suited the mayor, so he stood by patiently as the townspeople debated.
But then a quiet voice echoed out from the dais. The stone mason had sauntered up beside the mayor and was now addressing the people. “I believe that we have taken a rather serious wrong turn as we have built this cathedral,” he began. This comment caught the townspeople’s attention. They believed that something wrong had been done too, and so the builder seemingly confirming their suspicions made them listen intently. The stone mason continued quietly, but firmly, “We seem to have forgotten what we meant to do when we started.”
“Yes! That is what I said too,” the mayor confidently agreed. “And we should begin to make it right immediately!”
But before the nods and shouts of agreement could spring up from the crowd, the stone mason responded. “I am sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I think that you misunderstand me.” He paused for a moment, as if gathering his strength and resolve to continue, as the mayor looked rather dumbfounded at him. “You see, Mr. Mayor, I don’t agree that the intent of building this beautiful cathedral is to ‘memorialize ourselves OR our community.’ It was to memorialize and glorify God.”
These last words hung for a moment in the air and the crowd began mulling it over silently. The mayor also stood there mutely; probably realizing that there was nothing he could say to refute this … they were building a cathedral, after all.
“If the intent is to memorialize and glorify God, then the materials He has given us ought to be sufficient …” The stone mason was about to go on when the mayor interrupted.
“But, we aren’t proposing to use an unnatural building material – the gray stones are just as good as the red ones, and both were given by God. We just want the building to look uniform!” The crowd began to nod slowly in agreement, but the stone mason responded.
“That’s true. But the rocks of our region are all like the ones which we have placed in our cathedral. One would have to travel miles and miles to find a uniform rock quarry. In other words, these rocks are the ones which God has given our community and therefore they seem like a perfect gift back to God. To ignore some rocks because they don’t conform to what we want to see is like ignoring some of God’s gifts because they aren’t the ones for which we asked, or for which we hoped. This is what God has given us … let us then glorify Him with it.”
This stirred the crowd quite a bit. Those who had nodded in agreement with the mayor now began to nod at the stone mason’s reasoning.
The mayor, sensing he was beginning to lose the debate, blustered out, “Then what about the irregular cut of the stones. They are all askew and jagged. Why can’t we cut them all into cubes and stack them perfectly? I believe we ought to start over just because of that!”
Unfortunately for the mayor, the answer was right on the tip of the stone mason’s tongue, “The reason none of them are shaped like the other, is because each one has points of strength and weakness. If I were to shape them into perfect rectangles or squares, I would be shaping them without regard to where they might fail or where they might strengthen their neighboring stones. I would be introducing weakness for the sake of only aesthetics.
“Going back to the intention we had to build the cathedral – namely, God – the appeal of the building is the least important factor. How the cathedral reflects God’s blessings to His people, how it provides a place for His people to gather and praise Him, how it lasts … these are all much more important than how it looks on the outside.”
As the stone mason stopped talking, silence filled the small square where the people stood. Even the verbose and opinionated mayor stood astonished. The argument, laid out by the stone mason, made perfect sense; and as the people looked at their cathedral, standing two-thirds complete on the far end of the square, they began to see its beauty and glory for what it was: an offering of worship to the God who had created them … and Who had created the materials which they had used. Just as a tithe of what God had blessed them with was given in worship each Sunday, they realized that a tithe of their materials and labor were a sacrifice of praise to His Highest, regardless of how it might be perceived by strangers or the vain.
The town finished their cathedral the way they had started it and the structure lasted for much longer than the memory of the people who built it. Generations – for centuries – worshipped God within its mottled walls, unaware of the debate which had nearly scuttled its construction. As time wore on, its uniqueness and strength became a wonder to all who saw it. Time had no effect on its buttresses, wind and rain no effect on its foundation; and the stones which varied so greatly in color when first laid, slowly began to resemble each other as they all faded to a glorious harmony. Each stone held aloft the next as they each raised their hands in declarative praise to His Majesty, their Maker.
I realize that what I’m about to say will seem a bit like splitting hairs (at first), which is why I thought I needed to come up with an illustration to help with distinguishing the nuances. But please stay with me and please know that I firmly believe that making distinctions about multiculturalism, diversity and the Christian Worldview is extremely important.
To be honest, I kind of think that we (Christians) have had our language and our thinking derailed a bit by the ideas which are now taken for granted within our culture. In other words, we don’t even realize that the thinking of the world has seeped into the way we consider things because a worldly idea or concept have become de facto within the culture by which we are surrounded.
The scary thing is that this is insidious. We don’t even realize that it is happening most of the time and therefore can’t check the advance of a dangerous idea or concept as it reshapes our thinking. Which means the only way to fight the spread of humanist ideas is to continually stay in the word of God so that we are readily able to identify untruths by their juxtaposition against the scripture.
If you want an example of the insidious creep of humanist ideas, here’s a great one (after this example, we will get back to the subject of multiculturalism, diversity and a Christian worldview hopefully with a greater resolve to think in a biblical way about it): My brother-in-law, Phillip Lasater, has recently had an article accepted for publication within The Harvard Theological Review (entitled, “The Emotions” in Biblical Anthropology? A Genealogy and Case Study with יָרֵא) in which he makes the case that the very idea of emotion as we understand it now has been an invention of humanist philosophy. As Phil points out, if our forebears (from Plato to Aristotle to Augustine all the way to Aquinas) were to be presented with the modern idea of “emotions” they would find the concept entirely foreign. Instead, what they all seemed to understand intuitively (and therefore has been summarily lost through the humanist introduction of the concept of emotion) was that the way in which we respond to outside stimuli is a passion of the soul – or, a reflection of the inner man.
This idea really does change everything when we examine it closer. You see, the “emotions” of humanist philosophy tend to distill our reactions down to nothing more than base instinct. To say it another way, the concept of the emotions as drivers for behavior says that we are instinctually reacting to our circumstances instead of passionately responding through the intentions, and out of the state, of our hearts. Consequently, if we remove the responsibility of restraint and the feeding of the Godly parts of our souls (“the inner man” as Paul calls it in Eph 3:16) – through the acceptance of a philosophy which says that we just emote our way through life – we slowly accept an animalistic idea of our capabilities; as if we can’t expect anything more of ourselves than to be housetrained and to sit on command.
However if our feelings and responses to circumstances are a passion from our souls, then they represent an accurate reflection of who we truly are – down to our very soul. This demands that we continually confront our fallibility and sinfulness in the way it reveals itself through our sinful reactions. And, if we are inclined toward God, then we know the only way to fix our “inner man” is to lean more heavily upon His grace, mercy and strength.
It’s no wonder then that David Hume, Thomas Brown, Sigmund Freud and the like would want to move sequentially from enslaving reason to passion, to substituting instinct for passion, to the complete removal of anything – any source of “emotion” – that is not physical. By discounting the soul, to the point where it is not even acknowledged, the humanist destroys not only the restraints on passions (self-control), but also the need for restraints (goodness) and the source of the need for restraints (objective truth from an omnipotent, omniscient Creator). All of this pours and hardens the foundation for every goal which the humanist has: to remove all barriers to self-gratification in an effort to make oneself god.
Turning back to the subject of this post with that example of the insidious advance of humanist ideas into our thinking and language in mind, think about this: the idea of multiculturalism and diversity as something inherently good might not be the panacea for all that we think.
Today we are constantly harangued by the Western intelligentsia with the idea that multiculturalism and diversity are goals in and of themselves. But this idea completely misses the deeper, and much more important, goals of life. Which is why I am so concerned about the concepts slipping into our thinking within the Church and therefore the reason I’m bringing it up now.
Currently our country is engaged in a rather zealous discussion on immigration. Whether the immigrant be from Guatemala or Syria, everyone has an opinion on the spectrum between zero new immigrants or no national borders. Those who argue for no new immigrants might have the simpler argument. Whether they believe the way they do based on economic or cultural reasons, they are interested (basically) in keeping the status quo. However, the no-limits on immigration crowd often make their case on moral grounds. Saying something like, “The destitute and afflicted must be given a chance at a new life.” This is laudable in its most simplistic form and I sympathize to an extent with it. However, when the no-limits crowd extends the morality of their case into a multicultural or diversity-based argument, they immediately lose me as a neutral. Why? Because the so-called “beneficial” end-result IS the multiculturalism and diversity itself; something which we will examine a little more in-depth in a moment.
Regarding the national/political argument (because it informs the more important spiritual question): We often talk about the United States being “a nation of immigrants”; and so we are. But what should follow that statement is that we are also a “melting pot.” Immigrants come in and are made to feel at home, but they are expected to eventually become American: to not only affirm our values when taking their citizenship oath, but to also internalize those values. If they want to be a part of the wonderful opportunities that this country offers, they should also want to reinforce the values which created those opportunities. [Editorial comment: Don’t give me any of that codswallop about the opportunities being created by oppression in the past and present. There’s oppression everywhere in this world, but this is one of the few places where you can thrive in spite of it.]
Therefore, it makes perfect sense not to ask the question of whether immigration should be allowed, but to ask the question of who among prospective immigrants is going to assimilate to our core values. Those who will insist on keeping their culture – specifically a culture which is directly antithetical to American culture – will only serve to add tension where there should be none. At the very least they will water down the unity which we are meant to have. Note that Abraham Lincoln (while quoting Jesus from Mt 12:25) made this same case when he stood in the Illinois Capitol building and said (in regard to the country being half-slave and half-free), “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He then went on to say, “It will become all one thing or all the other.”
This principle particularly applies to grand ideas and over-arching values like slavery, limited government, personal freedom, and property rights. I’m not saying that immigrants need to become Americans by eating a burger every day, shopping exclusively at the Gap, or making Baseball their favorite pastime. Far from it! Let new immigrants bring their awesome foods here. Let them wear their unique styles. I really hope that they bring an appreciation for football (soccer) too! I’m simply saying that, while still enjoying who they are, they should affirm the values of individual freedom, property rights, justice and equality of opportunity (not equality of outcome) – i.e. those values which made the United States an attractive place for them to come here in the first place.
So, as we begin to segue [finally … sorry this post is so long], to the real reason for this post, think about this underlying principle to multiculturalism and diversity: both can be beneficial if there is unity in purpose.
I think my parable does a fairly decent job of illustrating this principle. We (talking about Christians again) sometimes get distracted from the primary goals by their antecedents. Just like the mayor in my story tried to advocate making changes in order to secure the townspeople’s legacy – to the detriment of God – we can sometimes misunderstand the value of the secondary things in our search for progress. The beauty of the different types/sizes/cuts of stone wasn’t the main thing in building the cathedral. Just like multiculturalism/diversity is not the main thing in building the body of Christ. It is the way in which the multiculturalism/diversity can contribute to the glory of God that is the important thing. It is the confusion of the goal with the potential tool/material to attain that goal that makes me frustrated when I hear Christians paying homage to modern cure-alls like multiculturalism/diversity. Within the church, neither multiculturalism nor diversity is the goal … unity in purpose regarding the glorification of God is the mark.
That’s why I get a little upset about pastors and teachers who spend an inordinate amount of their time talking about the demographics of their church, their city or their own background. Those things might matter as a way of making connections with unbelievers and bringing them from where they are into God’s church, but they make no difference whatsoever in the church body as a whole! Who cares if a Christian is white, black, Asian or Latino! Who cares if a Christian is a male or a female! Who cares if a Christian is old or young, rich or poor, from Argentina or Ghana, a businessman or a craftsman! What IS important – and all-encompassing, when looked at correctly – is that that person loves and honors Christ. Just like the rough-hewn, mottled stones of the Cathedral were each there to raise the structure up as a glory to the One who will be worshipped within it, the church is made of diverse stones that each fill their own purpose within the bride of Christ. It matters very little what a Christian looks like, or whether they fit some pre-conceived notion of what a Christian or a church ought to be according to a human pastor or teacher. What matters much more is that they fulfill their calling from the Holy Spirit.
A human pastor or teacher who focuses on diversity or multiculturalism will do so to the detriment of teaching the unifying theology of Christ and Him crucified. That pastor will, in his dedication to the antecedent, retard the progress toward the ultimate goal of unity in Christ. That teacher will, in his hubris, promote the demographics of his congregation over the grace, mercy and love of the Savior. This is something which is unacceptably arrogant and short-sighted.
The point that Paul made as he talked about the unifying force of Christ between Jews and Greeks is key in this context. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 he says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks wisdom” (v. 22). Note that he’s establishing that they are different, not just in nationality, but in culture and mentality. He then goes on to say, “But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called [Christians], both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (vv. 23f). Paul understood the differences and said that they were important regarding Jews and Greeks who had not come to Christ. But those divides dissolve when Christ is added to the mix. When Christ becomes the focal point, the secondary divisions fade into irrelevance.
Earlier in the same chapter, Paul makes another great statement regarding the lifting up of pastors and teachers as great figures to follow. “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (vv. 12f, 17). In other words, the things that may divide our backgrounds or our circumstances – even those things which have some spiritual significance – all fade to gray amidst the unifying, all-encompassing light that is Jesus Christ. They simply don’t matter … unless, that is, Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (or some other pastor/teacher) loses sight of their ultimate calling.
Regarding unity in the church, I admit it: I used to have a huge problem rectifying the thought of there being so many Christian denominations (with varying beliefs on things which seem to have massive theological implications) and the idea that Christ might … just possibly … save them all. How can they all be ‘right’ enough to warrant God’s salvation? How can they all be included within the grace of God when they all disagree on fundamental things?
But I realized somewhere along the road two things. First, that none of us are “right.” Even if our theology is correct, our ability to carry it out is flawed. So it seems absurd to say someone is going to hell because their church building has a kitchen in it (yes, I’ve seen that happen). And second, that Christ’s call for unity in His prayer in John 17 makes a remarkable statement about how salvation itself works. Note in verses 20 through 26 how many times Christ references Himself as the principal factor in the unity which He prays for God to establish between the believers coming after. “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and You in Me – so that they may be brought to complete unity” (vv. 22f). He doesn’t just say this so that we know that He is the incarnation of God Himself, though that’s still an important takeaway. He is saying that He has imparted His glory – the glory of God Himself – to those who place Him at the center of what they do. Carrying this thought just one step further then, we are forced to ask the question, “How can Christ be divided?!” Can our demographics divide us? Can our backgrounds divide us? Can our circumstances, economics or locations divide us? Absolutely not! What about our theology, then? If Christ’s glorification is our focal point, then will not the Spirit bring us to a knowledge and keeping of the necessary? When Christ gets the glory, it intensifies our unity by decreasing to nothing the miniscule, transient things that divide us. When Christ gets the glory, God leads us to unity through His Spirit.
This really IS a key hair to split then, isn’t it? This isn’t just some pet-peeve of an overly-verbose blogger; it’s fundamental! Our diverse and multicultural backgrounds are completely irrelevant when we clothe ourselves with Christ. In fact, they have to be irrelevant … if they aren’t, then where is the benefit of accepting Christ?
Think about what Paul says in Gal 3:26-29. The Jew, Gentile, slave, freeman, male or female are all one through clothing themselves with Christ Jesus. But Paul is making that statement as a way to rectify the prescribed former manner of sanctification (setting apart) of the nation of Israel. By giving the Jews the law, God set them apart from other nations (v. 19). He separated them by the law in order to keep the promise, made 430 years before, of blessing all nations through the seed of Abraham (v. 16). But the fact that Paul does not stop his argument at the fulfillment of the promise and the law through the coming of Christ is very instructive. He carries on the argument into this Christian Age, in which the sanctification is for the body of Christ and no longer the Hebrew people. To put it another way, the Jew and the Gentile, the slave and the freeman, the male and female are united in Christ and are, together, a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and God’s sanctifying law to Israel. (See also: Heb 6:13-20)
Paul makes the case for unity in a more straightforward way in Ephesians 4, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 3-6). We may all have backgrounds which differ, but we all set those differences aside as we enter into the ‘one body’ by the ‘one Spirit.’ Sure, as Paul notes in the next few verses, we all have different gifts and works of service for which we are equipped, but the unifying nature of Christ reveals itself in “the whole body, [joining] and held together by every supporting ligament, [growing] and [building] itself up in love, as each part does its work” (v. 16). If I might be so bold as to add a few words to the end of that verse: “as each part does its work … to the glory of the head of that body, which is Jesus Christ.”
When we see the descriptions of the things that make up a mature Christian, please realize that Paul never identifies either nationality, parentage, race, ethnicity, or any of those other silly things that divide us and over which we have no control (as if we should be loved or hated for which hand we were dealt as we exited our mother’s womb). No, instead Paul states what defines a Christian and it has nothing to do with the outer, decaying man, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22f) and “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Php 4:8) and “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22f).
Paul does say, however, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. AND THAT IS WHAT SOME OF YOU WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:9-11). Whatever your sin was, it has been washed away! If the sins that defined you in the past have been done away, why wouldn’t the externalities of our skin pigmentation, or ethnicity, or class also be rendered null by our unification in Christ?
This should be good news for all within Christ’s church. This world seems to scream incessantly its demands for a place of racial/class/ethnic harmony … and the body of Christ is where it can be found. I understand therefore, why the world – so hostile to Christ and His love – would choose to try to engineer some artificial harmony through the glorification of multiculturalism and diversity as an inherent goal. But why ANYONE would want to do the same within Christianity is a complete mystery to me. We already have the one thing that can unify all of us: Christ. Why would we settle for anything less?
To quote the stone mason once more, “Going back to the intention we had to build the cathedral – namely, God – the appeal of the building is the least important factor. How the cathedral reflects God’s blessings to His people, how it provides a place for His people to gather and praise Him, how it lasts … these are all much more important than how it looks on the outside.”