In the light of the EU Referendum vote that led to UK citizens deciding to pull out of the European Union, there have been lots of conversations about Brexit and its implications for economics, commerce, trade and society in general. But what implications will Brexit have on the church in the UK, or to rephrase the question, how shall we do church in a post-Brexit world?
If Brexit is dividing people into us and them, migrants and British citizens, elite and uneducated, racist and accepting of others, how should the church respond and handle these differences?
In order to respond we have to comprehend God’s vision of Every Tribe, Nation and Language as articulated in Scriptures. This is why our Centre, Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World, in partnership with other churches and agencies in Bristol is putting together a conference with the theme of Every Tribe, Nation and Language: Growing Multi-ethnic Churches in Britain on Saturday 10th of June 10am-4pm.
The vision of a multicultural, multi-ethnic church is very essential to the Gospel; in essence it is a Gospel imperative that started with Creation itself and runs through the biblical narratives. The creation story is a witness to the fact that God loves and intentionally created diversity in all its beauty. The promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed through him reveals that God’s plan in salvation history was to draw to himself people from every nation (Genesis 12: 1-3).
Paul in the New Testament expounded on this theme both in the letter to the Galatians and Ephesians. In Galatians he confirmed the acceptance of Gentiles (non-Jews) into God's family by affirming that God’s promise to Abraham was not only meant for the Jews but also for the Gentiles.
One implication is that we are all one in Christ whether we are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Paul seemed to be saying that in Christ, culture, class and gender should not divide us. He pressed this message home in Ephesians 2:11-22, when he talked about how Christ’s work on the cross reconciled us back to God (vertical relationship with God), but that in addition, he pulled down the wall that divide sus as humans (horizontal relationships with our neighbours).
In the time of Paul and the other Apostles, this wall would have been the various separations that happened in Herod’s temple. There was the Holy place only for the High Priest, the court of the priest for the other priests, the court of Israel only for the Israelite men, the court of women for Israelite women and the court of the Gentiles for everyone who is not a Jew. These various separations were taken seriously, so that if a Gentile dared entered the court of Israel, it would have been at the loss of his or her life. To illustrate this, when Paul was arrested, one of the accusations against him was that he brought Greeks into the temple area (see Acts 21:27-29).
Paul’s theology of unity in diversity saw Christ’s death on the cross as putting an end to these artificial segregations, therefore uniting us together in Himself. Paul went further to say that this is why he, Paul, has been chosen by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-7).
God demonstrated time and time again that His Gospel brings an end to whatever divides us. In Acts of the Apostles this was done through the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost, which brought Jews in Palestine as well as Jews in diaspora together.
It was the cultural diversity of the church in Jerusalem that led to one of the earliest tensions in the church, which emerged in Acts 6:1-7. The Holy Spirit also caused the disciples to scatter into Judea and Samaria, therefore bringing the Gospel to the Samaritans whom Jews would not accept as equals (Acts 8). As if that was not enough, God had to convict Peter first through a vision in order for him to accept and relate with Cornelius (a Gentile) and his household in Acts 10.
All of these Scriptures demonstrate that God, the creator of diversity, embraces cultural diversity in a way that it should bring us together rather than separate us. The implication is that whatever divides us today, such as race, culture, ethnicity, class, gender, and age, we should form one new body when we are in Christ, because it is in Christ that our identity is fully complete.
A multicultural, multi-ethnic church is one of the spaces where this diversity can be lived out in togetherness. Multicultural, multi-ethnic churches are signs of God’s kingdom on earth! How can we develop multi-ethnic churches and what are the challenges faced in these churches? These questions and more will be discussed at the conference on 10th of June. Below are the details of how to register for the conference:
EVERY NATION, TRIBE AND LANGUAGE: GROWING MULTI-ETHNIC CHURCHES
This is a day conference exploring through talks, discussions and local case studies the challenges of growing multi-ethnic, multicultural churches in Britain. It is a conference for all lay persons, ministers, mission practitioners and theologians.
Date: Saturday 10th June 2017
Venue: St Mark Baptist Church, St Marks Road, Easton, Bristol, BS5 6HX
Speakers: Rev Dr Kate Coleman, Next Leadership, Dr Paul Bendor-Samuel, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), Bishop Raymond Veira, Church of God of Prophecy, Rev Richard Skinner, St Marks Baptist Church (Host)
There will also be breakout sessions to discuss the talks in groups
Cost: £15 including lunch (African and Caribbean food)