Today I was listening to a professor talk about how our worship of practicality has eroded much in the church. He pointed out that in many Christian churches, segregation is common practice. He talked about how he visited a church where he was told they were casual. So he showed up in his shorts and a t-shirt. He then realized what “casual” meant at this church – $50 shorts, $60 polo shirts, and $150 sandals. And everyone was that way and he, being half Japanese, stood out in the all white congregation. He then stated that our love of the practical in Christianity has forced us into segregation over cultures, languages, and economic status.
The above is something that I hope many Christians can agree upon. Unfortunately, someone in the class asked the question, “But if segregation increases our ability to share the Gospel, isn’t segregation a good thing?” The professor, being far more civil than I could have been, simply said, “No, it’s still wrong.”
One of the problems with conservative Christianity is its love affair with all things practical. Having elaborate services with professional-style music, a dynamic preacher, and ministries for the family and even the family pet are all practical because they can help increase attendance numbers. After all, what is more likely to get a person into the pew; a church where they still sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and the sermon is basically the preacher throwing raw chunks of theology at the crowd (and this doesn’t have to be done in a high-brow fashion), or the church that ministers to every need of the person for the “sake of the Gospel”?
The driving aspect of this love of practicality is that, for whatever reasons, conservative Christians think that sharing the Gospel is the most important commandment ever laid upon us. What is so surprising for this sola scriptura crowd is that this elevation of the commandment is no where to be found in Scripture. Even more surprising is Jesus even laid out the most important commandment; love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. The second deals with person to person love, to love others as we love ourselves. Sharing the Gospel, though a commandment from God, falls into the second category and therefore is not the most important commandment we’ve been given.
Certainly sharing the Gospel is important, but not at the expense of relying on the Holy Spirit, of personal holiness, or of building a strong community and culture of faith. All of these are also commandments and on par with sharing the Gospel. Though Paul does say that so long as the Gospel is shared, what of it, there is also an understanding of personal accountability. If a segregated church can share the Gospel, cool, but this doesn’t excuse segregationist behavior.
On one hand, we should be happy when the Gospel is being spread, but on the other hand we should hope that it is being spread in a holy manner. A perfect example is that I know of a person who, while on an acid trip, swore he saw Jesus. Once he sobered up, he began to look into the faith and eventually came to Christ. Now, though we can be pleased that he ultimately came to Christ, this doesn’t mean we’re going to start handing out LSD or other drugs in church services, hoping to induce a spiritual experience. Likewise, even if God can work in spite of segregation, this doesn’t automatically justify segregation; all it proves is that God can work despite our fallible natures.
Yet, this way of thinking – that each church must have a niche – continues to persist and is not only the norm, but recommended. I remember listening to a church planter say that, “If you don’t have a vision for the type of people group you want your church to reach out to, your church will fail.” Sound economic advice if we’re discussing a product to sell, but when we’re talking about the universal Gospel, such advice is asinine.
Why can’t a church start up in a community with the intention of reaching the community, whatever that community might be? Considering the experiences and teachings of the early church, shouldn’t a modern church be representative of the community as a whole? For instance, if the church is located in western Nebraska, it makes sense that your church will be mostly white, agricultural people, not because of segregation, but because that makes up the majority demographic for the area. If, however, your church is located in south Dallas or Washington D.C. and your majority membership consists of rich, white people, then you have a problem. The opposite is also true, where churches exist within a multicultural area of town, yet the church membership is disproportionately black. This problem is not limited to just one racial or economic community – it extends far beyond one race or one culture.
As brothers and sisters in the Lord, it is high time we began to get over our cultural and racial differences. If two people have a different style of worship, but the same core beliefs, then it is on them to find a way to accept each other’s style of worship and move on. It is up to them to sacrifice personal preferences on how a church service should run and instead realize they are of the same family, regardless of economic status, race, culture, or even language. Allowing the churches to remain separate in these times due to a cultural worship style or because of the bigotry of the congregants is not pleasing to the Lord and no matter how much it helps spread the Gospel (which, I should state, is assumed and not proven), it still isn’t right and is still wrong for believers to engage in such activities.
Christianity is more than sharing the Gospel; if it weren’t, then we would all be called to be full time ministers, to abandon our families, and to do nothing but share the Gospel.