First of all, Drew, don’t apologize just for presenting a different point of view. If no one ever disagrees with me I’ll never learn anything, so it’s a good thing. Also lets me clarify some things that maybe need clarification. For the same reason, I’m not going to apologize for disagreeing with you.
Let me clarify the idea that I disagree with. Do I think multi-ethnic churches are good? Absolutely, 100%. No argument there at all. What I disagree with is the idea that there is no place for anything else at all. In particular, Drew’s arguments. For two main reasons. One, I think it lacks a kingdom perspective. And two, I think it confuses what should be expected of the non-Christian with what should be expected of the Christian. And most importantly, I think Scripture (if you look at it in whole), supports my standpoint more than the opposite.
First the kingdom perspective. What I mean by that is this. Sometimes people look at the Bible, and see that it says stuff that the church should do that is clearly good and right, and then conclude that every individual should do those things. Easiest example is foreign missions. Of course the church should go to the ends of the earth. Of course it’s good. But not every individual should go. To say otherwise lacks a kingdom perspective.
So I’m big on the kingdom perspective. Just, that the body of Christ is made up of parts, each of which is meant to do different things. Collectively, the church is called to do all of these things. But we’re not individually called to do all these things. From a kingdom perspective, we’ll collectively accomplish more if we focus on those particular things God has given to us instead of trying to do everything individually.
I think the same applies to individual churches. The universal church is called to do many things. And individual churches all have certain common responsibilities. But I think it’s good and right that individual churches focus on particular things instead of trying to do everything, especially if, when churches do this, it accomplishes more for the Kingdom as a whole.
I feel particularly strongly about this when it comes to reaching people. If we can collectively best reach people by particularly focusing on specific segments, I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s good. I cannot agree with the idea that there is no place for this whatsoever.
And I think there’s strong Biblical support for this. Drew mentioned Jesus and Paul so I’ll do the same. Did Jesus reach across cultural boundaries? Of course. Did he ever concentrate the focus of his ministry to particular groups? The answer is yes, at times. For example, in much of Matthew (dunno about the others), Jesus focuses on the Jews first, because it was appropriate at that particular time. When he sends out the twelve, he specifically tells them to limit themselves to the Jews: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.'” (Matthew 10:5-6) And he has that strange discussion with the Canaanite woman about dogs and crumbs. This is obviously a flawed example, since we’re living in the age of the Great Commission, but still, the point is, at appropriate times, even Jesus in his ministry focused on a particular ethnic group.
A much better example is Paul, the other guy Drew quotes. In fact, I think he’s an example of exactly what I’m talking about, when you consider him with Peter. Because the Scripture specifically states that he was meant to go to the Gentiles, and Peter to the Jews. Paul’s the one that says it (as a good thing): “On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.” (Galatians 2:7-9)
Personally, I think this passage is a crushing blow to the idea that there’s no place for focusing on particular ethnic groups. Because that’s exactly what Peter and Paul did. Are we then to criticize Peter for not moving beyond his “comfort zone”? Is that the Biblical conclusion? Are you saying that the way Peter and Paul, two of the biggest foundations of the early church, decided to do things was fundamentally wrong?
Or does it make more sense to look at things from a Kingdom perspective? And realize that by Peter focusing on the Jews, and Paul focusing on the Gentiles, both the Jews and the Gentiles were better reached for the Kingdom?
So this same Paul who talks about there being no Jew or Greek in Christ, also talked about how Peter was sent to the Jews, and he to the Gentiles. How are we to reconcile this? Well you can’t just ignore the second. But I think it makes sense if you understand what he’s talking about. Which brings me to my second objection.
I think there’s confusion between what should be expected of the Christian, and what should be expected of the non-Christian. Do I believe that Christians should reach beyond their comfort zone? Absolutely. Do I believe that non-Christians should be required to reach beyond their comfort zone to hear or receive the gospel? Absolutely not.
The whole comfort thing is primarily about reaching, not about us. Let me quote from what I wrote last time: “I strongly strongly agree that any healthy church needs to be reaching new people. And who can we best reach? The people we hang out with. And who do we hang out with? For the most part, other Asian Americans. That’s the crux of it, I think. Our generation just naturally hangs out with other Asian Americans. That’s who we’re comfortable with, that’s who they’re comfortable with, and that who we’re most able to reach. So we need a church that fits all of those things. It’s just a reflection of how things are.”
This is my fault as I think I was unclear so let me clarify. I’m not saying we should have Asian-American churches because Asian-American Christians tend hang out together. I’m saying we should have it because outside of church, Asian-Americans tend to hang out together. So that’s who we can best reach. And similarly, Asian-American non Christians will feel most comfortable in an Asian-American church. So in my mind, if an Asian-American church will best reach Asian-American non Christians, I’m all for that. It’s about the comfortability of the non-Christian, not the Christian.
I’ve already cited what I think is Biblical support for the notion of focusing on ethnic groups. I think there’s even more support for the notion of doing things to best reach non-Christians. Drew talked about how the gospel is uncomfortable, and seems to conclude that we should emphasize that uncomfortability. I already mentioned last time that the gospel is inherently confrontational. Given that, I don’t think it’s right to place additional demands on it. And again, I think this is a clear message of Scripture.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 – “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
What’s the message here? To me it seems that he’s recognizing that the gospel is above any culture or group. And so, he is willing to meet people on their terms for the sake of the gospel. That he might save some. Is he asking them to give up their culture/mindset/status to hear/accept the gospel? Not at all. Rather, he’s reaching them on their terms.
Another great passage is Acts 15. The disciples, led by Peter, conclude that it’s not right to burden the Gentile believers with essentially Jewish requirements to become Christian. If I’m not mistaken, I think this is a critical point where they recognize you don’t need to be Jewish to be a follower of Christ. One thing I take from this is that they realize it’s not right to demand that the Gentiles adopt another culture to become believers.
I make this conclusion because it goes in the other direction also. There’s an interesting passage in Acts 21:20-25. Maybe I should quote it (starting from verse 18): “The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.'”
Maybe it’s just me, but what I see in this passage is another mention of not placing onerous restrictions on Gentiles to become Jews (the last verse is the minimal set of requirements for Gentiles they came up with from Acts 15), and also a recognition that Jews do not need to abandon their culture to become Christians either. It goes both ways. There’s a concern for the culture, not a demand that people go beyond it to become Christians.
There are other places also where Paul’s message is basically, don’t make people become Jews to be Christians. To me, that’s what he’s saying. The gospel is supra-cultural, so you shouldn’t have to abandon your culture to receive the gospel.
Again, I’m drawing a distinction between what’s expected of Christians and what’s expected of non-Christians. And to me, the message of Scripture is clear – we should not place excessive demands on non-Christians, cultural demands in particular, to receive the gospel. The gospel is confrontational enough. So should we demand much from Christians? Yes. But should we require much of non-Christians to hear the gospel? Absolutely not, in my opinion.
And that’s what you do when you say there’s no place for a specific Asian-American church. You limit things so there’s only one true way, and you place excessive demands on the non-Christian to hear the gospel beyond the inherent challenge of the gospel. And neither of those ideas are Biblical.
The idea of the Asian-American church recognizes that there is a place in the Kingdom for targeting particular groups to reach them better. And it recognizes it is not right to place additional demands on the gospel, in particular requiring some to adopt another culture (beyond just giving up their own). And most importantly, I think I’m on fairly solid ground Biblically with these ideas.
So yeah, I’m pretty convinced about the Asian American church. Hope that clarified things. I could write more but I think you get the gist of what I’m talking about.