Growing a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church is no simple task. But it is one that is crucial to the advancing of God’s kingdom. It is just as critical as a witness to the world and to larger church. In other words, this is about more than us!
A few years ago, my wife and I purchased a home and completed a major rehab and renovation. The kitchen looks great now with granite countertops, new cabinets and new flooring. It’s a place in which you wouldn’t mind hanging out.
But it wasn’t always this way. At one point, the floor was ripped out, the plumbing was exposed and the cabinets were missing. While it was not a desirable location, it was a necessary process for getting to the desired end.
The same thing is true if you want to become a church that embraces the God-ordained reality of diversity in your worship experience. Some uncomfortable and inconvenient deconstruction and reconstruction will be required for the transformation to take place. That is the lesson I learn from Acts 10.
What does true diversity in our worship look like?
We see it displayed in 10:44-48. There were Jews and Gentiles, church people and working class people, men and women, young and old, worshipping together. God is obviously in their presence and the people are showing the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. They are praising God; people are giving their lives to Christ and being baptized. They are gladly building relationships and spending time together.
But this is the finished product. How did they get there? What deconstruction and reconstruction had to take to place in order for this transformational worship service to be a reality? To learn this, you have to go back to the start of the chapter.
Prayer Must Be a Priority.
In verses 1-4 and 9-11 we see that both Cornelius and Peter were in prayer when God began to speak to them. We learn from this that We don’t pray to change God’s heart, but to change our own. When we pray, we put ourselves in a posture of humility where we are asking God to bring our heart into alignment with his. It is the posture that Jesus took in Gethsemane when we prayed, “not my will, but thine be done.” If we are going to break down the walls that divide us, it must begin with a personal brokenness before and passionate desire to know and experience God.
Know that Unity is God’s Will
All throughout this passage you see that God is working in the hearts and lives and these two men to bring them into relationship with one another:
- God speaks to Cornelius (vv. 3-4)
- God tells Cornelius to send for Peter (v. 5).
- God God introduces to Peter the idea that Gentiles are not unclean (vv. 9-14).
- God tells Peter to go with Cornelius’ men (v. 19).
- Cornelius’ men acknowledge that they have been “divinely directed” to reach out to Peter(v. 22).
This work of reconciliation, of tearing down walls of division, is clearly the heart & handiwork of God. In Revelation 5, 7 and 14, John sees worshipping at the Lord’s throne a congregation purchased by the blood of Christ comprised of people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays for the unity of the church. The unity of the church is not a sociological construct, but a divine design that expresses that heart and mind of God.
You must Yield in Obedience to the Will of God
In verses 7-8 Cornelius responds in obedience to God’s directive to send men to Peter. Similarly, in verses 20-21 God tells Peter to get and go, so Peter got up and went.
How is God at work in your life? Perhaps he is bringing people into your life that are different than you are, that challenge your worldview or upbringing or spiritual understanding. Perhaps he is telling you to reach out and build relationship someone of a different culture Perhaps he is putting on your heart to pray for a particular person. There are two big questions that this reality produces:
- Are you being sensitive to his moving in your life and heart?
- Are you being obedient to do what He is telling you to do?
Confess sinful attitudes and behaviors
In verses 28 and 34 we learn that Peter had to confess that he thought that God favored the Jews over the Gentiles. To put it more bluntly, Peter had to admit his prejudice and negative attitudes towards people of a different race and background than himself. When you look at his response to God’s initial challenge in verses 13-15, you can see that He thought that he was completely justified in his views. It took some effort on God’s behalf to show him that he was wrong. (v. 16 – “this happened 3 times…”).
One of the most significant barriers to multicultural worship and to unity in the body is our deeply ingrained cultural attitudes and values. It is very easy for us to begin to define and confine God according to our cultural norms rather than seeking to be redefined by Scripture. Very often our religious practices become our cultural norms, which over time become crystalized into our definition of rightness and righteousness.
Jesus condemns this way of thinking in Mark 7:6-8
And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 7‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ ” Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
In Psalm 139:23, 24 the prayer is Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. We all need to go before the Lord and allow that powerful Light of his word to reveal the sinful attitudes and actions we have towards other people & cultures.
Keep God’s Word as our Focus
In v. 33, Cornelius says to Peter, “Now we all are here, waiting to hear the message the Lord has given you.” In verse 34-43, Peter clearly communicates God’s word to those gathered. Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform ANYONE and EVERYONE. The issue of racial disunity in our country and yes, in our churches, is not a sociological problem; it is a spiritual one. For this reason, it can only be overcome by spiritual means. This begins with us choosing to know, obey and stay true to the Word of God.
What makes worship right is not whether or not we:
- Say “Amen” or hold our tongues,
- Show emotion or are reserved,
- Engage in face-in-the-carpet worship or prefer quiet contemplation,
- Use an organ and sing hymns or use a piano or guitar and sing gospel or praise choruses.
True worship that pleases the Lord is the body of Christ with humbled hearts gathering together with an earnest desire to know, experience, magnify and praise our Holy God. If we are going to experience true worship that pleases the heart of God and that advances the work of His Kingdom, it is going to take some intentional, concentrated effort. It also requires that display grace and respect towards those that express their worship in a manner that is different than that with which we are accustomed or comfortable. It is in that diversity and grace that we demonstrate to the world the transformative power of God to break down walls and build bridges.
Brothers and Sisters, It’s time to put on our hard hats and get to work.