This article first appeared in GO WEST!
At times, we consider the idea of intercultural church to be just one model out of many for church planting. But is it possible that every congregation should in fact be striving towards this way of life? The following thoughts from Bob Rasmussen, OC International, can be found in his guidebook Leading Your Church through Intercultural Transformation.
A multitude of Scripture passages make it clear that the intercultural church is God’s idea. When God lays these truths on a believer’s heart, they become an exciting calling. And because the ministry has many challenges, these truths provide vital motivation to persevere. There are various ways in which the Biblical mandate is presented. Here are some foundational truths:
- At the tower of Babel, mankind’s societal success would have caused their prideful self-destruction. For their own good, God confused their language, which led to different cultures (Genesis 11). God’s strategy has worked beautifully. Cultural diversity is here to stay.
- While God chose one nation, Israel, as His special people, He has always sought an inheritance from among all the nations. The calling of God’s people Israel was to be a blessing and light to the nations (Gen 12:1-4).
- During Jesus’ earthly ministry, two alarming developments emerged. First, the majority of the nation Israel failed to acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 11:7-31). At the same time, Jesus reminded the world that God sought faith from every nation. His house was to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mk 11:17).
- Jesus intentionally crossed ethnic and gender barriers when He talked with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4:1-26). He emphasized that His family consists of anyone who believes in Him (Mk. 3:31-35; 1 Pet. 2:9-10)
- On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers who would follow (Jn 17:21). This is to serve as evidence that the Father sent the Son.
- Before Jesus ascended, He stressed the abiding priority of bringing the good news to all the peoples and nations in the Spirit’s power (Matt. 28:18-20), starting with our own “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8).
- The inauguration of the church on the Day of Pentecost demonstrated its multi-ethnic nature (Acts 2:1-13). Cultures were honored by being addressed in their own languages, which became avenues for carrying the gospel to every people. The first recorded church conflict had cultural ramifications, and the solution was a multi-cultural team of helpers (Acts 6:1-7). The council of Jerusalem wrestled with the implications of ministry in a multi-cultural world (Acts 15).
- The Apostle Peter is clearly transformed from a mono-cultural to intercultural leader through his vision and subsequent interaction with Cornelius. As leader of the Jerusalem church, Peter validates the inclusion of all peoples in the church (Acts 10-11).
- The Antioch church is immediately highlighted as a multi-ethnic church with a heart for the nations (Acts 11, 13).
- Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” is called by God to develop the doctrine and practice of intercultural ministry. Among the most notable truths given in his writings are: (a) the revelation of the “mystery” that the Gentiles are equally a part of the church, Eph 3:1-9 (b) the breaking down of the Law as a separating wall, and creating of “one body through the cross, Eph 2:11-22, (c) the interdependence between parts of the body of Christ as mutually important contributors, 1 Cor 12:4-27, (d) the priority of incarnational ministry so as to win all peoples to Christ, 1 Cor 9:19-23, and (e) the practical imperative of loving others in order to preserve the unity of the body, Eph 4:1-6.
- Even as the chosen nation Israel was to have been a light to the nations, the spiritual riches of the church, consisting of all peoples, will provoke Israel to jealousy, resulting in a great day of mercy and salvation for Israel (Rom. 11:11-36).
- The culmination of God’s plan for the nations is envisioned by the Apostle John, where “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” cry out “with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God…’” (Rev. 7:9-12). Worship in the colors and flavors of the nations is clearly something God enjoys, not only in heaven but now on earth!
When one is gripped by God’s priority on reaching all the nations, it is impossible to retreat to ministry-as-usual. And when we see God deliberately drawing believers from every nation into His one and only body, the Church, it becomes difficult to justify local churches which remain unmoved as diverse peoples gather in nearby neighborhoods.
To retreat to the comforts of mono-cultural churches is out of sync with Jesus’ prayer for our unity. And to surrender to the segregated norms of society runs counter to the barrier-bashing work of the cross.
You can read the full guidebook here. To learn more, you might also consider this November’s Church Planting Canada Congress in Oakville, Ontario, which will feature a stream of workshops on intentionally intercultural churches facilitated by Robert Cousins and Chris Pullenayegem of Tyndale Intercultural Ministry Centre. Check out thecongress.ca to learn about the event or contact Tom Lavigne for more information about attending the Congress with the CBWC Church Planting group.