Who Should We See Here?

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Rev. 5:9-10

In the last days: the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.  Is. 2:2

Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.  Rev. 15:4

Is the truth of the Gospel, the application of grace to rebels, the extension of kindness which leads to repentance, limited only to over educated, affluent members of the majority culture?  Is it a message that only applies to those with extensive vocabulary to articulate the nuanced, often paradoxical theological realities of this message of the person and work of Jesus?  How does the humility of the Gospel, dying to self, becoming less that He may become more, apply to those who are made less in profound and shaping ways by the society in which they live?  How does the practice of grace and compassion work for a culture which is shown very little should an individual mess up in even slight ways?

According to God’s self-revelation, all that He has chosen to tell us about Himself (which is not equal to all that He knows about Himself), His creation includes all peoples and His redemptive work includes all people groups.  This means He has articulated His grace and good news not to obscure it from the poor or the less academically exposed.  He has not limited His message to one particular culture.  He has not limited His family to one “type” of person with particular vocabulary, worship styles, images and illustrations.  God’s heart is for the whole of His people and He even plans for them to all abide together.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech…Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.  So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.  That is why it was called Babel —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.  Gen. 11:1, 7-8

God’s people were of one language and culture and then, like their ancestors Adam and Eve, they were convinced they could be their own gods, decide for themselves what was right and wrong and live in self-reliance as if God did not even exist.  God’s knowledge of man’s limitations did not occur to humanity and so headlong they rushed into a toddler-esque “we can do it all by ourselves!”  The division God brought was in response to their rebellion, a consequence to lead them to repentance and dependence upon Him.  When our cultures collide, our diminished understanding of God is exposed.  His Good News uses this to expand our faith and affection for Him.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations,  and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today,  then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.  Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.  He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.  Deut. 30:1-6

Even here, God references the circumcision of the heart which is not merely a physical and outward ritual as instituted among the male population, but something only possible by the Holy Spirit.  Man cannot circumcise his (or her) own heart…to even attempt such a self-reliant act would be automatic death.  This was His message all along.  To make yourselves like me, in my image, without my doing it is automatic death.  You will surely die.

And evidence of this circumcision of the heart, of the law being written on the hearts of His people, of His restoration, is that they come back together as One people, from all the nations, cultures, languages and customs to which they were dispersed.

What does it say, then, that our churches in 2014 show evidence only of the scattering?  If the Spirit is a reconciling Person, if the Kingdom of God is not exclusive based on culture, vocabulary or any other qualifier than the person and work of Jesus, what does it mean that our places of gathering are unable to pull us together?  Who should we see on Sunday morning, gathered to hear the preaching of the Word and to  be strengthened by worship?  All those to whom the person and work of Jesus apply should be together on earth as it is in heaven.  If we have become content to preach with words only accessible to one people group, to worship in a way that includes one people group, to use examples and illustrations that only relate to one people group, are we not missing out on the foretaste of better things to come?  And worse, are we not in danger of believing as those who colonized Africa, killed off the Native Americans and others throughout history, that our Gospel is culture specific?  And is our faith totally lost when we find ourselves the one in the cultural minority?  May it not be so.  If God does not favor one over the other, may we enjoy such harmony now as we hope to fully know then.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Rev. 7:9-10