The well known fact that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week in the American church is shamefully revealing of more fundamental problems in the church’s core foundation. This “segregation” can occur not only in terms of race, i.e. White, Black, Latino, etc., but also in terms of economic status, education, musical preference, age, political persuasion, “homeschool status,” clothing styles, etc. Many congregations seem to be in line with the well known proverb, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
The tribal markers of race, class, education, marital status, occupation, and wealth (to name a few) are some of the distinctions that defined our lives before we entered into the new community of the Spirit. These human demographics are the ways in which the natural man finds his earthly “flock,” his identity. It’s the way we “fit in” to a complex world. Life is more comfortable in the Tribe.
Conversion fundamentally changes our tribal status and identity. We instantly become members of a new community of those who have put their faith in Jesus and have received the Holy Spirit. Our identity is no longer defined by race or class, but as a child of God. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28; see also Colossians 3:11, John 1:12-13) The mortar that now holds the new community in place is Christ Jesus. This new community is a “chosen race,” a “holy nation.” (1 Peter 2:9) Christ is the common denominator and thread which holds the tapestry together. He forms the basis for the new community.
I have had the privilege of traveling to many countries around the world where I have literally nothing in common with anyone except Christ. When I have met believers in foreign nations we instantly share a common fellowship and bond that I could never have with a non-believer that shares all of my “demographics” or even my own blood family that is not in union with Christ. The family of God exists in every nation of the world. You can always find this beautiful family wherever you travel! This is your true eternal family – those men and women who are marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit.
So when we look at the church in the United States, why do many congregations tend to reflect the proverb, “Birds of a feather flock together” rather than reflect the truth that the common denominator is Christ? First, there are obvious historical forces of sinful, racist segregation that kept black Christians segregated. These patterns endured for some 300 years in the United States and have regrettably continued to endure long after the abolition of slavery. To share one personal testimony, my mother went to a local Baptist Church (currently the largest Protestant denomination in the USA) in the 1960’s right outside of Richmond, Virginia. She was actually sent by the local church as a foreign missionary during the morning service. The same evening as her “sending off” service, members of her church met nearby as Klansmen. Patterns are difficult to overcome unless there is intentional change on the part of church planters, leaders, and the body of Christ as a whole.
Second, it is worth asking the question as to whether Jesus is truly the mortar that holds the church edifice in place if everyone in the local church shares basically the same tribal markers. In other words, do people gather because of the shared communion with the Holy Spirit or because everyone shares similar demographics: race, status, education, income, occupation, etc.? This is a serious question that believers should ask. It does not necessarily mean that a homogeneous church is devoid of the Spirit -but it’s a question to be asked particularly if there are different races, occupations, income levels, etc. near the given church. One telling question about whether Jesus forms the mortar is to ask yourself what is the topic of your conversations when you gather. Is is the weather? Football? Politics? Harry Potter? Job? American social decline? The good ol’ days? Hobbies? These are all great topics, but the gathered should want to talk about that man from Galilee who set them free! This is true fellowship – that conversation that you can only have if both parties have the Holy Spirit.
What a witness it would be to the world (as well as rulers and authorities, Ephesians 3:10) if the local church radiated her new identity in Christ in the composition of the congregation. White, Black, Latino, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, attorneys, dishwashers, married with kids, single, beanies and tattoos, suits and ties, old and young – all in fellowship because of only one thing: JESUS. What a rich fellowship this would be!
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all…Colossians 3:11