Monocultural Worship Styles Distort The Gospel

“While we may not always be aware of it, it would be difficult to worship totally in a monocultural environment. Liturgical plurality is already prevalent, even inherent, in current worship practice. Furthermore those who attempt to create an environment in which worship is experienced only in the most recent normative monocultrual terms, devoid of the influences of history or cross-cultural perspectives, are engaged in a futile effort. To the extent that they succeed, they distort the heart of the gospel they purport to share to contemporary seekers and believers.” – p.13 Gather Into One C. Michael Hawn

What is the “heart of the gospel” that Hawn refers to? The gospel is “Jesus died on the cross to wash away my sins and to give me eternal life”. Right? I believe that his view of the gospel is much more broad: it’s the power of the cross to bring about the restoration of all things and reconciliation of all people to their Creator. So, a monocultural worship service presents a gospel that is handicapped by it’s ethnic exclusivity. It presents the worship of a tribal god who is only concerned with the prosperity and protection of his tribe.  In the city, there’s a plurality of cultures and is the ideal place to bring cultures together in the church to make “liturgical plurality” a living organism instead of an artifact of cultural adaptation. But, for the most part we don’t see it happening.

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  1. #1 by Tyler Smalley on April 27, 2010 - 2:15 pm

    Within Christian circles I have recently become aware a growing prejudice towards perceived prejudice. One congregation feels superior because it is more diverse and they look down on other congregations because they are more uniform or less diverse. These perceptions are distorted and include heavy bias.
    Let me begin by stating what agrees with my view. Christians should intentionally value, respect, and love people regardless of their ethnic group or skin color. To degrade anyone for something they did not choose or cannot control is a sin. This may include brainpower, facial features, athletic ability, income, language, or stylistic preferences of clothing or music. I also cannot dispute the truthfulness of the mantra, “Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in America,” but I see no inherent problem with this fact. Sure, if one church says, “We are white and we’re gonna stay that way. No blacks are welcome here. Period!” then I would be at odds with their stance. But that is not the common case.
    Many congregations are made of similar members and they are better off because of it. What a surprise, English speaking people tend to gather with fellow English speakers, Americans gather with Americans, and Sunday school classes are formed with members of the same sex and/or age. What about that is wrong? This so-called division helps facilitate effective horizontal communication.
    The non denominational craze is another recent phenomenon made of those who refuse to march under banners such as Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian etc. The people who think denominations divide suffer from a similar misconception as the multicultural elitists. Actually, an honest look at history shows such schisms have actually been born out of a desire to bring together. We are truly unified by deep, spiritual, invisible qualities, and we are not separated by superficial, physical, easily noticeable qualities even if we appear to be.
    Unity does not require uniformity. What unites me with my brothers and sisters in Christ is not that we gather to praise under the same roof and sing the same songs, but we are what we are because God is our Father. I can see myself as “being one” (John 17:21) in a sense with strangers on the other side of my planet or with denominationally different believers in my own neighborhood because we share a common faith, Spirit and Father regardless of what secondary discrepancies may appear to divide us. This pseudo unity which revolves around skin color etc. is not about as backwards as affirmative action. Both are absurd if they give superficial characteristics undue importance; either such things matter or they do not.
    All congregations gather together with their “own kind” – monoculture and multicultural alike – and no body of believers are “one” in any absolute sense. As with many arguments and misunderstandings, this one is based upon definition: what is multicultural? Is one congregation multicultural if any less than all their members are of one skin tone? If 51% of one group comes from the same culture are they predominately monocultural if the sum of the others only amount to a minority?
    Too many of us are failing to see how many possible differences exist among our brother and sisters but we’re too quick to pat ourselves on the back because we can notice some dissimilarities. Even the diverse churches, are made of members who are similar in only few but crucial ways but different in less areas than they will often admit. One “superior” church may be 50% Caucasian, 20% African American, 15% Hispanic and 15% Asian while an inferior sister church down the road has a role with 98% African Americans and 2% other. Is the first church really multicultural? Culture surely consists of a particular language. Do they all speak English? Do the majority speak English? What ratio is deaf and all the other spoken dialects that could possibly be represented? Were the majority of them born and raised in that particular region of the US? Is the age and income evenly distributed or is it skewed? Is the music mixed enough to truly be considered representative? Try to list every style of music ever (and dance for extra credit) and ask yourself if they are being added to the mix in your diverse worship services.
    If the answers to those questions are “no,” and I would expect them to be for your church and mine, then that is not nearly as multicultural as what Jesus has in mind. If Christ’s body, the church, consists people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, then this should set the criteria for us. We have not come together as one until this happened. This uniting is not happening in the churches that see themselves as multicultural standards. The church – all believers – will not come together until we sit at the Lord’s table in heaven. Not all tribes and nations are still present on the face of this earth and not all languages are still spoken. We cannot make earth heaven.
    With understanding God’s absolute standard, we cannot compare ourselves to our neighbor and be proud and confident that we are more right or less wrong if we are not completely on the mark. Most mature Christians realize the futility of excusing their immoral behavior by saying things like, “What I did may have been wrong but at least I didn’t….” or “I’m not as bad as….” Either we are perfectly holy or we have fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23; James 2:10). By the same measure, we cannot be allowed to claim we are less monocultural or more multicultural if we miss God’s criteria. Let’s admit it, like none of us is as righteous as God commands, no church is as cultural as God desires.

    Some additional points that have no real place in this:

    Worship is a lifestyle. Too many people confuse praise with worship.
    We only have one race: the human race. http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/Only-One-Race,4776,229.aspx

    • #2 by kirkwardmusic on May 4, 2010 - 5:01 pm

      Tyler,
      You’ve put a lot of thought into your comment, so I want to try to give you a thoughtful response. There seems to be a couple bullet points in your comment and I want to address each individually. I tried to summarize what I thought you we’re saying, so let me know if I misrepresented your thoughts.

      * Some churches have a superior attitude because of their commitment to diversity.

      Yes, this is completely true. Judgmental attitudes and self-righteousness have no place in the kingdom. It is sin.

      * The practical reality is that churches function better when they have one target demographic group on which to build their congregations.

      Yes, this is true. It is much, much easier and more effective to build large churches around one cultural group. However, is it the way of Jesus? Jesus called his disciples to love their enemy and take up their cross. The work of the church is often hard and impractical. The work of being cross-cultural and pursuing reconciliation is much harder and less attractive (to our sinful flesh) than maintaining existing separation and comfortable worship. The wisdom of Christ looks pretty foolish to the wisdom of the world.

      * The unity of the church is primarily a mystical reality – we are united to believers all over the world and throughout time by a primarily spiritual bond.

      Yes, this is true. We are united by a spiritual brotherhood that is even more powerful than time and space. And, it’s precisely because of this bond that different kinds of people can worship together without fear. If we don’t express this spiritual truth in the reality of our everyday lives, then it’s all just talk. If I claim that I love my wife, but I never speak to her, serve her, or live in the same house with her, my words are meaningless. We can claim to be united, but if we are not actually becoming a community that loves and serves and worships together, then we are not really demonstrating that we live in the power of the resurrection.

      * The multicultural church is a myth because no church can contain all cultures or give them each equal leadership and expression.

      I think that you are creating a “straw man” argument here. Of course, no church can contain every cultural expression ever conceived. But, any church that reaches across just one line of separation is living out the peace of Christ. In America, we have to acknowledge that one of the strongest lines of separation is race, so let’s believe in Jesus’ power to break down those walls. Another big wall is economic and educational class separation. Can the power of the resurrection of Jesus break down that wall? By God’s grace, we can believe that it’s possible.

      * The church will not come together until the end of time and so it is vain to attempt it until that time.

      I think this might indicate a disagreement of “end times” that we might have. I believe that Jesus came to inaugurate his kingdom in the first century through his resurrection and the gift of his Spirit. He is now king of all things and his kingdom stands against the curse of sin to break its power. The gospel of Jesus is bigger and better than just the promise of an afterlife. It’s a present reality that can be grasped. It’s a slow process that works in small ways (like a mustard seed) but the gates of hell can not prevail against it. The Gospel of Jesus is powerful enough that it can break down walls of separation between cultures so that we can worship together in peace. We won’t experience “every tribe, tongue and nation” until the complete victory of the kingdom, but we do experience the glory of each individual victory in the war even before the enemy has been completely defeated.

      * God’s standard is “every tribe, tongue, and nation” and any claim to be multicultural is actually an offense to God’s standard of holiness.

      Again, no one is claiming to incorporate every cultural expression. Walking in the light of faith is about taking small steps to trust God’s word. Every small step is a little more light breaking the darkness. One day, the light of God’s holiness will shine brighter than the sun, but for now, the kingdom of God is small acts of kindness and love that reflect in a dim, broken fashion the image of the Father. God’s holiness is so awesome that we can never attain it without the power of the cross and the resurrection. As a multicultural worshiping church, we put our faith in Jesus to be our peace breaking down the wall of separation between “Jew and Gentile”. By the gospel, his holiness works in us to accomplish his will: the ministry of reconciliation. It’s a beautiful banquet of grace that I think many churches are missing out on. None of this is coming from a Pharisaical position of self-righteousness; it’s just good news for a broken world.

      Tyler, I think that we might have a lot of differences in our theology, but I am thankful that we both acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Your passion for Jesus and your concern for the purity and sanctity of the church is clearly expressed in your comments. Thanks for your thoughts and our debate.

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