The Church Is One
- Appreciate the diversity and unity of the worldwide church.
- See ourselves as members of one body—Christ's church.
As we imagine the members of the early church described in Acts, most of us will envision them as being like us. I happen to be a white Dutch-American, and, to tell you the truth, most of my life I have imagined Peter and Paul, Barnabas and Simeon, and all the rest to look just like me.
Reading Acts, however, we soon learn that the early church was a very cosmopolitan and diverse community. On Pentecost we hear of people in the city of Jerusalem from all over the world, including such far-off places as Libya and Egypt. What do people from these countries look like?
But it was in Antioch that the church truly emerged as a diverse community. It was here that Christians first began to reach out to non-Jewish people, an effort that God blessed with many converts. Acts 13 mentions five people who were pastors and leaders in the church of Antioch. They included Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus, whom we met before; Simeon, from North Africa and probably dark-skinned; Manean, a Jew from an aristocratic background; Lucius, probably a Greek convert; and Saul from Tarsus. What a conglomeration of leaders, much more diverse in background than the original twelve disciples.
It doesn't seem to have been an accident that this very diverse community of believers also became the first truly missionary church. After much prayer and discernment, this church sponsored and sent out Paul and Barnabas, beginning the meteoric expansion of the church to the great cities of the Roman Empire and beyond.
These early Christians caught the vision of discipling the nations (Matthew 28:29), as Jesus had said, and they pictured the church as an all-nations church, encompassing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
The Q&A for today focuses on the unity of the church. It is one church, made up of many kinds of people, united in their one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When we recite the Apostles' Creed we say that we believe in "the holy catholic church." The church is united in its one Lord and cannot and should not be divided. The church is holy---holy from its inception through the cross of Christ. And the church is catholic or universal, meaning that it is a worldwide fellowship.
How you discuss this lesson will partly depend on what your church looks like. Is it diverse in its membership, or does it tend to be homogenous in its makeup? In many cases this depends on the community in which you live, but sometimes it may also be the result of a failure to seek the kingdom diversity the Bible lays out for the church.
No matter what your church looks like, we are all called to seek diversity of race and culture, of background and language. It's inconceivable for the church to live in intentional segregation from others. That would be a denial of its very nature.
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