A Very Different Church

A Very Different Church

The 50 days of Easter draw to a close this Sunday on Pentecost. If we look back on the narrative of the Easter season, we start with the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, marvel at his multiple post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, and stand in awe as he ascends into heaven and takes his place at the right hand of the God the Father. But the story of the Easter season does not end there.

The Easter story—a story about the death of death and the in-breaking of the new life of the Kingdom of God—continues with Jesus off-stage and the assembled disciples waiting in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Easter concludes with the absence of the bodily presence of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit in a new, dynamic way. The Spirit fills and empowers the gathered disciples, forming a new “Body of Christ” and launching the ongoing mission of Jesus through the Church. 

Almost, immediately the Church expands as worshippers visiting Jerusalem from around the world hear Peter declare the good news about Jesus. We are told in Acts 2 that 3000 people were added to the new Church. I always take great encouragement in the lengthy list of languages spoken by the Spirit filled people that morning. No one needed to learn Hebrew or Greek in order to hear and receive the message. The Gospel was meant to be taken home with them and communicated to people in every nation and language.

In Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents he remarks, “The church God wants is one brimming with difference.” As the disciples continue the mission of Jesus in the world, the Church immediately becomes an international, multi-lingual community of wildly different people. He also observes that it cut across all previously established socio-economic, religious, gender, and social barriers. One of the most shocking features of the early Christian church was its stark contrast to firm social hierarchy of the Roman Empire. It was normal for a house church in a Roman city to include a local merchant who hosted a church in his home, some household slaves, widows from the neighborhood, tradespeople, a noble woman or two, and few foreigners looking for a place to belong. 

All of these people learned navigate radical differences to hold each other dear as sisters and brothers in Christ. In fact, they were so different from each other that it was suspicious to anyone observing from the outside. What interest could they possibly have in each other? The one thing, and sometimes only thing, they had in common was the bond of the Holy Spirit and and a commitment to the work of the Kingdom of God made visible in Jesus.

Sadly, American churches are largely homogenous, with most churches attracting people of similar racial, economic, and social backgrounds. Scot McKnight again cites that 90 percent of American churches draw about 90 percent of their congregation from one ethnic group. This speaks to the well-known power of targeted marketing and the attraction of affinity groups. When you enter a room of people who are similar to you, you likely feel like you already belong. There’s nothing particularly miraculous about that.

The call of Pentecost is to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to form an impossible body of believers in order to demonstrate Jesus to the world. This Pentecost seek out and celebrate difference in the body of Christ. And as a local church community we need to embrace our calling to continue the mission of the Kingdom by rolling out the welcome mat to include those whom we would not know except for the work of the Holy Spirit uniting us in the name of Jesus.