Monday, July 16, 2007

All things to all people versus Unity in Christ

One of the big questions facing the Church over the next decade or so is probably this:

In a multicultural and heavily fragmented society, how do we hold together the importance of being "all things to all people" in evangelism and visibly expressing the unity that all Christians have in Christ, while recognising that everyone has gifts needed for the building up of the Church?

Some people go so far in either direction that they lose the other point of view entirely. For example, the FreshExpressions movement seeks to tailor church very specifically to subgroups of society who often aren't reached by "normal" church. But in doing so, they alienate all the other subgroups of society.

But the converse doesn't work either - with some subgroups actively defining themselves by rejection of the norm, there often isn't a common central ground where everyone can feel at home.

I don't know the answer, but here are a few pointers.

  • In some places, the early Church faced similar problems, particularly with Jews and Gentiles. In those situations the apostles' big message was that Christ had abolished the distinction in himself, so that Christians from different backgrounds should meet together, eat together and accept one another. We see them getting attacked by the Jews for this policy.
  • Solutions now need to be local rather than global. The situation in different places is different - some groups don't exist in some areas, in some areas the differences are more pronounced than others, etc.
  • Many people are members of more than one subgroup in society.
  • Being clearer about the difference between evangelism and discipleship is important. There is no reason we should expect non-Christians to mix with people from very different backgrounds, but Christians should.
  • Church services targeted at specific groups is inadequate if it is the only thing that is going on. Alternating between group-specific and united services might not be, but it would create timetabling headaches, and people would tend to go to the service at the same time every week.
  • If evangelism (in the sense of introducing non-Christians to Jesus) should involve "being all things to all people", and church services should involve unity across different groups, then evangelism should not be the main focus of all church services, though some church services may be targeted at specific groups and hence be evangelistic
  • The best people to target things at a specific group are people in that group. The second best are people who spend time with that group and become identified with it, but it needs to be real identification.
  • The unity expressed between Christians from different backgrounds is itself a witness, but should not be the only form of witness.

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