A Good Church: From 1992-2004 Lana and I served as pastor and wife of the International Baptist Church in Singapore. These writings are a collection of personal memories and reflections of those years and about the general topic of serving in an international church overseas.
Reclaiming the Future
Michael Niemann was an opera singer in New York City when he was diagnosed with papillomatosis, a rare disease that took his voice away. Losing his voice was devastating on many different levels. His voice was not only beautiful and well trained, it was also his identity. It informed others and himself as to who he was. “I am a singer,” he said, but one that was having trouble singing. Singers that contract this disease normally go through numerous high-tech laser treatments - sometimes as many as 100 - with mixed results. As he consulted doctors, Niemann was beginning to lose hope that he would ever be able to sing opera again. Perhaps they could repair his voice so he could speak, but opera seemed a level that was beyond their ability to achieve.
An intrepid doctor had an idea. Why not try an experimental treatment normally used for cancer? The symptoms in both situations were similar and the cancer drug could possibly do the job, so why not? The high tech laser surgery removed the nodules on his vocal chords and the application of the medicine brought lasting results. Not only did his speaking voice return, but his opera singing voice also returned. Niemann could sing again.
Many churches have lost their song as well. Due to conflict joy has evaporated from their worships. Christians are those who are born again in Christ to experience joy, and when joy disappears so has the identity of the Christian community. The cure for the Christian and the church to rediscover joy is just as radical as cancer treatment: repentance from past sin and accepting again the cleansing that God offers through Christ. The forgiven and cleansed enjoy life and church again. One of the more lamentable facts about church life is the unchristian behavior by so many members and attendees. I confess that as a minister this is one of the most difficult issues for me to face. Many Christians are incredibly immature people. They judge others, lash out angrily, import divisiveness, harm others with their tongues, and work to protect their own interests, not the interests of Christ. But joy can be rediscovered where there is repentance and a return to Christ.
Ambassadors of the God of Mercy
A type of Christian thinking exists among believers that misunderstand the issue of following the will of God. For some the concept, “the will of God,” is like a train track that moves through their lives, from one event to another and if they make the right decision then this leads on to other opportunities for Christ, but if they ever make the wrong decision then all is lost and they can never recover. This type of thinking has only a little to recommend it, that God does reward faithfulness, but beyond that it misperceives the spiritual realities of life. According to the Bible the entire human race got off the “train track of God’s will” in the Garden of Eden and we have never been back on since. When we speak of “the will of God” we speak of the redemptive will of God who restores and redeems, who calls us from failures into His glorious love and to be lifted to new heights by His grace. And because of this mercy and grace are essential values desperately needed in the church.
An oft-told story from Napoleon recounts a young soldier who was charged with a crime that brought the death penalty. His mother pleaded for mercy, to which Napoleon replied, “But he does not deserve mercy.”
But the mother replied, “Sir, if it were deserved it would not be mercy.”
Napoleon’s response was, “Then I will have mercy.”
Through Christ we have received the mercy of God and He does not count our sins against us. It is not what we deserve but this is what grace offers. Then it is required that we also offer mercy toward one another. Paul stressed this point when he wrote,
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view … God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors.
2 Cor. 5:16,19-20a
We are to proclaim and represent the Sovereign Lord to the world and He is a God of mercy. The song of the church is rediscovered when mercy is emphasized. The work of implanting joy in the hearts of any fellowship is essentially a work of God - one that only He can truly do.
The inspired psalmist wrote, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “You are … God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9). Every local church is a work of God, not of man, and can only be properly built up by God’s power. A local church, whether it is a multicultural church or not, is a fellowship of individuals who have been touched in grace by the hand of almighty God. The future can only be reclaimed when we are able to understand this fact. Christ leads His people and is the Head of every local church. The future cannot be reclaimed on any other basis other than this spiritual reality of the church. As Christ works in and through His people, He draws them together in fellowship with one another, places the mark of His character upon their lives, and leads them out into the world to bear witness to His love.
The challenges of an international church also include all of the challenges that any church experiences: selfishness, doctrinal confusion and division, compromised lifestyles, gossip, distractions, to name only a few. A partial list of some of the unique challenges addressed in this volume that confront the multicultural church includes,
- The challenge of temporary relationships that “cut to the bone” in church life, including the individuals in leadership, the shared vision of the church, and the basic character of the church fellowship
- The stressful life of the expatriate that increases personal needs, marital needs, and family needs
- The different customs of doing church that often create misunderstandings and tension on agreeing on how things will be done
- The different cultural values that re-interpret and impact leadership and communication styles
- The challenges of dealing with different views of repentance, worship styles, spiritual warfare, and the use of resources
- The challenges of dealing with conflicts - the definitions of conflicts and the common remedies that can be sought to prevent and to resolve
- The challenges of accountability, communication, and building community
But despite the challenges, multicultural churches still exist and continue to grow and multiply. How is it possible? It is possible because God moves in people’s lives to bring unity and harmony. As he has been doing since the first church in Jerusalem, people from difficult cultural backgrounds find unity in Christ. The complexities and challenges of leading a multinational church are many, but the Lord is stronger and greater than any set of obstacles - even those created by people of different nationalities seeking to worship and serve the Lord together. The short answer on how the future can be reclaimed is simple: the future of any church can be reclaimed if the Lordship of Christ is emphasized and He is allowed to rule and reign in the church. Christ is never in conflict with Himself.
The Narrative of God’s Encounter with Us
God is not an impersonal force. He is a Person who dwells amid and interacts with His people. The local church is comprised of those who are having an encounter with the living God. He leads His people and His people are those who follow Him. The local church is in a relationship with God, who carries on a narrative with each individual believer and with the church as a whole. The narrative is a story, a tale, and reveals a journey. We are not left to our own devises to work out these matters, but God works in and through us to accomplish His will. J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom emphasize this point from the perspective of the individual believer based on the Psalm 23.
Personal guidance … is an aspect of God’s covenant care, now exercised through the faithful shepherding ministry of the covenant mediator, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He, the self-identified Good Shepherd, leads each believer in paths of righteousness, and if we stray off track, he rescues and restores us. Though the restoring process may be traumatic and tearful, depending on how much thoughtlessness, willfulness, presumption, and rebellion went into the folly that now makes correction necessary, the restoration is always complete.
These truths are not limited to individual believers and also apply to churches. God guides, guards, and restores churches as well as Christians.
One of the challenges among Evangelicals today is that we have unwittingly reduced the gospel to formulaic tidbits - “mini-gospel-ettes” - that though well-intentioned lack the power and force of biblical evangelism. Whether it is the Four Spiritual Laws or some other presentation, in an effort to make the gospel clear and to help people make a decision for Christ, we have missed the mystery and power of the gospel. The biblical perspective on the message of salvation does include some type of formulaic concepts, but the good news in Christ is much larger than just the formula of words. Preaching the gospel and believing on Christ is a mysterious engagement of the human heart by the Spirit of God, where the eternal God Himself encounters us and commands us to repent and believe in Him. The problem we encounter is not with the presentations, I prefer to use the Four Spiritual Laws myself in personal evangelism, but that we have too often left the convert at that point, or, worse, not even stopped to be sure that the person we are seeking to evangelize has truly understood, has truly had the encounter with God.
This truth is especially relevant when dealing with multinationals because the formula we use to convey the gospel may not connect with every culture. We have a similar problem in the area of personality, but generally speaking people from the same social backgrounds can understand one another’s logic. Yet cross-culturally a gospel formula that speaks to one culture may not connect with others, which begs the question, what is the preaching of the gospel? What does it consist of? What is the nature of the encounter between us and God? The most basic definition we would find in the Bible is that the salvation experience is the mysterious work of God who takes His spoken and relevant message and confronts a human heart with His authority over that life. The only way forward in the work of God is to let God do His work in individual lives His way.
Salvation truly comes to someone not when they sign a decision card, nor even when they repeat a formulaic “Sinner’s Prayer” but when they respond in repentance and faith to the inner witness of God in their life. That it is in this day and age the preaching of the gospel of Christ through which God accomplishes this only narrows the topic slightly, and does not guarantee that every evangelistic sermon about Christ will connect with every sinner’s way of thinking. The gospel itself is not as narrowly defined in Scripture as we would like to think. Though both sermons were Christ-centered evangelistic messages, we see significant differences between the sermon that Peter preached on Pentecost for a largely Jewish audience and the sermon that Paul preached on Mars Hill to Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. The important thing is that God used the preaching about Christ to bear a supernatural witness in the lives of the hearers. The end result of evangelism is for the hearer to surrender to Christ as Lord as the Spirit of God has convicted him to do - saving faith must be invested not in words but in Christ Himself.
In life as in ministry, it is not just the message but the narrative of God’s interaction with us that wins our hearts and changes our lives. Principle-based or concept-based evangelistic preaching has its limitations in that even the most educated and brightest among us, in his innermost thoughts sees life as a story, not as a random collection of conceptual constructs. God, of course, knows this, and the Bible is a collection of narratives, of personal stories, of conversions in thought and life. It is in the telling and re-telling of these life stories - the accounts of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel and David, Elijah, Philip, Paul, Peter, John and James - that insight is gained and lives are redeemed. In narratives such as these God shows us something true about ourselves and something true about Him. The Christian life and therefore the local church cannot be properly understood on any other level other than God intervening in our lives and drawing us to Himself.
The Lord Seeking a Way In
The Lordship of Christ experienced in the lives of the members - this is the key to leading any church toward unity and effectiveness. Yet I confess that here we are all helpless, even the church leadership, for we must depend on one another to allow Christ to be Lord in each of our lives. A pastor can preach, the leadership can lead with the most humble of hearts, the people can attend and give faithfully and sacrificially, but the only way Christ can truly become the Lord of the church is through the individuals who will allow Him to be Lord in their lives. This is exactly what Christ said to the church at Laodicea which had, apparently, pushed Him out the door of the church. How could Christ come back into the church? He gave the answer Himself: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Christ’s solution for a church that needed to reclaim its future was for individuals to hear His voice and open the door to the church through opening the door of their lives.
The image is powerful. On any given Sunday a church congregation gathers, but many of the people have locked Jesus out of the church because they have locked him out of their hearts. For some the church is about their power, they come to be seen of men. For others, they come because of their friends - they want to be well-liked. Some come because they are paid to do so, and other because their families expect it, and for others it is just their habit, so they come. For still others they come because there they think they can find respect and power through some position they have gained in the church. But when these are all that brings people to church the church experience is empty and meaningless - even if people are able to fulfill their immediate purpose for being there. There is selfishness, ambition, and envy, so there is also confusion, distractions, and conflict - people choosing sides, seeking to lord it over one another, seeking to be in control, and separating brother from brother. This is the church that has locked Christ out. Perhaps they look good on the outside, but there is something fundamentally wrong on the inside.
But look again. In the worship service someone quietly sits, perhaps on the front row, perhaps in the back corner, but he is a real worshipper of Christ. He is not there for selfish reasons, or to be seen by men, or to gain power over others. He is there because he heard Christ knock on the door of the church and through his faith he opened the door. He is in worship communing with Christ and for him church is a deep spiritual experience. It is just like he has come to sit down at a meal with Jesus of Nazareth, just the two of them, at least at first it is just the two. And the joy is deep as the love of Christ flows through him. But then as he worships, someone else comes to join him, someone who also heard Christ knocking at the door and opened his heart to Him. It is almost as though they are ghosts in the midst of purely physical creatures, for they commune with the Spirit of Christ. They hold on to a great secret - the secret of love that is gentle, peaceable, pure, full of mercy and good fruits. As they experience the deeper life in Christ, their faith grows and their love expands, and they begin to include more and more, as others also listen to the living Christ call out to the church.
Unfortunately, in some churches, the structure of the church continues to drone on in robotic monotony without the leadership having the slightest idea of what the Spirit is really doing in people’s lives. Spread sheets are prepared to explain budgetary expenditures, songs are sung, musical programs are performed, seminars are held, sermons are prepared and even preached - at least sometimes - and, as ironic as it sounds, sometimes even prayer meetings are held where there is little true genuine conversing with God going on. But, even in such deadness we can find those who are alive, who have heard the voice of Christ and opened the door.
Those who would seek to claim authority and power in any church will by the very definition of their act, deny Christ the place that rightfully belongs only to Him. The only way that any church can go forward is for the congregation - and especially those in leadership - to recognize this fact. Anyone in any church who seeks to hold on to his position is also trying to push Christ aside from His! If leadership is sought humbly and honestly, then it becomes the “noble task” that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:1. But if it is sought selfishly and ambitiously, with manipulation, then it will only bring harm to the local church. Some suggest that being a member for a long time gives them more rights than others, but that cannot be, for the church is an assembly of priests (1 Peter 2:5,9) and as such every member is equal, of the same rank and status, and none are “more equal” than others. The only question that really matters in a local church concerning its direction is, What is the will of Christ?
If the multicultural church will exist and thrive there must be a strong and clear emphasis on Kingdom Culture. The culture of God’s kingdom must be explained in such a way that the church leadership at its most inclusive level is able to relate to its principles in practical ways. It must not just be theory and high sounding ideals that are so far beyond daily life that they cannot be practically conceptualized and applied. Rather these principles and values should be translated into the common day-to-day activities and ethics of life.
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord presented the culture and the ethics of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Only through accepting and practicing these values in daily life and in church life can the harmony and peace of the church be maintained. The church of Jesus Christ is able to perform to its highest level only by functioning God’s way. If any other ways are chosen, some part of the church’s mission will be sacrificed.
An awareness of our spiritual poverty precludes any sense of pride or selfish-ambition. We are unworthy. Christ alone is worthy. Mourning for the fallen world, for the lives that languish in darkness and lostness, for the sin that destroys and robs people of their future with God -this realization helps us put the trap of ambitions for some ecclesiastical position in its proper perspective. The heart of our shepherd is on the lost sheep - not on the other sheep that wish to replace the Shepherd! The thief comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy. Only Christ comes that His sheep might have life, and have it to the full! The meek are those who have surrendered their will to His will and have placed all of their life under His rule. They seek to be mastered by Christ, not to master others! Those who hunger after His truth and His righteousness - who have an intense awareness of their need and of God’s promises to fulfill that need through Christ - those are the ones who are prepared to receive what Christ offers.
The merciful are those who cover over the failings and the sins of others, and because they do, they live in the reality of the mercy of God. The pure in heart are those for whom religion is anything but pretense. They have let the grace and holiness of God saturate their inmost being - confessing and forsaking whatever is impure and filling their minds and their hearts with the pure and holy things of God. The peacemakers are those who seek to unite and not divide. It goes beyond the idea of a non-offensive nature and puts thoughts to actions. It describes those who are active in bringing reconciliation to people in the family of faith who would otherwise be separated in conflict and suspicion. And there must be those who would do all of these things even if they are misunderstood and even persecuted - even if that persecution comes at the hands of their fellow believers. They are the ones who, as Francis of Assisi wrote, seek not “to be consoled but to console, to be understood but to understand, to be loved but to love.”
The ethics of the Kingdom of God flow from its values, just as customs come from cultural values. For example, in 2 Timothy chapter one the Apostle Paul had stressed to Timothy to stir up the gift of the Spirit in his life, to put aside his timidity and to claim the spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. Yet, if someone imagines that Paul was advocating harshness and unkindness in teaching and leading, they have misunderstood him. For in the second chapter we read, “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). So because the Kingdom Culture emphasizes mercy, humility, and even a willingness to face persecution, these ethics are to be taught in the same spirit. Boldness in God’s Kingdom does not mean rudeness.
The International Baptist Church of Stuttgart, Germany, where I am privileged to serve as senior pastor at this writing, elected a Vision and Mission Team as the former pastor was leaving the church to complete his studies. In the process the Vision and Mission Team identified seven “core values” of how they were to do church:
- We love and serve God and one another
- We respect all people as God´s creation
- We are a church of prayer and worship based on God´s Word
- We value family and fellowship
- We relate to one another with trust and integrity
- We forgive because we´re forgiven
- We encourage people to find their God-given potential through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
These seven were clear and effective expressions of the values the church wished to live by, and served to guide them into a peaceful way to worship and serve effectively. It is interesting that they came from a rather large selection of leadership in the church, incorporating people from many different nations as well as those who served in lay and in ministerial staff positions. This simply affirmed for the church body the important biblical principles necessary to hold and to practice in order to do business in a multinational congregation.
Pre-Christian and Post-Christian
Another way that cultures can be understood is in light of their historic association with Christianity. This factor opens up a number of challenging scenarios in multicultural churches.
Europe is often called a “post-Christian” society. With its long historical association with Christianity, the teachings and values of the faith, as well as idiomatic expressions, have permeated its cultures. For the English-speaking West alone, the King James Version of the Bible has peppered our language with many idiomatic expressions. We speak of “reading the writing on the wall” (Daniel 5) and of “escaping by the skin of your teeth” (Job 19:20), as well as many other moral idioms, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), “pride goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18), for examples. Many Europeans consider themselves “Christian” even though they also admit that they do not attend church or even believe in Christ or the Bible. Germans, for example, in spite of the fact that the vast majority have no personal faith in Christ, still enthusiastically observe the Christmas season. Homes are decorated with religious symbols and families engage in religious customs in spite of the absence of faith. For many in the West Christianity is like a cut flower - the bloom can still be seen but death has already begun to creep into the color and festivities.
But the faith of many Europeans is alive, even on fire. This faith of genuine believers in the West has been shaped by centuries of Christian history, by profound biblical teaching and preaching, by great movements of the Spirit, by abuses and misuses of church power, by schisms among Christians. Centuries of blessings and abuses have left their mark on Western culture. We have had our phases of the legalistic approaches to Christianity and now are experiencing a swing in the other direction, away from legalism and this can seem wrong, even decadent to non-Westerners. Because our cultures have suffered long under the tyranny of controlling, guilt-laden Christianity, we now are expressing a more tolerant, gracious, and patient approach. When the Western Christian expresses his unease about a certain church decision or direction, though he may be completely wrong in his opinion, it often has some historical fact behind it, even if he is unaware of what it precisely might be. But Western Christians still should and most still do see themselves on a journey with the Lord. Christianity is not perfected in the West, in spite of 2,000 years of history.
The Rest has, for the most part, embraced Christianity only in the past century, perhaps the past two, perhaps only decades. Christianity has not permeated their idioms, their cultural values, their cultural lore, and their customs. More often than not the template of the culture and customs, even the culture of Christians, has more to do with the pre-Christian way of thinking than the gospel. In such situations often the Spirit moves more freely, not tethered by suspicions built on centuries of history. The biblical patterns are more easily embraced, but there is likewise less resistance to cultism and doctrinal abuse. Among many Christians from the Rest, the faith in terms of doctrine is more broadly embraced and correct Christian behavior more narrowly defined. This is often the precise opposite from the West, where doctrine is more narrowly defined but there is a broader acceptance of what constitutes acceptable Christian behavior.
Multinational churches must understand to some extent the unique journeys of faith of Christians from different nations. A story was told of a Baptist layman from the USA state of Kentucky who visited a missionary his church supported in Italy in the 1950’s. The missionary’s Italian church hosted a party for the American guest, but during the party the Kentuckian slipped outside to smoke a cigarette - Kentucky is a state where tobacco is widely grown and in the 1950’s many Baptists smoked. The Italian host went out to check on him and she was so shocked to see him smoking a cigarette that she dropped her glass of wine! (In case you did not get the punch line, Kentucky Baptists in the 1950’s strongly condemned any consumption of alcohol, even wine.) There are many matters where Christians from different nations see things differently. We are all on journeys toward Christlikeness and toward being mature in the faith. We are each products of our own generations, with our own prejudices and blind spots, seeking to follow a perfect Lord.
Multicultural churches must understand the difference between an entry level exam and a graduate level exam. All that is required for people to come into the church is the call of Christ in their lives, and their repentance and faith in Christ. We come to Christ initially with all of our prejudices and weaknesses. All that is required is to admit our sin and decide to follow Christ. The Christian believer then begins the process of maturity. We cannot presume that new baby Christians will immediately accept people from all cultures and backgrounds. In fact the multicultural church in the midst of an inter-cultural environment often ministers to people who have real prejudices against other ethnic groups. Though in Christ there is no East or West, in practical experience that is an ideal that may take considerable amount of time for many Christians to accept fully. A multicultural church, if it will be relevant to the needs of real people, should understand this fact, and not force these things on people but patiently persist in helping people along toward the goal of acceptance of others.
Healthy Maintenance and Conflict Resolution
The multinational church needs to learn to balance the different cultural values
and customs of its people. The missionary seeking to evangelize people in a foreign country has his own Christian culture from his own nation that will influence His understanding of the gospel, but he must transcend the limitations of that understanding to embrace the biblical pattern. The healthy maintenance of the multicultural church must always be returning to the biblical patterns and letting God’s word be the standard. Healthy maintenance of church fellowship and programs brings this point to the foreground: that we are not bound by the laws of human beings but by the principles and redeeming grace of God. We are to seek after His ways - constantly.
Perhaps more than any other factor in the church, the church’s programs for teenagers is a major place where conflict can arise in a multinational church. Adults seem to get on with one another okay. Even children can learn to play together and learn together. Adolescence, however, is different. When parents are dealing with the challenges of letting their children grow up into adulthood, when teenage independence (or sometimes rebellion) begins to sprout its wings, when issues such as curfews, allowances, dress, personal freedom, dating, sexual identity - as well as sexual experimentation, drinking alcohol, using other drugs, fighting, respect of the law, and general mischief - become regular concerns of parents, the possibilities of conflicts between Christian families of different cultures can easily increase.
In principles most parents of teenagers can agree with one another regardless of their cultural backgrounds. The problems come when the principles are applied in specific situations. For example, we would agree that teenagers should be respectful of authorities, but the precise form that show of respect will take is another matter entirely. In Europe, where the legal drinking age for beer and wine is sixteen, there can be great concerns about alcohol consumption from parents who come from nations where the drinking age is eighteen or older. One of the most helpful things that an international church can offer is a Christian forum where parents of teenagers from different cultures can meet together to discuss their concerns and to share notes on parenting adolescents in that nation.
The pastor and leaders of a multicultural church needs to be more pro-active in seeking to avoid and resolve conflicts than the average pastor of an ethno-centric congregation. Misunderstandings exist in every church and have potential to harm any church fellowship, but this is much truer in multinational churches. The leaders need to be skilled, trained, and equipped to do conflict resolution. He needs to proactively monitor where there are fractures in the fellowship, where people are at odds with one another, where the devil is planting discord.
The heart of all correction in church is the truth of God’s word and the work of His Spirit. The ones who God will use to bring healing and redemption must be familiar with the Bible and intimate with the Spirit. They must bring rebuke in love and with the hope of forgiveness and restoration. They must be broken people who have only the desire of God at the center of their motivation. They must put aside all selfishness and serve sincerely in the fullness of the Spirit. They must, to quote Kipling, “fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.”
The international, multicultural church is a growing reality in today’s religious landscape. Reading from the second chapter of Acts reveals the fact that this is something that the Holy Spirit has been doing for a long time. Principles, methods, cultural understanding, and “best practices” are helpful to know, but at the end of the day the church is a living organism that is led by a Living Lord.
Whenever the fact that the church is following Christ is forgotten and placed aside trouble erupts in the congregation. But whenever the Lordship of Christ is brought back to the center of the reality of the church peace and ministry have an opportunity to be restored and to even increase. Churches are restored to usefulness as Christians are restored to God.
The Great Commission is to take the gospel into all nations and it can be fulfilled through the spread of mono-cultural churches as well as through ethnically diverse churches. It is the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of the word of God that brings about Christian maturity and not merely the experience of being in a multinational church. If so much energy to maintain peace is expended in a multicultural church that the church is never able to get around to serious evangelism, perhaps that is the time to rethink the nature of the fellowship.
However, prejudices between ethnic groups are not broken down by segregation. The basic biblical doctrine is that humanity is one in God’s eyes. There is one heaven and one hell. There is one Mediator between God and humanity. There is only one church universal and only one true work of God and one true people of God. Though to seek to bring people from different cultures together in one church is challenging and even hazardous on some levels, to leave this undone brings even more dangers. Is there no place on earth where the Prince of Peace is revealing Himself as the Prince of Peace? Is there no place on earth where the One to whom every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, is bowing together now?
The risks and challenges are real, but so are the dangers of inaction. The human race must learn its essential unity and to live together harmoniously. What better place to experience this than among the redeemed of the Lord? The song of redemption and of joy must be sung among the nations, and even if the cadences are expressed differently, the hearts of believers still must be united in thankful praise of our Redeemer. If peace on earth will be a reality before Christ returns, the local church should lead the way as they are enabled by the Spirit of Christ.
 Luis Palau, Experiencing God’s Forgiveness (Multnomah Press, 1984).
 J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, Guard Us, Guide Us (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), p. 31.