ARA Stranger in One's HomelandSometimes Christians attend churches where the language, traditions, and even types of food are different from what they are accustomed to. How can the church become a home to all nationalities?Sometimes Christians attend churches where the language, physical appearances, traditions, values, and even types of food are different from what they have grown up with and become accustomed to. They are like strangers or second-class citizens in church. However, our church does not belong to any one specific nationality, but to all. Through the teachings of the Apostle Paul we know he struggled with this very same issue. If we can link his efforts to our own today, we can learn to sacrifice our own comforts and identities so that the church may become a home to all nationalities.
For a moment,
imagine a country and people very different from your own. To make
this a really effective and meaningful exercise, make sure this
country you’re thinking of is one with a language completely
different from the language you speak.
Think of the outer
appearances of the people. How are their hair, skin, and eye color
different from yours? Now, what kinds of traditions and values do they
have? Are you knowledgeable of the stories behind these traditions? Do
they celebrate the holidays and events you’ve always grown up with? And
are the values the people hold in this country like the values you’ve
always been taught?
Consider the foods
that are eaten here. Are they similar to the foods you enjoy in your own
homeland? Probably not, right? Now, if you were in a crowded marketplace
with a hundred of these people all speaking in their own language to each
other—almost oblivious to your presence and the fact that you cannot
understand what they are saying—how would this make you feel? Lonely?
Detached? Maybe inferior in some ways?
having to live in this land for the rest of your earthly life. You have no
choice in this matter. It’s been designated as your new home. Do you
miss your homeland already?
Christians in a Foreign Land
Believe it or not,
many believers in Christ—and, sadly, seekers of Christ—experience this
homesickness every single time they enter the doors of some churches to
honor the Sabbath and our Lord.
attend churches where the languages, physical appearances, traditions,
values, and even foods served are so very different from what they’ve
grown up with and become accustomed to. They feel almost like second-class
citizens in a place where all citizens are supposed to be considered
equal. They know they must attend the services at these churches, but,
quite honestly, they never truly feel comfortable and at-home. They live
like strangers in their own homes.
Some stay in the
churches because of their commitment to the Lord’s commandments, but
they never quite feel accepted and united with the brothers and sisters in
the church. Others come once or twice but are frightened away pretty
quickly by a very unsettling culture shock. And when they never return for
another visit, or seem reluctant to join in the church fellowships or
services, we simply tell each other that these visitors were just not
willing to accept the truth or commit to Christ.
But is it really
true that they don’t attend church simply because they don’t accept
the doctrines? Can we honestly say that they don’t come to church
because they don’t want to follow Christ? In full sincerity, we must
admit that there is a very strong chance that we’ve allowed our own
worldly traditions and cultural ideals to become almost obstacles to a
person’s faith in Christ and His church. Haven’t we, in fact, made it
really hard for others to feel like they belong to Christ’s church?
are questions we really have to consider, especially since we’ve been
instructed by our Lord Jesus Christ to “go and make disciples of all
nations” (Mt 28:19).
we look at the teachings of the Apostle Paul, we see that he wrestled with
these very same issues long ago, when he was given the mission to preach
to the Jews as well as the Gentiles in many lands. In various letters to
believers, Paul wrote about destroying barriers through the bond of
Christ. He also wrote about how he made himself almost chameleon-like to
win souls of different ethnicities, and he wrote about seeking the good of
the study of the following Bible passages, we’ll explore exactly how the
Apostle Paul was able to break through the ethnic barriers that so
strongly weighed down the Jewish and gentile Christians. And, through this
study, perhaps we can link the efforts he made years ago to efforts we can
try to make today, so that all of our churches may become homes to all
nations and races and souls.
Foreigners and Aliens, but Fellow Citizens
As humans, we all
need to feel a sense of belonging. The Apostle Paul even tells us that we
should all feel united through Christ, and that there should no longer be
a separation between brothers and sisters of different ethnic groups. Paul
remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called
Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by
hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the
commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise,
having no hope and without God in the world.
now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by
the blood of Christ... And He came and preached peace to you who were
afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access
by one Spirit to the Father.
therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow
citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having
been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ
Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being
joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also
are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Paul understood that
in God’s eyes we are all created equal, and that no single race or
culture is above another. He was able to love all souls, and because of
this strong love and compassion, Paul strove to fight prejudices and ideas
of ethnic superiority. He had the perfect combination of holding a deep
love for God and a true love for mankind. He wanted everyone to know about
our wonderful and merciful Lord Jesus Christ, and he gave up his life to
help all people find and stay on the path to eternal salvation.
In order to save so
many souls, Paul understood that it would take uncomfortable and very
dangerous sacrifices to carry out his mission. Just what types of
sacrifices did he end up making? Well, we all know about his beatings,
persecutions, jailings, and stonings. Those were all huge and noticeably
significant situations that took place in his life quite often.
It’s amazing that
Paul chose to bear those terrifying and horrible loads for the sake of
Christ’s call. Just as amazing, though, were the small things that Paul
did to find ways to reach out to all of God’s people. Take a look at the
following passage, and you’ll see the touching detail Paul put into
making sure all nationalities had the best opportunities to hear the
message of Jesus Christ and to commit to a life for Him:
though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that
I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might
win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might
win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as
without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward
Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I
became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to
all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the
gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the
prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who
competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to
obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I
run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the
air. But I discipline my own body and bring it into subjection, lest,
when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
A Seamless Quilt of Ethnicities
then, just how do we apply Paul’s example to our own spiritual lives?
And what will it take to make our church a home to all nations and
we must truly understand that if we are to be united as one in Christ, we
must strive to stitch our backgrounds and cultures together almost
seamlessly. We must look to the Apostle Paul—the zealous preacher to
both the Jews and Gentiles—to provide us with examples of just how this
union of ethnic groups in Christ can be achieved.
take that last passage from the Bible and see if we can somehow translate
it to today’s situation (I do realize that this is a very, very loose
translation, but bear with me, because it just may lead to something):
we, as a church, are predominantly Chinese, and really don’t have to
hide our ethnicity or our values and traditions, we must somehow find ways
to blend into the lives of all non-Chinese truthseekers, and brothers and
sisters in Christ, in order to make them feel more connected to our church
and the Christ we share.
Caucasians, we become like Caucasians (even making conscious efforts to
serve their foods and speak their languages), in order to make it easier
for them to come to our church and hear the message of our Lord Jesus
the Latin or Hispanic heirs of Christ’s salvation, we become like our
Latin or Hispanic friends (even serving yellow rice and black beans,
learning a few phrases in their languages, and appreciating their love
for various forms of dance), in order to win those souls to Christ.
those brothers and sisters, or friends of ours, of African decent, we
make ourselves like those of African decent (understanding and
respecting their histories and cultural traditions), in order to connect
with them and offer them a comfortable church to attend and worship our
one Lord and Savior.
as the True Jesus Church, become all things to all men so that by all
possible means we might save some. We do all this for the sake of the
gospel, that we may share in its blessings.
know that in a race all the teams run, but only one team gets the prize.
That is why we run in such a way as to get the prize of souls saved for
Christ. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training—just
as we train ourselves to give up our own comforts of speaking our native
language and eating our favorite kinds of Chinese foods.
do this to get a crown that will not last; but we, as Christians, do
this to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, we do not run
like men running aimlessly; we don’t fight like Christians beating the
air. No, we beat our bodies—our cultures and traditions—to make them
slaves, so that after we have preached to others, we, as members of the
True Jesus Church, will not be disqualified for the prize.
Love—The Simple Answer
Now, that wasn’t
too much of a stretch, was it? Probably not, if we seriously think about
it. The bottom line is that we must learn to sacrifice our own comforts
and identities in order to reach out to souls in search of Christ. We
cannot sit back and relax with only those of our own ethnic groups. We can
no longer allow Christians of other races, nations, or cultures to leave
our churches feeling such a strong sense of being different or excluded.
Since we know we
have the true gospel of Christ, we must take that truth to other nations
and peoples—this is what our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded of us. In
order to reach as many nations and individuals as possible, and to make
their conversions to Christ as easy as possible, we must eliminate as many
obstacles to their faith as possible. We must find ways to blend our
separate traditions, languages, and cultures together as smoothly and
unnoticeably as possible.
All it takes is true
and active love. If we strive to imitate our Savior by following his
actions of sacrificial love, we will draw many, many peoples and nations
to eternal life.