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Is your church a bridge or a wall for access to the Gospel? This post examines walls to the Gospel; and explores how a church can serve as a bridge to reconciliation, and thereby, bring unity to the Body for a multicultural church.

When Jesus said “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:10 NLT), He viewed all nations from an eschatological standpoint with inclusive intent (Matt 28:19; Luke 24:47). His vision for a Kingdom map of all nations began at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47) and extended to the entire world (Matt 24:14). What distinguished His map was the target population: Jews and Gentiles – eunuchs, foreigners, outcasts and the poor – without limitations imposed by the temple’s partition wall (Mark 11:17; cf., Isa 56:3-8).[1] Jesus barred none, seeking to destroy the “dividing wall of hostility” erected by the Law and “setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” to create one new humanity in Him through the cross (Eph 2:14-16 NIV).

Wall versus Bridge

Inclusion, in its simplest form, shows action for access to the elect for reconciliation with God. The local church can either erect a wall or extend a bridge to support inclusion to all the nations. While both may be visible or invisible, each causes different results. A wall restricts a person’s or people group’s access to reconciliation by concealing, hedging, controlling, preventing or prohibiting access. Contrariwise, a bridge opens entry to reconciliation by connecting, networking, opening and routing through a passageway. Regardless of the type, each results in a different end. The local church is to function as a bridge with the purpose of connecting the lost to a loving Father, through grace in Christ.

Bridge

The Gentile Wall

The early church was not exempt from walls. In fact, Rodney Woo, in The Color of Church, refers to the Gentile Wall, erected by Jewish Christians, which threatened inclusion of Gentile people groups from Christianity. Jewish exclusionary actions rooted themselves in traditional identity found in the Law.[2] Temple restrictions that maintained purity and sanctity setup the Gentile Wall of the early church. These controls dated back to Moses and carried over to the Second Temple period.

During Jesus’ ministry, the temple establishment raised visible barriers that clearly demarcated exclusionary boundaries and consequences for its violation. Archeologist Clermont-Ganneau’s found a limestone block with the inscription, “Let no Gentile enter within the barrier surrounding the temple; whosoever is caught shall be responsible for his subsequent death”[3] Josephus describes similar warnings, “Upon the [the partition wall of the temple court] stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that ‘no foreigner should go within that holy place”[4]

Apostle Paul met heavy resistance from the Jewish Christians community as he called for abandoning Mosaic customs and practice of circumcision. So severe was the reaction to his teachings that Jerusalem Christians rioted against him (Acts 21-22). Paul continued in confronting the Gentile wall throughout his ministry (i.e., Acts 15; Gal 2).

Breaking Down the Wall

If the most segregated hour of Christian America still is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning,[5] then the local church must tear down the Exclusionary Wall brick by brick. Exclusion poses a cross-cultural barrier, segregating a wide spectrum of people from access to and unity in the Gospel. Curtiss Paul DeYoung, in Coming Together in the 21st Century: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity echoes this view. He says that “diversity is far more than culture, race, and class. Age, disability, sexual orientation, lifestyle, and religion are important aspects of diversity discussions.”[6] What are the bricks that make up the wall?

To become a bridging church requires intentional actions for inclusion and impartiality. It begins with reflection and realignment of praxis for access to reconciliation. In order to bridge, you reach. Before you reach, you learn. You have to learn about other cultures and how to adapt ministry in a relevant way to reach them as you build bridges. Most critical to the process is dependency on God. Rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Acts 1:8 says that, “What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world”(MSG). The Spirit’s infilling empowers and guides the bridging congregation to cross seen or unseen and known or unknown boundaries that separate people of different backgrounds from grace.

Building a Bridge: Five Biblical Actions

What reconciling actions support the infrastructure of the bridge? Consider the following as starting points.

  1. Shows impartiality and inclusivity across cultures. “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34 KJV; cf. Gal 3:28, Rev 5:9). One who shows impartiality demonstrates actions of acceptance and respect — unbiased, unprejudiced and equitable — towards all others.  Inclusivity works in tandem with impartiality. Having an inclusive attitude in leadership goes beyond engaging race, class and gender, rather one consistently keeps extending grace to all persons and people groups central to ministry.
  2. Gives access in a welcoming environment through ministry methods and activities that invite a broad base of people across culture (Luke 10:25-37; 14:2-14; Rom 12:10-13; 1 Pet 4:9). Access through invitation comprises many aspects. A welcoming environment balances both internal and external missional focuses, as well as invites people in the context of their culture. Learn ways that cultures receive each other, taking into consideration meeting and greeting, names and titles, body language, touching, distance, eye contact, etiquette, food, conversation, hospitality, etc. Your intent is to fully understand another person’s perspective to guide your ministry methods. Think outside your own frame of reference.>/span>
  3. Holds an eyes of Christ perspective by viewing persons or people groups without cultural superiority or judgment (John 13:34; Gal 3:1-29). Perhaps humanity holds an ethnocentric viewpoint due to its worldly nature. “Ethnocentrism is the perceptual prism through which cultures interpret and judge other groups” It is not always intentional, rather “learned at the unconscious level.[7]  The fruit of the Spirit runs counter to ethnocentrism. Viewing others through the eyes of Christ and showing His love builds bridges of reconciliation, and voids racial or cultural superiority.
  4. Nurtures culture by celebrating and encouraging the presence of a variety of persons and people in all activities(Gen 1:31; Acts 17:24-29; Rev 7:9). This action first addresses the internal attitude towards culture different from yours.  The internal nature drives external actions. This reminds me of the story of the woman who knelt behind Jesus at His feet.  As she stood her tears fell on His feet, and she then wiped off the tears with her hair. She also kissed Jesus’ feet and put perfume on them. The Pharisee judged the woman because she was a woman of the city who was a sinner, while Jesus commended the woman for her faithfulness and forgave her sins (John 7:37-48 NLT). He let His grace flow in love with acceptance and respect.  Likewise, the church sets unlimited boundaries for grace.
  5. Respects diversity by recognizing differences as diversity and not as inappropriate responses (Jas 2:8-10; Col 3:11-17). What you encounter in a person externally (see, hear and touch) comprises the ten percent of visible culture. The external works in tandem with the internal, not so apparent culture (beliefs, values, thought patterns and myths).[8]  A person responds to a situation according to the internal and external. Likewise, you act according to your own. One’s assumptions pose barriers in ministry.  Even when you understand cultural characteristics and/or know the person, you must exercise love, discernment and peace. Seek understanding. Promote restoration.

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us” (Eph 2:14). Let our mission be constructing multiple bridges to create new and creative pathways for reconciliation.

Jan Paron,
All Rights Reserved, 2012

To ponder…

  • What walls does the local church erect, visible or invisible and known or unknown, that detract from reconciling the lost with a loving Savior?
  • What are some of the challenges to breaking down the walls to reconciliation?
  • Is there a relationship between church atrophy and cultural exclusionary practice?

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ENDNOTES

[1] “Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it a ‘den of thieves” (Mark 11:17; cf., Isa 56:3-8).

[2] Rodney Woo, The Color of Church: A Biblical and Practical Paradigm for Multiracial Churches (Nashville, B & H Publishers, 2009)

[3] Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archeological Evidence (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), loc 1919. Charles Clemont-Ganneau found a limestone block in 1871 that delineated guidelines to the public. The block was 85 cm wide, by 57 cm long and 37 cm deep. A fragment from a second inscription found outside the wall around Jerusalem’s Old City has similar wording.

[4] Evans, Jesus and His World, Loc 1920. Josephus, J.W. 5-193: cf., b.124-28; Ant. 15.417; Ag. Ap. 2.103.

[5] Martin Luther King, Jr., “An Address Before the National Press Club,” in James M. Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), 101.

[6] Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Coming Together in the 21st Century: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2009), loc.  110.

[7] Larry Samovar, Richard Porter and Edwin McDaniel, Intercultural Communication: A Reader (Boston: Wadsworth, 2000), 10.

[8] Weaver, cited in Culbertson. Center for Intercultural Learning. (n.d.). Iceberg model of culture. Retrieved on August 18, 2012, from http://www.international.gc.ca/cfsi-icse/cil-cai/magazine/v02n01/doc3-eng.pdf

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