Here is an unpopular opinion: I don’t believe the Bible tells churches to pray for diversity, to pursue diversity, to promote diversity, or to “cultivate” it.
I hold this opinion at a time when a sure-fire way for me to get applause in intellectual spheres is to beat my pasty white breasts as I mournfully admit and check my privilege, at a time when a musician who produces a top-of-the-line music video about the glory of Christ gets criticized because his volunteer extras were too homogenous, at a time when churches publicly apologize on behalf of God for not having been given more shades of brown on the elder board.
Churches and the world have decided to link arms and agree that diversity is a treasure to be accumulated.
But I don’t think the Bible tells churches to make diversity a goal. Rather, I believe the Bible tells churches to humbly and faithfully receive any diversity that God gives.
Ephesians 2 tells us that, through the work of Christ, God has torn down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Now, Jew and Gentile who repent of their sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are one in Christ, members of one another in the household of faith. This passage does not indicate that we should have demographic quotas, formally or informally, in our churches. It means that, though my grandfather fought against the Nazis in war, if a man who has Nazi ancestors or who used to belong to a neo-Nazi club comes to faith and seeks membership in the church to which I belong, I should vote to receive him with glad heart, and gladly sing alongside him and sit under the word alongside him each Lord’s Day. The attitude of Ephesians 2 is not one of quotas, but one of gladly receiving any sheep that God brings into the fold.
Romans 14 tells us that there are many beliefs that can be disagreed upon within a church, without disrupting the church’s unity. Paul doesn’t write this chapter to encourage us to intentionally cultivate differing convictions. He writes because he knows differing convictions will be the reality of each local church; and God wants his people to humbly receive these differences in peace. Churches can have both strong people who love double-bacon cheeseburgers and weak people who love boca burgers. Churches can have both strong people who think all days are alike and weak people who think Sabbath observance is expected of Christians. A pastor shouldn’t try to convince some sheep of one position, and then convince other sheep of the other position, all to add to the congregation’s diversity. He should teach the Bible and make clear that there are some beliefs that we all must hold without wavering and that there are other beliefs about which we are free to disagree.
1 John 2, Titus 2, 1 Timothy 5, Acts 2, etc. make clear that churches will have members of different ages and sex, old and young, male and female. But this is presented more as a reality of existing as a society of faith, rather than a goal to be accomplished. This reality brings with it threats, as we see in Acts 2, and sweet opportunities, as we see in Titus 2. These opportunities, for the older to bless the younger with wisdom and instruction and the younger to bless the older with energy and encouragement, are to be recognized and stewarded well.
James 2 tells us that both poor people and rich people will at one point or another come through our doors, and that we are forbidden from showing favoritism to the rich because of their potential material benefit to us. We are not to show partiality, to rich or poor, but receive all who would worship the Lord with us in faith. Again, this doesn’t even hint at some sort of diversity pursuit. Rather, it commands us to receive what the Lord brings.
Lastly, multiple passages in Revelation make clear that the universal church, gathered before the throne of Jesus on the other side of the Jordan River, will be quite a diverse group, made up of men and women from all over the world, the fruit of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross and the church’s obedient work to make disciples of all nations. This certainly is an encouragement for us to evangelize broadly, and to start new churches wherever there are none. But it doesn’t provide us with a diversity agenda for each local church. The promise of the future is not the requirement for the present. Revelation does not indicate that church’s elder boards should be 33% black, 33% white, and 33% asian, that this should be one of our aspirations, or even seen as an indication of the health of a local church.
Local churches are to be faithful to hold the faith and a good conscience. Congregations should faithfully meet to preach, pray, read, sing, and see the Word of God. Members should take seriously the call to evangelize and live holy lives. And congregations should trust that the Lord will bring about a sweet harvest of souls from this labor. What that harvest looks like is his business. When he brings men and women to salvation, churches should receive these people, whatever they look like and however rich they may be, with glad hearts.
Diversity is something to be humbly received. Not a great totem pole around which we dance.
Let’s stop getting caught up with the world’s multicultural love affair, and, instead, pray Biblical prayers.
“Lord, save all your elect; and hasten the day when your church is gathered on the other side of the Jordan River.”
“Lord, help us to humbly receive the diversity of thought regarding foods and days you’ve given us as a church. Keep us united though our beliefs in these matters vary.”
“Lord, keep us from showing undue partiality against the poor or any others who would want to worship you in spirit and truth as members with us.”
“Lord, help us to value and care for the elderly saints in our church. Give them wisdom and the energy to pass it on to those who are younger in the church.”