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03 March 2014

Are mono-ethnic churches a good thing?

Two differing responses to this question. Carl Terlecki and wife Taryn are on the leadership team at Jubilee Training Centre in Maidstone and they present the 'no' argument. Wien Fung is pastoral worker for the English congregation at the Chinese Church in London with five congregations. He presents the 'yes' argument.

NO "Anything that makes us exclusive in our thinking also tends to limit our ability to influence."Carl and Taryn Terlecki
In Galatians 3:26-29 we are all called sons of God. Our identity is found in Christ and ethnicity should not play any negative role in how we relate to one another and engage with kingdom work. 

In Ephesians 4:12-13, Paul writes about Christians attaining unity in the faith, growing up and becoming mature, being knitted together with all parts of the body working properly, and all of this in love. 

One question that comes to mind is: 'Do mono-ethnic churches help to build up the body of Christ?' After visiting and working with many churches in different countries and cultures, I can conclude that mono-ethnic churches struggle with their redemptive call to impact and transform community. Anything that makes us exclusive in our thinking also tends to limit our ability to influence. God has called us to penetrate and impact all walks of society, which becomes difficult when we are focused on only one particular population group.

Does this mean that a mono-ethnic church is a bad thing for God's kingdom? Well, if we are in a part of a nation with a uniform culture, a mono-ethnic church is going to be representative of its community. Most situations that churches face in today's 'global village' are not like this. The norm is a mix of nationalities and cultures. So, in multi-cultural communities, are mono-ethnic churches fulfilling their redemptive call? Are they engaging with their community and are they helping to build up the body of Christ?

I look forward to a day in which our cultural and social biases are less of a hindrance in kingdom work. There is nothing better than being in an environment where the different flavours of various cultures and backgrounds join together informed by kingdom values, rather than working against kingdom values. Then we will truly reflect the Father's creative and diverse character as we celebrate Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth.

Jesus came that we would have life and life to the full; he came to break down the walls of separation and give us freedom. Let us strive to do the same!

YES "We need to see mono-ethnic churches in the right context and the specific functions they serve."
Central to this question is the conundrum of the one and the many.

Wien FungThe gospel's transformative power has reconciled alienated humanity into the one kingdom of God. With this comes the desire to unite all people into the body of Christ. Therefore, one may logically ask whether mono-ethnic churches are theologically sound as they seemingly detach themselves from the many and huddle together as one.

First, we need to ask what makes a church a body of Christ? "The Church" is a universal entity that embraces all believers. Christ's fullness is mediated in the diversity of the body and fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23). Therefore, every church does not exist on its own as a detached entity.

By partaking of the "one bread", the many can be one body (1 Corinthians 10:17). We share in the joy with the universal Church and are united with those who are diverse and beyond our particular community. Furthermore, this releases us from the need to manufacture unity. 

The present Church is a single body with diverse parts. In Revelation 7:9, we see a redemptive ideal of the eschatological community where all peoples worship Christ together. When we celebrate and learn from the diversity (ethnicity, age, gender,class, life-stages, culture, physical, emotional, and intellectual conditions) within the Christian community, we do experience a glimpse and a foretaste of the eschatological hope. However,the question is whether diversity (ethnicity and all other forms)should and could be actualised in every particular community in the here and now? I would argue that a drive to do so will be in danger of elevating the particular over the universal.

Second, we need to see mono-ethnic churches in the right context and the specific functions they serve. Without seeing their location in a multicultural context, one may conclude that churches in mono-ethnic countries are bad unless they import multi-ethnic worshippers into their communities!

Furthermore, we cannot ignore the language barriers faced by diasporas (even multi-ethnic churches need to operate by a dominant language). Ethnic churches provide the necessary language and cultural bridge for the gospel among diasporas and they facilitate the crucial reintegration of disciples to their mono-ethnic cultures upon their return to their homelands.

When we see mono-ethnic churches from these theological and missional perspectives, we can begin to see them as a thing to be welcomed.

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