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October 14, 2015

The Church As Blended Family

By Jorge Mendoza

The church is not like family, it is family. This statement is foundational to all that we, at the BLVD, believe about church planting. We would even define church planting as “establishing the family of God in the community.” Family is what God has made us in the gospel. However, that theological reality does not easily translate into our street level experience. More often than not church feels more like a blended family than a natural family.

In a blended family you have elements of two households coming together to become one. Each one brings different backgrounds, understandings and expectations. Although they are legally a family they have to learn to live and love as family. The process can be painful. This goes for the church as well. Having been adopted by God the Father we all come to the family from different cultures and bring with us different perspectives and preferences. With all of this we are called to love and live as family. The process is often hard.

It is especially hard in a place like the United States with its history of pervasive ethnic tension. The history is as long as the country is old. And just when it seems as if we may be making some headway, a Ferguson happens and it flares up all over again. The old scars reopen and reveal a wound that we wish we could just cover up and forget. Admittedly, it is easier to do that than to face the festering memories. But if we don’t address them we will either blur the picture of the gospel or, worse yet, betray the purpose of the gospel.

The multi-ethnic church is not just a good strategy for the advance of the gospel in a diverse society; it is the goal of God in the gospel for the creation of a distinct people. The high point of revelation concerning the church – the essence of the mystery – deals particularly with the healing of ethnic tensions:

            This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs,
            members of the same body, and partakers of the
            promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel – Eph. 3.6

The blending of disparate groups into true family was as challenging for the first Christians as it is for us. And it is as necessary for us as it was for them. Yes, the conversations will be hard and the chances for misunderstanding are high but the example of the New Testament compels us to face the tension instead of fleeing from it and hoping it will go away. It won’t. Besides, the cross was designed to kill “the hostility,” not to cover it up (Eph. 2.16). Jesus and the disciples understood this and dealt with ethnic tensions head on.

After his inaugural sermon Jesus was met with the usual “Great sermon, pastor!” response (Luke 4.22). But when he went on to imply that Gentiles would be participants in the good news of the kingdom they were “filled with wrath” and wanted to throw him down a cliff! There was no reason to bring Gentiles up here other than to confront the prejudices of his own people. The first controversy that the newborn church faced was an ethnic controversy (Acts 6). The Hellenistic widows felt they were being slighted in the daily distribution while the Hebrew widows were being favored. This ethnic tension threatened to divide the church. The apostles dealt with the tension head on. The first letter of the New Testament, James, dealt with the socio-economic divide within the church (James 1.9-11). He confronts it so strongly that he sounds more like one of the Minor Prophets than he does an apostle. In Paul’s first letter, Galatians, he dealt with the failure to apply the right understanding of the gospel to cross-cultural relationships (Gal. 2.14).

Jesus not only runs toward ethnic tension he also pushes his people there as well. The very first place outside of their ethnic group that he sent his disciples to was the last place they wanted to go, Samaria.

            You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria… (Acts 1.8)

And just like them we prefer our Jerusalem’s and Judea’s over our Samaria’s. I’m afraid this is why the homogeneous unit principle, as it has been implemented in America, has been successful – not because of its spirituality but because of its earthliness: “even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6.32).

It takes no supernatural work of God to make life and church comfortable for those who are just like me. However, it does take the power of God to help us face the tension and work towards true family. Our resistance to this might be as Peter Leithart recently suggested: America was known as a country with the soul of a church, but now the believing community might be in danger of being a church with the soul of America.[1]

[1] http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/07/the-nation-the-church-and-the-immigrants

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jorge Mendoza

Jorge Mendoza (@jmendozza) is a Teaching Pastor at BluePrint Church and a Church Planting Catalyst with NAMB in the Urban Initiatives Group. He's been engaged in pastoral ministry since 2000 pastoring established churches and church planting. He is the son of immigrant parents from Mexico, and was raised in a blended family, while socialized in the hip-hop sub-culture. He is married to Wendy, and they have four children, Hannah, Emily, Noelle and Selah.

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