I’ve not always been a Christian. for years, I entertained different theories and beliefs regarding existence and the afterlife. I have been agnostic, atheistic, new age, etc… During that journey, one thing I came to believe was that Christians were all about conformity. I came to believe that all they cared about was making others like themselves. What I mean by this is that they seemed to only care about how people appeared or acted. My perception was that the Christian ethic was one in which all that mattered was that Christians didn’t drink, swear, watch R-rated movies, go to restaurants that served alcohol, dance…. the list could go on… But all in all I got the idea that Christians essentially didn’t have fun and definitely didn’t associate with anyone who did. One big thing they also didn’t do… they didn’t marry inter-racially or endorse it… I think it’s very fitting at this point to acknowledge that these are stereotypes into which not all Christians fit. For sure, I did not have the whole story in relation to the beliefs of Christians.
When I was 22 years old I was confronted with the truth of the person and power of Jesus, and I had to make a decision, and I chose to follow Him. This was somewhat awkward for me at first, due to the fact that I enjoyed doing so many things that I didn’t think Christians could do (like just have fun!). I soon learned that I had the wrong idea in a lot of my preconceived notions, and I was very much accepted for whom I was…warts and all. But the one thing that I think is so true about Christianity (in regards to the organization of it) is that many of us, if not most, are all about conformity. This is why so many of our churches are without ethnic contrast, and this is also why there are multitudes of denominations. We quite often seem to think that our idea of the faith is the truth of the matter and everyone else should fall in line behind us…. and if they don’t we like to throw around words like “worldly,” or “heretic.” I actually heard a well known teacher who teaches almost exclusively about end times prophecy and his particular view of it, call another teacher, who is on the other side of the debate, a heretic….over a very debatable subject like the ways in which this age will come to a close…. a heretic… both men teach the same message of salvation, and both believe in the authority of Scripture, but because of a disagreement over a subject that has been disagreed upon for about 2000 years, the word “heretic” was invoked.
I wish I could say that this is an uncommon occurrence, but unfortunately it is not. Right now, there is much debate and controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention about an issue that is, once again, debatable. One side says God is sovereign and predetermines everything…the other says that man must make a free choice to follow Christ or not…and this is what the fight is over. The convention, which represents the largest evangelical missionary organization in the world, may well splinter over an issue that has been another subject of debate for around 2000 years or more…meanwhile, there are people like I once was…standing outside… watching…listening…and hearing what I heard…that all many of us care about is making others think, look, and act like us… Thank God Jesus didn’t obey the rules of His culture…thank God He wasn’t willing to conform to the systems of His day…because they were wrong. They were off. They were about control and conformity…not about what the Kingdom of Heaven really is.
For millennia, mankind has been fighting mankind for a many reasons. The first is what we call original sin…which is to say that we live in a world where people tend toward evil if not changed by the Spirit of God. This means that sometimes people kill people for no rational reason. Another is that of greed. We want what others have and if we don’t want to sacrifice and pay for it, or it’s not for sale, then we will just take it by force. However, among the many reasons for our fighting…one major reason that we do so is that we are different. We have all seen it in our own experience in life…we may even be somewhat guilty of this ourselves…probably are… Quite often we don’t like people that are different from us…because we feel as though everything and everyone should be like us…made in our image…comfortable…conformed…un-challenging. I have met many people that if questioned, I think would affirm the idea that everyone in heaven will have the same hairstyle, no facial hair, or very little, will speak the same, act the same…essentially losing individuality…conforming…
But that is not the way the story unfolds…as a matter of fact, there is such an interesting passage in Revelation 7: “…behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before throne and before the Lamb…” It is worth mentioning that they were all dressed the same…all wearing white robes, but this is not a statement about dress code…it’s a statement about purity and holiness…about the fact that Christ has set them free from the stains of their sin. So, from every nation and from all tribes and peoples and languages...sounds pretty diverse to me…and it sounds amazing. Just think about it…a vast cross-section of all of humanity, with all of their various differences…uniting…worshiping…loving…existing in harmony…sounds like Heaven to me…
You see…I think that perhaps our idea of holiness and purity within the church is conformity…but this passage seems to indicate instead that true holiness and true purity is love and unity within diversity…all united in the same truth but all with different experiences and different viewpoints…all made in the image of God. We may think that we are keeping the church or the convention “pure” or “holy,” but all we are really doing is keeping it bland, limited…and in truth…unholy. A man asked me one time what I thought of inter-racial marriage. I asked him how many colors are in a rainbow…He counted 7…and then responded with the fact that the purpose of the rainbow isn’t to address this issue, but it is a sign of God’s covenant not to flood the earth again. I said, “couldn’t God have made the bow all of one color?” The fact is that He didn’t…and here’s why…at least here’s what I think…our God is an Artist…He’s a brilliant Artist…and He loves diversity…He loves contrast…He loves color…all within the scope of His truth and creation…so why don’t we?
Maybe I’m wrong…but in the end…I think God is much more glorified and His church much more Christlike, when we can come from different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and doctrinal positions…and unify our hearts, and agree to disagree in love…and exist as whom we are…a priceless collection of unique artwork…all created by the same Artist.