Tonight at church as I was standing next to Cindi singing the first song (“He Is Exalted”), I saw one of the most striking pictures of diversity that I’ve seen in a long time. In front of us was a white middle-aged couple. Next to them stood Peter Habyarimana, a TMC student from Uganda who's affectionately known on campus as “Peter the African.” Peter was adopted into a Ugandan family, and his father helps lead Compassion International. Peter was holding this white, middle-aged, middle-class family’s adopted daughter. From China.
I did a double-take, with an extra-wide smile. Right in front of me was a young African man holding a one-year-old Chinese girl while standing next to her pale-skinned American family. Welcome to the church. “He is exalted,” indeed.
This wasn’t all, though. I started thinking about the service as a whole. I thought back to before the service had started. I had been talking to a TMC senior about his future plans when Ruth Roth interrupted to ask about her custom-made songsheets.
Ruth Roth is a ninety-something-year-old widow with failing eyes and an unfailing heart. She speaks with a holy innocence that I would give half my kingdom to have. She carries herself with a holy naïveté that is the picture of purity. She is childlike in the ways that Jesus commended. She was asking us if the songsheets that were on her chair were from the morning service or if they were the ones for tonight. The band provides Ruth with custom-made songsheets with huge letters on them because she can’t see nearly well enough to read the PowerPoint, even from the fourth row. But she still wants to sing. We looked at her songsheets and told her she had the right ones. She was happy to know that. I think she would’ve been happy either way. She told us that once the singing starts, she turns and asks those around her if the sheet she’s looking at is the same as the one on the screen above the stage. Then she starts in. I already knew this, though, because I like watching Ruth. It’s just enjoyable, and I learn a lot.
Then a few songs into the service, the children’s choir lined up in front of the stage to sing. About forty kids from five to thirteen years old sang two songs in those can’t-help-but-smile children’s voices. Their second song was “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.” Some fidgeted, others smiled nervously, a few were locked in as they belted out all the lines verbatim, and some caught the eyes of their parents in the audience and waved unashamedly, unconstrained by normal adult social graces. Almost a century younger than Ruth Roth, these children were singing of the same God, the Lord of the ages—all ages. On solid rock we stand, indeed.
As soon as the children exited the stage, Carlos Montoya was introduced as the speaker for the evening. He’s from Honduras, and he was here with four or five of his Honduran brethren for Shepherds’ Conference.
So here we had black and white, brown and yellow, young and old, infants and elderly, adopted and biological, African, American, Chinese, and Honduran. How does this happen?
“For You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
“There is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
I love unified diversity. But not just because of some ethereal feeling I get when I see an African man holding a Chinese girl adopted into an American family. I’m not just celebrating an affirmative answer to the “Can’t-we-all-just-get-along?” question. It’s true that I do love diversity because of the sheer beauty of it. But it’s bigger than that.
Unified diversity matters because of what it points to. When a diamond-studded, tattooed gangsta from South Central and a straight-laced six-figure-income businessman from Costa Mesa and a retired steel worker from the east coast are all high-fiving and cheering in the bleachers at Dodger Stadium because the Dodgers just won on a game-winning home run, what are they telling us? What brought these three together? What’s bigger than all their manifest differences? The Dodgers. If they don’t have the Dodgers to bring them together, they don’t have anything.
The same is true of the church, on a much grander scale. Rising above all our distinctions is the cross of Jesus Christ. Bringing together all our gifts is the fact that we’re all members of one body. Overcoming all our natural prejudices is the reality that we’ve all been adopted into the same family.
The church must be diverse, because Jesus didn’t die to save just white people. The church must be diverse, because God is not glorified when we love each other just because we’re humanly similar. The church must be diverse, because the world must see that the bond of Christ is stronger than blood and nationality and language and civil wars and racism and generational differences and cultures and continents and politics and personalities and occupations.
One of the most significant ways that Christ is magnified is through a unified diversity of blood-bought sinners who stand shoulder-to-shoulder and joyfully exalt Him with one heart and one voice. This is the true fellowship of the saints. This is the colorful family of God. This is the rainbow of the redeemed.
Indeed, Christ is all.