My Lebanese uncle appeared in our home for the first time when I was 9 years old. Dressed in a long robe, he held prayer beads and spoke Arabic with great animation. He was an avid collector of icons that revered our ancient Christian heritage. I was ashamed of his oddity. My father explained that we needed to love him, regardless of his clothes and mannerisms. With pride my father recalled how his brother spoke many languages, was highly educated and ran a successful international business. To my young mind, however, my uncle’s otherness seemed insurmountable.
Multicolored mohawks, pierced and tattooed bodies, bizarre clothes and loud music rocked my senses our first day at the Cornerstone Festival this July. How would those of us at the CBE booth begin a discussion with these alternative Christians who seemed so different than us? Did we make the right decision to attend? Yet, within one day we engaged in some of the most intelligent and poignant conversation we’ve ever had. Fest-goers were family, and they deserved our love and embrace.
When we shut our eyes and imagine the ideal church, how many of us visualize my uncle or the folks from the Cornerstone Festival sitting in the pews? Or, do we imagine a church comprised of people who look and sound just like us? The history of God’s people seems to be one of “exclusion or embrace,” a struggle documented by Yale University’s Miroslav Volf.
While the strict codes of the Pharisees and Sadducees in New Testament times made it clear who were the insiders and outsiders, how different was the birthday of the church! Pentecost was an explosion of dissimilar people, as the outsiders joined the insiders: Men and women from many tribes and nations were united by the Holy Spirit as family. Women, men, slaves, Greeks, Jews and tax collectors became the church, and their radical love for each other gave rise to a global community — born of the Spirit.
What makes Christians peculiar is our radical inclusion. We are nearer our brothers and sisters in Christ than we are to our own kin, culture or race. Newness in Christ works against the human impulse to exclude those culturally different from us. On this point CBE is clear.
CBE has challenged the church to live out the message of Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.” In the CBE community we view Galatians 3:28 as “the eye of the New Testament,” as F.F. Bruce noted. Because Scripture never aligns Christians or their spiritual gifts with gender, class or race, we promote the truth that any believer may serve in any church office if so gifted by God. We seek to empower the gifts of all Christians, regardless of their cultural package. We are blind when we embrace!
I thank God for my family and for groups like those at the Cornerstone Festival. Both enlarge my image of the church. Whether it is comfortable or not, the fundamental call of biblical equality is to embrace and empower our brothers and sisters, regardless of hair color, body piercing or foreign accent — God’s church in his image, not ours. Who would rather stare in the mirror, when the glorious image of God awaits us in those Christ calls his own?