Doctrine, Preferences, and Cross-cultural Life in the Church
By Irwyn Ince

After a year such as 2020, when conversations around race once again rose to heightened national consciousness and a global pandemic revealed and exacerbated some of our deepest divides, many churches feel a renewed calling toward cross-cultural life and love. I want to offer two commitments I consider central to equipping churches in that journey: devoting to the doctrine, and probing the preferences.

“Devoting to the doctrine” means that churches must embrace the theology of unity in diversity as a gospel imperative. God’s triune nature, His unity in diversity as one who exists in mutual glorifying community, is instructive for how He designed humanity to image Him. Therefore, since God in Himself has both unity and diversity, it is not surprising that unity and diversity are reflected in the human relationships that God has established. Thus, in the church there are many members yet one body.

To refuse to pursue unity in diversity as a gospel imperative is to fundamentally neglect what it means for humanity to image God.

This belief cannot be seen as a tangential or side issue to the gospel if a church is going to grow in welcoming neighbors across lines of difference. To refuse to pursue unity in diversity as a gospel imperative is to fundamentally neglect what it means for humanity to image God.

Preferences and Cultural Values

“Probing the preferences” refers to the scriptural call to look beneath the surface and examine our hearts. We are called away from superficial Christian living into a life that probes our desires to discern whether they are in line with God’s desires. This is not just something for individual Christians to do — it is a task for churches as well.

Even as churches strive to be faithful to the Lord, that faithfulness is often necessarily expressed through preferences. The Bible simply does not tell us every detail of every aspect of a worship service or daily life. Some things must be determined by “good and necessary consequence” based on what the Bible does say.

How often do churches probe their preferences to examine whether those preferences help or hinder diverse people from experiencing welcome? These preferences are based on cultural values that lie beneath the surface of the things we see, hear, and experience. Although churches are formed by those values, they often are assumed and go unaddressed. If churches are to pursue the creation of a new “we,” where the dividing walls of hostility are broken down, they cannot afford to ignore the values that form their current expression of  “church.”

There is more, of course. But as we pursue cross-cultural life and love as an outworking of a deep covenantal commitment, we must stay rooted in the doctrine informing that commitment. We must also examine how our cultural preferences shape our life together. Jesus is Lord over it all, and we follow Him in worshipful anticipation as He heals every painful divide our communities experience.

Irwyn Ince serves as the executive director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission and as a pastor in the Grace DC Network. He is author of “The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best.”

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