Local Church Multiculturalism

“I have a dream of a Sunday when these pews will be filled to overflowing … with people of every colour under heaven, so different in race but utterly one in mutual respect…”  These words of my own “I Have A Dream” speech from 1990 echoed through my mind as I sat once again in the seats of Morningstar  Christian Fellowship  and witnessed the mosaic of people gathered at  Lorraine Chen’s funeral service. Here I was 27 years later reflecting back on the vision God gave me to see a local church become in microcosm what the church triumphant is in macrocosm. It was for me a speechless moment.

The more familiar we are with the storyline of Scripture we discover that our biblically-defined hope and vision are at their core multicultural. History culminates with “the glory and honour of the nations” brought into the eternal city. The unfolding story in the Acts of the Apostles is how a small group of culture-bound Jews becomes an international multicultural family of believers. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reveals God’s eternal plan to bring together a divided humanity of Jew and Gentile into “one new man.” Many of his other letters address how harmonious church life can be realized in a context of diverse cultures in one church.

This biblical reflection is needed among our churches and church leaders as we experience the rapidly changing demographics of the communities that surround our churches. The immigrant wave of the past 30 years is now surging beyond the largest urban centres of our nation into smaller cities and towns. A historical reflection brings us to an undeniable conclusion – the churches that have embraced their changing “Jerusalems” have experienced new life and growth. Those who resisted are either closed or struggle to be viable.

Many Canadian Christians and churches are fearful of the changes increased immigration is bringing to Canada. What we fail to understand is that God is powerfully at work in the whole immigration process. The Apostle Paul had this insight when he said that God “determines the exact places where they should live” and that he does this “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” God’s providence is a wonderful doctrine.  Our God is giving us incredible opportunities to reach the nations in our communities. We have been experiencing this in Hamilton especially in the last five years.

Young families and new Canadians are scattering throughout southern Ontario to smaller cities outside of Toronto to find affordable housing. For us the opportunities for Gospel sharing are unprecedented. We have baptized 10 people from China, several of whom had no knowledge whatsoever of Jesus and the Bible. To this number we can add Koreans, Filipinos, Pakistanis, Hispanics, West Indians, East Indians and Africans. These “minorities” in our church are adding a new dynamic to our fellowship as they experience acceptance and become more involved.

It’s time to take a new look at our communities and open our eyes to the new reality. It’s time to think strategically about how we can reach new Canadians. It’s time to wrestle with the issues of how we can make our churches inviting and accepting of others. It’s time to rejoice in the opportunities God’s providence presents us. It’s time to embrace our “Jerusalems” with the love of Christ. The Gospel calls us to this. And the end result will be local churches on earth that look like the church triumphant in heaven. I have a dream!

John Mahaffey is a former missionary to the Philippines. He pastored Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto for 18 years and for the past 10 years has served as Lead Pastor of West Highland in Hamilton, ON.