You’ve surely seen it written on the coins jingling in your pocket – this unofficial motto of the United States: E Pluribus Unum. It means, very simply: out of many, one. And it’s an apt description of what our nation has (imperfectly) sought to be.
But it occurs to me that this designation – E Pluribus Unum – is also a description of what the church of Jesus Christ ought to be, to an even greater degree than any nation state. In its worldwide scope, the church of Jesus Christ is (or at least is becoming) far more diverse than even the most cosmopolitan city or nation could ever be. For the church of Jesus Christ is destined to include “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5.9). The corridors of heaven, in other words, will make even the crowds at the Frankfurt airport seem slightly monolithic!
And yet the church is not simply made up out of many. It is also designed to be one. Across national, linguistic, ethnic, cultural, educational, and any other background … the church of Jesus Christ has been designed by its Maker to bring all these folks into “one body” with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” and “one God and Father of all.” And we are one in all those ways, even with people we do not yet know! We are one with every true believer in the Lord Jesus, the world over!
And yet that does not mean that it is always easy to function as one, and to live as one, and to love as one. That often requires much more effort – especially on the local, week-to-week level; and especially when the only thing we seem to have in common with some of our fellow believers is Christ! He should be more than enough, of course! But sometimes it is hard to flesh that out.
And I write all this because I want to address an area of real blessing and opportunity (but also concern) in our own little local church. We at PRBC are not, of course, anywhere near as diverse as the worldwide body of Christ. But we are more diverse than the average congregation of our size, I’d imagine. Just in the last two Sundays, we’ve had seven different nationalities represented in our services! And I am counting only those who were born overseas! And have you noticed that we have also begun, in recent years, to have a wider demographic spread when it comes to things like age, education, income, career, Bible knowledge, church background, and so on. And then there is the geographic spread of where we all live, scattered far and wide across this large metropolitan area.
All of these things combine to make us quite an eclectic gathering of folks – which can be (for both pastor and congregants) a bit unnerving … but also glorious!
I lean heavily toward glorious! I think it is a marvelous thing that our little church is growing, more and more, to reflect the diversity that we will see in heaven. I consider it a complement to our long-time members that so many people of such diverse backgrounds have felt welcomed in our midst. And I am certain that it is the power of the gospel, and the solid food of the word of God (and not our ‘style’), that has made it all happen. And that is quite satisfying, too.
But I have to tell you that the diversity of our congregation is also unnerving to me. Not in and of itself … but because I know that E Pluribus Unum is a difficult reality to hold together on the most practical levels. Because isn’t it easier for the long-time members to still mainly gravitate toward the other long-timers that they already know quite well? And isn’t it most natural for the young to congregate mostly among themselves? And isn’t it hard, sometimes, to know what to talk about with someone whose background is so different from your own? Maybe not because you’re prejudiced, but just because you honestly have no idea what sorts of things you might have in common. And I fear that for our church. I’m a little worried that we could slip into a handful of cliques that worship together, but little else. Or that we could become largely a preaching station where many people come and get fed, but have fairly little real knowledge of or fellowship with the nice folks just down the pew.
So what am I saying? I’m saying that, by God’s grace, we have the E Pluribus part working pretty well. Our little church really is composed out of many. But I’m concerned that we don’t just presume upon the Unum – the oneness! And I want to urge you not to presume upon it yourself. In fact, as you read this, I want you to get up from where you are sitting and deliberately go sit next to someone whom you don’t know that well. Maybe you don’t even know their name! Find it out today. And find out a little about them. And make sure you pull out of them at least one way in which you can be praying for them in the days ahead. And then do the same next week, and the next.
And especially do so at the fellowship meals! These can be some of the best times for getting to know people! But they can also be some of the loneliest and most discouraging if you are one of the people whom no one seems to want to get to know. Do not let that happen – either to yourself, or to your brothers and sisters in Christ! Sit with someone you don’t know all that well – every. single. time. – until there is no one left that you don’t know, and don’t know how to pray for!
And if, as you sit down, you’re nervous that you won’t have much in common, and that you won’t know what to talk about … remember that there is at least one thing (one Person, really) that we all have in common. Jesus! And so, if you don’t know what else to talk about, you can always share with one another how you came to know Him! And you’ll realize, more than you did before, that you really are family. And you’ll begin to be able to converse about other things, and what’s important to you, and how they and you relate to God. And the Unum will begin to happen … “on earth as it is in heaven.” Aim for that in 2015. E Pluribus Unum!