CBC, ABC, OBC(?)…

September 14, 2006

Came across this course reading list at Seattle Pacific University’s School of Theolgy. Quite interesting. The course is titled Multi-Ethnic Ministries, and it has a lot of interesting observations and reflections on the Chinese Church in America. What surprised me is that the American Chinese Church has been thinking and living a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about regarding the future of Chinese churches in Canada (particularly Vancouver-Richmond).

Of the numerous issues raised and addressed in these readings, Ken Shigematsu’s article (I think it’s really dated) Ethnic Must Become Multi-ethnic, really strikes a chord. There are two ways of being church: target a homogeneous unit (all Chinese) or go for multi-ethnic. Shigematsu makes his stance clear, quoting an urban minsitry leader named John Perkins:

Homogeneity does not mirror the image of God. It cheapens the people who proclaim it and mocks God’s call for us to be agents of reconciliation. What makes it even more harmful is how it is justified: If we are segregated, more people will come and hear the Gospel, which in turn advances the kingdom of God … At the same time it increases the size of churches’ membership, it retards their spiritual growth.

I’ve faced this ‘tension’ before. I remember talking to a fellow Regent student a number of years back, and asked about the ‘validity’ of ethnic churches. I was stumped. She made the same points as Perkins above, and I couldn’t come up with a response. I’ve been thinking about it every since.  And I have come to some conclusions, but continue to think about it.

Shigematsu, of course, is currently senior pastor of the “flagship” Alliance church in BC, Tenth Avenue Alliance Church. It’s well known for its multi-ethnic congregation. And I think it’s great. (Try to count the number of nationalities on their home page!) It’s so good, I know of a number of my CBC friends go there instead of the Chinese churches they’ve grown up in.

I wonder where local Chinese churches are heading.

I agree with Shigematsu. Ethnic must become multi-ethnic. But before the question of how, I’m wondering when.

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4 Responses to “CBC, ABC, OBC(?)…”

  1. bonnieq said

    I am compelled to agree with you, Jason: church should be multi-ethnic. And, I feel the strongest support for that is God’s statement regarding earth’s human race without regard for nationalities: “You are all of one blood.”

    To state that churches should be separate groups based on ethnic background is, in my mind, the work of the Devil. He will do anything to cause division in Christ’s church, and this is just one more way to achieve it.

    “When” will people begin to come together without regard for each other nationalities? I don’t believe it will happen, for earth’s time is about to expire and Christ is about to return to take up His “small flocks.”

    I really enjoyed your thoughts on this issue; so, thank you for sharing them with the rest of us. 🙂 Visit my blog sometime at http://bonnieq.wordpress.com

    Love in Christ,
    BonnieQ
    Truth Seekers and Speakers, link on blog page
    Unicorn Haven, link on blog page

  2. m said

    Am wrestling with issue myself, not so much from a birdseye view, but more immediately, as a member of the Chinese church I’m part of. How much longer will I stay? A lot of my friends outside the church are not Chinese, and if they are, they tend to be more westernized.

    My church still insists on doing joint translated multi-lingual worship services and while the intention is to enforce unity, I find that attempt to unify contrived and even unfriendly (in a disregarding sort of way)

    It IS a matter of time for me I think, and I keep asking myself when (feel incredibly guilty and disloyal though I need to work through these feelings). I do feel that my days here at numbered, which affects my expression of committment and service here. Sort of a vicious cycle, b/c it feels like “I’m not allowed to” step back b/c of the ever present problem of not enough ppl serving.

  3. Bonnieq, thanks for your thoughts. Though I think ethnic churches should become multi-ethnic, my question of “when” is really an open-ended one.  What I mean, is in my agreement with Shigematsu, I also think ethnic churches certainly do play a role in God’s larger plan of salvation. Perhaps, more than we know, God’s intent for ethnic churches is to reach those that multi-ethnic churches cannot. Maybe? If so, then perhaps ethnic churches have a place…just not a static place (as is with any church).  (I realize this is the very argument Perkins lambastes, but I’m still open to how God works).  Another reason for ethnic churches is a practical one.  What if an new immigrant enters a new country, and does not speak the language of the land.  He seeks a church to worship, but cannot.  Should he “learn english,” in order to worship?  Or could he in the meantime start an ‘ethnic’ church where he can worship in his only language?

    All this to say, I’m not saying every local church should “be this” or “that,” in regard to this issue.  I am saying, though, a church should have a vision of what it should become.  Always.

    What you and I can agree on, I believe, is a vision of an undivided church, with no barriers to race, nationality, gender, or social class. I long for that. But in the meantime, how to make sense of our imperfect communities (whether ethnic or not), and how to centre these communities on God, his love, grace and salvation?

  4. Daniel Cheng said

    This is an issue that has been around for a long, long time. They have called 10:00am on Sunday mornings the most segregated hour in America!

    Anyways, I have spent most of my church life in ethnic churches (either Chinese-American or Japanese-American). I liked having the same cultural background, cultural preferences (food, customs, etc…), and cross-cultural issues as most of the other worshippers. It’s easier to relate to folks who have more in common with you, don’t ya thin? Plus corporate worship mutually enhances corporate fellowship.

    And Paul does write “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” He further states that, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).

    Further, “Every boundary that prohibits any person from coming into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ must be bridged. These boundaries are sometimes cultural, religious, social, economic, or gender-based. It goes without saying that these bridges must be built without compromising the integrity of the gospel message.”

    In sum, let me just make the simplistic case that I don’t think God is vehemently opposed to the ethnic church being within the church universal.

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