Diversity—A Potential Identity Thief
By J.R. Ensey
Why must we now emphasize diversity as though we have been anti-diversity for nearly a century? Suddenly we are told our churches must become “diverse.” I have only been around the Apostolic faith for about 58 years, but I have never seen a time when we were not diverse. No ethnicity or cultural group has been left outside of our love and evangelistic fervor. I have never been to a true Apostolic church and witnessed anyone turned away because they had a skin color that did not represent the majority in some way. Nor have I seen anyone turned away from our services because they were inappropriately dressed, or smelled bad, or had long/short hair, or were of another faith. Our churches have traditionally reached out to people of color, cultural minorities, the handicapped, the poor, the young, the aged and the hurting—often when others did not. Pentecostals have led the way in diversity when it comes to reaching all sectors of our culture.
But now we are urged to become diverse. Haven’t we always been? I think I know where the advocates are coming from. I was personally involved in promoting outreach to virtually all segments of American society—long before most of those screaming for diversity today were in middle school. And in the last two decades our stronger churches have multiplied themselves by starting hundreds of daughter works, extension ministries, and additional campuses in areas where minorities are concentrated.
The problem with diversity is that promoters seldom know when and where to put the brakes on. Modern mainline churches have modified the definition of the term to urge all of Christendom toward inclusivism—the concept that all persons, regardless of their beliefs or moral commitments, should be admitted to membership in our churches, and perhaps even our ministry. How it has worked out in other denominations and faiths is that the acceptance of opposing views and lifestyles reaches the point of muting distinctions. Diversity training is mandated for those who won’t conform to current cultural/secular standards. Churches are threatened for taking a stand against homosexuality. Pastors have been jailed in some countries for speaking out in opposition to same-sex marriage. Businesses that refuse the activists have been shut down. Unless all forms of music are tolerated and embraced one is considered an object for scorn. The spirit that has invaded our nation has invaded our churches: tolerance is for everyone else, not me.
Isn’t unity what we are after, both in our nation and in our churches? An emphasis on national diversity seems to feed multiculturalism—a fracturing of our nation, making it something our founders never envisioned. Our coins have carried the phrase, e pluribus unum—out of many, one. Unity—all becoming one people, one colorblind nation—was the vision of our forefathers and the spirit of the Constitution. Have there been some failures along the way? Sure, but we have overcome some situations along the way, also. Those need to be acknowledged. In unity there is strength; in division there is weakness that feeds prejudice.
It seems that movement toward elimination of words and feelings that divide us would be a goal of Christians. Didn’t Jesus’ prayer include the phrase “that they all may be one” (John 17:21)? Wouldn’t that mean one in doctrine, one in lifestyle commitments, one in hope? Pushing for diversity as it is popularly defined today contributes to a mindset of each person justifiably becoming a law unto himself.
Diversity is interpreted in various ways at the level of application. An “appreciation” of diversity can even affect our approach to discipleship. Unless someone has been in church for months or years before they learn of our holiness standards, pastors might be considered hardliners, anti-revival, or anti-love, or anti-whatever. It is like we have to be sneaky about being a holiness movement. Folks once knew when they came to a Pentecostal altar what it meant—today they often have no clue of any lifestyle distinctions for which repentance is necessary. Why can’t folks come into the faith and be taught a lifestyle that matches the Scriptures rather than making churches and pastors feel that they must be silent for months and perhaps years before discipling is offered? Often by that time patterns have been established and kids have accustomed to the acceptance of worldly practices. Veteran Christians who have been in church longer and whose lives express holiness can wonder why their commitment was called for when the commitment of others is ignored. Weaving godliness and the Lord’s expectations into our regular sermons and Bible lessons along the way will let new attendees know that coming to God may affect the way they are living. Discipleship training right away will assist them in important lifestyle decisions.
Unless live-in couples are taken aside privately and told that they are living in sin, some won’t “get it.” If you wait for months to inform some people that illegal drugs, wine, beer, hard liquor and tobacco products are out of bounds, they might not know. By that time they may have concluded that God doesn’t care whether they frequent the movies, dance halls, or casinos since they can worship and pray right over all that stuff without conviction. So the pastor has to inform them at some point—perhaps after they have become comfortable in church with a worldly lifestyle—at which they may choose to go elsewhere rather than conform to certain biblical mandates. The theory that “God will tell them what is right and wrong” won’t fly. God would not have put pastors and teachers in the church if that were the case. “And such like…” is still in the Bible at Galatians 5:21.
Oh, I can hear the bleeding hearts now. “He thinks we must clean fish before we catch them!” What idiocy. Somewhere there is a logical center–of-the-road balance that incorporates wisdom without forfeiting our Pentecostal identity. We have to bear with those pastors who excuse themselves by saying before they take you to the platform, “Now you will see folks in our congregation in all seasons of spiritual development, so don’t be shocked.” It is like they think you just started in this yesterday and you don’t understand conversion and discipleship. Usually, a few months or years and that pastor and congregation have gone “south.” He will never be able to bring them into the full Apostolic way by being “tolerant,” in the sense he has learned it from Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Rob Bell, T. D. Jakes, and virtually all of the Charismatic quacks on the media.
Unity around our founding principles, doctrines and standards is essential if we have a future as an Apostolic movement. A focus on cultural diversity and pluralism that is sneaking in will dilute us as an Apostolic force in this wicked world. Diversity will not stop with churches merely reflecting various skin colors and languages. Advocates will continue to cry for tolerance from Christians while gradually eliminating “repentance” and “godliness” from their preaching.
Perhaps if we curtailed the amount of financial debt our churches are incurring, we wouldn’t feel so pressured to let everyone alone live as they please as long as they are “feeding the kitty.” Current trends seem to say that in twenty years, if Jesus tarries, we won’t be able to discern much difference between us and the world around us.
Do you think if we hear the term “diversity” enough we will come to accommodate anyone’s idea of what biblical doctrine is or what it means to live a Christian life? Will we allow it to contribute to the theft of apostolic identity?