The Church, where God reveals his infinitely varied wisdom (Pierre Constant)
The face of our churches changes over the years. From racially and often socially homogeneous congregations, the body of Christ is transformed with the diversity of those whom Jesus Christ, head of the Church, adds to his body. "And the Lord added daily those who were being saved to the Church," we read in Acts 2:47.
Nor do we choose the members of our family or our relatives, neither do we choose those whom the Lord leads to believe in Jesus Christ, God having already destined them to eternal life (Ac 13.48), without consulting us, without asking us.
Of course, we do not choose those who, in the elective will of our Lord and Master, are brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. However, sometimes - and even often - we feel more comfortable with this or that person in the local church. This is quite normal, because for the great majority of us, people of the same social background, the same socio-economic background and the same cultural background, are more familiar to us, and therefore , ties are often easier to weave.
As children of God, members of the family of God, we are now reconciled to God the Father through his Son. We know God as Heavenly Father, enjoying a special relationship and access to his presence that is far beyond our understanding and appreciation. Surely, this relationship with God as Father also leads us to a relationship with his family, our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, with whom we will share eternity in the presence of God, a relationship based on the work of Christ at the time. cross and expressing itself through the continual work of Christ in our hearts through his Holy Spirit, awaiting a grand heavenly meeting.
The Church of Jesus Christ at its origins
What the Acts of the Apostles call “The Way” was, after all, an exclusively Jewish movement in its early days. Chosen by Jesus himself, all the apostles were Jews, and the disciples were overwhelmingly also of Jewish origin.
The Gospels certainly present to us, on a few occasions, a ministry of Jesus extending beyond ethnic lines. Some figures of non-Jewish origin mentioned here and there in the Gospels indeed enjoyed the grace of God manifested by the Messiah of the Jews. One thinks in particular of this Greek woman, of Syrophenician origin (according to Mark 7:26), asking Jesus to heal her daughter cruelly tormented by a demon, the latter having previously called for her help by using the title "Son of David ”(Matt 15:22), a surprising name from a non-Jew. We also remember the centurion (in the service of the Roman army) interceding with Jesus on behalf of his paralyzed and violently tormented servant. Jesus praises his faith, a faith such as he had not found even in Israel, the image of those from East and West who will come to sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of God (Matt 8.5-11), in the footsteps of the wise men from the East and whose spiritual insight far exceeded the moral and spiritual blindness of King Herod (Matt 2.1-15).
In his explanation of the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus also announced that the Kingdom of God would be taken away from the sons of the Kingdom - the Jews - and granted to others who will give the lord of the vineyard the fruits in their season ( Matt 21.41).
All of this was in line with what Jesus himself had suggested when he read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, namely that his ministry would target in particular the poor, the sick, the marginalized and those left behind, especially non-Jews, like Elijah's ministry to the widow in Zarephath and that of Elisha to Naaman the Syrian (Luke 414-27).
However, in reality, the great majority of the Lord’s disciples had been recruited from among the Jews, sent - for a time - exclusively to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 10.6). If some Greeks had wanted to see Jesus shortly before the Passover in Jerusalem (John 12.23-24), Jesus had announced to the apostles who had come to tell him this news that the time had not yet come to do so; the grain of wheat had to fall into the ground and die in order to bear much fruit, an allusion to his eminent death. The Greeks thus had to wait “ for this hour that I [Jesus] came ” (John 12:27 French version).
Jesus' earthly ministry, which rarely spilled over beyond the geographic borders of the land of Israel, was therefore especially addressed to the Jews. “Salvation comes from the Jews,” he announced to the Samaritan woman (John 4:22), before specifying, however, that the hour is coming when true worshipers will not be limited to those going to Jerusalem, but to those who worship the Father in spirit and in truth (vv. 23-24).
A transition period
The roots of God's new people were therefore deeply rooted in Judaic soil. The first years of the apostles' ministry saw the Church grow, by the grace of God, around Jerusalem and its environs. Although a multitude of people came from many countries, these people had in common their Judaic faith. So the Church of Acts 2 was also strongly Jewish in content. We will have to wait for the rest of the story to see the Gospel spread beyond the borders of Judaism.
The expansion of the Christian faith in non-Jewish circles took place gradually, and the mixing of Christians of various origins caused some tension within the new communities. As proof, the discussion reported in Acts 15 shows how far the question of the status to be accorded to non-Jews, within what had been essentially a movement among the Jews, was far from unanimous. The phenomenon of diversity was not new to the Church, nor the problems related to this phenomenon, as evidenced by the episode recounted in Acts 6 where widows of Hellenic origin did not receive their fair share in food distribution. In short, the original diversity among members of God's people was not obvious and was not without causing profound differences of opinion among the early Christians.
The new people of God from an ethnic diversity: a phenomenon announced in advance in the Scriptures
Reading Paul's epistles, we realize that this mix of different nations in God's people was part of the divine plan at its origin. For example, in Romans 15: 9-12, Paul quotes text after text from the Scriptures to testify that the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy towards them: "Therefore I will give thanks to thee among the nations, O Lord. ! And I will chant (in honor) of your name. "(Ps 18.50)," Nations , acclaim his people "(Deut 32.43)," Praise the Lord, all nations, Glorify him you all peoples ! "(Ps 117.1). , 10). These Old Testament announcements and appeals are used to justify that divine mercy was never restricted to Jews alone, God having a much larger plan of salvation and extending to the nations in all their diversity.
If in times past Israel was called to separate itself from the nations, it was above all to separate itself from the immorality of these peoples (cf. 2 Cor 6:17, citing Isa 52:11). But when it came to spreading the message of reconciliation with God, all peoples (Judah and Israel included), were invited to repent and turn to the only one able to erase the faults of each. p>
A well-known text should be reread in the light of the need for all peoples (Judah and Israel included) to repent and turn to God. Indeed, when Paul declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), he does not only mean that all individuals without exception are separated from God; Paul specifies just before: "For there is no distinction," namely no distinction between human beings, but above all, depending on the immediate context, there is no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. . In v. 9, he had already written: "all, Jews and Greeks, are under (the empire) of sin"; on the day of judgment, "that every mouth may be shut, and everyone may be found guilty before God." "(V. 19).
This greeting, offered to all without distinction of race or religious background, is therefore a greeting for the Jews and the pagans. In Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles now have access to the grace of God. Such a message, adds Paul, not only does not nullify the law, but confirms it (Rom 3.31), which the apostle hastens to do in Romans 4, using examples such as Abraham ( justified before his circumcision) and David (justified not by the law, but in that the Lord did not impute his sin to him).
Ethnic diversity and spiritual unity in Jesus Christ
Nowhere in his epistles is Paul so detailed about ethnic diversity and spiritual unity as in his letter to the Ephesians. If it is difficult to state beyond any doubt, in chapter one and at the beginning of chapter two of this epistle, that Paul uses the “we” and the “you” to refer respectively to Christians of Jewish and pagan origin, the question no longer arises from Eph 2:11 and in the verses that follow. In fact, Paul declares: "Remember therefore this: formerly, you pagans in the flesh, treated as uncircumcised by those who claim to be circumcised and who are so in the flesh and by the hand. men, you were at that time without Christ, deprived of the citizenship in Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. ”(Eph 2: 11-12). Once distant, Paul continues, “you have come to be near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Separated geographically, ethnically, and spiritually, these Gentiles have now been "brought together" through the death of Christ. The spatial metaphor applied to the new spiritual situation of these members of the family of God underscores the shift in spiritual location experienced by these brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ from a non-Jewish background. A new status before God, a new spiritual closeness.
The union between Jews and Gentiles in the new people of God is in direct line with the eternal and sovereign plan of God, namely "to unite under one head [or: 'under one head'], Christ , whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth ”(Eph 1:10). Christ is the head of the new people of God, the head of the new body, the Church (cf. Eph 1: 22-23). In him, Jews and pagans reconciled with God have a new head, the head of this new body: Jesus Christ.
The effects of Christ's death on the body of Christ
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross leads us not only to be individually reconciled with the Father, to be adopted into the family of God, to be redeemed, to receive forgiveness of our sins , to know the benevolent purpose of God and to be sealed with the Holy Spirit (all facets of salvation mentioned in Eph 1: 3-14), The death of Jesus Christ also gives us reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles in the new people of God (Eph 2: 11-22). Thanks to Jesus Christ as head and head of the body, we are now part of a new body, where both Jews and non-Jews enjoy the same access into the presence of God by the same Spirit, having been redeemed at the same price. , that of the death of the Son of God, and likewise, by faith in his sacrificial, atoning, and propitiatory death.
The death of Christ is what produces this new unity between Jews and Gentiles: “For he is our peace, he who of the two [that is to say of the two peoples, Jews and non-Jews] has become one, by destroying the wall of separation, the enmity. (Eph 2:14). In his flesh, that is, by his death on the cross, "in his flesh he made void the law with its commandments and their provisions" (v. 15a). What separated the circumcised and the uncircumcised has now passed; the purpose of Christ's death is "to create in his person, with the two [Jews and non-Jews], one new man" (v. 15b) and "to reconcile them both to God [again Jews and non-Jews] in one body by his cross ”(v. 16). Much more than a happy consequence of salvation, the unity between Jews and non-Jews within the body of Christ was one of the specific purposes of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The wisdom of God in its great diversity
According to God's eternal purpose, Jews and non-Jews, saved by the grace of God, are now united in Jesus Christ so that invisible beings can know the wisdom of God in its great diversity (Eph 3: 9 -11).
In connection with the central theme of this work, let us note that it is the Church of Jesus Christ, body connected to its head and to its head, which becomes the means by which God reveals to the principalities and to the powers in the heavenly places its infinitely varied wisdom.
To describe the new reality of the fundamental union between Jews and non-Jews forming a new body, the Church of Jesus Christ, Paul uses a term which is dear to him, but which, in the French language, leads to confusion. The apostle presents this new reality by speaking of "mystery," a term that is wrongly associated with the mystery religions of the time. Far from being a secret reserved for a few initiates following any ceremony, the content of the mystery Paul speaks of is spelled out in the immediate context, on two occasions.
First of all, we read in Eph 3.6: "The Gentiles have one inheritance, are one body, and partake of the same promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.Gone are the days when non-Jews somehow had to join with the Jewish people in enjoying the promises made to the fathers! Gone are the centuries in which blessings for Jews and non-Jews were fulfilled within the Jewish people! Now (v 5), it is no longer Gentiles juxtaposed with the people of the Old Covenant, but a new people, composed of Jews and Gentiles, who constitute the people of the New Covenant. We are no longer talking about Jews and non-Jews, but Christians and non-Christians! The Church, the new people of God, the body of which Christ is the head, constitutes this mystery which the apostle received by a revelation, and whose content he is now charged with announcing to all, Jews and Gentiles. P >
Paul also indicates in Eph 3.3 that he just wrote about the mystery "in a few words." Exegetes sometimes compete in ingenuity to find out where and when Paul previously wrote about the mystery. The simplest and easiest solution to the immediate context is to perceive there an echo of what Paul already said in Eph 2: 11-22. In “a few words” Paul declares loud and clear that the Gentiles are no longer without Christ, deprived of the citizenship in Israel, strangers to covenants, without hope and without God in the world. On the contrary, they now enjoy, like the Jews, access to the Father, through Jesus Christ, in one Spirit (2.18). They did not become Jews, but “fellow citizens of the saints, members of the family of God” (2.19). This mystery consists of this new spiritual reality of the body of Christ made up of Jews and pagans bound at the head of the body in exactly the same way: by faith in Jesus Christ.
A new nationality in Jesus Christ
So therefore, if we are united with one another in the Church, it is not by virtue of a contract based on our mutual good faith, but by virtue of the grace of God bestowed by faith. Our true citizenship is no longer tied to a piece of land: "our citizenship [as Paul's original meaning of the term] is in heaven" (Phil 3.20 NBS version).
If all human beings are objects of divine creation, and all human beings are created in the image of God to be in communion with God and to give him glory and honor, the very place where these realities are made possible, the Church cannot suffer from racism or sexism. Of course, our new birth in Jesus Christ does not obliterate our nationality, the color of our skin, or our marital status; but our belonging to Jesus Christ transcends any difference raised as a barrier between human beings.
Unity among members of the People of God from different cultural backgrounds, of different educational backgrounds, of different musical preferences, has always and always will be a challenge among the members of the People of God. But what unites us is our fundamental and saving relationship in Jesus Christ.
Outside of him, we have little in common; but in him, we have the essential, the ultimate, to share!
In search of the balance between unity and diversity within the body of Christ
Cultural diversity, diversity of backgrounds and differences in nationality of origin are increasingly present in our churches. Few of the assemblies in large Canadian or Quebec cities are not in the presence of people from many different nationalities. My own congregation has more than 20 different nationalities, and other churches I know have double that.How can we succeed in rubbing shoulders with each other despite so much difference? I end this essay with a few suggestions for this purpose:
- Affirm the diversity we enjoy in the family of God in Jesus Christ! If certain sociological analyzes claim to promote the digital growth of the Church by encouraging the emergence of multi-ethnic assemblies, these analyzes nevertheless truncate a fundamental theological reality: the Church of Christ knows no social barrier, nor economic barrier, nor racial barrier. This does not mean that cultural or social diversity presents no challenge; a reading, even cursive, of the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of the New Testament, shows that the diversity within the body of Christ is not obvious. That said, affirming our diversity in Jesus Christ can be done in the form of a special celebration, an international meal or even by taking concrete actions so that this diversity is present in the council of the Church, among the deacons. and deaconesses, worship leaders, and so on. As a concrete example, the national flag of each nation represented by at least one person from the assembly is displayed in the main assembly hall where I serve, and we make sure to choose people from various nations when of public prayers.
- On the other hand, let's be careful not to focus all our attention on this diversity. After all, what unites us is not our love of diversity, but God's love for us and his grace for us. In this light, diversity becomes a secondary element, and must remain so. In addition, it is often impossible to know all the members of our assembly personally if it exceeds a certain number of people. The ideal is to make sure that we connect with people from other cultures, from different backgrounds, rather than restricting ourselves to those who are most like us. After all, Jesus Christ is worthy to receive all honor because he redeemed people of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Rev 5:10). The diversity we experience is a foretaste of our presence before the throne of God and the Lamb, and only exists because of our individual relationship with the Lamb.
- Finally, let us clearly and steadily affirm our fundamental unity in Jesus Christ. The reason we come together to honor God is because we have God in common. By placing God, his Word and his work of grace in Jesus Christ at the center of our attention, of our praises, of our prayers, of the preaching of the Word, we underline in broad strokes that our collective unity proceeds from the grace of God towards each of us individually and collectively.