Revelation 5:9-10 (ESV)
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
I was in an online discussion once with a gentlemen whose complaint was that his church was so unlike him in everything but faith in Jesus that he really felt like a fish out of water. Their lives were so unlike his, especially in the area of music, that he wondered if they were the people he should be worshipping God with. There come times when it is right to leave a church and seek another. Why should we try to maintain fellowship with blue haired ladies and those who listen to music that make us feel like we are in a time warp, read books that use English that hasn’t been spoken in decades, and whose leisure activities would put the most severe insomniac into instant sleep? His own testimony was not that of a man who has his act all together but the impression he got was that everyone else in his group did. If they really ever wrestled with sin, they gave no evidence of it. Should he stay in such a thing? Should he give it up until he could find something a little closer to his own story and study the Scriptures with those who could understand life’s horrors? These are understandable questions. It is not easy to be with a group of people with whom you feel like you have nothing in common. His concerns are real and they are legitimate. Sometimes the impression that we get from other believers that life is copacetic and that they feel the presence of God almost constantly is simply a testimony to the success of their attempts to hide the reality. They would be much healthier physically and emotionally and spiritually if they just came clean. No one has their act completely together. We are not in control. We have not arrived yet. Those who give us the impression that all is well are either Pharisees or the victims of Pharisees and are just too afraid to let some of their thoughts and struggles show.
In any case, the following is part of what I said to him with some things added.
What you have in common with the people who have stories of consistent Christian living since the age of three or four and with those who wear flowered dresses, far outweighs what makes you feel out of place. What you have in common is Jesus Christ. Why should music or dress or tastes be the common element in a group of people gathered to study the Scriptures? The common element is Him and if He is insufficient then He is a liar and you shouldn’t be following Him anyway. God intentionally puts us in with people who in other circumstances we would not associate with because the church is about our commonality in Christ and unity means nothing if we can only be united with people whose tastes and stories are all alike. It is about having a union with Christ that is so strong that it overcomes all the other things that would prevent us from associating with those people if not for Christ. If what we are looking forward to in meeting with other believers is sociological congruity then we are nothing more than a religious Kiwanis club.
The one triune God that is, is a glorious God. And glory is not something that is subjective. The glory of God is not like colours, or flavours of ice cream, or sports teams, or music styles. It is not a matter of taste or personal preference. No, no. When we leave this mortal coil and enter glory to see Jesus, it will not matter what our personal tastes were on earth. There will be lovers of Bach, and lovers of Rock, both rejoicing in the wonders of their Lord.
There will be intellectuals who spent their lives on earth studying the intricacies of the biblical Greek in order to better understand the Bible, standing with people who on earth never learned to read, both enthralled with the unarguable beauty of Jesus Christ.
There will be people there who on earth frequented the opera and symphony orchestras and drank their tea from little cups with their pinky fingers placed just “so”, standing next to people who thought that Red Green was high class, both understanding now that those things were a far cry from the true greatness that is found only in Jesus Christ – and they will have their arms around one another and all the problems they had because of taste will be erased because the beauty, and splendour and majesty of God is not a matter of taste. It is a matter of reality, of truth.
And in the face of the risen glorified Christ no one will say “well that is just your opinion”. Not at all. All who see Him will bow because THIS is real glory.
And the point is, that God calls us to put our arms around each other here and now with people in flowered dresses who listen to Michael Buble, watch men figure skate, and think that beer is brewed in hell. This is the grand testimony of the church. He enables us to overlook what, in normal social situations would separate us from each other, and associate with one another, as a body of believers, because Jesus Christ unites us in love for Him and for each other. Where in the Bible do we ever get even the slightest hint that the church is made up of a socially homogenous group? It is exactly the opposite. The first crisis in the church was a racial one (Acts 6:1-7), and the solution was not for the two major racial groups (Jews and Gentiles) to form different churches. It would have been easier. It may have been more fun. But it would have destroyed the picture and truth that nothing can come close to giving reason to separate if the reason we are together is Jesus Christ. A church segregated along the lines of race, class, degree or type of sins forgiven, culture, or tastes in music and art, is telling the world that the Gospel is a lie.
If you are in a situation with these people who are so much not like you and there is precious little to talk about, then talk about what you do have in common – Him.
There is a reason we are told again and again to love one another, forgive one another, be patient with one another, tolerate one another… Because that is the real mark of the church. People who get on each others nerves for whatever reasons, and work them out for the sake of Christ, because He is more glorified with people working things out than with people who just keep forming new groups of people with whom they have fewer and fewer things to disagree about.
I am the Brigadier General of seeing things differently than the way other people do. It demands grace for people to put up with me and for me to put up with them. In a community meeting several years ago, of people from various Christian backgrounds and beliefs, I was the only one who would not sign a document calling for the reinstitution of the Lord’s Prayer back into the legislature. The very desire to make this a big deal misses the point. The problem with our society is not the absence of the Lord’s Prayer coming out of the mouths of people who do not believe in the God to whom the prayer is addressed. The problem is that people cannot point to us and say “That is what we need to be”. And we who are a part of the church should be very concerned about that more than public prayer. We do not need public prayer from people who do not pray in private. We need groups of prayer from people who are prohibited from praying in public.
Perhaps socially acceptable people need to know that it took the same amount of grace to save them that it took to save those whose lives were a cesspool of immorality. God requires sinless perfection in order to get into heaven and only Jesus has it. If we are not in Him we don’t make it, no matter how well coordinated our outfits are.
Do not be fooled into thinking that these people are any different than you. In your church are men wrestling with pornography, unethical business practises, maybe homosexuality or late night encounters with hookers. There is certainly gossip that needs to be dealt with and perhaps a little racism. They do not have their act together. They are afraid and hurt and they sometimes wonder if they are saved at all. The saddest thing about a lot of them is that they dare not say anything about their inner struggles for fear of what may happen to them, what people will think, what their reputation will be.
The church – a fellowship of people saved by sovereign grace from all kinds of backgrounds and sins with the greatest thing in the world uniting them together despite all their differences – the Son of God who came for them, lived for them, died for them, intercedes for them and will one day come back to earth for them. If only we would focus on these things that matter, we would be able to love one another in the face of all the differences, that in the long run, do not.