Will There Be Ethnic Diversity in Heaven?

The standard joke among foreigners when I lived in Hungary was that Hungarian would be the language of Heaven, because it takes an eternity to learn.

But will there actually be diversity in Heaven? Will racial differences exist for eternity? Or will Heaven be homogenous?

One Race?

As recent events have highlighted disparities and tensions between ethnic groups in the United States and beyond, one response from Christians has been to point out that the Bible teaches that all people come from one set of common ancestors. Therefore, they say, there is truly only one race: the human race.

In a recent episode of Calvary Live, Pastor Ed Taylor of Calvary Church in Aurora, Colorado spoke with John Moreland of Denver Christian Bible Church, who is an African American man. When Ed asked John his thoughts on the idea that there is really only one race, John said he was not sure if he fully agreed with that.

Why not? Because, while John would not disagree with the fact that all human beings descend from one common set of ancestors, he feels that saying that there is only one race detracts from the importance of racial diversity.

Is Racial Diversity Something to Erase or Celebrate?

This past Sunday we studied 1 Kings 11 at White Fieldswatch or listen to that message here. This chapter talks about how King Solomon married many foreign women, contrary to God’s command that the people of Israel not do that.

However, upon further examination of the Bible, what you realize is that this prohibition against marrying foreign women was about faith, not about race. Several of the female heroes of the Bible were women who were not ethnically Jewish, but they became followers and worshipers of Yahweh, the true and living God: Ruth was from Moab, Rahab was a Canaanite. In Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1, five women are listed by name, and three of them are of non-Jewish origin.

In fact, if you look at the origin of the Jewish people, they were a nation chosen by God from among the nations. They were a manufactured nation, not created on the basis of a shared ethnicity, but on the basis of a shared faith in God. This is why there are Jews from places like Ethiopia and East Asia who are not ethnically descended from the Middle East, and yet they are full-fledged Jews. Essentially, anyone who wanted to be a follower of Yahweh was welcome, no matter where they were from.

Mike and I discussed this topic in this week’s Sermon Extra video: “Why Did Solomon Marry Foreign Women”

What made the early Christians unique was that, unlike most religions at that time, which were limited to a local ethnic group, Christianity – like Judaism – was a truly multi-ethnic faith. It claimed to the truth for all people everywhere, and it claimed that Jesus was the Savior not of only one group of people, but for the entire world.

This belief came from the Bible itself:

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” 

Psalm 67:4

Although in English we often use the word “nations” to speak of political or geographical entities, i.e. “countries.” The word “nations” in the Bible, however, is the Greek word ἔθνη (ethni, the plural form of ethnos), from which we get the English word: “ethnicity.”

So, the country of Russia, for example, is made up of 185 nations, i.e. ethnic groups. This is why in Canada, the indigenous people groups are called the “First Nations.”

So, what this passage is saying is, “Let all the [ethnicities] be glad,” because God judges all the ethnic groups of the world with equity and guides them.

In the “Great Commission,” Jesus instructed his disciples to preach the gospel to all “nations,” i.e. ethnic groups:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

In his address to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, Paul the Apostle said:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Acts 17:26-27

Here Paul states that God, in His providence, has determined when and where people would live, with the goal that their setting and situations would drive them to seek Him.

Rather than being opposed to the plan of God, it would seem that diversity is part of God’s design and brings Him glory. In a fallen world, not all aspects of any culture will be good and reflect God’s character and heart, and every culture will have certain idolatries which are common to the people in that culture. Conversely, however, every culture will have some aspects which uniquely reflect God’s goodness and character (common grace), which will differ from the way other cultures reflect those things.

Ethnic Diversity in Heaven

In John’s vision of Heaven in Revelation chapter 7, he writes:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

John gives three descriptions of the diversity of the people around the throne and before the Lamb: tribes, peoples, and languages. This is an escalating list, which goes from smallest to largest: languages may be used by people of multiple ethnicities, and ethnic groups may contain many tribes.

All three of these designations are present around the throne; thus it seems likely that even with our new “heavenly bodies” (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-49), ethnic diversity seems to be maintained and apparent in Heaven, for eternity.

Whereas divisions and oppression will cease, it seems that diversity will not.

It seems that who you are, because of your ethnic and cultural background, will be maintained for eternity, to bring glory to God. While the negative aspects of a culture will be done away with, the good, God-honoring and glorifying diversity will continue to bring glory to God and enrich others.

As we await that day, may God help us to honor and value ethnic diversity, and glean from one another.

Someone Like You? : The Purpose of Community

homogeny

What should the church be?  A place where you go to meet someone like you, or a place where unity in diversity is the name of the game?

I think in this we have two divergent approaches to what the church should be. And the approach taken will determine a lot about what a church looks like.

On the one hand – if church is a place where you go to meet someone(s) like you, then we would expect to see different churches geared towards every “people group”, and in our churches we would design small groups and programs around every different interest and age group. This is the case in many places.

On the other hand – if church is a place where unity in diversity is not only an integral part of the design, but is portrayed as something to be sought after, then that would mean that our churches will be designed in such a way as to not be centered so much around bringing people together based on demographics and interests, but more about bringing people together around ideas and concepts and doctrines – no matter what stage of life they might be in.

I must say that for me, the second option is the more intriguing – and the more Gospel-driven. I think that unity in diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the body of Christ, and something we should seek after. If we are constantly surrounded by peers and people who are basically just like us in the way they think, their socio-economic status, their stage of life – then we will be poorer people as a result of having a very narrow view and experience.

If single people or young married couples without kids are in fellowship with people who have kids – actively spending time with them, then guess what happens: Yes, they have to deal with stuff they don’t usually have to:  screaming kids, messes, tantrums. But guess what else: they learn from observation. They get to observe how those parents deal with their kids – for better or for worse. Rather than being a bother, this should be taken as an enriching experience. Part of the reason is because through being parents, those people have learned something God and walked with God and grown in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise. The person with kids has something to glean from the one who doesn’t – and those who don’t have kids have something to glean from those who do.

If upper-middle class people are in fellowship with lower-middle class people, what happens?  Yes, they might feel uncomfortable with some things – there is an obvious cultural divide between economic classes in our society – but guess what else: presuppositions are challenged on both sides, and that is healthy and makes us grow.

In 2005 my wife and I planted a church in Eger, Hungary. In the beginning, the church only had one demographic: college-aged girls. They were all friends, they all hung out all the time. And that was fun and great for a while. Later on others joined the church – the oldest person in our fellowship was 40 years old, and we became known in town as the “youth” church. That was fun and great for a while – but do you know what happened? The people in the church began to complain and bemoan the fact that there was no one in the church who was different. There was no one who was older, who they could glean wisdom from. There were really no minorities to add cultural and economic diversity. God did add those elements to that fellowship in time – but the point is that they realized that they were poorer for the fact that they were surrounded with people who were basically the same age, same stage of life, same basic interests, etc.

Let me say that God’s vision for the church is much bigger than a group of people who gather together to find other people who are like themselves and share their interests. God’s vision for the church is that it be an oasis where the principles and culture of His Kingdom are present and cultivated, for the flourishing of life and the growth of human beings ultimately to the full stature of Jesus Christ.

Don’t limit your view of the Body of Christ to a lesser vision of it than what God intended. Embrace diversity, seek out diversity – for your own sake, for the sake of others and for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom. If the body of Christ is truly a body, and each member has been given a distinct gift to share and a role to play in the lives of others to mutually build each other up and help each other grow – then don’t not limit your experience of the body of Christ to just ‘someone like you’.