Key Text: Isaiah 56:6-7
God has no limits. As Creator he is not confined to one race, one nation, or one culture. Even in Old Testament times, his grace was not exclusive to the Jews. In Nineveh, one of the world’s largest cities, thousands repented. Foreigners who turned to God and accepted his covenant were welcome in Jerusalem. The temple was to be called “a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7, NASB).
Even more so after Jesus’ time on earth. The apostles were shown through Peter’s experience with Cornelius (Acts 10) that the gospel of salvation is indeed for all people. We will worship God in unity, for we are all equal before the cross.
But no two people are identical, and no two groups of people are identical. The Jews would come to Jerusalem for the feasts, but stay in their local synagogue the rest of the year. Today we no longer go to Jerusalem to worship, but “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23, NKJV). We are united through the work of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Word of God. And of course, there are cultural differences.
A rural Midwestern church will not worship in the same way as an inner-city London church, and both will differ greatly from a village in remote Papua New Guinea. Hopefully, though, “spirit and truth” will transcend cultural differences, so the love and grace of our Savior is evident in our worship, regardless of the setting.
A lot of things are changing in the world today with terms such as “globalization”, “network society”, and “the global village” having an impact on how we view our identity. Culture is no longer decided solely by geography; we choose for ourselves which networks and societies we adhere to, and hence live very different lives than our next-door neighbors.
This obviously represents a great challenge for outreach and worship, as exceedingly individualistic persons will prefer different styles of worship. Merely lamenting this development would be pointless; instead we should continue to explore new ways to reach unchurched people and new ways to worship a Lord who is too great to be restricted to one human culture. And remember that to worship in spirit and truth is not about us and our desires, but about focusing on that God who unites us.
- Is there a “right” way to worship? Are there any dos and don’ts that stand above culture?
- What can we do to contextualize the gospel for an unchurched youth culture?
- What can I do to better accept others who have different preferences in worship style than I have?