Sunday morning, I worshiped with International Christian Fellowship here in Nairobi. Overall, it was an encouraging and relaxing time with a group of people who clearly love the Lord and are eager to worship him. But it wasn’t hard. It was not at all unfamiliar the way you might expect church in Africa to be. It wasn’t difficult in any way (other than the sense of adventure with that being my first foray out in this foreign city by myself, but that’s another story). We sang a combination of hymns and contemporary songs so familiar and comfortable that I felt as though I might have selected that entire song set myself if given the opportunity. The sermon from Jonah 2 was exegetically sound and magnified the power and beauty of the gospel. We even had the standard awkward 30 second greeting where each of us was obligated to shake hands and offer a forced greeting to at least four people we had never met before. For someone like me – a believer who has been in the church since nine months before I was born – this kind of church feels like home away from home.
At the end of the service, we took the Lord’s Supper together, and the whole morning changed. It wasn’t anything about the way we celebrated this ordinance that gripped me. In fact, it was nearly identical to our style in Lansing, filing forward to tear off a chunk of bread and grab a plastic micro shot glass of delicious grape juice. [Note: In case Jake Wood is reading this, I considered making a grab to tear my bite size piece off the back of the loaf, but the elder’s strategically placed hand blocked my access.] Up to this point, absolutely everything I had seen and done on this particular morning was exactly the same as I might have expected to encounter at any contemporary-ish church in the US.
Then I sat down and began to look around.
The American pastor in the center was serving an African family in traditional formal dress. On my side of the auditorium, a Korean elder (the same one who had stealthily anticipated my reach for the rear of the bread) was serving the giggly British high school students who had been sitting behind me. On the other side of the auditorium, I watched the tall German man I had recently learned was the children’s ministry director approach the Lord’s table just ahead of a family I’m guessing was Latin American. Across the room there may have been dozens of different nationalities present to worship together.
Only one thing could be strong enough to bind together a gathering this diverse.
“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
The only thing big enough to hold together an international body like this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the history-making and eternity-changing message that there is forgiveness of sins and peace with God made possible through faith in the death and resurrection of his perfect Son.
Americans, Canadians, Brits, Germans, Kenyans, Tanzanians, Ugandans, South Africans, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, and who knows who else was present Sunday morning. Not only that, we were Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans, Christian church, and “non-denominationals” (read: Baptists who are too cool for the name tag). We could have divided ourselves by nationality, race, heart language, age, doctrinal nuances, worship style preferences, or any number of other factors. But we didn’t. On this day, we worshiped as one.
And we did it because every one of us ingested the bread and the cup. Two potent elements that remind each one of us that we are united by our hope in a crucified and resurrected Savior. And that is enough.
Before I conclude, let me link this back to our experience in Lansing, America. The application is quite simple.
The only thing that could ever unite a congregation as diverse as the one I joined Sunday morning is the only thing that can ever truly unite any church,
We may be tempted to find comfort in our church family because of our temporal or superficial similarities. We can easily surround ourselves with others who share much in common with us, from age to children to lifestyle to hobbies. These things are great, and they can often help us feel understood and comfortable with our church family. But please remember this. Our Lord has brought us together to worship him, to serve him, and to love him first. We are together, yes. And I pray that each of us loves being together as a church family. But we are together for a reason. We are together for Christ.
The bread and the cup. His body and his blood. This alone is our hope and joy in this world.
My prayer for Lansing First Southern this week:
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. Amen.