As part of the hermeneutics and homiletics seminary classes I took this summer, I had the privilege of spending four weeks pouring over a single passage of Scripture - Genesis 11:1-9. The account of the Tower of Babel is told in this passage and I studied it thoroughly. As part of my class assignments, I wrote a paper dealing with the textual, literary and historical contexts of this portion of Scripture and I also prepared a Bible study on it and gave a message. We had the option of selecting from four different passages and I had a couple of primary reasons why I selected this one. First, we were required to find the Fallen Condition Focus in our passage (that is, the common fallen trait that we as contemporary readers share with those in the original audience) and how Jesus answers this condition. I thought it would be a challenge to choose an Old Testament passage where Christ isn't explicitly mentioned. Second, the Tower of Babel deals with culture, primarily language, and different people groups. Since this area impacts my ministry directly, I thought it would be good to learn more about Babel.
One of the biggest things that I learned from the passage is that those that argue that culture is bad and resulted from God's judgment at Babel are misguided. Actually, God had given clear instructions to Noah and his sons after the flood that they were to "multiply and fill the earth." God did not command them to stay in one place, but instructed them to fill the earth. They disobeyed at Babel. They gathered together, sought to make a name for themselves and make themselves bigger than God. He confused their languages and scattered them over the face of the earth.
God's plan from the very beginning has always been to make his name known throughout the whole earth. While it might appear that culture and language differences may ultimately make this too difficult, this is not true. Not only has God blessed each of our own cultures with uniqueness that can bless others, but he uses our differences for his glory. You see, he scattered the people and confused their language at Babel, but he used the differences in languages and culture for his own glory later on in Scripture (e.g. look at Acts 2:1-12) and will use these differences for his glory in our future (Revelation 7:9-10). God uses our cultures to speed up his plans and depend on him more frequently.
I came across this great article the other day that talks about some of these very things. The article is written by Orlando Crespo, the director of LeFe, the Hispanic ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Not only does his commentary on the Tower of Babel coincide with what I have learned about it, but his perspective of culture in the Body of Christ is quite valuable.
I sat in a discussion not too long ago with some church leaders and they talked about their desire to be a more diverse church. One of the men in the room mentioned how he wanted to be welcoming enough so that ethnic minorities could see themselves becoming "one of us." I believe that his heart was in the right place in that what he really wanted to say was that those that weren't white could make this church their church home. But I hope that this church never tries to turn their members of color into "one of us" -- middle-class, white suburbanites.
Any church or ministry that truly desires to be diverse needs to acknowledge, recognize and value our cultural differences. It means that people can be themselves, their values can be respected and embraced, and that they aren't expected to become like someone else in order to hear the gospel or participate as a member of the Body of Christ. How God intends us to function is to bring our whole selves to the table -- the good and the bad -- and learn to work together for his glory. It's what I Corinthians 12 is all about. When we get to the point that we can appreciate the gifts of others, have a proper perspective on our own gifts and learn how it all meshes together, then I think we're getting closer to the heart of God.
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