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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A “Revelation 7 Church”

“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10),

            The final vision of the eternal kingdom of God cast in the book of Revelation is one of glorious diversity.  This is not a color-blind gathering.  It is a color-celebrating assembly.  John of Patmos (Rev. 1:9), can plainly see dark-skinned people and fair-skinned people; people with freckles and with tanned skin; people with flowing red hair, with curly dark hair, and sandy blondes.  There are tall people, short people, people with deep voices, and people with broad shoulders.  The description “all tribes and peoples and languages” is meant to show that every conceivable shape and shade of human is there.  This is no uniform crowd, but one with dazzling color and an array of vocal tones and cultural backgrounds.
            This is not uniformity.  It is spectacular harmony.  This gathering is united in praise of God.  This people has come together because all came to life through faith in Jesus Christ. 
            The church of the 21st century (and of the 10th century and the 1st) is called by God to anticipate this future, heavenly eternity.  When we as a people are in Christ, we are to live as if this Revelation 7 vision were already coming into reality in our gathering. The way our church lives as community should anticipate what John sees in Revelation 7.  Also, our church should point the world to this vision.
            How we are formed and how we function as a family of believers is a witness.  How we “do church” is our testimony.  What this looks like varies from community to community.  Recently, I was in a small town in a rural Midwestern community.  Almost every person I saw was white.  These were working class, Caucasian people.  A church there is going to be 98%-100% Caucasian. 
However, even in that place, even in that demographic, a church can live in anticipation of the Revelation 7 vision.  There are numerous ways a church there could do this, but my more immediate concern is the church I lead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Chapel Hill is tremendously diverse.  The University of North Carolina, UNC hospital, the Research Triangle, geopolitical dynamics, and a number of other factors has converged to draw the world here.  A church here reflects the vision of Revelation 7 by existing as a family of brothers and sisters in Christ in such a way that sensitivity is shown to all who come.  It goes beyond just saying, “All are welcome.”  We will examine our worship style, our leadership demographics, and our schedules, and we will make adjustments in order to open the door to people who might consider visiting but because of cultural divides haven’t yet, or have, but have not returned after one visit. 
I have seen and been part of churches who do all they can to communicate the beautiful sentiment, “All are welcome.”  But, then the leadership and the church culture is set by the dominant surrounding culture (white middle and working class America).  Any Latinos or blacks or Asians who attend as deeply loved, but in order to feel at home, they have to be at home in a church that is controlled by white people.  The church I have in mind was diverse and very welcoming.  It was a love-filled family of God.  But, it was a body unable to adjust its corporate culture and so its growth was limited.
HillSong has already demonstrated a willingness to involve new members in all areas of ministry, including leadership.  HillSong has opened its arms and heart wide to new ideas and more importantly to all who walk in our doors.  I am thrilled and thankful that God has me among a people so willing to see new possibilities.  In our attempt to define what a “Revelation 7” church is and to become such a church, we will ardently strive to examine our own church culture and adjust it so that people of “all tribes and peoples and languages” might consider making our church their home. 
Obviously HillSong cannot be a church that does all things, that is all things to all people.  We have members who speak in heavenly tongues, but in their own private prayer lives, not in corporate worship.  That will continue.  Our worship attire is business casual.  That will continue.  Our language is English.  We partner with a Spanish-speaking congregation and also with a Karen-speaking congregation.  We would be open to other partnerships.  But the language of HillSong is and will be English.  These examples – glossolalia, attire, and language – a few of many that put parameters around us.  We are a family of God within these boundaries.
Within these and other boundaries, I believe God is calling us to be a “Revelation 7” church.  God is calling us to be intentional about growing in diversity, in integration, and in international expression.  God is calling us to expand our understanding of the Gospel and of Himself by meeting His Holy Spirit in the hearts of people who come to worship and to be part of our community.

Please pray for HillSong Church as we pursue this vision.  Please pray God will show the pastors, elders, and deacons how we do this.  Please pray God will bring the people in who will make this vision become a reality.  Please pray that our church will, in becoming a “Revelation 7” Church, testify to our community what the Kingdom of God is like.

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