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The Church Is a Salad - An Excerpt from A Fellowship of Differents by Scot McKnight
"We have smothered all differences in the church so that everything is the same: designed for one gender, one socioeconomic group, one race, one culture, and one theology." (17)
In today's excerpt from A Fellowship of Differents, Scot Mcknight challenges the church to consider ways we should be a mixture of people from all across the map and spectrum: men and women, rich and poor, black and white, and everything in between.
The American Way of eating a salad is to fill your bowl with some iceberg lettuce or some spinach leaves, some tomato slices and olives, and maybe some carrots, then smother it with salad dressing — Ranch or Thousand Island or Italian or, for special occasions, Caesar.
The Weird Way is to separate each item in your salad around on your plate, then eat them as separate items. People who do this often do not even use dressing. As I said, weird.
Now the Right Way to make and eat a salad is to gather all your ingredients — some spinach, kale, chard, arugula, iceberg lettuce (if you must) — and chop them into smaller bits. Then cut up some tomatoes, carrots, onions, red pepper, and purple cabbage. Add some nuts and dried berries, sprinkle some pecorino romano cheese, and finally drizzle over the salad some good olive oil, which somehow brings the taste of each item to its fullest. Surely this is what God intended when he created “mixed salad.”
THE CHURCH IS A SALAD
In our last chapter, I highlighted just how important the church is in our spiritual formation, so if we want to get the church right, we have to learnto see it as a salad in a bowl, made the Right Way of course. For a good salad is a fellowship of different tastes, all mixed together with the olive oil accentuating the taste of each. The earliest Christian churches were made up of folks from all over the social map, but they formed a fellowship of “different tastes,” a mixed salad of the best kind.
Understand that these early Christians did not meet in churches and sit apart from one another in pews, and then when the music ended get in their chariots and go home. No, their churches were small, and they met in homes or house churches. A recent study by a British scholar has concluded that if the apostle Paul’s house churches were composed of about thirty people, this would have been their approximate make-up:
• a craftworker in whose home they meet, along with his wife, children, a couple of male slaves, a female domestic slave, and a dependent relative
• some tenants, with families and slaves and dependents, also living in the same home in rented rooms
• some family members of a householder who himself does not participate in the house church
• a couple of slaves whose owners do not attend
• some freed slaves who do not participate in the church
• a couple homeless people
• a few migrant workers renting small rooms in the home
Add to this mix some Jewish folks and a perhaps an enslaved prostitute and we see how many “different tastes” were in a typical house church in Rome: men and women, citizens and freed slaves and slaves (who had no legal rights), Jews and Gentiles, people from all moral walks of life, and perhaps, most notably, people from elite classes all the way down the social scale to homeless people.
Do you think these folks agreed on everything? (Impossible is the right answer.) Were they a fellowship of “differents”? (Yes is the right answer.) Was life together hard? (Yes, again.) That’s the whole point of what it means to be a church. The Christian life is not just about how I am doing as an individual, but especially about how we are doing as a church, and
how and what I am doing in that mix of others called the church.
God has designed the church — and this is the heart of Paul’s mission — to be a fellowship of difference and differents. It is a mixture of people from all across the map and spectrum: men and women, rich and poor. It is a mix of races and ethnicities: Caucasians, African Americans,
Mexican Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, Indian Americans — I could go on, but you see the point. The church I grew up in, bless its heart, was a fellowship of sames and likes. There was almost no variety in our church. It was composed entirely of white folks with the same beliefs, the same tastes in music and worship and sermons and lifestyle; men wore suits and ties and women wore dresses and not a few of them wore church hats.
Getting the church right is so important. The church is God’s worldchanging social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life
together are designed by God to be. The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family. But there’s something deeper going on too.
CHURCH LIFE SHOULD MODEL THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
My claim is also that local churches shape how its people understand the Christian life, so let’s think about this briefly. If the church is a mixed salad, or a fellowship of differents, then. . .
We should see different genders at church. Do we?
We should see different socioeconomic groups at church. Do we?
We should see different races at church. Do we?
We should see different cultures at church. Do we?
We should see different music styles at church. Do we?
We should see different artistic styles at church. Do we?
We should see different moral histories at church. Do we?
We should see different forms of communication at church. Do we?
We should see different ages involved at church. Do we?
We should see different marital statuses at church. Do we?
Even more, if the church is a mixed salad in a bowl. . .
We should understand the Christian
life as a fellowship. Do we?
We should understand it as a social revolution. Do we?
We should understand it as life together. Do we?
We should understand it as transcending difference. Do we?
We should understand it as honoring difference. Do we?
We should understand it as enjoying difference. Do we?
We should understand it as love, justice, and reconciliation. Do we?
No, in fact, we don’t. We’ve turned the church, as we have done with some of our salad making, into the American Way and the Weird Way. What does that mean? If the American Way is smothering the salad with dressing so that it all tastes like dressing, we have smothered all differences in the church so that everything is the same: designed for one gender, one socioeconomic group, one race, one culture, and one theology. We have become ingrown, like a toenail. Anyone who doesn’t fit becomes invisible, gets ignored, is shelved, or goes AWOL.
Put differently, we’ve made the church into the American dream for our own ethnic group with the same set of convictions about next to everything. No one else feels welcome. What Jesus and the apostles taught was that you were welcomed because the church welcomed all to the table.
Scot McKnight (PhD, Nottingham) is the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. He is the author of more than fifty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed as well as The King Jesus Gospel, A Fellowship of Differents, One.Life, The Blue Parakeet, and Kingdom Conspiracy.
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