I completely believe that all ethnic groups are equal in God’s eyes. However, it strikes me as disingenuous, or at least anachronistic, to suggest that heaven will be “culturally diverse.”
In the September 2014 Christian Chronicle, just following a quotation from Revelation 7:9, minister and professor Dan Rodriguez is quoted as having said that we should “embrace God’s multiracial, multiethnic vision.” I’m not sure exactly what Dan has in mind for this life, but inasmuch as he looks for such a divine “vision” in heaven’s life, I think he is off-base.
Walt Leaver of the Brentwood Hills Church says, “. . . Heaven is going to be culturally diverse.” Of course, people from all groups are welcome in heaven, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that each people group will have a consciousness of its (prior) distinct identity, as though that identity is to be merged or even celebrated alongside others. Could it be that races and ethnicities will be amalgamated to the point of obsolescence, i.e., that no one will have consciousness of prior ethnicity? (I’ve heard “celebrate diversity” for decades now, but in a real, at least partial sense, isn’t a lack of ethnic/racial consciousness desirable in this life, as well?)
Someone might object that Jesus, in the parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to the mustard seed, said that seed would grow into a tree. The wild birds (presumably people of other nations) would then come and nest in the tree’s branches. (So, shouldn’t we celebrate diversity in a multi-ethnic sense?)
Someone else might further object that Revelation has the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, with leaves for the healing of the nations. And Revelation also has Jesus’ blood purchasing persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. (So, if heaven heals nations and Jesus purchases people from every nation, aren’t those “nations” all present in heaven?)
Yes, but there is a big however — those words were spoken within the context of human understanding, in this sphere of existence. How else could John communicate to first century believers in Asia Minor, etc., that Jews and Greeks and Romans and Gauls and Phrygians and all the rest were welcome? Eternal truths are always difficult to communicate to time-bound beings. It’s two different languages, two worlds. It’s a little like saying “drink a philosophy archaeologically.” (A nod here to Chris Rice, who wrote the song “Smell the Color 9,” expressing how difficult it is for a human even to conceive of “finding God.”)
Although many peoples are to be there in heaven, it seems unlikely to me that there will be ethnic consciousness. After all, since Babel, language has divided humankind, and cultural differences continue to contribute to distance and distinction among various people groups. This distinction, an indisputable fact in this life, is a negative factor, and it is the result of the sinfulness of humankind. It seems that those differences could be expected to evaporate, ceasing to exist, in the next life. I don’t, then, envision heaven as a sort of mini Summer Olympics in which each nation has its own colorful party going on in the HC (Heavenly Coliseum).
All the above is speaking to the next sphere of existence. What we do with ethnicity in this sphere is another question. My hunch is that God is a lot more concerned with the hearts of people toward others than about whether Hispanics and Anglos and Asians, etc. meet under the aegis of the same congregation. And I’d be pretty sure He doesn’t care whether worship activities are bilingual — whether simultaneously or in alternation, whether carried out in adjacent rooms or in different buildings.
The article referred to above also gives away that the 1st-century Jew-Gentile dynamic is being used, to some extent, to illustrate Anglo-Hispanic dynamics in the current era. This parallel seems misguided; the complex relationship of Jews and Gentiles and God and redemption — roughly from the time of Jesus through the first century — constitutes a theological watershed. I do not intend to downplay the significance of today’s Hispanic-White relations when I say that there is simply no comparison.
We might well glean some general principles of inclusion and bi-racial unity by coming to understand what Paul and Peter (Acts 10, Romans, Galatians, etc.) said about Gentiles and Jews, but Gentiles are not a single race, so it’s different. I can imagine Paul weeping when speaking of Jews’ and Gentiles’ being one in Jesus Christ, but I can’t imagine his requiring them to be in one congregation daily or weekly; neither can I imagine Paul or anyone else with Christian authority requiring Hispanics and whites (or blacks and Asians, etc.) to meet in one group regularly.
It seems presumptive to suggest that we’re all supposed to meet together when we don’t speak the same language. My own, limited experience is that bilingual worship is that a) it’s cool for the first few weeks, but then b) it just gets confusing and a bit annoying.
Brian Medrano is quoted in the Chronicle as saying, “I feel more comfortable praying in Spanish.” Let us not force Spanish-speakers to speak English in church gatherings, and let us not force English-speakers to deal in Spanish, either.
And however God and we end up handling “ethnicity,” let us lose ourselves in the glory of the eternal One.