In Revelation 7:9-10 we are given a glimpse of heaven. In it there is “a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. They cried out with a loud voice: ‘Victory belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (CEB). God desires that God’s people from every nation (and in case we didn’t understand that, the text states even more explicitly, “from every nation, tribe, people, and language”) be united around Jesus, worshipping together.
Notice that there isn’t a Hispanic worship time at 9:00 a.m. around the throne, while a Somali worship service happens somewhere else in heaven. All nations and tribes are together. In the same place and at the same time. As we consider that glimpse of heaven, let us consider the words of Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 6:10: “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (CEB). We don’t know a lot about what heaven is like, but scripture is clear that there will be multiethnic worship in heaven for eternity. And Jesus himself is praying for that to happen here on earth. Isn’t that compelling enough for us to spend our lives praying for and working toward this vision of heaven on earth?
God separated the nations at Babel but brought the nations together in Christ, at the cross. Consider Ephesians 2:14-16: “Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God” (CEB). On the cross, God effectively dealt with everything that separates us from God’s self and from each other. Sin and death are both formidable separators. But on the cross, Jesus died to conquer both sin and death forever. He tore down the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, and reconciled us to God, and in doing so, he made it possible as well for us to be reconciled to each other. Jesus himself is the unifier, and he deserves to be the only unifier of his church.
Why Multicultural Worship?
In Acts 2, we see the flip side of what happened at the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. At Babel, people who the day before had been able to communicate with each other easily were suddenly unable to understand each other’s speech. At Pentecost, people who that very morning had been separated by language were instantly able to understand each other because of the power of the Holy Spirit:
“When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages.” (Acts 2:1-6 CEB)
Notice that the text says that the people assembled that day were from “every nation under heaven.” Is this any coincidence? Or is this yet another sign of God’s heart for all the ethnic groups of the world? The church was born that day in a multiethnic environment. And so it continued. The church at Jerusalem was clearly multicultural, as is evidenced by the cultural conflict they experienced in Acts 6:1-7. One culture’s widows were being treated well while another culture’s widows were being overlooked. Note: the solution here, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, was to appoint culturally diverse, intentional leadership! The church at Antioch, where believers were first called Christians, was also clearly multicultural (see Acts 11:19-26).
Jesus himself, in an expression of righteous anger, addressed the issue of discrimination and cultural segregation in worship (among other things). You remember the scene. Jesus makes a whip and disrupts the buying and selling that was happening at the temple. You see, the merchants were selling sacrifices at ridiculous prices to non-Jews, who would come from all over the world to the temple. In order to buy the sacrifices, the foreigners had to use local money. So the moneychangers got a piece of the action and made a profit off of the foreigners, as well. The foreigners were being taken advantage of, and Jesus noticed. Also, tradition and archaeology tell us that the outer court of the temple was not really considered part of the temple. They also tell us that in order to enter the inner court, you had to walk up fourteen steps.
The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 tells us that at frequent intervals along these steps were signs in Greek and Latin that read, “No foreigner may pass within the lattice and wall around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught, the guilt for the death which will follow will be his own.” After he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons, Jesus stood, most probably near one of these “keep out” signs, and said in Mark 11:17, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (CEB).
What does God desire? It seems pretty clear.
Josh Davis is a multiethnic worship leader, clinician, songwriter, ordained minister, and music missionary in Clarkston, Georgia. He served as a missionary to the Dominican Republic before founding Proskuneo Ministries, a ministry that exists to bring nations together in worship on earth as it is in heaven.
Nikki Lerner is a worship leader who specializes in forming, developing, and leading teams in multicultural worship. Since 2006, Nikki has served as the worship director at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland.
This article is excerpted from their book Worship Together in Your Church as in Heaven, from Abingdon Press.