Sunday school mornings are one of my favorite times of the week. I get to spend it with middle age to elderly Hmong men and women who desire to know God by studying the Bible. I’ve had the privilege of observing their interactions and listening to stories as they best try to understand the biblical narratives. Often times, the conversations are about translations and understanding words to gain the true meaning of the texts. Other times, remarks are made about the similarities of cultures and traditions between Jews and Hmong. With COVID-19 consuming the landscape of America, church service has gone virtual since early March. It is unlikely we will have another opportunity to meet with them as my wife and I transition to the Twin Cities in the coming weeks.
An Antioch-type Church:
As much as I love the people of my church my conviction, which stems from studying the Antioch church in Acts 11-13, is to be a community of believers of all walks of life. The Antioch church exemplifies this.
Antioch was not a hole in the wall but the third largest city in the Roman empire of at least 18 ethnic groups and of nearly half-a-million people. It was a culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse city serving as a major trade route to the world. In comparison, it resembles modern day cities such as San Francisco and Seattle.
It was not by a deliberate expedition but through persecution that the Antioch church was born as believers scattered from Judea and Samaria. Although Jews were speaking the word to no one except Jews (Acts 11:19), God had a different plan. In the very next verse we read, “But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists (Greek-speaking non-Jews) also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” By the time Barnabas and Paul were teaching in Antioch, the church with its ethnically diverse group of people was difficult to categorized. And so, they were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).
An Antioch Church-type Leadership:
It’s essential that qualified leadership always trumps diverse leadership. With that said, what we find in Acts 13 is a church leadership team that is both qualified and diverse. We read in verse 1, “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”
Barnabas and Paul were both Jews although they were raised and lived outside of Palestine. The others, however, were as different from one another as one could imagine. Simeon called Niger was black, Lucius was from North Africa, and Manaen was Greek in the wealthy aristocrat household. This was the diverse leadership team that sent Barnabas and Paul on the first missionary trip to make disciples of all nations. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Sermon on a Biblical Church:
Several years ago, I preached on conforming to a biblical church where we are one body in Christ (Rom. 12:5), one in Christ (Gal. 3:29), and a chosen race (1 Pet. 2:9). Every Sunday morning, we enter the church building and veer left through the chapel doors while “white” believes walk straight ahead through the auditorium doors. The reality is our respected doors are less than fifteen feet apart, but they may as well be fifteen miles apart. That day I challenged the church that one day the conversation of combining the churches may need to happen. There are certain contexts where the conversation should at least be considered. The essential question is this, are we open to the reality that we must look like the community we live in?
The Hmong Church:
And then there are contexts where our Hmong churches need to remain untouched. These are Hmong men and women that we are to love well by shepherding them where they are – to worship in their native tongue; to hear God’s Word preached in their native tongue. Church leaders would be wise to empathize with their sheep while we’re faithful in preaching God’s Word. This is exactly what Paul is saying in 1 Cor. 9:22b when he said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” His theology does not change but only how he interacts with the people in the places he visits.
So, where do we go from here? For us, my wife and I are relocating to the Twin Cities to be a part of a Christ-centered church plant focused on the community, or should I say the city. Covenant City Church is where we believe God has called us to. So, as we go, we are praying for our friends and the churches that they minister in that we remain steadfast and faithful to where He has placed us.
So, already, we are God’s chosen race, but not yet that we are together. In light of this, I look forward to the day where 1 Pet. 2:9-10 comes to fruition. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Amen.
Robert Y. Yang (BS, Purdue University) has been married to Tey for over 11 years, and has faithfully served the local church in many different capacities; elder, treasurer, and national leader. He is currently pursuing an MDiv at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and, also, is an integral part of the launch team at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Robert and Tey are passionate about missionary engagement and hope to see their lives used toward this end.