Being Culturally Different From Other Christians
Daron Excel | FEBRUARY 11, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
After 5 years of not attending a church, my Korean friend from high school invited me to his church’s Friday night Bible study. The idea of attending church hadn’t crossed my mind for a very long time, but I was very open. As I was on my way to his church, I didn't expect Christ to reenter my life that night. And I didn't expect to be so uncomfortable.
I was completely surrounded by a sea of Koreans. I immediately felt a sense of culture shock as I stood as the only Armenian. I gazed in wonder at the way they treated and spoke to one another, which contrasted from my past church experiences. For example, I learned that in Korean churches, everyone calls their leaders by their first name followed by “Teacher.” So if I were a small group leader, I would be Daron Teacher. This, along with other quirks of their culture (like their obsession with seafood!) made me feel completely out of place.
My discomfort became a hindrance to my participation at church. I couldn’t sing along with the hymns. I couldn’t participate in the discussions. I felt like I had all eyes on me, watching every move I made, making sure I would stay aligned with their culture.
But my experience with this new church wasn’t entirely bad. After an invigorating conversation with the pastor about the building blocks of the Gospel, I was hooked. Within a couple months, I became a regular attendee at this Korean-only church.
However, my behavior was still the same. I was still too scared to sing, too scared to worship, too scared to participate. But, as all of God’s children know, He didn’t let me stay in this sinful state.
Fear & Pride
During one Sunday small group discussion, the teacher was trying to coax us into being vulnerable with one another, but no one was sharing their thoughts. After about 5 minutes of silence, he said, “The reason why none of you participate is because you have pride in your hearts.”
His words could not have rung truer. The reason why I was so afraid to fully worship was because my stubborn heart feared stepping and owning my faith in a way that was personal to me, regardless of my ethnic background or the background of people around me.
So what if I look different from the person next to me? So what if I don’t like seafood? So what if I don’t fit in culturally? My church had done nothing less than their best by inviting me and making me feel welcome, but my resistant pride within me fabricated reasons to inhibit my worship to the Lord. By God’s grace, I recognized the sin inside my heart, and He gently guided me towards repentance and a changed life.
Solving a Mystery
According to Paul, one of the “mysteries” of the Gospel is that salvation would be extended to those outside of ethnic Israel. As Paul puts it so beautifully in Galatians 3:28, because of Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
God knew who we would be before we were born, and therefore he knew and created our ethnicities. Because of this, there is no reason to be ashamed of who God created us to be, for his perfect, intended craftsmanship of our ethnicities will work out until the end (Proverbs 16:4).
All our differences were made not to cause divisions, but rather to reflect the multi-faceted, unique glory of our eternal Creator. The image of God is made most complete not by man alone, but by man and woman together. In heaven, all the saints will be united not only as one body but also as “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10). Both these examples indicated the inner diversity and community within the Trinity itself and plays out in our reflection of Him.
If you’ve ever been to Christian concerts or heard the live version, you’ve heard how powerfully the crowd sings to our Lord. All crowds sound exactly the same when they sing. I’m sure He intended it this way, for when we are unified in our praises, all distinctions break down. No longer do we use our differences as a barrier but rather as a platform to lift our God even higher. Let us take up that mantle and embrace who God has made us to be in order to elevate our praises as high as possible!
Daron Excel is a Pepperdine undergraduate student studying chemistry and religion. He was born in Turkey, but lived in Los Angeles for most of his life, and Church Everyday in Northridge, CA is his home church. He loves to play video games, volleyball, and guitar in his free time. Daron has aspirations to be a pediatrician.