A question of culture.

The “homogeneous unit principle,” offered by Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission, has become a controversial subject. It stresses that churches grow most quickly along their own cultural lines—thus, for instance, you can expect a church that tries to combine black and white American cultures to grow very slowly, if at all. As an introduction for CHRISTIANITY TODAY readers, we asked Tim Stafford, west coast editor of Campus Life magazine, to get together C. Peter Wagner of Fuller Seminary and Ray Stedman, a pastor at Peninsula Bible Church, for a discussion of the principles.

Stafford: The New Testament upholds the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ, which overcomes cultural distinctions like Jew, Greek, slave, free. Dr. Wagner, why do you think we should maintain cultural homogeneity in the church?

Wagner: We need to ask the sociological question, “How do churches empirically grow?” When churches don’t grow, and the Great Commission is not being fulfilled because somehow the church is irrelevant to the community, what are the reasons for this? One of them, we’ve found, is a failure to discern the principle of homogeneity.

I think the sociological level is a starting point. The second level is biblical/theological/ethical. Even if the homogeneous unit principle does help reach the lost sheep and bring them into the fold, that is not a sufficient reason for a Christian to hold it. But we start by asking, “Do churches grow better?” We find that they do.

Stedman: I question the validity of making numerical growth a kind of supreme measure of whether a church is succeeding or not. We need to produce the kind of a church the Lord wants—one ...

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