During my time at Oak Hill College (2002-05) I wrote an essay on the work of Donald McGavran and his homogenous church growth principle. McGavran had been brought up as a missionary kid in India and wrote his theory based on his observations of church growth in that socially and culturally diverse nation. I lived in Malaysia and Singapore and observed church growth there in an equally diverse setting. I came to different conclusions about church growth to McGavran but in my college essay could only sight Paul’s rebuke of Peter when the latter Apostle withdrew from table fellowship with Gentiles to eat with the circumcision party (Galatians 2:11-14). Since then, I have found that the bible is littered with anti-homogenous church principles; in Romans and Ephesians, as well as in the Sermon on the Mount. And now, as I’ve been preaching through Ruth, I’ve seen how the law of God in Israel made provision for anti-homogenous “church” as Israel was commanded to welcome and provide for foreigners, aliens and strangers who had put their faith in Yahweh, as Ruth did.
The law is quite clear on Israel being homogenous, as far as the Moabites were concerned, Israel was not to mix with them:
Deuteronomy 23:3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.
But then, the law of God goes on to command Israel to provide for the foreigner:
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Ruth was a Moabitess, and therefore, according to the law, could not be welcomed into the assembly of the Lord. However, as a foreigner who had converted to faith in the living Lord (Ruth 1:16), Boaz welcomed her with a generosity, kindness and hospitality. His actions went far beyond he letter of the law and so Boaz models Christ’s generosity, kindness and hospitality to all who turn to him (Note: Boaz offered Ruth protection from evil, the provision of food and asked her to eat bread and wine with him.)
And so, Ruth is welcomed into the local church, Israel, and even marries into that church. Her social standing was no obstacle to membership, neither was her ethnicity. God’s plan has always been for the church to be a place where faith unites folk from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic groups. We preach Christ crucified for sin and risen from the dead and God builds the church with living stones from a wide selection of quarries.