Book Review - The Color of Church

The Church in Technicolor

As I write these words the History Channel is promoting a documentary on World War Two. The series consists mainly of original film shot during that great conflict. Instead of the grainy black and white of 1940’s newsreels, however, the picture has been digitally enhanced and colorized. Hence the spectator can now watch a kamikaze pilot slam his plane into the deck of an aircraft carrier in vivid, blazing colors.

In his book The Color of Church Rodney M. Woo sets out to do for the demographics of the American Church what digital enhancement did for the World War Two documentary: change it from its current monochrome to vibrant technicolor. The book is not a reworked graduate thesis or a theoretical salvo from the ivory towers of academia. Rather, as the pastor of a post white-flight Southern Baptist church, it has been Woo’s lifework for the better part of two decades.

Woo aims his words at Pastors and Christian leaders. They are the ones who need to provide the leadership for the colorization of the church. And the need for this colorization is the main point of his book. According to Woo this racial diversification of the Body of Christ is biblical, essential, and—due to the growing minority population of the United States—increasingly needful.

The Color of Church is divided into three major sections of four chapters each: Biblical Basis, Current Reality, and Implementation. While these titles describe the major thrust of the divisions, in reality the whole book is peppered with theological background, current events and practical advice. Each chapter ends with a series of questions designed to provoke discussion. The book also concludes with a special section consisting of one chapter called “Multiplying the Vision” followed by a series of appendices and an extensive bibliography.

In the following paragraphs we will break down the book according to its major divisions.

Biblical Basis

Woo is not ambiguous about the theological foundation for his conclusions.

Genesis 1 and Revelation 7 are the two racial bookends of the Bible. What lies between is the journey of fallen humanity characterized by the rift between God and one another. One manifestation of this sinful separation is evident by the strife among the different races. (p. 6)

Woo’s ideal for Christian fellowship is based on the events of the seventh chapter of Revelation. Later in the first chapter he expands on this concept:

The apostle John clearly identifies the heavenly choir of the redeemed in the following terms: “Every nation, tribe, people, and language” all standing before the throne and before the Lamb. What is surprising is that believers who are already present in heaven are distinguished by their race, culture, ethnicity, and language. Yet all the people groups sing in harmony the unifying song, “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev 7:10). It is not the differences among the believers that are the primary emphasis, but the salvation that all of them share in Jesus Christ that brings them together. Although the Rev 7 scene is a very moving and powerful picture of heaven, it is possible to start earlier here on earth instead of waiting for heaven to enjoy all the nations around the same throne singing the same song at the same time. (p. 13)

This concept of our earthly corporate worship being a “dress rehearsal” for that celestial praise service is perhaps the major common thread that binds the whole book. We learn that it is this vision that led Woo to leave a small but successful work in a rural, mono-racial area to accept the call to a mostly-white church in a multi-racial section of Houston.

Woo hopes that his experiences at this church (the church is called Wilcrest and is located in the Alief neighborhood of Houston) will serve as a catalyst for other similarly placed churches to break the racial boundaries—and he is very insistent that such boundaries still exist. The evidence he presents is compelling:

According to the most recent studies, more than 93 percent of all congregations in the United States are not multiracial in their composition…What this statistic does not tell initially is that this includes all types of churches and congregations. In fact, if you narrow the scope of data to include only evangelical churches, the percentage drops sharply to approximately five and a half percent of all evangelical congregations that fit into this definition of multiracial congregations. (pp. 13-14)

The Current Reality

If something like Revelation 7 is our goal, clearly the American Evangelical Church is failing. What is needed, however, is not simply a program to invite more “people of color” to the church services. As Woo makes clear throughout the book, “colorizing” (my term) the church will require a fundamental change in attitude on the part of all involved, including deep and profound repentance for the underlying sin of racism that promotes and perpetuations the current status quo.

In addition to this, according to Woo, there needs to be a fundamental difference in the way we perceive the Church. He gives the following example from his own ministry:

From the very outset of the implementation of this vision, I always wanted to instill a mind-set that our church is not a country club but an emergency room or an ICU ward. We assume that each person whom God sends to Wilcrest is in spiritual need regardless of the exterior cover or color. In an emergency room, the physical need takes precedence over any other characteristic that an individual possesses. In the same way, our church must consider the spiritual need of the individual over and above any other trait. (p. 94)

Part of the solution to this, for Woo, is to emphasize the point that every member of his church should be a missionary. He has set up several levels of ministry—using community events to spread the gospel, participation in missions trips, leadership roles within the church, being sent as a full-time missionary from the church—to perpetuate this vision.

Implementation

From the first page of the book to the last, Woo brings the reader is face-to-face with the overwhelming challenge he faced as he sought to turn his vision into reality in Alief. He encountered resistance—even hostility—from the original white majority. The international community responded with indifference, complacency and antagonism. So strong was this vision in his heart, however, that he persisted against all odds. Through consistent teaching he managed to communicate the need for sacrifice to the white majority. Carefully he selected multi-racial leadership for the church. Little-by-little he made changes in the worship style to diminish the euro-centric focus. Participation by church-members in domestic and foreign missions trips slowly raised their vision, and community events raised the church’s profile among the international populace of Alief.

The result is that today 44 nations are represented in Wilcrest’s membership. Woo readily admits that numerical growth has not been as great as he had anticipated, but points to the numerous internationals who have become missionaries to their home countries.

Conclusions

For this reviewer The Color of Church offered a refreshing and hopeful look at what the American Church could become, if it caught the vision. Many of us work in denominational contexts where, historically, racism was either openly promoted or implicitly tolerated. I have often felt that repentance for this sin has been superficial at best and, in many cases, nonexistent.

I was also pleased to see that, though Woo has a tremendous burden for the international community in the US, he does not fall into the trap of rejecting foreign missions. Rather, he actively promotes overseas work as a way to instill a greater vision in his own church. He would not be among those helpful souls (God bless their pragmatic little hearts) who have urged me to abandon ministry in Brazil in favor of ministering to Brazilians in the US.

At times I got the impression that for Woo a multi-national congregation was the supreme goal, at whose altar all other considerations should be sacrificed. I was somewhat bothered by the ecclesiastical “affirmative action” he employed in diversifying the leadership of the church. Yet the fact that he was able to pull this off in the heart of Texas speaks to his leadership capabilities and power of persuasion.

I would put this book on the “must read” list for US pastors. While not everybody serves in a multi-racial community, all are consistently confronted with people who are “different” from the makeup of their churches. How are we going to minister to them? How can they fit into the body of Christ? The Color of Church provides clear, biblical answers to those two questions.


Andrew Comings is a Baptist Mid-Missions missionary in Ceará, Brazil where he serves as Coordinator for Ministry Internships at the Cariri Baptist Seminary. He and his wife, Itacyara, have two sons: Michael and Nathanael. In his spare time Andrew blogs in English at www.comingstobrazil.com and in Portuguese at cadernoteologico.wordpress.com. Despite his field of service, Andrew does not drink coffee in any of its manifold forms.

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There are 29 Comments

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Thank you for the review that seems, for the most part, to be relieved of the poisonous Baby Boomer philosophy of racial guilt. Unfortunately Woo's theology on the matter seems quite overwhelmed by such notions of racialism.

God's church is centered around its Lord, Jesus Christ. Whosoever will come, will come. It is not our responsibility nor our right to attempt to manipulate the make-up of the congregation one way or the other.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate the thorough review though maybe the cautions are a little understated. I personally find Woo's degree of elevation of the racial issue more alarming. But I can't deny (and don't want to either!) that it's a beautiful thing when multiple ethnicities come together in Christ and manifest that "one body" truth we find in Scripture. The book sounds quite interesting.

I wonder if we could get Steve Davis' perspective on the book. ... similar themes and discussion here: http://sharperiron.org/article/gospel-and-multiethnicity

scottgreening's picture

I have eagerly anticipated this review. I quickly purchased and read the book after seeing the book here on SharperIron. I found Woo's book a challenging and helpful read. I think there needs to be a growing wrestling with this issue particularly within our circles.

Woo seems to accept the "standard" definition of a multiracial church set for by Emerson of "no one racial group [being ] 80 percent or more of the congregation" (p. 13). In communities where the general populace at least matches the definition this seems to not be a terribly high bar. In communities where that diversity doesn't exist I don't think it has to be manufactured (but mono-ethnic communities are becoming increasingly rare).

It is my conviction that the duty of individual Christians and churches to share the gospel with all should result in congregations that minimally look like their communities. I agree that whosoever will come, will come, but lets not let that conviction assuage the need to contextualize the gospel to different groups.

Aaron, I would be curious to know what you base your alarm on. Is it based on the book or some other source I am not aware of? What are your concerns?

Scott Greening www.gcbc.info

rogercarlson's picture

I will read the book. The reason why I am positive to the concept at this point is a reaction to my roots. My experience was a "white flight" family (eventhough I am part Native-American and look it..lol). In many of the fundamental churches i grew up in, there were never any people other than white and sometimes (not always) that was purposeful. This is a subject that is close to my heart. I live in a predominately white area, but we have others. We try to reach all people and see them as a part of our church, no matter how they look. I think most churches do the same - but there are sadly still some fundamental churches don't actively reach non-whites.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Alex Guggenheim's picture

scottgreening wrote:
I agree that whosoever will come, will come, but lets not let that conviction assuage the need to contextualize the gospel to different groups.
I don't know what you mean with this statement, will you amplify it a bit?

scottgreening wrote:
It is my conviction that the duty of individual Christians and churches to share the gospel with all should result in congregations that minimally look like their communities.
With respect to matters biblical, it is proper that our convictions be derived from those certainties and absolutes presented in the Bible. With that in view I am interested in the force of any argument that would forward the notion that it is so clearly presented in Scripture that congregations should minimally match the demographics of their community that it would result in it being a theological conviction.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

scottgreening wrote:
Aaron, I would be curious to know what you base your alarm on. Is it based on the book or some other source I am not aware of? What are your concerns?

Mostly based on my impression that Woo started his whole church-plant for no other reason than creating something multi-ethnic. It seems to be a bit out of sequence on the priority list. Maybe a better way to say it is that it didn't look to me (based on the review) like Woo's thinking was "Here's a geography where we really need to proclaim the gospel and form a NT church... and among it's many vital qualities, it should reflect the ethnic makeup of it's community." Rather, a big multiethnic experiment seems to have been the main interest from the start. Maybe my impression is incorrect. But if that was truly his thinking, it's a bit cart before horse.

Of course, if he's still built a gospel preaching NT church, I rejoice in that. People have started churches w/worse motivational mixes, that's for sure.

(And I do buy the premise that a church's ethnic mix should roughly match that of it's community, other things being equal.)

scottgreening's picture

Quote:
mostly based on my impression that Woo started his whole church-plant for no other reason than creating something multi-ethnic.

It might be helpful to know that Woo's personal story is the story of an established predominently white congregation becoming a multi-ethnic congregation. Woo's describes God's leading to multi-ethnic ministry in his life the result of doctoral studies (His Ph.D. dissertation was entitled "Paul's Contextual Approach for Evangelizing the Jews and Gentiles against the Background of Act 13:16-41 and Acts 17:22-31" (gotta love those short dissertation titles Wink )) and a desire for evangelism that "mandates believers to reach all racial and ethnic groups with the gospel" (pp. 4 & 5). Woo was prayerfully searching for an established multi-ethnic ministry but ended up at Wilcrest Baptist Church a white church in the midst of a classic white flight neighborhood in Houston.

Of interesting note I just looked at their church website and Pastor Woo just announced his resignation and call to be the pastor of an International Baptist Church in Singapore. His last Sunday was Mothers Day and his last day at the church is Saturday.

Scott Greening www.gcbc.info

scottgreening's picture

Quote:
scottgreening wrote:
I agree that whosoever will come, will come, but lets not let that conviction assuage the need to contextualize the gospel to different groups.
Alex wrote: I don't know what you mean with this statement, will you amplify it a bit?

Simply that we need to communicate the unchangeable message of the gospel and the truths of Scripture in a way that speaks to the world views of those to whom we seek to minister and that we need to do so in a way that is do so in a way that is appropriately culturally sensitive.

I think we can rightly comfort ourselves with the truth that results are not up to us but wrongly allow that thought to excuse not working at communicating the gospel effectively to people whose world view and/or experiences may be very different than ours.

A response to your other question will have to wait till later. God bless!

Scott Greening www.gcbc.info

scottgreening's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
scottgreening wrote:
It is my conviction that the duty of individual Christians and churches to share the gospel with all should result in congregations that minimally look like their communities.
With respect to matters biblical, it is proper that our convictions be derived from those certainties and absolutes presented in the Bible. With that in view I am interested in the force of any argument that would forward the notion that it is so clearly presented in Scripture that congregations should minimally match the demographics of their community that it would result in it being a theological conviction.

Alex the argument in my mind would be a combination of a number of different ideas from Scripture. Although I am comfortable with calling this a conviction I would not hold it at the same level of some other convictions that are more clear from Scripture. Here are some of the factors that have lead me to this belief - if you find them convincing, great; if not, we can disagree on this point.

  1. One of the major themes of Scripture is God's concern for the nations. I believe one of the threads woven through Scripture is God's reconciliation of the separation occurring between people. Some of the pieces of this thread would be the Eden events of sinless creation and fall, the Tower of Babel, the Abrahamic Covenant, the genealogy of David/Christ paired with the story of Ruth, the role of Israel as a light to the gentiles, Pentecost as a partial reversal of Babel and a foretaste of Revelation, the accounts of virtually every church start in Acts either being from inception or becoming multi-ethnic congregations, the picture of multi-ethnic worship before the throne in Revelation 7.
  2. I do believe we should aspire to the picture of heavenly worship found in Revelation 7. The force of this thought becomes stronger when coupled with the clear and repeated instruction on the necessary oneness from diversity found in the epistles (i.e. Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:26-29).
  3. Aspiring to heavenly worship is further strengthened by the description of the church as bride preparing herself for her groom (Revelation 19:6-9; Ephesians 5:25-27). If we are to worship multi-ethnically in heaven we should be preparing for that now.
  4. If the Great Commission is to share Jesus with all people then that includes a mandate to reach across ethnic and cultural lines both in our local context and abroad.
  5. Paul's statement/conviction that God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) seems to have manifested itself in Paul's life with intentionality to reach into the different communities where he started churches (both Jew and Gentile).

    I think I better not invest any more time in laying out my thoughts hopefully this gives you a sense (whether you agree or not) that there is some Scriptural merit to the thought.

Scott Greening www.gcbc.info

Alex Guggenheim's picture

scottgreening wrote:
Quote:
scottgreening wrote:
I agree that whosoever will come, will come, but lets not let that conviction assuage the need to contextualize the gospel to different groups.
Alex wrote: I don't know what you mean with this statement, will you amplify it a bit?

Simply that we need to communicate the unchangeable message of the gospel and the truths of Scripture in a way that speaks to the world views of those to whom we seek to minister and that we need to do so in a way that is do so in a way that is appropriately culturally sensitive. I think we can rightly comfort ourselves with the truth that results are not up to us but wrongly allow that thought to excuse not working at communicating the gospel effectively to people whose world view and/or experiences may be very different than ours.

A response to your other question will have to wait till later. God bless!

Honestly I have to say that when one uses the term "culturally sensitive" I am never certain what this means. It has so many meanings to so many people that it is never safe to assume one general meaning.

But on that note, when I present the gospel I present it so that whoever is hearing understands they are a sinner by God's declaration, that they cannot save themselves from the judgment of their sin(s) through any human means or agency and that only God himself in the person of Jesus the Christ, who lived, died and was resurrected that they may receive forgiveness and that at any point in their life they are free to receive this gift through faith in this promise and the consequences for rejecting this offer is to suffer separation from God for eternity in what the Bible describes as a like of fire.

And to the special world views or experiences of each person which may be different than ours. I am not sure if you have weighed this sufficiently but each person in existence has a different world view than each other person. While we do not and cannot justify being socially objectionable, that is making cultural issues a point of communication just as Paul cited himself becoming what he could to each person he came in contact with, this is not what convinces anyone. And at some point if you attempt to disguise yourself in a way that is detected by another to whom you are communicating the gospel so that they get the impression you are more like them but in reality they discover you are putting on so you can pretend to relate, you truly do more damage than the man who is frank and honest about his social or cultural context but when presenting the gospel removes it from his language and that context and focuses purely on the gospel and God's offer of redemption which is without human culture, rather a divine culture.

Now, whatever context I find a person, that is if they don't know anything about God, if they are polluted with doctrines of devils that dull their understanding about Jesus or any other situation, I will happily and patiently explain all matters so they may understand and make a decision based on the clear and full gospel. I don't know if the world "culturally sensitive" applies here but as far as I see it, a person's cultural context is only relevant to me with regard to explaining the gospel if such a context has within it a culture of ignorance, superstition or whatever that might give opportunity to present a greater explanation of the Bible so they may have a proper orientation and dispel any bad thinking.

But if beyond that one means by using the term "culturally sensitive" they mean I should be aware of my own culture orientation vs theirs, well such a person is wrong. Why? Because when I present the gospel I present God's culture, God's program and God's way. I am not presenting it as a certain ethnicity, race or gender. Now if such persons themselves have antagonisms toward certain other races, genders or ethnicities due to a culture of hostility, unforgiving attitudes, perpetuated anger and so on, while I might make myself aware of such issues I am not on a mission to rectify, apologize or provide some reparation for such complaints. Nor do I, as God's minister of reconciliation have to provide an answer for the sins of man other than what the Bible declares that where a man sees a sin or experiences a sin against themselves, it is just that, sin.

I am representing God and his offer and program for any and all whosoever will. If such persons wish to cling to their hatred, racism, hostility and reject the gospel because they choose instead to love this world and the things of this world and want honor, glory, praise, capitulation, possessions, and predominance in this world, that is their problem, regardless of their excuse, whether an oppressed minority, a privileged minority, a spoiled brat, a friendly Russian or a hedonistic German. God says they are holding to something other than the gospel and God says they need to turn from that and to the promise of forgiveness. If that disqualifies a person as "culturally sensitive" well then to me it appears God's program is just going to have to be labeled culturally insensitive.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

scottgreening wrote:
Alex Guggenheim wrote:
scottgreening wrote:
It is my conviction that the duty of individual Christians and churches to share the gospel with all should result in congregations that minimally look like their communities.
With respect to matters biblical, it is proper that our convictions be derived from those certainties and absolutes presented in the Bible. With that in view I am interested in the force of any argument that would forward the notion that it is so clearly presented in Scripture that congregations should minimally match the demographics of their community that it would result in it being a theological conviction.

Alex the argument in my mind would be a combination of a number of different ideas from Scripture. Although I am comfortable with calling this a conviction I would not hold it at the same level of some other convictions that are more clear from Scripture. Here are some of the factors that have lead me to this belief - if you find them convincing, great; if not, we can disagree on this point.

  1. One of the major themes of Scripture is God's concern for the nations. I believe one of the threads woven through Scripture is God's reconciliation of the separation occurring between people. Some of the pieces of this thread would be the Eden events of sinless creation and fall, the Tower of Babel, the Abrahamic Covenant, the genealogy of David/Christ paired with the story of Ruth, the role of Israel as a light to the gentiles, Pentecost as a partial reversal of Babel and a foretaste of Revelation, the accounts of virtually every church start in Acts either being from inception or becoming multi-ethnic congregations, the picture of multi-ethnic worship before the throne in Revelation 7.
The major concern for the nations (a term used for "the peoples of the world") that is presented in the Scripture is their salvation, not necessarily their reconciliation with one another. Human reconciliation is not the program of redemption, it may be a by-product but it is not a demand nor purpose of redemption. While people do, at times, reconcile as a result of spiritual enlightenment and the gaining of virtues such as divine mercy, forgiveness, patience and so on, it does not present program or expectation of acquiescence or integration of cultures or nations. This is because in the context of the church, of God's people, the body of Christ, the culture of the world is to diminish. Race, ethnicity, and even gender is anecdotal with the only exceptions being specific context where they are given or denied certain assignments (and I only know of gender citations that fit here). As the LCMS so aptly puts it http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=837:

Quote:
The church must develop and maintain its own cultural language that reflects the values and structures of the Scriptures and not of the current culture. This church language can only be shaped by a biblical theology which affirms the real presence of Jesus Christ in worship and our belief that this presence binds the culture together as a community. The context that shapes our distinct Lutheran ethos is Scripture, theology, and history. Local circumstance is secondary. Traditionally, this Lutheran culture is liturgical, theological, and counter- cultural.

The church, while not licensed to ignore the realities of the world around them, are not licensed either to promote or attempt to provide social/cultural reparations for such conditions. Why? Because just as described above we are counter-culture. The world demands social and cultural adjudication. That is not the message or the subsequent practice of the gospel and it followers. When one comes into the body of Christ they are no longer, with the body and its function, any race, gender of ethnicity (apart from context addressing relevant duties for genders that have nothing to do with one's spiritual identity, assets or ability to advance in the Christian life). They are not licensed to come in and demand acquiescence, capitulation or orientation to their culture because within the body their culture is the language, value and expression of Christ.

As to the record in Acts, actually not all congregations were multi-ethnic but it is irrelevant because Acts serves to describe certain contexts and events and is not prescribing such contexts or events for all churches. Such a hermeneutic has repeatedly been demonstrated to fail by conservative evangelical teachers over the centuries. And if this is the case, are you also including all of the other context of the congregations in Acts? Are you selling all your goods and living communally? Of course not because no such description of events is presented as prescriptive to the church. The book of Acts is a very insufficient source for doctrinal guidance in this case because, while on some occasions we can extrapolate principles and on some occasions we do find doctrinal instruction or boundaries, the historical descriptions you cite are just that, description that have no binding context on the church nor are presented, even in the best light, as necessarily ideal.

I believe this assertion that God wants cultures integrated as a program of the gospel is a mythological narrative imposed on Scripture. God's culture, the culture of believers within the body, is to be a culture of Christ. If someone's human culture has a value or expression that can be determined to be contrary to the values or higher principles of Christian doctrine, such values or expressions have to be rejected, sensitivity or not. And some people simply cannot or will not tolerate this, it is a wound to their cultural and personal ego they wrongly seek to preserve. They are not willing to admit that their human culture, the culture from which they were saved, has some unacceptable or unprincipled practices and expressions that must be viewed as such within the body of Christ.

scottgreening wrote:
  • I do believe we should aspire to the picture of heavenly worship found in Revelation 7. The force of this thought becomes stronger when coupled with the clear and repeated instruction on the necessary oneness from diversity found in the epistles (i.e. Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:26-29).

  • I looked at the two passages:

    Ephesians 2:11-22 11

    Quote:
    Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

    14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

    19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

    This passage is not about cultural, ethnic or social reconciliation in any way, shape or form. This is about the change in the program of God which now includes Gentiles as his people. It is about God declaring that not only is reconciliation being announced to the Gentiles but that they are not required to convert to Judaism, seeing that wall is gone and now you are "fellow citizens", you are now "members of God's household". If anything this has to do with the de-emphasis of race, culture, ethnicity and so on and the promotion of its demise and in its place, in the body of Christ, we are all identified as God's children and not that of the world.

    Galatians 3:26-29

    Quote:
    26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
    Precisely the point of Scripture. We are a divine culture in the body. So to just as those who seek to manipulate and regulate the body of Christ based on excluding certain groups, those that promote the deliberate inclusion of certain groups are violating the Scripture here just as well because their venture is based on a violation of this description and principle. You share the gospel with whomever you can and the result of that and the Pastors to which such converts are led is not something that is for anyone to attempt to conjugate based on race, ethnicity or gender.

    scottgreening wrote:
  • Aspiring to heavenly worship is further strengthened by the description of the church as bride preparing herself for her groom (Revelation 19:6-9; Ephesians 5:25-27). If we are to worship multi-ethnically in heaven we should be preparing for that now.
  • You will not be worshiping "muti-ethnically" in heaven, my dear friend. There will be one race and one ethnicity and that identity will be Christ Jesus, our Lord. The description of every tongue and every tribe is simply to communicate that the gospel was not exclusive to one group but it does not import with it the culture of such seeing that these things are done away with and the culture of eternity is divine, not human.
    scottgreening wrote:
  • If the Great Commission is to share Jesus with all people then that includes a mandate to reach across ethnic and cultural lines both in our local context and abroad.
  • Paul's statement/conviction that God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) seems to have manifested itself in Paul's life with intentionality to reach into the different communities where he started churches (both Jew and Gentile).

    I think I better not invest any more time in laying out my thoughts hopefully this gives you a sense (whether you agree or not) that there is some Scriptural merit to the thought.

  • Thank you for your response and time. I don't feel the need for further explanation, I believe I understand your position though I don't agree with it. You last citation is quite true, we are to communicate the gospel to all people but I do not see presented in Scripture the demand for any demographic in a congregation other than those that call themselves followers of Christ.
    scottgreening's picture

    Alex,

    Thanks for the interaction. I don't have the time or desire to invest in combing my posts for the verbal precision that is needed. I think we will end up on disagreeing on some of the passages. However, I don't think my posts have communicated exactly my complete thoughts. I struggle presenting my thoughts in the forum due to the rigors by which people parse the nuances (which is fine). I think I will go back to just being a lurker and enjoying the contributions of others. God bless!

    Scott

    Scott Greening www.gcbc.info

    Aaron Blumer's picture

    EditorAdmin

    Sometimes I think we overcomplicate simple things (other times, oversimplify). Two simple things are clear on this topic:
    a) We are supposed to reach everyone around us w/the gospel
    b) If we are in a setting that used to be almost entirely one ethnic group, but isn't anymore, we're going to have to go out of our way to reach the newer people groups around us because our natural tendency is going to be to preserve the ethnic character we currently have.

    I don't think there's room for a whole lot of disagreement about that. The value of Woo's story is in seeing the nuts and bolts of how one pastor and congregation dealt with that problem. And more and more churches are going to be in that situation, especially in our urban areas, as they grow increasingly multiethnic. (Much slower change out here in dairy country)

    rogercarlson's picture

    My thoughts too Aaron. I agree with most of alex's exegesis and I don't think he and Scott are that different. The reason why the book intrigues me is what I grew up with. My perspective is tainted by "white flight (eventhough I am part native-American and I look it...lol)." We moved from an urban inter-city environment to a very rural one when I was young. I have seen many with in the church (especially in Fundamental ones) do everything they can to NOT interact with other cultures. Giving the Gospel to them was good as long as it was only in the form of giving a tract and not interacting. Hopefully they will have their own churches and we will share Heaven in the distant future. But for now, lets keep seperate.

    Alex made it clear that that is NOT his attitude. Many in our ranks did have that attitude though. I think we all want to react against that. IMO, the only way to do so is blanket your community with the Gospel as best as you can. That is done by building redemptive relationships and those relationships will be across may different backgrounds (economic, racial, and cultural).

    Roger Carlson, Pastor
    Berean Baptist Church

    JobK's picture

    Alex Guggenheim wrote:
    Thank you for the review that seems, for the most part, to be relieved of the poisonous Baby Boomer philosophy of racial guilt. Unfortunately Woo's theology on the matter seems quite overwhelmed by such notions of racialism.

    God's church is centered around its Lord, Jesus Christ. Whosoever will come, will come. It is not our responsibility nor our right to attempt to manipulate the make-up of the congregation one way or the other.

    Says John Ryland, Sr. to William Carey: "Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine." The more things change, the more things stay the same ... especially since regarding the "Whosoever will come, will come" ... William Carey was a 5 point Calvinist.

    Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
    http://healtheland.wordpress.com

    Aaron Blumer's picture

    EditorAdmin

    I think Alex is partly right in that, of course, who responds is God's business, not ours. But whom we tell--that's another matter. And my "b" in post #13 is that when the ethnic mix of our area changes, we're going to have to consciously "tell" people we would not naturally tell. If we're successful, the result will be--other things being equal--that the ethnic mix of responders tends to correlate to the ethnic mix of hearers. That's other things being equal. Since cultural differences tend to go along w/ethnic differences and not all cultures ares are equal, some may--on the whole--be less responsive than others. And though it's hard to see why, God may also have it in His plans to reach out in mercy and bring conviction to fewer people of ethnicity A compared to ethnicity B.

    So I do think we have to be careful of two errors...
    a) Laziness... "whoever comes will come"
    b) Overly mathematical expectations... ("x% should be this ethnicity, y% that one, etc.")

    Alex Guggenheim's picture

    JobK wrote:
    Alex Guggenheim wrote:
    Thank you for the review that seems, for the most part, to be relieved of the poisonous Baby Boomer philosophy of racial guilt. Unfortunately Woo's theology on the matter seems quite overwhelmed by such notions of racialism.

    God's church is centered around its Lord, Jesus Christ. Whosoever will come, will come. It is not our responsibility nor our right to attempt to manipulate the make-up of the congregation one way or the other.

    Says John Ryland, Sr. to William Carey: "Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine." The more things change, the more things stay the same ... especially since regarding the "Whosoever will come, will come" ... William Carey was a 5 point Calvinist.

    It is clear you are responding to a couple of my statements and your method is one that employs the spoken with the hope that it creates a silhouette of the unspoken which is the greater message. Unfortunately here the illumination is weak and the silhouette without clarity. Hence, if it is within your powers an amplification of your intended thoughts would be appreciated so that I may better understand what it is you are wishing to communicate.

    Alex Guggenheim's picture

    Aaron Blumer wrote:
    I think Alex is partly right in that, of course, who responds is God's business, not ours. But whom we tell--that's another matter. And my "b" in post #13 is that when the ethnic mix of our area changes, we're going to have to consciously "tell" people we would not naturally tell.
    I personally do not accept this narrative (that we would not naturally tell people unlike us about the Lord) about the the lives, intents or directions of other believers regarding their witnessing habits. I believe most believers who are active witnesses are inclined to communicate the gospel to anyone when the occasion presents such opportunities. Now it might be that we as people, when we socialize, are going to interact, on a percentage basis, less with some groups that others but the Scriptures do not compel us or demand that our social lives or day to day activities be reconstructed so as to meet any such quota. If we are deliberately withholding the gospel that is one thing but if we are presenting the gospel to all, the Scriptures do not demand our lives reflect any such demographic equalization quota no matter who is in our community nor is it the license of any other to attempt to evaluate the fitness of another's witnessing campaign based on such a construct.

    Joel Shaffer's picture

    There are a few assumptions from this conversation that I would like to take issue with.......But because the arguments are quite vast, I will only deal with them one at a time......

    That racial guilt is the motivating factor for developing multi-ethnic churches. Yet at the same time, I do not deny that many white Christians have fallen into that trap. But it usually came from “Christians” who were from mono-cultural churches that were exploring the topic of racism in the church. In my early years of urban ministry, I sat in an ecumenical “racial-harmony” meeting as well as a racial harmony conference and they were a joke. White Christians, feeling guilty for everything under the sun including slavery, Jim Crow, economic disparities, and etc…. threw themselves under the bus when it came to racism to appease their consciences. Black Christians then aired their grievances toward these white Christians about different ways they had been wronged, which ended in apologies, even though the white Christians had no affiliation and nothing to do with how the black Christians had been wronged in the past. I even remember about ten years ago when the Promise Keepers conference with its emphasis on Racial Reconciliation was the fad, an African-American pastor friend confided to me: “We (African-American Christians) always know when white people have just come back from attending promise keepers. That’s the one month out of the year that they try to be our friends.” Therefore, I understand Alex’s view. A lot of so called racial reconciliation meetings between Christians are not Biblical.

    However, in my twenty year interaction with many who pastor multi-ethnic churches throughout the country, they understand that attitudes of racial guilt and political correctness only lead to discord, disunity, and insincerity. Rather, most of them play the grace card, rather than the race card because their identity is first and foremost who they are in Christ, while their ethnicity is secondary. And that is what they preach and live out to their congregations. Therefore the idol of ethnocentrism has been put to death. For example, Pastor and church planter David Anderson from Bridgeway community church reports, “When I told my mentors that I wanted to start a multicultural church they said, ‘Good luck with that If you try to unite white culture and black culture in the church, then one of those cultures must die,’ to which I replied, ‘Why can’t they both die?” says Anderson with conviction.
    Bridgeway has cultivated a “Christian-First” culture. Anderson goes on to explain, “When all cultures make the sacrifice to make Christianity the main thing that drives the culture, then a new culture is born that brings unity….” (Unity in Christ Magazine)

    With my experiences, that has been the norm rather than the exception. Therefore, I believe multi-ethnic churches to be a viable solution in dealing with the sins that come from racial guilt and political correctness rather than the problem.....

    Aaron Blumer's picture

    EditorAdmin

    Alex wrote:
    I personally do not accept this narrative (that we would not naturally tell people unlike us about the Lord)
    Well, I'm not sure who "we" is there, exactly, but if it describes your church--or whomever it describes--I can only say that's great and you probably don't need Woo's book at all: you'll automatically have churches that roughly correspond to the ethnic mix of your area.

    I think most people are going to have to be more intentional about it, though. I don't mind admitting that I would. What comes naturally to me is quite often at odds with what I believe is important. And most of the churches I have been involved in would also need to do some intentional outreach etc. to overcome the built in ethnic and cultural barriers. Let's not forget that it goes both ways. When a majority white church in a used-to-be majority white area sets out to reach its now-diverse neighborhoods, the non-white ethnicities (or even other white ones more recently immigrated) also feel a certain reluctance to unite with a congregation where they would be the only (or one of very few) persons of their background. So the barriers exist on both sides of the relationship.

    As for racial guilt and political correctness... I find these ways of thinking about as distasteful as anyone I know, but they are simply non-factors in my own thinking on the subject. It has more to do with what I've observed of human nature (folks just feel most comfortable with others who are just like them, and feel some apprehension about the "other").

    Joel Shaffer's picture

    Aaron Blumer wrote:
    Alex wrote:
    I personally do not accept this narrative (that we would not naturally tell people unlike us about the Lord)
    Well, I'm not sure who "we" is there, exactly, but if it describes your church--or whomever it describes--I can only say that's great and you probably don't need Woo's book at all: you'll automatically have churches that roughly correspond to the ethnic mix of your area.

    I think most people are going to have to be more intentional about it, though. I don't mind admitting that I would. What comes naturally to me is quite often at odds with what I believe is important. And most of the churches I have been involved in would also need to do some intentional outreach etc. to overcome the built in ethnic and cultural barriers. Let's not forget that it goes both ways. When a majority white church in a used-to-be majority white area sets out to reach its now-diverse neighborhoods, the non-white ethnicities (or even other white ones more recently immigrated) also feel a certain reluctance to unite with a congregation where they would be the only (or one of very few) persons of their background. So the barriers exist on both sides of the relationship.

    As for racial guilt and political correctness... I find these ways of thinking about as distasteful as anyone I know, but they are simply non-factors in my own thinking on the subject. It has more to do with what I've observed of human nature (folks just feel most comfortable with others who are just like them, and feel some apprehension about the "other").

    Well said!

    Alex Guggenheim's picture

    Aaron Blumer wrote:
    Alex wrote:
    I personally do not accept this narrative (that we would not naturally tell people unlike us about the Lord)
    Well, I'm not sure who "we" is there, exactly, but if it describes your church--or whomever it describes--I can only say that's great and you probably don't need Woo's book at all: you'll automatically have churches that roughly correspond to the ethnic mix of your area.
    Well Aaron, the "we" here refers to the "we" in the quote by you to which I was referring. In other words, you're the one that introduced the "we" in post #16, not me. The way your sentence was constructed grammatically in your use of "we" was as an antecedent for believers. But again you introduced the "we" so if it means something else it appears you have the answer to your own question, not me, and I will happily correct myself and my view of your use of "we" if it is otherwise.
    Aaron Blumer wrote:
    we're going to have to consciously "tell" people we would not naturally tell.

    As to me not needing Woo's book followed by the claim that I'll "automatically have churches that roughly correspond to the ethnic mix of your area" I (along with rejecting Woo's premise for his book) have already rejected your premise that such a configuration or result would be or should be automatic or that the Scriptures even hint of such a demand. I find it theologically/biblically repulsive to engage census taking in a church congregation based on ethnic or racial profiles for the purpose of attempting to judge the fitness of a congregation or the fitness of a ministry. I am not even sure such a census in any context is acceptable.

    Aaron Blumer wrote:
    As for racial guilt and political correctness... I find these ways of thinking about as distasteful as anyone I know, but they are simply non-factors in my own thinking on the subject.
    Distasteful or not, to fail to regard this reality (imposed racial guilt and political correctness) which has not only been rising for the last few decades but has become a predominant social philosophy and subsequently has invaded and poisoned a great deal of theology, even Evangelical Protestant theology, is to ignore a considerable contributor to such causes which, in the end, distorts many arguments, remedies, expectations and from the review I have read it appears is an identifiable contributor to Woo's cause. But one is free to minimize what they wish and believe "their own thinking" on the subject is really reflective of the majority of others. In this case I believe the arguments and discussions on the matter in the Evangelical church are fueled far more by such pseudo-guilt and political correctness than you are willing to accept.

    Alex Guggenheim's picture

    Joel Shaffer wrote:
    With my experiences, that has been the norm rather than the exception. Therefore, I believe multi-ethnic churches to be a viable solution in dealing with the sins that come from racial guilt and political correctness rather than the problem.....
    I appreciate much of your response but do still assert that this final statement represents an inappropriate approach with respect to congregational demographics. The Scripture clearly teach that as an assembly our race and ethnicity is Christ, those realities of our social construct are not given license to be carried into the congregation with respect to its function as an assembly of God's people. Even when one, no matter the earnestness or sincerity, introduces race or ethnic consciousness with regard to a congregation's identity, they become culpable of offending this demand of Scripture. In the context of the assembly of God's people we are only this, those whose heritage and identity are Christ, and to do otherwise is to reject the preserved formula for our spiritual identity.

    So even in soft, passive or indirect approaches that have in view the racial or ethnic demographics of an assembly, these too are violations of the protocol established in Scripture for the spiritual identity of the congregation which is the identity within the church. When a believer enters the congregation they should be instructed quite clearly that here they are not black, white, or brown, they are not of a human heritage, such matters are not in view in God's assembly, they are as Peter describes:

    1 Peter 2:9-10

    Quote:
    9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

    Aaron Blumer's picture

    EditorAdmin

    Alex, this just isn't about racial guilt and political correctness. For Woo maybe that's a factor, I wouldn't know.
    But there is no inherent relationship between that and grasping the realities of human nature and the need for intention reaching out to the "other."

    Joel Shaffer's picture

    Alex Guggenheim wrote:
    Joel Shaffer wrote:
    With my experiences, that has been the norm rather than the exception. Therefore, I believe multi-ethnic churches to be a viable solution in dealing with the sins that come from racial guilt and political correctness rather than the problem.....
    I appreciate much of your response but do still assert that this final statement represents an inappropriate approach with respect to congregational demographics. The Scripture clearly teach that as an assembly our race and ethnicity is Christ, those realities of our social construct are not given license to be carried into the congregation with respect to its function as an assembly of God's people. Even when one, no matter the earnestness or sincerity, introduces race or ethnic consciousness with regard to a congregation's identity, they become culpable of offending this demand of Scripture. In the context of the assembly of God's people we are only this, those whose heritage and identity are Christ, and to do otherwise is to reject the preserved formula for our spiritual identity.

    So even in soft, passive or indirect approaches that have in view the racial or ethnic demographics of an assembly, these too are violations of the protocol established in Scripture for the spiritual identity of the congregation which is the identity within the church. When a believer enters the congregation they should be instructed quite clearly that here they are not black, white, or brown, they are not of a human heritage, such matters are not in view in God's assembly, they are as Peter describes:

    1 Peter 2:9-10

    Quote:
    9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

    Alex,
    As I mentioned before,the churches need to put to death the idol of ethnocentrism so I strongly agree with your point that in Christ we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy people. However, that does not mean that somehow we are to place "ethnic" blinders on so that one's ethnicity is never referred to again in any context because they are somehow "violations of the protocal established in Scripture for the spiritual identity of the congregation." If this were true then we'd have to disregard parts of the narrative of Acts, where Luke refers to the ethnicity/culture of people that were part of the early church. By the way, I am in agreement with an earlier comment of yours that the narrative presented in Acts is descriptive rather than prescriptive, however, there is some practical wisdom that we can learn from how the early church dealt with problems that arose when cultures clashed as a result of bringing different ethnic groups into the body of Christ as one people.

    In Acts 6, when the Grecian Jews were complaining against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being ignored in their food distribution. Their solution? They appointed seven men “who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Yet I find it interesting that those they chose also happened to be Grecian Jews (actually one was a gentile by birth and had become a proselyte). We know that they were Grecian because they all had Grecian names. Of course the first and foremost reason to appoint these deacons was their Godly example, however, the disciples were practical and understood that for the interest of these Hellenists, it only made sense to intentionally appoint Hellenists to take care of the problem. They used practical wisdom and didn’t ignore one’s ethnicity when tackling the problem.

    I also find it interesting that in Acts 13, Luke refers to the ethnic/cultural background of Simeon “called niger,” “Lucius of Cyrene,” and “Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch).” If we were to apply your rigorous standard to omitting any reference to one’s ethnicity/culture because of our exclusive identity in Christ, then would Luke be violating the protocol established in Scripture?

    Aaron Blumer's picture

    EditorAdmin

    Along the lines of what Joel posted, Galatians says we're all one in Christ and there is no male or female, bond or free, etc. Yet, distinctions continued to be made between male and female in the church for various roles and Paul often directed comments toward gentiles and others toward Jews, etc. My point is that recognizing we are new creations is not incompatible with recognizing that we are still different in various ways--when the differences matter. The trick is wisely discerning when they truly matter and when they don't.

    Alex Guggenheim's picture

    Aaron,

    I have already identified this context in several earlier posts on this thread. My hope is that I will have time, while on the road, for a full response regarding the contextual distinctions of such and specifically those made in Joel's post.

    Alex Guggenheim's picture

    Joel Shaffer wrote:
    Alex,
    As I mentioned before,the churches need to put to death the idol of ethnocentrism so I strongly agree with your point that in Christ we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy people. However, that does not mean that somehow we are to place "ethnic" blinders on so that one's ethnicity is never referred to again in any context because they are somehow "violations of the protocal established in Scripture for the spiritual identity of the congregation." If this were true then we'd have to disregard parts of the narrative of Acts, where Luke refers to the ethnicity/culture of people that were part of the early church.

    Joel,
    It appears having been on the road and returning I neglected to get back to you in June on this and have a little time at the moment. First, to this portion of the post, it has not been suggested that race is not to be “never referred to again in any context” rather that in certain contexts it is not to be in view. And as in Luke, the descriptive account is just that, descriptive, not prescriptive nor pointing to some essential make-up of the church. Just as churches are described as meeting in houses these accounts are not prescriptive they are descriptive. There is no building mandate and so the most we can do is describe buildings, not prescribe them just as congregations and programs, one can describe its participants but it should not (and I believe cannot) maintain harmony with Scriptures if such is developed with racial/ethnic prescriptions.
    Joel Shaffer wrote:
    there is some practical wisdom that we can learn from how the early church dealt with problems that arose when cultures clashed as a result of bringing different ethnic groups into the body of Christ as one people.
    In Acts 6, when the Grecian Jews were complaining against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being ignored in their food distribution. Their solution? They appointed seven men “who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Yet I find it interesting that those they chose also happened to be Grecian Jews (actually one was a gentile by birth and had become a proselyte). We know that they were Grecian because they all had Grecian names. Of course the first and foremost reason to appoint these deacons was their Godly example, however, the disciples were practical and understood that for the interest of these Hellenists, it only made sense to intentionally appoint Hellenists to take care of the problem. They used practical wisdom and didn’t ignore one’s ethnicity when tackling the problem.
    I also find it interesting that in Acts 13, Luke refers to the ethnic/cultural background of Simeon “called niger,” “Lucius of Cyrene,” and “Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch).” If we were to apply your rigorous standard to omitting any reference to one’s ethnicity/culture because of our exclusive identity in Christ, then would Luke be violating the protocol established in Scripture?
    Again, regarding the latter comment, I have never asserted any rigorous standard that requires a total abandonment of references to one’s ethnicity/culture due to our identity in Christ, rather that in certain contexts its relevance is not permitted to be a factor. And of course that context, as is being discussed here, is the racial/ethnic make-up of a church which I assert is never given any commission by God for its participants to manipulate its membership so that it revolves around a desired racial/ethnic make-up. Such issues are anecdotal.

    But what about the Acts 6 account? First I would approach it cautiously, particularly if one is seeking to gain validation for constructing ministries around racial/ethnic objectives. This is an account of the infant church as it stood with a predominant number of Jews as its members. This is a unique context and certainly without the completion of the NT plan and protocol from God for the church, both in all its offices not fully institutionalized and the canon and its directives for the NT church yet to be complete. But this observation does not stand as the primary rebuttal. Let me provide that.

    As noted in the account, the Hellenists were Jews who embraced Greek culture while the Hebrews were Jews who yielded to Jewish customs and culture and were from Judea. But there is no commentary as to why the widows were neglected, it just says they were. We can speculate and probably have a reasonable conjecture based on the social arrangement but in the end it is outside of the text and cannot give us anything more than a possible construct.

    But as to the remedy, the choice of the seven deacons to serve tables, they do appear to be Hellenists but the question is, what does this say or imply? Your suggestion is that it may have established some validity to ethnic/cultural preference or catering which I do not believe is a valid conclusions. Notice the requirement for those who would serve tables, “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”. There is absolutely no inference to their cultural, ethnic or racial make-up.

    But one might, as you have suggested, point to the apparently unanimous Hellenistic make-up of the seven implying that though it was not part of the requirement it was an unspoken but practical determination made by those choosing. Again, going from what is clear in the text to speculation moves us from certainty to guessing.

    I would suggest a more simple and contextually obvious reason which is that they were choosing from the Hellenstic congregations or house churches and it was simply an anecdotal reality, that from their own groups of churches they choose those who would serve them. In other words, if you are choosing from Hellenstic congregations your deacons it stands to reason they will be Hellenstic.

    But what remains most predominant here is that if, even in the elementary stage of the church, racial, ethnic or cultural identities were to be part of the formula for ecclesiastical operations it was absent here in the stated qualification for the early deacons. Ultimately, when choosing deacons there was one prescription which does not include this view the ethnic, racial or cultural identifies of such men rather, men “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”.

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