The Gospel and Multiethnicity

Among those alive in 1989, who can forget the images of the fall of the Berlin Wall? It was one of those moments in life that make an indelible impression on many so that they remember where they were and what they were doing when it occurred. My family and I were living in France as the television broadcast live images of people scrambling over the wall and throngs of people standing on the wall singing while others with sledgehammers chipped away at the stark, ugly edifice which had separated the German people for decades. We recall President Reagan’s earlier words to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev—“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” A country that had been torn for decades was soon reunited.

That historic event may serve as a pale and imperfect analogy to what Christ accomplished at the cross when by His death, when through His blood, He brought peace to former enemies—Jews and Gentiles—by removing what the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:14 calls the “dividing wall of hostility,” and by “killing the hostility” (v. 16). Christ inaugurated a new state of being and a new way of living which is a model for believers today in our quest to experience and express the reality of being part of the new people of God.

Grace Church of Philadelphia is committed to “multi” in many ways—multi-generational, multi-socioeconomic and multi-ethnic ministry. Because we have a multi-ethnic missional objective, we want to be intentional in healing divisions and in celebrating God-given diversity. Our desire is that Grace Church reflect the diversity of our urban community and the diversity which exists in the body of Christ—not because it’s a great idea, although it is; not because we have overcome bigotry and eradicated all traces of prejudice from our hearts, because we haven’t; not because it will be easy, because it won’t be; but because there is a biblical basis for this commitment, because multi-ethnic diversity is God’s idea.

When we come to Scripture we need to ask ourselves, “How does the gospel challenge our prejudices and tendencies toward tribalism—where we find safety in being with people (or in a church) where most people are much like ourselves?” For those who believe the gospel, who are committed to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and to the power of the Holy Spirit to effect transformation, there is an answer. It lies in that world-changing, history-altering event: the incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and present reign of Jesus Christ.

There is a fairly recent academic field called Hate Studies. Whatever the merits of Hate Studies as an academic discipline, we know why there is hatred—the depravity of the human heart and rebellion against the Creator. Hatred of others expressed in racism is a form of idolatry. It elevates the distinctions of the physical image over the common origin of the spiritual image endowed by the Creator. According to “The Genetic/Evolutionary Basis of Prejudice and Hatred1,” “prejudice and discrimination have an evolutionary basis, rooted in the nature of primate and human subsistence groups.” The author asserts that “if prejudice and discrimination can be reduced, then reduction of hatred will follow.” He then proposes new techniques or education or other limited ways of reducing prejudice and discrimination. He fails to understand that there is no solution apart from the one solution God offered in Christ who bore all the sins of the world and has the power to transform the human heart.

We live in a world full of strife and divisions and hatred of “other” peoples, where groups of people have sought to eliminate other groups because they were different in skin color, language, or customs and traditions. We shouldn’t hide or smooth over the reality of wrongdoing against other people in our own nation’s history—including slavery and the forcible acquisition of Native American lands. As Christians, we are called to model genuine love for all people, to express in visible ways our indifference to ethnic differences. We are not blind to differences, but differences must not divide us. Distinctions remain part of our earthly reality, yet what we have in Christ transcends those differences and those distinctions.

The gospel teaches us that all people who are part of the family of God stand on level ground at the foot of the cross. There is no ethnic or racial superiority, no superior culture, and no dominance of one group over another. What counts is that we are “in Christ.” Sadly, churches rarely reflect this new covenant reality. In a 1963 speech Martin Luther King said—“We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing…we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Over forty-five years later we need to ask ourselves if much has changed. How many churches still speak of “black hearts” and children sing “My heart was black with sin”? Perhaps it’s time to throw out the wordless book and use the words of the Book which neither describes sin as black nor hearts as black or white. Isaiah 1:18 says, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” The word “black” is not used with “heart” or “sin” in Scripture. We need to ask if we are willing to be agents of reconciliation and open our doors to all people or choose our comfort and traditions over conformity to a color blind gospel.

In Ephesians 2:11 Paul tells the believers at Ephesus to “remember” what they were apart from Christ. There are some things we need to forget (or try to forget), but we should never forget what we were before God saved us! Paul uses the terms “circumcision” and “uncircumcision,” a common way of setting apart Jews from everyone else. Today we have our own descriptors which divide people. Some are helpful; others are not. We need to understand that many of these are sociological categories, not biblical ones. From God’s perspective there is only one race—the human race—and we are all descendants of Adam and have a common lineage.

Ephesians 2:11-22 draws several contrasts between our previous condition outside of Christ and our present privileged position in Christ. Our status has changed from alien to citizen. Our position has changed from outsiders to insiders in Christ (v. 13). Our relationship has changed from hostility to peace, since Christ is our peace (v. 14) and came and preached peace (v. 17). From believing Jews and believing Gentiles, God has made “both” into one (v. 14). He has created one new man (v. 15), reconciled both in one body (v. 16), and granted access to both in one Spirit (v. 18).

In this passage, Paul calls on believers to remember the hopelessness of their former condition apart from Christ. They were aliens, strangers to covenant promises, without hope, and without God (v. 12). They were far away and there was a dividing wall which needed to be removed—most likely a reference to the Law itself. Christ’s work at Calvary removed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, abolished the “law of commandments” and brought different ethnic peoples into one body, the church. These accomplishments provide the foundation on which we build as we seek relentlessly—though often failing—to experience and express that unity today.

The division experienced between Jews and Gentiles was an expression of alienation from God. The healing of the division took place at the cross and takes place there today. What a glorious accomplishment! Jews and Gentiles, those who were near and those who were far away, have been brought near by the blood of the cross and peace has been secured. All human efforts, however well-meaning they may be, or however wise they may appear from a human viewpoint, are powerless to bring about real change. Laws may be passed that condemn hatred and punish criminal acts against others, but laws cannot change the human heart where the hatred resides.

God is giving His church in our day the opportunity to rectify the wrongs of the past, a past tainted with racism, segregation, and discrimination. Urban churches in particular have the privilege of engaging in multi-ethnic ministry that may not be available in mono-ethnic areas. Since Christ builds the church, we cannot build multi-ethnic churches. We cannot coerce diverse ethnicities to worship together. But we can be intentional and welcoming and seek to reach all people with the gospel without regard to their ethnic group or socioeconomic situation.

This poem summarizes the message of these verses—from hopelessness and despair to redemption and reconciliation. This is what we earnestly desire to reflect in our community.

It’s dark, it’s bleak, all is lost, despair;
Division, hatred, racial strife, beware;
All human efforts, worldly wisdom, lead nowhere;
Ah, the Son of God, in human form, our only hope appears;
His sacrifice, His precious blood, our awful sin did bear;
The cross of Christ, His blood made peace, oh hopeless one draw near.
Now reconciled, one body we, what wondrous grace we share.

Notes

1 Journal of Hate Studies (vol. 3:1; 2003/2004, 113-119).


Dr. Stephen M. Davis is associate pastor and director of missions at Calvary Baptist Church (Lansdale, PA) and adjunct professor at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA). He holds a B.A from Bob Jones University, an M.A. in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando, FL), an M.Div. from Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and a D.Min. in Missiology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Steve has been a church planter in Philadelphia, France, and Romania. He and his wife Kathy recently moved back to Philadelphia to plant Grace Church with his brother John and his wife Dawn and three other couples. Steve’s views do not necessarily represent the position of Calvary Baptist Ministries.

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Bob Metze's picture

Thanks for your writing ministry, Steve. Always thought-provoking and challenging.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate the application of principle to our modern variation of the problem.
I think ditching the wordless book is going a bit too far, though. Not that it's important to use it at all, but using "black" to describe things that are of the night rather than the day is much older than any race issues. And "red" is likely to offend some in some other ethnic group as well. Ultimately, you can't ever be sensitive enough in this climate where identity politics is so strongly encouraged throughout society. So... I'm all for not causing unnecessary offense, but we have to be realistic bout the likelihood of achieving that outside the body of Christ. Within it, oversensitivity about how colors are used in various metaphors is something to aim to grow out of.

Bob T.'s picture

Interesting article. It may be applicable in some places. Perhaps still in parts of the south? I am not sure. As a Nation, we have a terrible past regarding race and even religious prejudices. We have many good changes in our churches. I cannot speak for or of churches in many parts of our country.

What I do know is that in the west the norm is "multi everything church" unless you desire the comfort or emphasis of your ethnic group and desire a church that is built upon reaching one ethnic group you are in a multi everything church. From 1975 to 1998 I pastored a multi everything church. All groups and all ages. We endeavored to exalt Christ and had systematic expository doctrinal emphasis teaching. Anyone was welcome and almost anyone came. We made one young African American man our Associate Pastor. He did some preaching, visiting, and worked with youth. We made another Chinese American a staff member along with two white staff members. We were a congregational authority Baptist church. We had deacons who were Egyptian, African American, Hispanic (now Latino) and even some white. Our youth were composed of Iranian, Egyptian, Philippine Chinese, Japanese, African American and again even some white guys and gals.

As the area changed to more Chinese, Korean, and Philippine families, they started their own churches to reach their own groups of immigrants who desired their own native language. So ethnic churches came not because of prejudice but because of the minority ethnic groups own desires. An African American health and wealth church was started in the area and soon attracted many.

I cannot speak about the east coast, parts of the south or especially around Greenville, SC. but around here today if you are not in a multi generational and multi ethnic church it is because you do not want to be and have made a deliberate choice for an ethnic church. Inter marriage is normal. White and Hispanic and Asian and African American inter marriage is fully acceptable and many in various churches.

If there is a problem with church discrimination today, it is not in any any parts of the west that I know of. Some individuals do have personal prejudices but they would not be generally acceptable as public or religious expressions or practice. We do have white supremacist gangs as well as Black and Hispanic supremacist gangs. These are not mainstream expressions. Is not the President of the United States an African American? Did he not attend a church advocating Black Liberation theology for over 20 years? Was he not voted in ? Substantial change has occurred . Bigoted minorities do exist. But most all churches out here are way past that. We hope to see our Hispanic grand kids this week end! Love em!

I like the wordless book. What bothers me is the fact that the saints will have "White" robes. :bigsmile:

Alex Guggenheim's picture

I must say that I am going to take the time to thoroughly examine the propositions presented in Steve Davis' submission. And while I want to give all due respect to Steve's past thoughts which have consistently been the product of invested gravity, earnestness and consideration (though I have not always found myself agreeing with the conclusion), I find myself, here, initially arrested with above average concerns. However it is early in the week and I have a busy week and weekend and I am afraid I am not going to have the time I wish for timely response but in time, at whatever point, I am provoked to compose a very considerate and challenging response. In the mean time it will be interesting to read the continued responses.

Steve Davis's picture

I fail to see much in common between black used with night and black used with sin. My point, and only illustrative since I don't expect white people to not use the wordless book, is that I don't find "black" associated with sin in Scripture. Imagine a black child singing "My heart was black with sin." I can't. I'm not aware of songs that white kids sing which have them associating "white" with something negative. Those songs may exist but I don't know any. Should sin be described as black? If so I'd like to see some reasons why. If there are no reasons (and IMO there are no biblical reasons) maybe we should drop the analogy.

JobK's picture

Some points from a Christian who happens to be black. First, the "my heart was black with sin" and things like that are based on common metaphors. Further, they are also based on valid Biblical themes, such as the "darkness versus light" theme in the gospel of John. Everyone knows that it has everything to do with the moral/spiritual condition and nothing to do with race. Further, the idea that there is any correlation between skin color and the moral/spiritual condition is specifically refuted Biblically, is alien to historic Christianity, was only adopted as a minority position in American Christianity to justify slavery and segregation, and has long been abandoned by all legitimate Christian bodies. So, the only people who would make an issue of things like this are the very sort of cranks who have little interest in submission to a Biblical faith to begin with and are looking for things to justify their rebellious predispositions. Churches should not be in the disposition of accommodating such unregenerates by lending legitimacy to their follies.

Second ... I am convinced that we should be less concerned with how a local church fits into a temporal context - that is one defined by a specific time, place and culture - and more with how a local church fits into a context that is universal and spiritual. Basically, if race wasn't an issue for evangelical Protestants in Moldavia in the 1700s, I am not convinced that it should be a major issue for contemporary American Christians. Just because the secular American culture bombards and browbeats us with the idea that race is such a pressing issue (and then goes about to use the race issue to manipulate us into one direction or another) doesn't mean that Bible-based local churches in America should conform ourselves to their agenda. Even in our own context, well, some cities (like Washington, D.C. and Gary, Indiana) are 80% black or more. Some areas, like Idaho and the Dakotas, are 95% white or more. Understandably, churches in those areas are going to be nearly all black or all white and nothing can be done about it. So why should a church in more diverse areas feel any more pressure to be diverse than those? If it is wrong based on Biblical grounds to have an all-white church in Miami or Los Angeles, then what makes it right to have the same in Montana, Nebraska, or for that matter Finland? And if an all black church in Harlem or Atlanta is wrong, should the ones in Ghana shutter their doors?

Also, where is God in this picture? Has God charged us with building multiracial churches, or with trying to address any social issue or ill? And is the "problem" of segregated churches something that we are trying to "fix" with our own methods or with Biblical ones? The last thing that we need is for multi-racial churches to be the next big thing for the "seeker sensitive/purpose driven" Barna church growth crowd, where the "evangelism" emulates the corporate target market advertising tactics of 20 years ago (like the "black history month" soda cups that McDonalds used to sell ... paper and plastic cups with pictures of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela on them). Why not just trust that God will raise up Godly pastors to do His work, and that He will direct His sheep, regardless of race, to those pastors? If God is sending Asian sheep to Asian pastors, white sheep to white pastors, Hispanic sheep to Hispanic pastors, and black sheep to black pastors, what is the problem?

Or for those with a less deterministic bent, if born again Christians are seeking Bible-based pastors that they choose according to their own criteria, what is the problem? The problem is not blacks going to black pastors or whites going to white pastors, but Christians of any race going to churches that aren't Bible-based. If blacks or whites consistently choose churches that aren't Bible-based for racial reasons, I admit that it adds an extra dimension to the problem that must be dealt with. But the real problem is the heart of the Christian. It is not a race problem, but a heart problem. If a carnal Christian chooses a church because he wants to be around people like himself, then the problem is carnality, not prejudice. Or rather it is carnality that manifests itself as prejudice. So even if you successfully get such people into a multiethnic church, they'll still be carnal, and the result will be racial strife and a bunch of other problems. The issue is needing good, strong local churches that God will use to bring the unregenerates to salvation, and the carnal regenerates to spiritual maturity. So, unless the case can be made that multi-ethnic churches are required or at least idealized and modeled in the Bible, and that such churches inherently lend themselves to winning the lost and leading the found to spiritual maturity, then what case exists for consciously going out to establish a multiethnic church?

Revelation paints a beautiful picture of a church with racial and economic diversity worshiping in heaven. While we await to attain such perfection in heaven, on earth we have to serve the Lord in the context of the imperfections that exist in this life.

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

Greg Long's picture

When I was on a missions trip to Jamaica with my family back in the 90s, we used the Wordless Book song with the Jamaican children in VBS. Word got back to us that some children were saying we were teaching that black people were sinful.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

To JobK... I think Steve's main gripe is with churches that remain just about all white in communities where the population is diverse. We can probably all agree that the church ought to be as "multi-" as it's community is, other things being equal. That is, we're not denying of course that who responds to our spread of the gospel is up to God, but whether we make a proper attempt to reach folks of all the ethnicities that around us is up to us.

Easy for me to say since my ethnicity (a.k.a. "race") is the same as that of 99% of the people in my immediate community (though the nearest bigger town is a bit more diverse).

I do appreciate the skepticism here...

JobK wrote:
Just because the secular American culture bombards and browbeats us with the idea that race is such a pressing issue (and then goes about to use the race issue to manipulate us into one direction or another) doesn't mean that Bible-based local churches in America should conform ourselves to their agenda.
There is always that danger. But Steve's got some solid biblical stuff behind him here, given the precedent that first century churches were--if not intentionally mixed--certainly not ones were diversity was avoided (Col. 3.11).

Bob, your description of the CA experience is encouraging. Not so typical of Fundamental Baptist churches I don't think, but that is changing (my impression). I'm not sure what I believe yet about the whole phenomenon of specialty churches that form for one ethnic group or another in a community that is diverse. There are certainly some major practical benefits where language barriers exist. Seems like there could be ways for these churches to interact with other churches intentionally from time to time, in order to at least mirror the spirit of the early church.

Greg wrote:
Word got back to us that some children were saying we were teaching that black people were sinful.
Well I hope you were Wink
... and that white people are, too.

Steve Davis's picture

JobK wrote:
First, the "my heart was black with sin" and things like that are based on common metaphors. Further, they are also based on valid Biblical themes, such as the "darkness versus light" theme in the gospel of John. Everyone knows that it has everything to do with the moral/spiritual condition and nothing to do with race.

You state that "everyone" knows that a black heart has nothing to do with race. Sorry, that's not true and you can't speak for everyone. In many people’s minds it probably has nothing to do with race. But why even use it? There are plenty of biblical metaphors for sin. BTW, I repeat that the wordless book was an illustration. It is not the main focus of the article. And as others have commented I don't expect churches to be diverse where no diversity exists. But in communities (like ours) where there is great diversity then worshipping together is a wonderful expression of the body of Christ. Like it said, it's not easy and can't be coerced. But many churches are not even open to diversity where it is not only possible but sorely needed.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

It is definitely true that information we believe to be 'common knowledge' seldom is. 'Darkness' and 'light' are definitely Biblical metaphors (referring to the presence and absence of light, not colors), but when we use them without any context or explanation, we are guilty of assuming this as prior knowledge and the possibility of causing confusion is real.

The Lord used metaphors that were based on a common pool of knowledge- but how many people today understand pruning and grafting? It is worthless as an illustration in an urban setting without first explaining how pruning and grafting work.

Eric L's picture

Great article Steve, and something we all need to consider in light of both the Bible and a proper understanding of people's backgrounds.

In my view, a lot of the failures of Christianity in general, and American fundamentalism in particular, regarding ethnic diversity are a result of poor language study and hermeneutics. Whether we're talking about some form of organizational or individual segregation, use of misleading teaching materials in a classroom, whatever. I don't think many of us have spent time studying the meaning of "Cush" or the situations and people in scripture that are associated with Cush or Kedar, etc. For example, going back to the very beginning, do we actually think that Adam and Eve were white skinned? But do we take the time to explore realistically what they likely would have looked like? Similar to your illustration about the wordless book, I think that materials for a children's church or Sunday School, such as the story of creation, either promoted flawed views of our ancestors or at least did not give us accurate pictures of characters in the Bible (especially the Old Testament).

As long as humans live, we will always have natural tendencies to feel drawn to people who look and act and talk like us, and spend less time with people who look and act and speak differently than us. Whether those differences are because of ethnic distinctions or something else, it's more comfortable to be with peers who are more similar than different. Of course, any discussion about race relations will bring emotions and presuppositions to it, and it's uncomfortable, but we should try to study this objectively in light of the truth.

Thanks for the article, Steve!

Eric

LCarpenter's picture

I find it odd that the point is made to celebrate diversity in a church setting. What is the point of celebrating our differences? It seems to me we should be celebrating our unity and union in Christ. Ideally, our ethnicity should not be factor at all in our local church relationships, should it?

-LGC

Charlie's picture

LCarpenter wrote:
I find it odd that the point is made to celebrate diversity in a church setting. What is the point of celebrating our differences? It seems to me we should be celebrating our unity and union in Christ. Ideally, our ethnicity should not be factor at all in our local church relationships, should it?

Unity is only remarkable when it is had by those from whom you would expect disunity. The celebration is the unity in diversity, even despite diversity. Hence the wonder of the vision in Revelation 7:9-10.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

B Thomas's picture

Based on good ole Merriam Webster, it seems that the use of "black" with "sin" is more simile than metaphor. An example of a metaphor is when the N.T. uses "slave of Christ" to describe the Christian life. Similes and metaphors are both helpful in understanding something, but they serve different purposes. And, they can both be used poorly.

Regardless, perhaps the Wordless Book should be in the circular file simply because it is wordless. Based on John 1, Jesus is the Word, not wordless. Yes, we explain the wordless book with words, but they then become our words. If we opened a Bible instead and used that to declare the gospel, we would then be using God's words, not our own. And, we would be rightly proclaiming Jesus as The Word. Using a wordless book to teach about someone who is called The Word seems a bit odd.

Hmmm, guess I should go chuck that wordless bracelet that's tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

LCarpenter wrote:
I find it odd that the point is made to celebrate diversity in a church setting. What is the point of celebrating our differences? It seems to me we should be celebrating our unity and union in Christ.

Well, I believe that because of the "member" passages ("all members have not the same office" etc.), there are grounds for celebrating some of our differences, though I would agree that our unity before Christ is more important. Still, God did make us each different, and those differences count and are useful for some things.

Quote:
Ideally, our ethnicity should not be factor at all in our local church relationships, should it?

If you are talking about how we treat someone, etc., in our churches, I would agree that there should be no partiality based on color, background, etc. However, being married to a non-US citizen, albeit one of my "race" (though I don't really believe in race) has shown me that the real differences are in how one was brought up, and more importantly, how one thinks, which is a bigger part of one's ethnicity than skin color. When different basic assumptions and presuppositions come into play, there is no way to say that those are not a factor in our local church relationships (or any kind of relationship for that matter). We have to learn to deal scripturally with such differences, not just pretend they don't exist.

Dave Barnhart

Greg Long's picture

I really don't have a problem with the concept of the Wordless Book, because you do actually use the colors to explain the parts of the Gospel. I've noticed that some updated bracelets use a mixture of white and dark (kind of a swirl of colors) to represent sin rather than pure black. We simply say, "Our hearts were dirty with sin."

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

dmicah's picture

for the record, "dark" has been hijacked by some as a subtle and derogatory code word for minorities.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

dmicah wrote:
for the record, "dark" has been hijacked by some as a subtle and derogatory code word for minorities.

Hijacked by whom? ...and what evidence has led you to believe this?

I had to laugh a little when someone mentioned earlier how Adam and Eve would have looked. No way to know, of course, but it has always annoyed me that SS materials still often depict semitic folks from Bible history as fair skinned, blue-eyed Europeans (or maybe Norwegians?) Seems like that is finally changing but wow, it's about time!

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Steve Davis wrote:
Among those alive in 1989, who can forget the images of the fall of the Berlin Wall? It was one of those moments in life that make an indelible impression on many so that they remember where they were and what they were doing when it occurred…A country that had been torn for decades was soon reunited.
That historic event may serve as a pale and imperfect analogy to what Christ accomplished at the cross when by His death, when through His blood, He brought peace to former enemies—Jews and Gentiles—by removing what the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:14 calls the “dividing wall of hostility,” and by “killing the hostility” (v. 16). Christ inaugurated a new state of being and a new way of living which is a model for believers today
An analogy, while not required to be perfect must have essential comparisons for their use. Unfortunately here Steve Davis uses very unparalleled contexts. The conflict between East and West Germany and the tearing of the veil and the peace brought by Christ are quite far removed in their antagonisms.

The peace brought by our Christ our Lord was not one that had the aim of reconciling peoples, rather in fulfilling the plan of God for the reconciliation of man to God, not man to man. While it is true that Jews and Gentiles (along with a wide variety of racial and ethnic groups) were no longer distinguished by genetics or geographical boundaries with regard to God’s protocol for identifying his people, the reconciliation of these different people was a by-product or anecdotal to the true objective which was their reconciliation to God and so the new believers had a new identity, namely that as followers of Christ whereas before Christ, if one believed the prophecy, they had to acquiesce to the genetic and geographic identity of the Jews.

The conflict between East and West Germany was just that, a conflict of man to man. Their reconciliation was not a by-product or anecdotal to something greater, that was the very aim of the wall being torn down while any resolution of animosity between Jews, Gentiles or whatever social/racial identification one can name, was anecdotal or a by-product of Christ's work which is the reconciliation of man to God.
The points are best illustrated in Scripture:

Quote:
2 Corinthians 5 (NIV)
16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Quote:
Colossians 3 (NIV)
1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

The emphasis cannot be any clearer. Our spiritual identification, which is exactly the basis for our membership and interaction within the body of Christ, is just that, spiritual. There is no proper place for racial, ethnic or even gender identification with respect to our spiritual person. One might counter with the over-exaggerated response, “Well I guess we just have to pretend we are not men and women or black, white, or brown?”

The bible makes no such suggestion that you deny your social and/or biological reality, nor do I here. However, with respect to your spiritual identification none of these are valid points of evaluation or merit. And even within the ecclesiastical structure of the church where women are not allowed to be ordained and function as authoritative teachers of Scripture, this not a spiritual hierarchy, it is an administrative one.

And when we decide to, instead of remaining as close as we can with this divine guide, move outside of this construct and begin determining the value of a ministry based on worldly (kosmos) kinds of priorities, we begin introducing just what the texts here removed, that is some value based in genetics, geography and gender. It conflicts directly with the texts.

Steve Davis wrote:
Grace Church of Philadelphia is committed to “multi” in many ways—multi-generational, multi-socioeconomic and multi-ethnic ministry. Because we have a multi-ethnic missional objective, we want to be intentional in healing divisions and in celebrating God-given diversity. Our desire is that Grace Church reflect the diversity of our urban community and the diversity which exists in the body of Christ—not because it’s a great idea, although it is; not because we have overcome bigotry and eradicated all traces of prejudice from our hearts, because we haven’t; not because it will be easy, because it won’t be; but because there is a biblical basis for this commitment, because multi-ethnic diversity is God’s idea.
When we come to Scripture we need to ask ourselves, “How does the gospel challenge our prejudices and tendencies toward tribalism—where we find safety in being with people (or in a church) where most people are much like ourselves?” For those who believe the gospel, who are committed to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and to the power of the Holy Spirit to effect transformation, there is an answer. It lies in that world-changing, history-altering event: the incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and present reign of Jesus Christ.
Stating that a goal of a church in its outreach is to be “multi” many things appears to be a thoughtful stance, that is it appears not to reflect inflexibility, particularly in a society where being inflexible is treated almost always as a negative quality. However, though sincere, I believe Steve has it backwards with regard to his review and objective and I do not mean to be so direct as to sound insulting. Let me explain.

He is right, churches often are “multi” many things. If you look in Acts one can identify multi-facetedness in many contexts. But these conditions are incidental or anecdotal to something else. The goal in Acts or in our commission to preach the gospel to the world and involve ourselves in the ministry of reconciliation wasn’t or isn’t to gain a certain kind of result that reflects a favorable demographic for those socially sensitive. No where in Scripture is such a thing stated or implied. If you look in Acts this simply was the result of the context of that particular church but no such binding demographic status has ever been implied.

Again, we are instructed to operate unlike the world. Yes, we are to share the gospel with all men. All humans are our objective. We cannot rightly decide who will and who will not have the gospel and with that Steve Davis excels. But implying or even deciding what those results must be like, even in a culture that might have many races or ethnicities present, isn’t something for which we have been licensed and since we have not been licensed as such it fails as a valid measure for whether or not our particularly local assembly is appropriately satisfying the protocol of God.

Steve Davis wrote:
There is a fairly recent academic field called Hate Studies. Whatever the merits of Hate Studies as an academic discipline, we know why there is hatred—the depravity of the human heart and rebellion against the Creator. Hatred of others expressed in racism is a form of idolatry. It elevates the distinctions of the physical image over the common origin of the spiritual image endowed by the Creator. According to “The Genetic/Evolutionary Basis of Prejudice and Hatred1,” “prejudice and discrimination have an evolutionary basis, rooted in the nature of primate and human subsistence groups.” The author asserts that “if prejudice and discrimination can be reduced, then reduction of hatred will follow.” He then proposes new techniques or education or other limited ways of reducing prejudice and discrimination. He fails to understand that there is no solution apart from the one solution God offered in Christ who bore all the sins of the world and has the power to transform the human heart.
We live in a world full of strife and divisions and hatred of “other” peoples, where groups of people have sought to eliminate other groups because they were different in skin color, language, or customs and traditions. We shouldn’t hide or smooth over the reality of wrongdoing against other people in our own nation’s history—including slavery and the forcible acquisition of Native American lands. As Christians, we are called to model genuine love for all people, to express in visible ways our indifference to ethnic differences. We are not blind to differences, but differences must not divide us. Distinctions remain part of our earthly reality, yet what we have in Christ transcends those differences and those distinctions.
Here I agree strongly with Steve and he makes some very important observations and conclusions that are reflected in Scripture. Though I do not agree that all social differences or preferences that are based in ethnicity or race are always bad, sinful or based in some rebellion though obviously many are, as believers when we are proclaiming the gospel our message must be about Christ and Christ alone and how he moves us up and away from the limits and sinful tendencies of our worldly identification to that of our spiritual identification which does not include our racial, ethnic, geographical or gender elements that are valid elsewhere.

Unfortunately Steve Davis attempts to fuse the responsibility of America’s government and its people in history along with its formation that involved slavery and conflicts with the natives and such results with that of the church. The church and the gospel it presents has nothing to do with America’s decision (which sometimes included Christians and sometimes did not) to evolve has it did. We are not called in our spiritual context as believers and followers of God in Christ to be apologists for America. Our national identification is not our spiritual identification and in fact, to refer to such contexts is to actually introduce a very unnecessary and unbiblical agitator to the process.

Christians, when they represent the gospel, are God’s ambassadors, not America’s. While it might be true a second later we are suddenly in a context where our ambassadorship as a citizen is called upon and suddenly we are speaking with respect to, for or about our nation and as a citizen, when we minister we do so as God’s children and God’s ambassadors which has no reference to national interest in that respect.

Steve Davis wrote:
The gospel teaches us that all people who are part of the family of God stand on level ground at the foot of the cross. There is no ethnic or racial superiority, no superior culture, and no dominance of one group over another. What counts is that we are “in Christ.” Sadly, churches rarely reflect this new covenant reality. In a 1963 speech Martin Luther King said—“We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing…we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”
Over forty-five years later we need to ask ourselves if much has changed. How many churches still speak of “black hearts” and children sing “My heart was black with sin”? Perhaps it’s time to throw out the wordless book and use the words of the Book which neither describes sin as black nor hearts as black or white. Isaiah 1:18 says, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” The word “black” is not used with “heart” or “sin” in Scripture. We need to ask if we are willing to be agents of reconciliation and open our doors to all people or choose our comfort and traditions over conformity to a color blind gospel.
My words to Steve here would be first, whatever observations Martin Luther King Jr. had about the church they are only made valid if they reflect the protocol of the Bible. It could easily be said by many (and is) that the American fundamental and conservative evangelical church is the most gender bigoted place on earth where women are denied opportunity to be ordained and function along side of men.

We do not respond to observations alone that by a world’s standard intend to inflict shame when it is not warranted. Our shame comes from whether we have adhered to the Scriptures or not. If a ministry seeks to minister to all comers it is ministering as it should. Whatever such results are, whether it results in having more blacks, Asians, Hispanics and so on are not valid measures from Scripture. The measure is whether we are faithful to preach to all men. We do not control the results and it is rather unwise to attempt to introduce a standard for the church or anyone to themselves that demands a ministry reflect a certain demographic, even in a multi-demographic culture, in order for that Minister to believe he is following the protocol of God.

Finally, when we go about identifying people as we begin ministry with the deliberate aim of appealing to their racial, ethnic, geographical or gender identification we begin wrongly. We are not of this culture we are counter culture. Does this mean there will never be a culture or regional flavor in our local assemblies? Of course there will be but these, again, are incidental or anecdotal and to attempt to cater to these is to get the program of God backwards which is exactly what the “User Friendly” movement did, only here it appear Steve Davis is amplifying this principle and using it in a racial/ethnic context.

Steve Davis wrote:
In this passage, Paul calls on believers to remember the hopelessness of their former condition apart from Christ. They were aliens, strangers to covenant promises, without hope, and without God (v. 12). They were far away and there was a dividing wall which needed to be removed—most likely a reference to the Law itself. Christ’s work at Calvary removed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, abolished the “law of commandments” and brought different ethnic peoples into one body, the church. These accomplishments provide the foundation on which we build as we seek relentlessly—though often failing—to experience and express that unity today.
God is giving His church in our day the opportunity to rectify the wrongs of the past, a past tainted with racism, segregation, and discrimination. Urban churches in particular have the privilege of engaging in multi-ethnic ministry that may not be available in mono-ethnic areas. Since Christ builds the church, we cannot build multi-ethnic churches. We cannot coerce diverse ethnicities to worship together. But we can be intentional and welcoming and seek to reach all people with the gospel without regard to their ethnic group or socioeconomic situation.
I wish that Steve’s final words were reflected in the main body of his thesis. He, to me, contradicts himself here. While he asserts that we cannot “coerce diverse ethnicities” we must reach all people his earlier assertions included criticisms (implied in the least) of churches that do not reflect multi-racial and ethnic demographics.

Further, the statement “God is giving His church in our day the opportunity to rectify the wrongs of the past, a past tainted with racism, segregation, and discrimination” is used to further his suggestion that because of this we must make this part of our concentrated effort. Frankly Steve is gravely wrong.

He might believe, by way of observation, that God is giving the church the opportunity to rectify wrongs of the past regarding racial or ethnic antagonisms but that is not what the Bible teaches. The opportunity of the church is always based on the prescriptive protocol of God which is already established in Scripture.

As well, ministries are not held liable for the misuse of Scriptures by others and here Davis, in the least, implies this. Because ministries in the past may have done something that did not line up with God’s protocol for ministry somehow now makes the rest of the church responsible for adding to or amplifying its mission to balance or rectify this?

No, in fact what this teaches to the people it aims to provide rectification is that holding a grudge by a racial group is acceptable within God's body and they are owed something. What the church should be teaching is..."here is gospel and here is your reconciliation to God which is Christ Jesus who makes all things work for his good to them that love him." We owe the world the gospel and the ministry of reconciliation because this is God’s commission to us for fulfill in the world.

While I am confident Steve is always thoughtful and here he does not display a lack of thoughtfulness and admire his willingness at the end to temper his assertions, I am must say I fully reject them where they seek to fulfill a desire to identify and measure ministry by values removed in Scripture which include race, geography and gender.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Alex, I don't think anybody's saying we should encourage a minority group to retain a grudge. That would be holding on to lingering resentment about an offense that occurred in the past. Davis' point is more along the lines of "let's make sure the offense is not still occurring." The passages you cited do argue against "our 'race' deserves special status in the church" but they also argue against "we don't want folks who are different among us" and in favor of "let's put some extra effort to making sure other ethnicities know they are fully accepted."

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