The number one reason why I’m planting a racially diverse church in Cincinnati is simply this: It’s Biblical. I’m not doing this because a focus group survey revealed a “market niche” for a racially diverse church. I’m doing this because I simply cannot escape what the Bible has to say about race.
All the way back in the very beginning of things, back when God spoke to Abraham and made a covenant with him, God promised that Abraham would be a blessing to every nation on the earth (Genesis 12). And then God gives us a flash forward glimpse into the future, when Jesus is praised in heaven precisely because he “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” God’s worth is demonstrated by the diversity of His admirers.
Between these two major events in the beginning of all things and at the end of all things, God gives us the biblical story of redemption. He begins with one man, who becomes a family, which becomes a nation, through whom comes the Messiah, who is the blessing to all nations. Some of those nations were dreaded enemies of God’s people.
Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles fought their own racial conflicts in the early church as well. In Acts 2, “devout men from every nation under heaven” accept the gospel and believe in Jesus. A few chapters later in Acts 6, we find that “a complaint by the Hellenists ?arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in ?the daily distribution [of food].” There it is; racial discrimination. The minority group responded with a peaceful protest and the apostles appointed a racially diverse group of deacons to oversee food distribution. The result? “The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly (Acts 6:7).”
The ministry God has given to us as Christians is labeled the “ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5).” We are first reconciled to God through Jesus, but then are reconciled to each other through Jesus.
In Jesus, God has broken down the barrier walls of hostility between the races, creating “one new man” in place of the two (Eph 2). The “mystery” of the gospel is not merely that non-Jews are part of God’s kingdom. That message is as old as the Bible itself. The “mystery” that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 3 is that there is no master race; every person derives his worth and forgiveness through Christ directly. Gentiles are just as worthy and have equal access to God through the Spirit. That, however, was a mystery.
Many Jews feared what a Gentile church would look like. Perhaps they wondered to themselves, “what if we don’t like their music? We don’t like their preaching. They are too noisy and out of control. Their theology is weak. They need to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses. ” Perhaps the Gentiles wondered, “why are they having such a hard time simply obeying Jesus’ command to love their neighbors? We love Jesus as much as they do.”
Peter also draws Paul’s rebuke for cultural and racial prejudice in Galatians 2, where Peter favored “certain men from James” because of their cultural heritage. In Galatians 2:14, the true problem with racial division is revealed: it compromises the gospel. When Paul rebuked Peter, he did not rebuke him for breaking the “no racism” rule; Paul rebuked him for not living “in step with the truth of the gospel.” In essence, racial division in the church tells the world that Christ is good enough to save us, but not good enough to unite us.
We American Christians owe a lot to the apostles for standing their ground against racism. Because of this, we Gentile Americans are a part of the Kingdom of God. We Gentile Americans can look at Acts 2, Acts 6, Acts 15, and see the story of the oppression of a minority Christian group and identify with them as my people. The Judaizers lost control of their version of Christianity, the thing they feared most.
That’s probably a similar fear many face about a racially reconciled church. White people might fear losing their music, their traditions, their comfort. Black people might fear losing their unique and wonderful spiritual heritage through assimilation with the dominant culture.
The Bible says that perhaps both races have made idols out of their cultural religious preferences and allowed them prominence over the gospel of Christ.
Can we worship with Fred Hammond instead of Matt Redman? Can we get used to “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” throughout church? Can we get used to preaching that is louder than we’re used to? Can we worship with acoustic guitars? Can we enjoy a quiet moment of sober reflection in a worship service?
That’s the number one reason why I want to build a racially diverse church. Racial division in the body of Christ diminishes God’s glory in our lives, and I want no part of that.
Racial unity in the body of Christ tells the world that our common allegiance to Jesus is greater than any potential division. It glorifies God.
Now that we have the number one reason out of the way, I have nine other reasons that are more practical in their orientation. These will appear in the next post.
[Acknowledgment: many of these insights are the result of studying Spencer Perkins, Chris Rice (not the singer), and Tim Keller.]