Our world is filled with racial tension and strife. How will the Church respond? Countless churches have already responded with indifference. They are comfortable with the status quo and they suppose their methods are biblical. Other churches recognize the problem but are fastened in fear, uncertain of how to act. A few churches have taken a leap of faith. They believe the Bible addresses this issue and that the gospel is the answer.
For the past few years, the dialogue on multi-ethnic churches has been encouraging. Recently, J.D. Greear (pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina) announced that he is accepting a nomination for the Southern Baptist Convention President. Of the four biggest passions God has placed on his heart (read the rest here), one is “To platform and equip non-Anglo pastors and members.” J.D. regretfully wrote, “The SBC is not yet known for being a diverse group.” And while this is the current reality, he desires “that diversity might become a hallmark of our denomination.” The tide is shifting in the SBC; I pray this continues.
I am a Christian, half Indian and half Filipino. In God’s sovereignty, my parents migrated from their respective countries to attend the University of Minnesota. Years later, I was born in a small rural town located in southern Minnesota. For eight years we were one of the few token Asian families in our church. Then we moved to Kansas City and it was much of the same. My picture of the Church was primarily made up of white believers.
Then all at once, my picture changed. I remember the first time I realized multi-ethnic churches were possible. I was visiting my sister’s family in Chicago, and the church they were a part of was introducing new members to the congregation. The pastor asked each member to say ‘hello’ in his or her native language. Out of the twenty or so new members, I heard seventeen languages spoken. This moment was a beautiful turning point. I saw the beauty of ethnic diversity in the Church, and I couldn’t forget the sight. It is a critical need for Christians today to visualize the Church accurately; all nations, all tribes, all peoples, all languages.
Here are a couple reasons we should pursue ethnic diversity in the Church:
- Racial division in the Church directly hinders God’s plan for global redemption.
The power of the gospel is clearly seen as it crosses racial lines. For the Church today to divide along racial lines is out of step with the end result where all nations will worship God together as one family. As the gospel crosses social, cultural, and economic barriers, the Church should be a reflection of the community it inhabits. We see this in the climax of the New Testament. John has a vision of the new heavens and the new earth, and at the throne room a congregation from every nation, tribe, people, and language worship the Son (Revelation 7:9-10). If the work of Christ on the cross obliterated racial division, we in the Church need to ask ourselves the question as to why our churches look so different from the congregation described by the Apostle John. We should desire every family in our neighborhoods to hear and respond to the gospel because this desire is the same as God’s.
- Ethnic diversity points to the centrality of Christ.
What is at the center of your church? If Christ is the center, then he will draw all the nations to himself. After all, we are all one in Christ (Galatians 2:11-21). He does not discriminate, instead, he unifies by the shedding of his blood for all nations. It is inconsistent to proclaim that Christ has created a new humanity while at the same time tolerating racial barriers in the Church. The road to racial reconciliation leads through the cross; the place where we die to ourselves for the sake of our brothers and sisters. For too long there has been a gap between the Church’s talk and walk on this issue. Gospel-centered ministry bears the fruit of reconciliation. We seek reconciliation because God first sought reconciliation with us.
Now the question must be asked, is this even possible for all churches? The idea that your church will represent all 196 nations is unrealistic. There are areas in the United States and around the world where ethnic diversity does not exist. However, your church should be a reflection of your neighborhood. This should develop from the leadership to the members. The New Testament does not shy away from this. The leadership of the early Church was multi-ethnic (Acts 13:1).
So should your church pursue ethnic diversity? Yes! God is the perfect Creator, and he is in the business of crafting mosaic masterpieces. Is your church an accurate reflection of the community it inhabits? If not, pray and pursue ethnic diversity! Consider the joy of working and laboring together with brothers and sisters from different cultural backgrounds for the glory of Christ. Together, let’s put the gospel on display and ask God to build our churches “as it is in heaven.”