There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
A friend of mine was walking through a park and spending time with God, praying and enjoying the frigid stillness of the early morning air. His heart was filled with hope, peace, and joy even though his Southern California neighborhood had been torn apart by the violence of the riots following the acquittal of the officers who had brutally beaten Rodney King.
A black man approached from the opposite direction, head down, no eye contact, but as was my friend's habit he called out a cheery "Good morning!" anyway. The black man, unfortunately, was not in the same frame of mind as my friend. He looked up into the white face of my friend and with malice in his voice declared, "No justice, no peace."
My friend was shaken by the anger that emanated from the man so he quickly apologized for bothering the man and continued on his way. But he couldn't get over the encounter and spent the morning talking to God, interceding for the man and asking the Lord why our country is so divided and why even in the church there was segregation and even racism.
Racism was a problem for the Apostle Paul just as it is for pastors today. America is currently in a crisis of division politically. Black Lives Matter groups are squaring against Alt-right members in the streets. It's easy to become entrenched in the political debate before hearing what God has to say about it. Fortunately for us, the Scriptures address racism and if we listen to the Holy Spirit he will cut through the current political confusion and speak to our hearts.
During the time of the apostles, the Galatian church was divided between Paul’s teaching and the teachings of a group Paul calls the Judaizers. From the start these men were disobedient to Christ. After Jesus gave the Great Commission the church was cognizant that they needed to go out to the Gentiles in order to fulfill the Great Commission. They were unwilling to do so until God sovereignly used Paul (then Saul) to drive them out of Jerusalem. After that the Apostle Peter had a vision in which God showed him that the Gentiles were no longer unclean under Christ. Despite the Lord's straightforward instructions, the Judaizers failed to understand and insisted that the Gentiles practice cleanliness rituals such as circumcision, ritual sacrifices, and observing the Sabbath. The point of these rituals was to point people to the work of Christ. Instead of looking to Christ they insisted in strange liturgies that divided the saints within the Church based on their nationality and ethnicity. It even became such a problem that the saints divided themselves based on whose teaching they followed.
Does this sound familiar to you? Even if it does not, 80% of churches in America are segregated. I was speaking recently about this to a friend of mine who has been a pastor for many years. He spoke about how in seminary they encouraged him to establish a church with a singular racial demographic so people would be more comfortable. They called it the homogeneous unit principle. What fancy words for racism!
The question that has to be asked is this: Why do we allow and sometimes even encourage racial segregation in our churches? Derwin Gray, who wrote the book The HD Leader, spoke about the hesitancy of pastors to seek out racial reconciliation within their churches. Pastors fear a few different things. Many pastors said things you might expect, such as “black people and white people worship differently.” When Pastor Derwin dug further he got some nastier unbiblical responses:
A white pastor said, “If our church would try to become diverse some of the fathers would be afraid their daughters would marry a black man.”
A Latino pastor said, “If you start a multi-ethnic church you will steal our people.”
An Asian pastor said, “Our language and culture in this hostile country is more important than integration.”
A black pastor said, “We don't need to integrate our church because white people will never follow the leadership of a black man and because white people, as the majority culture with a privileged position, they don't know how to serve, they only think they know how to lead.”
These excuses are abominable. All of us, especially leaders in the church, must be vigilant to keep our flesh submitted to the Spirit and to always keep watch for the sin that so easily entangles. Racism and fear of others who are different from us come naturally as many of us are born into that way of thinking.
"if we listen to the Holy Spirit he will cut through the current political confusion and speak to our hearts"
Prayer and submission to the authority of scripture are key ingredients in subjugating our flesh to Christ. We must pray that God would expose our sin and any error in our thinking. We must confess and repent for seeing segregation as normal; we must repent of our fear of man and our fear of others who are different from us. We must ask God to give us vision for how we can creatively and faithfully pursue reconciliation.
Scripture puts racial reconciliation as imperatively important. When we look at the Christian leaders in the New Testament we see a stark contrast with the racist pastors quoted previously:
Jesus’ final commission to his disciples was to go make disciples to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20).
Paul wrote, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13).
Peter spoke to non-Jews saying, “‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but accepts from every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)... To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-36,43)
John describes a vision of the Church saying “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)
The narrative of the Scripture paints a picture that the cross is meant for every man. As we dig through Scripture, we see God taking the cross and using it as an instrument to cross cultural barriers. The cross and the resurrection are the tools God uses to establish his multi-cultural bride! And he has chosen us to help him do it!
God delegated this ministry to all Christians through Paul's writing in 2nd Corinthians. Paul makes the argument that we are compelled by love to show the world what the cross did for them. That love must come from God himself, so I urge you to read these scriptures and set aside some time to pray.
So after we seek prayer and read Scripture, we should look to see what Christ is doing to reconcile and minister to the various ethnicities in our area. Please consider taking one of these actions.
Research and learn about racism in the church. The church has a long history of racism going back to the New Testament church. It's true that reconciliation is a complicated and often political issue. Even in politics we need to be faithful to God’s revealed word and pursue truth and the ministry of reconciliation. Take time to speak to other leaders in your area about how they deal with segregation in their church. Odds are many leaders in your area struggle with this issue.
Speak to your congregation about segregation and racism. This takes grace and wisdom. It's important to present well-researched facts along with Scriptural conviction. Racism is a biblical issue so if we are preaching exegetically we should preach about race issues.
Consider how you can partner with ministries in your area. We need to see the Church as larger than our local body. As leaders, there are many different ways we can seek to partner with saints who are of other races, nationalities and heritages than our own. Consider applying the Two by Two model by partnering with others who are of a different ethnicity. There are quite a few different ways to apply the Two by Two model: Invite another believer to help you minister to your disciples. Help a leader minister to his disciples. Partner with a local school, homeless center or community center. Invite more diversity into your pulpit and, if led by the Spirit, you could even merge churches.
Lets Pray Together: “Jesus, I praise you for your glorious vision of a multi-ethnic bride. I glorify you because you offer salvation to all people. I repent, Lord, for being complacent with racism and segregation. I want to share in your vision to reconcile all people to yourself. Give me the bravery to take creative risks for your gospel. Help me see all people as you see them. Help me see the other as a human worth dying for… (continue praying as you feel led).