I’ve been studying the Bible for over 16 years now, but only recently thought about what the Bible says about racial reconciliation. Racial tension is as old as Noah, and with Martin Luther King Day approaching, I thought I’d blog about what I now consider a theologically crucial topic.
So what does the Bible say about racial reconciliation? Is it icing on the cake—something you should try to accomplish once you’ve mastered the more important issues? Or is it essential to the gospel?
For most of my Christian life, I would have said that it’s important, but we need to focus on the more important issues, like Bible studies, discipleship, and evangelism. But after reading the Bible, I discovered that God cares much more about racial reconciliation than most churches do. Consider Ephesians 2:14-16
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
Speaking to Gentiles, Paul says that Jesus died to tear down the dividing wall of hostility that separated Jews and Gentiles. The goal of the cross—at least in part—was to “reconcile us both (Jew and Gentile) to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing hostility.” The implication is critical and convicting. The “one new man in place of the two,” which describes the church God intends to build through the blood of Christ, is a multicultural phenomenon.
Put simply, the cross intends to create multicultural communities.
If you have a better reading of Ephesians 2, please let me know. But before you offer it, consider Galatians 2. Paul confronts Peter for not eating with Gentiles even though he used to eat with Gentiles, and he says that Peter was “not walking according to the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). By creating ethnic divisions in the church, Peter was violating the “truth of the gospel.” So this is not optional; it’s not icing on the cake. Multicultural gatherings show the world that Yahweh is not a racist and that the blood of Christ is powerful enough to break down walls and mend broken relationships.
There are many other passages I could look at, and perhaps we’ll look at them over the next few posts. But for now, let me ask you a few questions. If God intended to create a multicultural church through the blood of Christ (Gal 2:11-14; Eph 2:11-18), then why don’t our local churches reflect this? Why is it that 5.5% of American evangelical churches could be considered multi-ethnic (where not one ethnicity makes up more than 80% of its congregants)?
Five and a half percent!
And we live in a melting pot, where ethnic diversity abounds. But it doesn’t abound in the church. My aggravating question is: Why? Ethnic diversity can be seen in several areas in our society—in hospitals, athletics, places of work, and even our neighborhoods to some extent. But segregation is still evident in at least three places: bars, prison, and the American Evangelical church. If Ephesians 2 and Galatians 2 (and many other passages) didn’t exist, then this wouldn’t be a big deal, but they do exist and so it is.
The only answer I can come up with is this: We as a church do not believe that multiculturalism is essential to the gospel. I suggest that we need to revisit the Scriptures and move this discussion to the top of the list of our next church meeting.
Stay tuned, there’s more to come…