In my previous post (“racial reconciliation”), I looked at two passages (Eph 2 and Gal 2) that place a high value on breaking down the walls of ethnic division within the church. This is especially important since in many churches, people don’t seem to care whether it’s ethnically diverse or not. But biblically, God places a high premium on local churches being a visible representation of His presence (Eph 1:22-23), and this representation is skewed if it doesn’t reflect God’s love for, and power to save, people of all ethnicities. Something is especially wrong if your local church (i.e., the visible representation of God’s presence) exists in a diverse area and yet doesn’t reflect this diversity. Many outsiders already think the church is segregated at best, racist at worst. Let’s stop giving them so much material to work with.
But diversity for diversity’s sake is not what I’m arguing for. There are theological reasons why our local churches should pursue racial reconciliation and diversity. So let’s dig in to the Scriptures.
For this post, I want to look at the two bookends of the Spirit’s new covenant work, beginning in Acts 2. The very birthday of the church was a multicultural gathering. Visiting Jerusalem at Pentecost were Jews, Europeans, Africans, and Arabs, all who received the Spirit of God; all who bowed the knee to king Jesus (Acts 2:9-11). And God broke down ethnic barriers by allowing each to understand the message in his own language (Acts 2:6-9). In some ways, Pentecost undid the sin of Babel, where through sin, people spread out, segregated, and separated in terms of ethnicity, geography, and language. But at Pentecost, all of this is reversed. Unity among ethnic diversity—all created by the miraculous power of God.
And I believe this was intentional. The surprising beauty of God’s new work through the Spirit comes in pulling ethnically diverse people together under the banner of King Jesus. Satan wants to put an end to God’s mission, and it looks like he’s succeeding in some segregated churches, but ultimately God’s power will prevail. This is the point of Ephesians 3:10, which says that the purpose of God unifying Jews and Gentiles (and by implication all ethnic groups) together into one body is to broadcast “the manifold wisdom of God…to the rulers and authorities (read: demons) in the heavenly places.” Ethnically diverse, spiritually unified, Christ-exalting churches declare to Satan and his minions: You lost!
And this declaration will be fully disclosed when Christ comes back. I love that scene in Revelation 7, where John sees “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before Jesus saying ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne’.” What an amazing worship celebration it will be when Christ comes back and people from every tribe and tongue and nation bow down to sing praises to Jesus—the One whose blood shatters the boundaries we create.
It will be amazing, but it may be a little shocking too. We may be a little uneasy at the worship celebration Christ puts on. Those expecting seven stanzas of Be Thou My Vision, a good white hymn, may be disappointed to see an angelic Mariachi band rocking the stage. You may think something is insanely wrong when Michael the archangel starts rapping, Gabriel busts out a tribal beat on the bongos, and Thomas the apostle maestros an ensemble of Indian sitars.
The second coming will give us a real taste of what it means to be a global community.
We may be even more shocked when we look around and see that English is the minority tongue and that white people are greatly outnumbered (the statistics are clear). We may be beside ourselves when we see that Jesus doesn’t have blond hair and blue eyes, but looks like a Middle-Eastern blue-collar peasant, with dark skin and dark hair.
Some of us have been so steeped in our own cultures that we have mistaken white, middle-class, American Christianity for Christianity itself. But the gospel puts an end to any sort of ethnic superiority among the people of God (Eph 2:11-18). Pentecost gave us a foretaste of what will be consummated when Jesus comes back—a unity among diverse believers, held together by the blood of Christ.