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by Jemar Tisby

A racially and ethnically diverse assembly has always been part of God’s plan for redemption.  Amid the excitement about diversity, Christians must remember that there is a biblical basis for it. Here are just a few passages from Scripture that illustrate the multi-ethnic imperative of the Gospel.

In the Beginning…

After Adam and Eve chose to break God’s word, God makes a promise to humankind.  God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This verse promises a Deliverer–Jesus Christ–who was bruised through death on the Cross, but by His resurrection He crushed the head of the serpent to defeat sin, Satan, and death forever.

Then in Genesis 12:3 God promises that through Abram He will bring a blessing to many people.  “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  This is a continuation of the promise God made in Genesis 3:15.  Although he starts with one man, Abram, He will extend the blessing of redemption to all the families of the earth.

God makes His promise to bless all kinds of people even clearer later in Genesis.  The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Gn. 18:17-18)  This time God speaks not only of families but of nations.  He’s not only going to save Abraham’s family or the nation of Israel, but God’s salvation extends to people from every nation.

The Gospel of Luke

Then in the New Testament, Jesus Himself demonstrates the ethnic-transcending power of the Gospel. The hatred between Jews and Samaritans was as spiteful as any ethnic conflicts in the world today.  Yet in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus makes the Samaritan, not the Jew, the hero of the story.   This parable shows that every person, regardless of race or ethnicity, is a neighbor worthy of compassion and service.

But Jesus not only suggests that His redemption be extended to all nations, He commands it.  Jesus’s last words before He ascends into Heaven–commonly called the Great Commission–contain the mandate to preach the Gospel to all kinds of people.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).  In this verse Jesus makes preaching the Gospel and making disciples of every kind of people an imperative statement.

Acts

The book of Acts shows how the disciples obey the Great Commission by beginning to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.  After Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9-16) he goes to the home of Cornelius–a Gentile and a Roman centurion.  Once Peter realizes that the Holy Spirit led him preach the Gospel to Gentiles he says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

Just a few chapters later in Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are commissioned by the church at Antioch as missionaries to the Gentiles.  The way the church members are described is instructive.  “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1).  This verse includes details like “the Niger” and “member of the court” to show not only ethnic but economic diversity in leaders of the church.

But God’s plan to offer redemption to people of every nation was not well-received.  In Acts 22, as Paul proclaims the Gospel to Jews. They listen intently at first but then they try to flog him (Acts 22:25).  Why do the Jews go from curious to ferocious? What does Paul say to incite them?  “And he [Jesus] said to me, ‘Go for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Up to this word they listened to him.  Then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live!” (22:21-22).

Paul was merely stating the culturally transcendent scope of redemption in fulfillment of what God had already promised in Genesis.  The Jews had forgotten that God had not chosen them because of their ethnicity but so that salvation could come through them to the entire world.

Revelation

Finally, in Revelation, the Apostle John receives a vision of the Heavenly courts.  “And they sang a new song saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seal, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Rev. 5:9).

Again it says, “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” (7:9).  So when Jesus returns in glory and the promise made in Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled the whole number of the elect will be gathered and they will be a people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

Racial and ethnic diversity is not about trendiness.  It is not about secular sociology. It is about God’s glorious plan of redemption from Genesis to Revelation.  Churches should strive to reflect the ethnic composition of their community as much as possible in their context.  In so doing, believers will participate in the majestic expansion of God’s Kingdom to include all kinds of people from across the face of the earth.

A Few Books about the Biblical Basis for Multi-Ethnic Churches

1. Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments, and Practices of a Diverse Congregation by Mark DeYmaz

2. From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race by J. Daniel Hays

3. One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology by Jarvis Williams

 

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