“The Bible shows us the Lord’s hot pursuit of all peoples and cultures, and this is expressed most completely in the gospel and is fulfilled completely in the kingdom of God. Yet, God’s multi-ethnic vision is not commonly found in North American churches. We are compelled to ask: Is this a theological problem? Apart from language and geographic barriers, is the presence of God seen and found in multi-ethnic gospel communities? Or is his presence muted & blocked by comfortable mono-cultural churches? This session will explore the theological and practical urgency for multi-ethnic church planting and reforming mono-cultural churches into a Christ-glorifying diversity.”
Unfortunately, too many reformed Christian communities still believe in color blindness, because they think race is about biology (skin color) instead of ideology, although many specialists and non-specialists have made strong arguments to show that the American construct of race had more to do with social currency than with DNA.
Many reformed Christians often also insist that the gospel is only about individual salvation. Matters of cosmological reconciliation between God and his creation and horizontal reconciliation or justice, they say, are social issues instead of gospel issues. Thus, color blindness along with an incorrect view of race and racism, and a misunderstanding of the gospel make reconciliation/multi-ethnic churches difficult even when those churches claim to be gospel-preaching and working relentlessly to pursue reconciliation with all people in Christ.
In this piece, I argue that Jesus’ substitutionary death for Jews and Gentiles (=races of people [John 1:29]) and his resurrection from the dead provide gospel urgency for diverse minority led multi-ethnic and reformed church plants.
His death and resurrection reconcile Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Christ to God and to each other and create them into a new, transformed race in Christ without eradicating their old racial identities. This new and transformed race in Christ lives in an already-not-yet kingdom. As a result, everyone from every race currently redeemed by the blood of Christ should be in hot pursuit of reconciliation, because Jesus pursued the nations and purchased them with his blood. One expression of reconciliation is for diverse minorities to partner with each other to plant multi-ethnic, diverse, reformed churches. Below I argue for this by an exegesis of selected texts from Romans and Galatians.
Romans 3:24-30: Jesus’ Death and Justification by Faith
Jesus’ death justifies (declares not guilty) sinners by faith in Christ. In Rom. 3:24-30, Paul connects justification by faith with Jesus’ blood. He asserts that God justifies sinners by faith because he offered Jesus to die for their sins. In 3:23-24, Paul states all sinners must be freely justified by God’s redemption provided by Jesus because all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (1:18-3:20, 23).
Justification is God’s gracious gift and comes to all sinners freely through the redemption accomplished by means of Jesus’ blood (3:24-25) and resurrection (4:25). In light of Paul’s remarks in 3:20, that the law justifies no one, and in 3:24, that all people must be graciously justified through redemption in Jesus Christ, Paul states that God “offered Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice,” that this sacrifice is received “by faith,” and that Jesus’ “blood” accomplished justification for the one who has faith in Christ (Rom. 3:25-26).
Yes, this redemption is inclusively for “all” who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (3:23). This is why Paul boldly affirms that God is the justifying God of both Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Jesus (3:29-30). Yet, this redemption is exclusively “only” for those who have been justified freely by faith by God’s grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus (3:21-22, 24-25; 5:1). And God upheld the integrity of his justice against Jews and Gentiles by satisfying his wrath in the cross of Jesus on behalf of the Jewish and Gentile sinners who are justified, reconciled, and saved by Jesus’ blood and resurrection (4:25; 5:6-10; 2 Cor. 5:20).
Jew and Gentile are ethnic/racial categories. Jesus’ death and resurrection provide universal salvation for all races of people who are justified by faith in Christ and his blood reconciles them to God (Rom. 4:25; 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:20) and to each other (Eph. 2:13, 14-16). Paul’s comments in Rom. 3:21-31 are in the context of comments in 1:18-3:20 about God’s universal condemnation of both Jews and Gentiles due to their inability to meet Torah’s demands to the fullest. His comments are also in context of his remarks in 4:25 that Jesus “was handed over for our sins and was raised for our justification.” And Paul boldly asserts in 3:29-30 that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles because he justifies both groups by means of their personal faith in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus.
Galatians 1:4; 3:13-14: Jesus’ Death for Jews and Gentiles and New Creation
In Gal. 1:4; 3:13-14, Paul states Jesus died to deliver us (Jews and Gentiles) from the present evil age and to redeem us from the curse of the law, so that we would receive the Abrahamic blessing, namely, the Spirit (Gal. 3:14). Jesus’ death and resurrection distribute the blessing of the Spirit to all Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Jesus the Jewish Messiah. And the gift of the Spirit to Jews and Gentiles enables us to walk in the Spirit, as opposed to walking in the lusts of the flesh, and the Spirit enables Jews and Gentiles in Christ to live in reconciled harmony with each other as the people of God as we produce the fruit of the Spirit in community with each other (Gal. 5:16-20). Those Jews and Gentiles redeemed by the blood of Christ and walking in the Spirit will therefore inherit (eschatologically) the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21).
The kingdom of God is a reference to the new heavens and the new earth, which Paul calls “new creation” in Gal. 6:15, and which John calls the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21-22. Jews and Gentiles are re-created as children of Abraham filled with the indwelling presence of the Spirit and are bound for the kingdom of God because of Jesus’ death for Jews and Gentiles and his victorious resurrection (Gal. 1:1, 4; 3:13).
The ethnicities/races for whom Jesus died consist of some from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). That’s what the NT generally means by the categories of Jew and Gentile (=red, and yellow, black, and white, they’re all Gentiles in his sight unless they’re Jewish). Jesus’ death for all kinds of people purchased salvation for some of those people for the purpose of re-creating those from different races and ethnicities and backgrounds into a new, chosen race (1 Pet 1:1-2; 2:9), and he makes these people for whom he died into a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a royal priesthood by his blood (1 Pet. 2:9). As Rev. 5:9-10 says, “…they sang a new song by saying: you are worthy to take the book and to open the seals because you were slain and have purchased for God by your blood [some] from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And you made them for our God to be a kingdom and priests.”
7 Practical Applications
First, Jesus’ blood conquered the power of sin and death for every tongue, tribe, people, and nation found in him.
Second, Jesus’ death for Jews and Gentiles creates a reconciled community and serves as the foundational reason why the Spirit can enable Christians to pursue reconciliation with diverse people (see Gal. 5:16-21).
Third, Jesus’ blood guarantees his elect will be saved when the Spirit awakens them after they hear the gospel. Jesus came from heaven to seek, find, and purchase his elect sheep (John 3:16; 10:1ff). The blood of Jesus secures a place in the sheepfold for some from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). Christians should, therefore, cling to the blood of Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death, along with his victorious resurrection. And we should pursue reconciliation with the “other” with the kind of intensity that Jesus came to earth to seek and to save his church to redeem her.
Fourth, Christians from every ethnic tribe can evangelize and plant churches and lead churches to reach anyone from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation with God’s help in the power of the Spirit. It’s God’s redemptive plan to redeem every elect person for whom Jesus died. The verbal proclamation of the gospel makes known to the elect the salvation accomplished by Christ for them, and the Spirit—when he’s willing—will create faith in the hearts of all of the elect after they hear the gospel (John 3; 6:44; Eph. 2:1-10).
Fifth, evangelism, then, is simply the Christian act of announcing to all sinners what God has done in Christ to save them. And Christians should proclaim this message to anyone who will listen regardless of their ethnic, racial, social, and economic differences. And Christians should pray for the Spirit to create life in the hearts of the elect and apply the benefits of Jesus’ death to them
Sixth, the church of Jesus Christ should relentlessly pursue gospel racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic churches in such a way that the death of Jesus (and the resurrection) is at the very center of all calls for racial harmony and justice. Jesus’ shed blood for the elect from every tongue, tribe, and nation creates the necessary motivation for Christians from every ethnic and social stripe to strive toward gospel unity with all people in the church.
Seventh, qualified and diverse minorities, therefore, should lead multi-ethnic and reformed church plants. Those black and brown brothers and sisters with the necessary spiritual gifts should lead and recruit other diverse minorities and majorities to partner with them and follow their leadership instead of thinking that they are only qualified to be followers of the white majority’s leadership in the area of multi-ethnic church ministry. Jesus died for different races of elect, and he will use in leadership different races of the elect to plant reformed, diverse, multi-ethnic churches.
Quote comes from the 2016 Arise City Summit summary of my session. Summary on above link.
My father was black, my mother was multi-racial with black and native American ancestry on my grandfather’s side, and bi-racial=white and black ancestry on my grandmother’s side; my wife is a multi-ethnic Latina from Costa Rica whose mother is Nicaraguan, and my son is all of the above.