Race in the Church

Race in the Church

America has been a place of racial oppression, the effects of which are still felt today. While worldly people will divide themselves up, Christians learn that they are one in God’s family, being “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” God does not tolerate partiality, exclusion, or hatred in the body of Christ.

Jesus says in Matthew 23:8, “You are all brothers.” Paul says in Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” There is no exclusion for these principles for race. Black or white, Christians must love one another from the heart. In fact, 1 John 4:21 warns that a failure to love can jeopardize the soul.

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother.

Despite these admonitions, racial tension still exists within the church. Christians living in the same small town meet in two separate buildings according to race. Within congregations, some are discouraged from leading worship or shepherding due to race.

Modern America is not the only time and place where the reality of God’s family failed to live up to God’s expectations. In the early church, tension existed between Jews and Gentiles. In Acts 6:1, native Jewish widows were served daily food, while Greek-speaking widows were ignored. In Galatians 2:12, Peter the Apostle stopped eating with Gentiles, holding himself aloof; for his behavior he “stood condemned.” Though the Jew-Gentile conflict is a little different than racial conflict, the way in which God dealt with it is instructive. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14-18,

He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall … that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace…

God firmly states that, “we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus … there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female…” (Galatians 3:26-28). In Colossians 3:11-15, He says, “There is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.” Paul uses the Jew-Gentile conflict to speak of other divisions, too. In Paul’s context, barbarians were those from outside Roman territory, “any foreigner ignorant of Greek language and Greek culture.” Scythians were barbarians from very distant lands; this is “a synonym for the wildest of barbarians … whose savageness was proverbial” (Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament). It didn’t matter where they were from once they were part of the body of Christ.

There are numerous excuses other than race that people in the world use to recognize divisions. We must not show favoritism to the rich (James 2:1-9, Exodus 23:1-3). We must not show favoritism to beauty or body type (2 Corinthians 5:12, 1 Samuel 16:6-7). We must not show favoritism to our special friends (Micah 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:21). We must not show favoritism to men of high reputation (Galatians 2:6, 1 Timothy 5:20).

Treating another Christian differently because of their race, skin tone, gender, education level, class standing, physical address, language, weight, or nation of origin, is clearly condemned in God’s word.

This non-prejudiced way of treating people applies not only to fellow Christians, but to those outside the body of Christ. Jesus commissioned His followers to preach the gospel to “all creation” (Mark 16:15). Every human being is an object of God’s love. John, who was privileged to witness a preview of heaven, reported in Revelation 7:9,

I looked and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands…

Imagine, Christians from all sorts of tribes and tongues praising God together! People from all nations and cultures from across the globe will gather in Heaven to sing praises to God for their common salvation. If we can’t learn to get along on earth, how will we ever celebrate together in heaven?

Peter speaks of God’s desire to save all mankind in Acts 10:34–35, “God is not one to show partiality, but in all nations the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” God flatly declares that He is not a racist. Romans 2:11 says, “There is no partiality with God.” Even when it comes to Judgment Day, God says in Colossians 3:25, “He who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong with he has done, and that without partiality.”                                           –John Guzzetta