The following is the first of multi-part series on racial integration in the church. This is modified from a recent panel discussion that I participated in at Southeastern called One Body, Many Colors.
1. Why should we pursue racial integration in our churches?
One major reason is that one of the primary plotlines of the Bible is bringing glory to God by bringing back together various races in one common salvation. From Genesis 12 to Revelation 7, God is bringing back together what sin has driven apart. The Pentecost event of Acts 2 is intentionally multicultural; Mark recounts Jesus’ vision of the church as distinctly multicultural: “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:18). Paul calls the racial integration of the church evidence of the “manifest wisdom of God” (Eph 3:10).
In our day, racial unity speaks in a way that few other things can. Gathering large, like-minded audiences around engaging speakers and great music is not a manifestation of God’s wisdom–political conventions and sports do that all time. But when you have a group of people who have little in common but a love for Jesus and an experience of grace—that speaks to the world, that “manifests” God’s wisdom and power to the world.
Bill Hybels once told me that if he had it do over again he would make racial integration a Willow Creek value from the beginning. I asked him if he would do it knowing that he would never be able to grow Willow as large as he had. Without blinking, he said, “Absolutely.” I asked, “You would be willing to reach less people just so your church could be a picture of diversity?” Hybels replied, “The corporate witness of racially diverse churches in America would be more powerful than a number surge in any one congregation.”
Racial integration gives us a foretaste of heaven, a “sign” of the coming Kingdom. Rodney Stark in his Rise of Christianity lists it as one of the things that made the early church distinct from other religious groups and led to its rapid growth. Local churches were the one place in the Roman empire where races got along with social hierarchies. Their racial harmony gave them a chance to explain that Jesus was not only a Jew, but the Lord of all humanity, the Savior of all races.
Humanity has a common problem, sin, and a common Savior, Jesus. Racial integration in a church, where our common humanity and common salvation are put on display, glorifies the firstborn of all creation.