The following post is the first of a multi-part series on racial integration in the church. Look for the continuation of this series every Tuesday throughout the upcoming weeks.
With this series, I would like to take as my starting point the assumption that racism is absolutely foolish, that we are ashamed of any racism in our past, that we repudiate every form of racism wherever we find it. There is only one race: the human race. There is one common problem: sin. And for all of us, there is one common solution: the blood of Jesus.
Some might say, perhaps, that I should not assume that as a starting point. And sadly, a case could be made that many Christians are not fully there yet. Still, I think we need to move the discussion beyond shame over our past and toward integration in our future.
Many of us have not given the amount of thought that we should to the biblical basis for racial reconciliation. But this is precisely where the discussion should begin. One of the primary plotlines of the Bible is bringing glory to God by bringing back together various races in one common salvation. The redemption that Jesus purchased for us was not merely an individual salvation; it was also an interpersonal, intercultural, interracial reconciliation.
From Genesis 12 to Revelation 7, God brings 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 Acts 13:1–2, Luke takes special care to point out that the leadership of the Antioch church was multi-cultural. Paul was a Hellenistic Jew from Tarsus, in Asia Minor. Barnabas was Jewish as well, but hailed from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Manaen was from Herod’s household, indicating a privileged upbringing. Simeon had the nickname “Niger” (which literally meant “black”), because he was from the region of Sub-Saharan Africa that the modern nation of Niger sits. And Lucius was from Cyrene, modern-day Libya. Of the five leaders mentioned, then, one is from the Middle East, one from Asia, one from the Mediterranean, and two from Africa. And all of this in a predominantly Jewish context!
The leadership in Antioch was not an accidental conglomerate of races and cultures, but an intentional sign to the surrounding world. It is no surprise, then, that in Antioch this fledging group was first given the title “Christian,” since there was no other uniting factor other than what they had in Christ. This congregation—and not the congregation in Jerusalem—was also the first to send out missionary journeys through the entire region.
Revelation 7:9 records people from every nation, tribe, people, and language worshiping in unity around the throne of Jesus. What sin had marred, Christ repairs. The fracturing dissonance of racial segregation is overcome, and can only ever be overcome, through the unifying power of Christ.