“…Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” –Revelation 5:9-10*
Diversity is a buzzword nowadays. To our culture, racial diversity has become one of the pinnacles of morality. Looking behind at world history—and specifically American history—with all of its blots and stains, historians, professors, political figures, and cultural icons recognize the deep imprint of racial issues in our recent past that continue to have significant effects even into our present day. The issues surrounding diversity are highly politicized, which can cause legitimate confusion. Amidst these conversations stands the Church, sometimes unsure but willing to learn, occasionally stubborn and belligerent, but always at the crosshairs of those who would seek to find a fault.
The Church must know, live, and communicate what God says about Biblical diversity.
When contentious topics cause bewilderment, we shouldn’t turn to the culture for answers. Believers should open their Bibles to discover what God says about issues the Church faces. The Bible is not silent on the issues surrounding race and diversity. In fact, it is more precise than some Christians would like to admit.
God created people as images of Himself. And God told them to spread and populate the entire world. He expected people to explore and settle the whole globe, creating different cultures as they went. Like the differences in plant and animal life, God planned diversity into His act of creating humanity. God furthered His creation of diverse cultures and nations at the Tower of Babel when society decided it would rather remain homogeneous.
To Abraham, God spoke. Through you, I will bless the nations. And He did. From the seed of Abraham, Jesus came. In the work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, He fulfilled His desire for a diverse kingdom. And through His Gospel actions, Christ communicated the Godhead’s support for a unified diversity.
In Christ’s Work for People of All Races
Christ is the Son of Abraham and the fulfillment of the promise God made to the Patriarch, “…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Genesis 22:18).” All nations. This phrase is repeated often in the New Testament about those of diverse cultures who claim the name of Jesus. Of the 68 times the word “nation” is used in the New Testament (ESV), 67 times it is translated from the Greek word ἔθνος. ἔθνος simply means “race.” One lexicon gives this very descriptive explanation, “a number of people accustomed to live together.”**
Christ said the Gospel would be proclaimed to all races (Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47). His disciples are supposed to be His Gospel conduit to all races (Matthew 28:19). Paul says he is a Gospel debtor to both the Greeks and the barbarians, all races (Romans 1:14). To the people of Athens, Paul preached that God had established all races and now commands everyone everywhere to repent (Acts 17:26-30). And in his apocalyptic vision, John sees a crowd of all races worshipping God:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation [ἔθνος], 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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” –Revelation 7:9-10
In the Design of the Church
The Church is the Body of Christ. A physical body is formed of various and diverse parts and members that work together to better the person and those around him. The hand is not the foot. They are different, and they perform different functions. But, they work together in unity. Without the hand or the foot, the body is not whole. Would you trade one of your legs for an extra arm? Or your mouth for an extra eye?
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” –1 Corinthians 12:12-20
Diversity is foundational in the design of the Church. Diversity applies to talents, gifting, experiences, etc. But it also applies to race. As we’ve seen, this is overwhelmingly clear in Scripture. The problem is that many churches don’t mind losing a leg to gain an extra arm. After a while, we have a church full of arms, and needed legs are nowhere to be found. This type of Church isn’t a body. It’s a monstrosity. As a local church, we must reach our immediate community, all of it, with the Gospel.
A church that does not reflect its community is a church that isn’t reaching its community.
The Gospel breaks through racial and cultural divides. Christ’s sacrifice has broken down the “dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14)” between Jew and Gentile. If a church is homogenous in a racially diverse community, it isn’t the Gospel’s fault. It’s the fault of a church that either comfortably wishes to remain in uniformity or honestly doesn’t know how to welcome those different than themselves.
Through the Command for Reconciliation
The Gospel is uncomfortable. C.S. Lewis observed this fact, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Many churches need Biblical change. No doubt, man has taken the creation of culture and marred it with sin. But the idea of different cultures among humanity is a creation straight from the mouth of God. Further, He wants His diverse design reflected in His bride.
Through His death and resurrection, Christ has reconciled us to the Father. The joy of the Lord replaces anger as He welcomes His new sons and daughters into His family. Judgment has passed. The redeemed receive unlimited blessings. No more hostility between the Father and His people. We are reconciled to the Father—now He allows us to bring that same message of reconciliation to the whole world!
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” –2 Corinthians 5:17-19
This ministry of reconciliation allows us to partake in Christ’s ministry—birthing sons and daughters of God. But it goes one step further. It enables us to reconcile to ourselves brothers and sisters of every race and ethnicity.
Acceptance replaces separation. Love for neighbor replaces selfish practices. And an atmosphere inviting diversity replaces an atmosphere built for “us.”
The Jews were comfortable with their culture and around their people. The Church began as a Jewish movement, and there were many Jews who thought it ought to stay that way. However, God saw diversity as an asset, and He sent Paul to the Gentiles. In Ephesians, Paul instructs both Israelites and Gentiles that in Christ’s sacrifice, He not only reconciled them to God as family, but He had also reconciled them to each other:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” –Ephesians 2:13-22
Joshua Rodriguez serves at City Rise in Albany, NY. You can follow Josh at thefourcrosses.com
*All Biblical references are in ESV unless otherwise stated.
**An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell