It has never been God's plan for the Christian church to be ethnocentric or segregated by race. In accordance with Christ's Great Commission to go and make disciples of all ethnic peoples, first century Jewish Christians were sent out to their surrounding neighborhoods. It was not easy, however. It took a persecution for Jewish Christians to be scattered beyond the comforts of their own favored city, and the leaders had to deal with their ethnocentric perspectives and assumptions in view of the gospel.
Paul, the most prominent Jewish church planter of his day, intentionally crossed ethnic barriers to fulfill the Great Commission and establish multiethnic congregations in major cities of the Roman empire. For doing his part, Paul often suffered rejection of his fellow Jews. Many of Paul's letters to the churches addressed conflicts that arose due to ethnic prejudice, preferences, and practices. And Paul's most endearing disciples, Timothy and Titus, though non-Jewish ethnic "outsiders", were treated as his own sons and empowered as equally privileged ministers of the gospel.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of churches in American Christianity are marked by longstanding racial segregation and race-based sub-ministries. The enterprise of the church growth movement has had a greater shaping influence in current American Christianity than the gospel that destroyed the dividing wall of ethnic separation and indifference in the 1st century.
What happened? Why does American Christianity not reflect the gospel-centered multiethnic ministry of the 1st century Christian church? How does the gospel address the practices of our racialized ministries systemically and God's purpose for our ethnicity and race personally? We will explore these important questions together in view of Christ and His gospel.
Recently, I learned that the term "Christian" is inherently multiethnic. You see, the first place followers of Jesus were called Christians was in Antioch. Antioch was a metropolitan city with many different people groups represented. But outside of forced interaction, they rarely associated with one another.
However, in that city, there was a growing movement that couldn't be pinpointed to a single ethnic group. Who were these people? They loved each other well, were hospitable to everyone, and served the poor. They claimed their motivation for this was from Jesus the Christ. Who was this group? They're not all Jews & they're not all Greeks. In fact, they are a mix of every people group in the city. Oh! Your talking about the Christians! We started calling them that because we didn't know what else to call them!
You see, being a part of a multiethnic group of Jesus followers is foundationally, well, "Christian." There is power when God's people strive together. It's an essential part of our witness and a marker that God is moving! As the church became segregated, we lost much of our power to remain faithful to the Great Commission.
Multiple churches and organizations will be represented as we explore these complex issues together... and pray & discuss about what can be done!
Personally, I can think of no better place to invest for the cause of Christ than growth in this area. We desperately need breakthrough here -- for our own benefit and the benefit of the world around us! Chris Millheisler, City Director