It may surprise many of you to know that Jesus was not of white Anglo heritage. He probably looked in appearance more like Osama bin Laden than Jim Caviezel. Our image of him in America has turned him into a Jesus after our own image, rather than a unified voice setting aside the issues of race and ethnic heritage to create a beautiful culture of Christ.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
This verse is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission,” Jesus’ final command to his disciples as he was leaving to take his place at the right hand of God. Israel was the center of monotheistic worship in Jesus’ day. Religions typically had multiple gods that could be honored, adored, and praised for various reasons that resulted in the worshipper’s benefit. The Judaic concept of a singular God was an oddity. Israel prided itself in being the “chosen people” through whom the “Messiah” who would eventually reconcile the entire world to God, would come. Jesus was commanding them to reach out (as they had always been commanded to do, but failed miserably), instead of becoming an exclusive movement. Their experience as disciples had already forced them far outside of cultural comfort zones. The experience with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) was taboo for so many reasons, yet ended in success. Now, Jesus was telling them to leave their people and go to foreign lands and make disciples. A faith that an ethnic group (and eventually a nation) had decided to make exclusive, was once again being offered to all.
Interracial, intercultural, and international additions to the church came quickly. Many foreigners became leaders in the church, and the church became a multicultural movement. Acts 13:1 brags of this interracial movement of Jesus followers:
“In the church in Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger [3526 designates ‘black’], Lucius of Cyrene [2957 region in North Africa], Manaen (who had been brought with Herod the Tetrarch) and Saul.”
Acts 13:1 is a passage that is easy to skim over when reading. After all, the family lineage of biblical figures is enough to cause any person’s eyes to glaze over at the sight of any list of names. This scripture is fundamental in understanding the dynamics of the early church. Today, the church is largely segregated. I’ve been involved in all black and all white churches. The separation is generally not due to racism from either party so much as it is in a style preference. Personally, I’ve felt welcomed in both settings.
So, what is the issue? I believe the less diversity and integration that exists within the church, the more ignorant we become about our “culture” as a worldwide community. White churches miss out on perspective of those in the African, Asian, and Latino community, and vice-versa. This was not the case in the early church. Look at Acts 13:1 again. The author of Acts is listing the names of these teachers for a purpose, he’s bragging about the interracial aspects of the church. He’s saying “We have Greeks, Africans, and Jewish Rabbis all teaching together in this one place!” These same observations were stated proudly in Colossians 3:11:
“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Paul is giving the example that everyone is equal in God’s kingdom. He is saying that there is no recognized difference any longer, for our identity is in Jesus. Paul asserts this concept in Galatians as well:
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Our identity is no longer in our ethnicity, gender, accomplishments, or family history. We are now part of a new and diverse family, one that encompasses all people on earth under the commonality of Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of the believers. If this is the case, then why don’t our urban churches in America largely reflect this characteristic? Why do we, instead, choose to identify with our racial heritage, instead of our supernatural heritage through Jesus?
True followers of Jesus believe that the “old” physical/natural qualities have passed and we have a new identity in God. So why don’t our churches and fellowships reflect this? Why do we still distinguish ourselves by characteristics that we have supposedly let die?
America is unique in the aspect that the entire world is at our doorstep. Our urban centers contain folks from all over the world. We have the opportunity to be an example to churches all over the world, a snapshot of what the worldwide church looks like. Every nation has come to us and it is our job to present the freedom, hope, and love found in Jesus to all people… not just the ones who look like us.