Recently, I read a very interesting article, “All churches should be multiracial – the Biblical case” (Christianity Today, April 2005). It defined a racially mixed congregation as one in which no one racial group is more than 80%. It stated that only 7.5 percent of the more than 300,000 religious congregations in the United States are racially mixed. For Christian congregations, which form more than 90 percent of congregations in USA, the share that is racially mixed drops to 5.5 percent. Of this small percentage, approximately half of the congregations are mixed only temporarily, during the time they are in transition from one group to another. The authors seriously call for multiracial congregation if possible. They come up with three Biblical references for the support of their thesis. (please note that the notes within parentheses are mine).
They used Mark’s (11:17) reference to Isaiah 56:7 “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?” Based on this, the authors argued that Jesus yearned for multicultural worship. (Even though the temple was for all nations, 99% of the worshippers were all Jewish. Also, His earthly ministry was very much targeted toward Jews only!) Second example is from Acts 2 where Apostles speak in different languages by the power of the Holy Spirit to those Jews who had come from different countries. When 3000 people were added, the author assumes that they were multicultural. (Even though, they are from different countries, they were mostly “both Jews and proselytes” - Acts 2:10, who had come for the Pentecostal Feast to Jerusalem). The third example is about the mixture of Antioch church (Acts 11: 19-26). The author proves eloquently that there was a racial mix. (It is true, to some extent, but if we read the New Testament carefully, we come across only two predominant groups: the native Jews, and the Hellenistic Jews.) On the other hand, there are some important passages that clearly point the other way also:
# The apostles to minister only among the Jews, and Paul and Barnabas to minister among the Gentiles. (Galatians 2:9)
# In Galatians chapter 2, Paul’s rebuke of Peter reveals the nature of segregation between the Jews and the Gentiles.
# Acts chapter 6 also gives a glimpse of schism between Jews and Hellenistic Jews.
# Jerusalem church always stayed as predominantly Jewish church all throughout the first century!
# Another important point is that their ethnic/color gap was not that wide as we see nowadays. (We deal with sharp contrasts of racial disparity: black, white, yellow, and brown.) During first century, they may have blended together fairly well as Mediterranean people.
I want to address this topic not only through Biblical exegetical study, but also through my own personal experience. I have worked among the Spanish, African-Americans, and Caucasians during my seminary days. Also, I have considerable experience with the Indian community. I faced many enemies because of my approach to culture and Christ. I meditated and wrestled with this issue for over 25 years! One thing I have found out for sure: We have absolutely no control over the mix of any congregation. As I wrote to you last month, it is God who brings the people in, and it is God who takes away the people.Since it is God’s church, and it is He who brings the people, we must heed to His voice as follows:
1] We must give invitation to everyone, and everywhere (highways, and byways)
2] We must make sure that nothing is a barrier: ie language, way of worship, etc. (It is not what language we like to use for worship, but it is what language that makes everyone inclusive)
3] We must make sure that people of other nations are most welcome, and they should be offered all ministerial leadership opportunities.
4] No need to look at the color, race, or religion, when we want to help the needy. (Good Samaritan story – Luke 10:25-37)
5] Evangelize to anyone as the Spirit leads, and not just our own people. (Philip was targeting Samaritans, but the Holy Spirit pulled him to minister to an Ethiopian eunuch. (Acts 8:26-39).
6] Accept the fact that “Birds of the same feather flock together”. No need to disrupt this natural flow. It is not good to worship in a strange environment, where we are not lead by God, or where we are not truly accepted as one of their own. We may experience the “existential loneliness” in the long run, and our heart will not have that perfect peace. There will be a constant uneasiness in our heart. Go where the Lord leads you, and do it naturally. Do not try to force your own racial ideas. Also, please bear in mind that our deliberate resistance toward our own race can lead to “reverse racism”!
Do not force the church to become national or international. Let the Spirit of God decide the mix and lead accordingly.
Please remember, when the church stands out with its outstretched arms to welcome anyone, and yet if the racial mix does not take place, it is not the church’s fault! There is no need to be disappointed if racial mix does not happen at all The mix usually follows the color of the pastor over time!! It has nothing to do with church name also. You may name it anything you want to, but ultimately it will turn out like the shepherd. Two of my pastor friends (who are Indians) gave beautiful church names that do not point to any nation or denomination. As a matter of fact, one of them used the word, “international”, and tried his best to attract all kinds of people. What was the end result? 99% are Indians in their congregation!! It is the Spirit’s doing and not ours!
COI is doing a very fine job in this area. It has kept the door wide open for all kinds of people. Yet our name “India” may be a stumbling block for some people. But that name has its own positive merits also. It leads thousands of Indians to visit our web page, which is very inspirational. The very name points to its roots, origin, and it’s rich family values which can shine as a “light to this nation”, and “salt” for this part of the earth. Also, it tells the whole world honestly, who we actually are. It would be really deceptive to name our church as some community church, and then when people of other cultures come expecting certain kind of mix, and they find mostly Indians, will they not be embarrassed, confused, and irritated? Why can’t we be upfront and honest about our mix?
It is my sincere prayer that our church, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, should eventually evolve into a real International church in the long run. Then the people will truly realize that we are not about culture or language, but about genuine outreach of all people. It is very true that “There is neither Jew nor Greek….for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal.3:28). But we must allow the Holy Spirit to bring that oneness in His time and in His own way, and we should not interfere with His mix, or His purpose.
|House of Prayer for all Nations
by Rev. Daniel Israel