The Church and Race: A Multi-Racial, Multi-Cultural Church

Raceandchurch

Background

Two open letters addressing racial injustice were recently published in the Christian Chronicle:

These were accompanied by an article including interviews with some of the authors.

The letters were, of course, inspired by the current controversy regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Before discussing such a controversial issue, I thought it might be helpful to deal with some over-arching concerns.

Church growth theory

In fairness to today’s membership, today’s segregated churches do not reflect today’s attitudes so much as the consequences of racism of prior years. That is, white and black congregations, once formed, tend to retain their racial characteristics long after the leadership is open to having a racially mixed church – due in part to location and to the fact that people naturally tend to join a church with a membership that looks like themselves. It’s not only about race but also the natural human tendency for people to socialize with people much like themselves. College-educated people tend to join college-educated churches. Wealthy people tend to join wealthy churches.

On the other hand, I see very little effort being made to reverse the consequences of the racism of prior years. I hear a lot of talk. I see very little action. It does happen, but not nearly often enough. Rather than fighting against our very natural, very human tendency to be with people like ourselves, we just assume that this is the nature of things. It’s comfortable, and so we feel no need to change.

In fact, the church growth experts tell us that churches grow best by appealing to people like themselves. And it’s kind of true.

The homogeneous unit principle was originally described by Donald A. McGavran in Understanding Church Growth (Revised Edition, Eerdmans, 1990).

It takes no great acumen to see that when marked differences of color, stature, income, cleanliness, and education are present, men understand the Gospel better when expounded by their own kind of people. They prefer to join churches whose members look, talk, and act like themselves.

McGavran is describing what is, not necessarily what ought to be. But many church leaders and planters have operated on this basis. Although the homogeneous unit principle might work, it’s also immoral, sinful, and utterly contrary to the gospel. We forget that we weren’t just called to be baptized so we can go to heaven when we die. We were also called as part of God’s mission to end racial and national division:

(Gen. 22:18 ESV) “[I]n your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

(Gal. 3:28 ESV) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

(Col. 3:11 ESV) Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

We need to be attractive by living the gospel.

There is much debate over being “attractional” versus being missional. The problem isn’t that the church shouldn’t be attractive. Of course, it should be! But it should be attractive because it reflects Jesus – who is attractive.

Therefore, we should be attractive, not because white churches appeal to white people and black churches appeal to black people, but because racially diverse churches reflect the heart of Jesus, who loves everyone without regard to appearances. We should seek diversity because the gospel requires it – and we’ll then be attractive in a very different but much better way.

Indeed, while Millennials are just as inclined to join a church like themselves – filled with Millennials – just like any prior generation, they find racial discrimination abhorrent and intolerable. We are blessed to live in an age when doing the right thing happens to also be the thing that will draw young people to our churches.

Contextualizing the gospel

However, the homogeneous unit principle has the advantage of allowing leaders to design the assembly to match the tastes and sensibilities of a single culture. Black church assemblies can be very different from white church assemblies. So how do we design an assembly that makes both whites and black comfortable? Or equally uncomfortable?

If we were training a missionary to Sub-saharan Africa, we’d train him to distinguish the gospel itself from the gospel as enculturated in America. For example, there are many stories of Africans being converted to the gospel and then required to purchase Western suits so they can attend an American style church in a society in which suits are not only foreign, but extremely expensive — perhaps more than a year’s salary! Obviously, the missionary confused the gospel (which says nothing about suits and ties) and American culture.

I entirely agree with the importance of both removing American cultural notions from the gospel and with the wisdom of preaching the gospel in terms of the local culture and worldview. I mean, it would be foolish to speak in terms of college football metaphors in Brazil, even though those metaphors work quite well here in Tuscaloosa. You have to speak in the language of your audience.

And you don’t have to sing using shaped notes and four-part harmony in a culture that sings modal scales and has no understanding of harmony. Those alto leads don’t appeal to people outside the American South.

But, of course, the gospel is constant and unchanging. No compromise of the gospel may be allowed.

This problem is commonly discussed among missionaries, but it’s rarely brought up in domestic church work, even though the same problem arises in our highly diverse American culture. Not everyone enjoys country music. Not everyone appreciates a lesson on Greek declensions. You have to know your audience.

And when your audience is mixed — black and white, rich and poor, post-graduate and high school educated — it’s tough to design a sermon and a song service that works for everyone.

The common response is that we are there for God, not ourselves, and then the leaders insist on the style that the leaders like! Right?

If you want black Christians to be a part of your predominantly white church, you need to bend a little and make sure your services don’t sound as foreign to your black brothers and sisters as a mass celebrated in Latin would be for most of us Protestants.

Here are some thoughts from  , writing at the Gospel Coalition —

In a recent interview, pastor Tim Keller put it this way: “to over-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of their culture, but to under-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of the culture you come from. So there’s no avoiding it.”

Whether translating the Bible or developing relationships with non-Christians, we’re to be missionary minded in everything we do. That takes work—the hard effort of maintaining the big picture and communicating comprehensibly and compellingly to those who don’t share our convictions and worldview. Therefore, every day and in every circumstance, we need to be consciously and rigorously translating our faith into the language of the culture we’re trying to reach.

This is the challenge: If you don’t contextualize enough, no one’s life will be transformed because they won’t understand you. But if you contextualize too much, no one’s life will be transformed because you won’t be challenging their deepest assumptions and calling them to change.

I think that’s exactly right. I think we over-contextualize to our well-educated white audiences by teaching a gospel shaded to be comfortable for untransformed white Christians. And I think forcing ourselves to rethink what we do, so we can honor God’s will for a multi-racial, multi-cultural church, will make for better preaching for whites and blacks both — because it will force us to re-think and so refocus on what really is gospel.

Ed Stetzer addresses contextualization in a multi-cultural congregation in a post at The Exchange

[I]f you’re going to engage in multi-cultural ministry you’re going to hurt somebody’s feelings or have your feelings hurt. … So it will be in any form of a multicultural ministry. People will get their feelings hurt and apologies should flow quickly (and forgiveness should flow quickly as well). …

[A] multi-cultural church will grow slower than a mono-cultural church. It’s simply a statistical reality that when everyone thinks similarly, they can engage others more quickly and more effectively and churches will grow. One reason for this is that healthy multicultural churches are built on cross-cultural relationships of transparency and trust; and these take much more time to form and develop than do those relationships with people of similar backgrounds. Furthermore, trust is not a commodity so easily assumed in a room full of people not like you. …

But I explained in my talk just how complicated communication can be, particularly when you cross cultures.

Notice that multi-cultural churches are harder to lead than homogeneous churches. But the problems they face sound very much like the problems Paul addresses in his epistles. People got their feelings hurt. Growth was erratic, and churches struggled to get along with each other. Communications were difficult, and Paul’s word were often misunderstood. This happens when you try to blend different cultures, languages, and ethnicities in one body, one household, one church. But Paul preferred unity and gospel to pragmatism and ease and even growth. Why grow at all if you aren’t growing a church built on the full, real, authentic gospel?

Sometimes the journey is the destination. The struggle to get along despite our differences will change us in profound ways. It’ll be hard, but all growth is hard. And being transformed into the image of Jesus is hard — so hard that it requires divine intervention in the form of the Spirit to happen.

It’s my firm conviction that making the effort to be fully multi-racial (and hence multi-cultural) in all congregations that exist in multiracial or multicultural communities will be good for us and for the world around us. The lessons we learn from each other and from the struggle to make it work will make us better Christians. And in the long run, the effort will plant seeds that will blossom into a more cross-shaped church, a church that will be far more attractive than even the fastest growing of our homogeneous churches of today.

PS — Perhaps the key to a multicultural church is to talk to the members of all cultures. You have no idea what mistakes you’re making until you have a conversation in which members of different cultural groups are welcomed to give honest, even painful, feedback.

Don’t buy a book. Don’t try to talk like black people on TV. Take people to lunch and be open to some hard lessons. And do so continuously.

In my experience, the most important thing a church leadership can do to make a church appeal to a different race or different culture is have these conversations. Don’t just invite members to call you if they have concerns. They likely will not. Get on the phone and invite your members to meetings, breakfasts, and lunches — and don’t be defensive. Listen!!

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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27 Responses to The Church and Race: A Multi-Racial, Multi-Cultural Church

  1. Christopher says:

    Jay wrote:

    “You have no idea what mistakes you’re making until you have a conversation in which members of different cultural groups are welcomed to give honest, even painful, feedback.”

    Let me head you off at the pass on the issue of race, Jay, because it seems that you (like many) assume racism is a unilateral, white-on-black phenomenon in America. Few things could be further from the truth. There is, in fact, a widespread amount of racism among blacks. The realization of this hit me while watching Tavis Smiley one day. He was interviewing a teenage black girl who was an Olympic hopeful in boxing. At some point, he asked her if she caught a lot of flack for “being white”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The reason? She was a straight A student, and education is a “white thing” to many blacks. So I spoke asked a black sister in the church I was attending about this and she said “Oh, yeah…I forfeited a scholarship to a good school because I was attacked by everyone.”

    So then I started looking for evidence of black racism. And I found it everywhere. You will too, if you investigate. And it all started to make sense. Why I was called “whitey” and “cracker” when our church would go into the inner city to help innoculate preschool black kids, and was even threatened a couple of times. Why, when I was in the Army, after beating several black guys one on one in basketball, I looked up to see about thirty black guys standing around watching. Why BLM makes what is primarily a police brutality issue into a racial issue (research how many white and Hispanic people are shot by police). Why blacks vote almost as a monolithic block as Democrats, despite many being opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

    My point is that if we are going to talk about racism, then we need to be honest on all sides. Take these comments for what you deem they are worth.

  2. Alabama John says:

    Bottom line is kind attracts kind.
    That is true in humans as well as all other creatures on this earth.
    No matter how we may want it to be different and try to mix up creatures like ourselves included, this will just bring confusion and hard feelings and in the end never change.
    Why are we different? Who made us and all other creatures like we are?
    God did!!!

  3. John says:

    Christopher,

    Neither you nor I will ever know what it is like to be a black man in this country. I don’t recall seeing any pictures of white people hanging from a lynching tree while much of the “Christian” towns people looked on in pride. What African Americans have experienced in this nation is beyond the comprehension of most of us who are white. And the arrogance of so many white Christians who demand that black Christians listen to them as to what is supposed to make them feel human and spiritual is not only appalling, it is simply ridiculous. It is thinking like yours that will keep the CoC and other denominations like it lagging far, far behind in being healers.

    By the way. I’m in my mid sixties. I grew up in segregated south. I would not want to live the way I witnessed how African Americans had to live. I have asked God again and again to forgive me for the way I ignored it all then.

  4. John says:

    And I would like to add, that when I was a minister during the seventies, though I knew how much prejudice existed in the church, one of the things that shocked me was how so many white Christians, and ministers that I knew personally, admired David Duke. Sitting at a dinner table listening to his praises being sung by those who claimed to be followers of Jesus simply stunned me. And there are still places where you will hear the Civil Rights Movement criticized; but never white supremacist organizations….because that would be belittling their “heritage”.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher wrote,

    Let me head you off at the pass on the issue of race, Jay, because it seems that you (like many) assume racism is a unilateral, white-on-black phenomenon in America.

    Christopher,

    I have said no such thing. Nor have I implied such a thing. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

    I mean, how do we expect to understand another person without talking to them? And, at least in my case, while I was raised in a very non-racist household, I’ve found over the years that I can only see things from my own perspective — unless I love someone else enough to talk to them.

    Nor was my comment limited to white leaders talking to black members. The elders of a black church with white members should talk to their white members, too.

  6. Christopher says:

    John,

    You’re older than me and I was raised in New England. My mother was raised in the south, baptized at 15, and called a “n*gg*r lover* because she stood up for blacks. So I was not raised by racist and I don’t have any of the “white guilt” you seem to have. Yet I have done a lot over the years for blacks. I am Irish, however, and will tell you you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know how they’ve been treated over the centuries, especially by the English. Everyone is mistreated in life. I was sexually abused as a child. You don’t have to be black to have that happen to you. Or to be raped. Or assaulted. Or robbed. Or murdered. Or to get cancer or some other horrific disease.

    What I said above I think I can prove. It almost seems like you want to excuse black racism because people you grew up with were racist, in the KKK or what have you. I am not you. Neither are a lot of white Americans without your baggage. We now have a mulatto president. Blacks have reached the highest offices in our land. And perhaps unlike you, I have proven I’m not racist. I’ve had black roommates as a single man, dated black women, given money and other assistance to many, married a Hispanic woman, brought a black man dying of lupus into our home and so and so forth.

    We will never overcome the racial divide in our country so long as self-flagellating whites continually seek to make amends for past sins (many not even theirs). You want to help blacks? Start tutoring and being a “big brother” to children of single mothers. Let a needy family or person stay with you. Help them put together a winning resume. Be a friend. Then study the Bible with them. But never excuse or tolerate their racism, as you wouldn’t ours.

    And that’s all I have to say about that. 😉

  7. Christopher says:

    Jay,

    Fair enough. The articles you linked to seemed to be implying that in places. So I assumed (wrongly) you might have thought similarly. My apologies.

  8. John says:

    Christopher, What you call “self-flagellating”, I would call Repentance.

    l

  9. Alabama John says:

    The Native Americans that owned this country were treated far worse poisoned and killed by the thousands and whole tribes wiped out and yes, even made slaves but they moved on in life.

    The Irish that came here starving from the potato famine in Ireland and were put into apprenticeships which were really slaves went to work and got over it.

    Time the blacks who are alive now and have never known or talked to anyone of their family that was a slave get over it and move on. Their living and exploiting the past for benefits doesn’t help their cause at all.

    We have more people in the USA locked up than all the rest of the world combined and look at how many are black. Knowing how they want something for nothing from the past who in their right mind would want to subject their family to that stupid attitude and anger, even danger?

  10. John F says:

    Having had experience in sub-Saharan Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique) as well as some in Central America (Gualtemala and Panama), I can attest to some of the cultural challenges referenced above. We are entirely too self absorbed in our own culture to give much attention to the how the Gospel looks in other cultures. The key point is that the Gospel is to inform EVERY culture from EVERY land for EVERY time. The culture should not be allowed to “inform” or transform the Gospel message. Hebrews is quite clear that God has revealed Himself through the Son and Jude points out a “aith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” The apostles knew how to “do church” much better than we do (they were especially gifted) so we fail to listen at peril to ourselves, lest we miss their guidance.

    With regard to racism, –only a white man can express racism? Ask the families of dead white farmers who were killed by blacks in Zimbabwe (I know personally such ones) to take lawfully purchased farms and businesses away — ask the Ruwandans about black on black racism — ask the Sudanese, look around — there is still slavery (black among black) in Africa. There were more African slaves sold into the Arabian nations and South America than ever into North America. We see in the USA such a narrow, self absorbed view that sickens me if I dwell on it too long.

  11. Dustin says:

    Everyone has racist tendencies in some manner. Reverse racism in the United States is microscopic in comparison to the racist and classist laws in our country in respect to Native Americans,African Americans, and the poor. The housing policies are written so African Americans can’t get the same loans a white man could get in a different neighborhood. Native Americans get a small piece of land and a government check but don’t get to have a say if an oil pipeline can be built on their land that could endanger their water supply. Neither group gets access to an education that best serves their population.

  12. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    You might want to clarify your language a bit:
    “Rather than fighting against our very natural, very human tendency to be with people like ourselves, we just assume that this is the nature of things.”
    Why is it wrong to assume that which is “very natural” is also “the nature of things?”
    “Therefore, we should be attractive, not because white churches appeal to white people and black churches appeal to black people, but because racially diverse churches reflect the heart of Jesus, who loves everyone without regard to appearances. We should seek diversity because the gospel requires it – and we’ll then be attractive in a very different but much better way.”
    How is “seeking diversity” (especially racial diversity) not also giving “regard to appearances?” Would it not be better to treat all of out fellow men and women as creatures made in the image of God, and love them as Christ has commanded us to, irrespective of race?
    “In fairness to today’s membership, today’s segregated churches do not reflect today’s attitudes so much as the consequences of racism of prior years. That is, white and black congregations, once formed, tend to retain their racial characteristics long after the leadership is open to having a racially mixed church – due in part to location and to the fact that people naturally tend to join a church with a membership that looks like themselves. It’s not only about race but also the natural human tendency for people to socialize with people much like themselves. College-educated people tend to join college-educated churches. Wealthy people tend to join wealthy churches.”
    Which is it? Are our “segregated” churches due to racism or to “the fact that people naturally tend to join a church with a membership that looks like themselves?” Or some combination thereof. Or are you saying our “very natural, very human tendency to be with people like ourselves” is a racist tendency?

  13. Dwight says:

    I was once told by an Jamaican, who was a classmate, “I’m not black, I’m Jamaican”. This cemented in my head how those from other nations who by skin color are black, are not black in their philosophy and outlook, despite being of the same color and from the same initial continent. He was motivated to succeed and didn’t rely on color to keep him down or lift him up. I have known many Africans, etc. with this same attitude and outlook and these people have lived in much worse conditions.
    I haven’t shared in this “black guilt” experience as I went from a large, largely white school in Pasadena, Texas to a small town school in deep East Texas that was racially mixed (85%white-15% black). I was treated better at the small school by the people than when I was at the larger school, because at a small school you either get along or you move along. Everyone pulls together or the whole falls apart. Although most of the black people were from a lower income, some were not and there were many whites who were also from low income as well.
    What I have found is that mostly if you treat people as you want to be treated things will come out fine. You treat someone as another group and you will never see them on your same level. This was God’s message to the Jewish Christians about the Gentiles…they too are worthy, treat them that way.

  14. Alabama John says:

    Good point Dwight
    Israelite and now Jews still only share THEIR God with all the rest of us. Talk about racist, look at Gods peoples history of conquer and destroy, we are better than all others and still that way today. Makes black and white racism seem so small as far as all of humanity goes doesn’t it.

    Who is killing all the blacks whose lives matter?
    Marches should be in black neighborhoods and against black gangs where black lives don’t matter.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon,

    Future posts will address these questions with more particularity. But it seems to be that preserving divisions that were created for racist reasons is sinful — when the scriptures plainly call us to be a single nation, a single race — and when Paul seems to have spent most of his writing on getting Jews and Gentiles to join ONE congregation rather than going their separate ways — as difficult and contrary to human nature as that was.

    If I’m a member of an all-white church in a racially mixed community, I’m not necessarily “racist.” But I’m a sinner if I don’t work to unite whites and blacks (and other races) into a single church. I cannot maintain that which is wrong just because I didn’t build it.

    If I move to a town that dumps raw sewage into the river and that has factories pouring PCBs into the atmosphere, does the fact that I had nothing to do with creating those problems mean I have no responsibility to deal with them? Especially if I’m on the sewer board or the factory’s board of directors.

    If I’m a church member, and my church is racially divided — clearly contrary to scripture and thus clearly sinfully so — does the fact that I didn’t personally run off any black members make it okay for me to do nothing? What if I’m an elder? What if I’m the preacher? Don’t I have some responsibility to repair that which is broken? Am I allowed to enjoy the fruit of someone else’s sin without participating in that sin?

    I don’t think we’re guilty of our ancestors’ sins, but I think we’re responsible for helping the church become the Kingdom, for ridding the church of the consequences of old prejudices.

  16. Alabama John says:

    There are now over 30 or more different believing coC in the USA.
    Very few are apart from all the others because of race.
    Getting all of them together in one church is a better and much bigger goal than trying to have us all together of mixed black and white.
    Way too much emphasis is put on color when belief and obeying to save the soul is far more important..

  17. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    I take it, and please correct me if I am wrong, that you think the demographics of individual Church of Christ congregations is ultimately due to racism and not the mere “fact that people naturally tend to join a church with a membership that looks like themselves.”

  18. Gary says:

    A significant doctrinal difference between predominantly white Churches of Christ and traditionally African American Churches of Christ is the role and authority of the minister or local evangelist. Unless it has changed within the past decade Southwestern Christian College, the only historically African American CoC college, explicitly teaches that the minister has oversight of the church he serves. If there are elders they assist the minister much like the pastor and deacons arrangement in Baptist churches.

    Also most African American Churches of Christ are far more conservative in doctrine and traditional in practice than progressive Churches of Christ. Many of them still teach that there is no salvation outside Churches of Christ. It’s usually not possible to merge a progressive predominantly white Church of Christ with an African American Church of Christ. If a merger were to occur those with more progressive beliefs probably wouldn’t stay for long.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon,

    I think the fact that people prefer churches that look like themselves is generally driven by anti-gospel attitudes. The gospel calls us to form racially diverse communities. The early church did just this — in racially diverse communities. And they found it very difficult.

    If I prefer a homogeneous congregation of people like me (and who doesn’t?), that doesn’t make it right. Right is racially mixed churches in which race does not matter. That’s part of the gospel, going back to Abraham. There’s a lot that’s natural that is also sinful.

  20. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    You are right that mergers of white progressives with black conservatives are very hard to accomplish — but mergers between white progressives and white conservatives are next to impossible as well. It’s not always race that gets in the way.

    I know of one very successful black/white merger in Florida. I was part of a black/white merger effort that failed. The black congregation gave unconvincing excuses — but they were more conservative and quite a bit smaller — meaning that wouldn’t be able to have nearly the same control in the resulting church.

    But I’m glad we gave it a try. We can’t make others merge with us, but we can sure ask. Indeed, I think we have a duty to ask.

  21. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    The Gospel calls us to love people irrespective of race. While what you advocate for is a good thing, your diagnoses of the problem matters. It matters if segregation of churches is caused by racism or people who “prefer a homogeneous congregation of people like me .” One is caused by intolerance of other races the other intolerance of different cultures. They are both sinful, but they are not the same thing. And, to treat segregation of churches as problem of race when it is cultural is likely to lead to far more harm than good.

  22. Larry Cheek says:

    When did we decide that local congregations were the whole of the kingdom of Christ. All and I’ll say all again of these problems are being developed by earthly members of Christ’s Church. Christ told us specifically that his kingdom was not of this world. He was referring to the fact that his disciples would not fight to insure that he would not be abused by humans in this world. He would not condone that. His Kingdom or church was not bound by any rules of this world. When we attach the concept of the kingdom being the body of physical believers in a local church on this earth we have denied Jesus’ testimony of where his kingdom is located.
    Joh 18:36 ESV Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
    Joh 15:19 ESV If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
    Joh 17:14 ESV I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
    Joh 17:16 ESV They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

    Some of you will attempt to say that this terminology of the Kingdom is in the future, but Christ’s statement about his followers fighting is very present tense while he was being arrested.
    Therefore, no man upon this earth has been designated by Christ to sort his Sheep in a fashion as to ensure that the totally white sheep are intermingled with those who are stripped, blemished, deformed, large, small or any other conceived category. Christ nor his followers admonished men in their time era to a concept that they would not be members of his Kingdom if they did not bring Gentiles of all nations into their local assemblies. Furthermore, all who draw lines of fellowship between other members regardless of nationality are committing sin. Each and every Christian is a member of Christ’s Kingdom which is not a part of this world. If anyone professes that he is only a member of a local body assembling together and not part of the Kingdom outside the limits of this world, he is not one of Christ’s disciples.

  23. Dwight says:

    Yes, what we have is trying to define the church as the local congregation instead of the body of Christ. Considering that in the early days of the scriptures they assembled in their homes, from some of the comments it would be wrong in the early days for a Jewish assembly to happen down the road from a gentile assembly and the homes would have to merge or be wrong.
    We don’t think wide enough in terms of the church and the Kingdom and the body. While we might meet with others who are like ourselves, we may not be separating from others due to race, upbringing, culture, etc.
    In the town of Lufkin the black church was located in the part of the city where more blacks lived and vice-versa for the white congregation. They served their immediate local needs, even though in the same town. Due to their members they also had a different worship style.
    Now while the congregations didn’t meet with each other, they didn’t reject each other either and greeted each other as brothers and sisters when they did meet. This is the true measure of acceptance and unity. Now if only the white coC congregation could have accepted the white Baptist congregation or any of the other local non-denominational congregations I would be more impressed.
    I can be unified with Billy, even though I am from the South and Billy might be from the North and we worship in our own areas, but in the U.S. We are of the church of God, the body of Christ. Far or near we need to be of the same spirit of Christ. Once we start looking at the church as people instead of assemblies, we start to immediately break down the barriers of separation. We accept people by who they are…saints in Christ, not by where they are or who they worship with or their group affiliation, be it black or white congregations.

  24. Monty says:

    In our congregation we have had a few African American members over the years and fellowship hasn’t been a problem but accepting another worship style has. One of our black members (as many do if the preacher makes a strong point) liked to say “Amen.” As the preacher, I liked that. However, it was not the way our group had been doing church where no one ever said, “Amen.” They weren’t against having black member they just didn’t want to do “black church” as they saw it.

    By the same token I have very conservative white members who gladly accept all races, but if they walked into a congregation while on vacation that was predominantly African American they would turn around and walk out if it had a praise team, not because of race. It’s so hard for folks to get out of their comfort zone.

  25. Dwight says:

    Ironically we have a few black members in our congregation, that are comfortable with the style we present, but they may or may not like the style of a “traditional” black church, because it is not something they are used to. It isn’t a matter of color, but styles of preaching and singing, etc. On the other hand I know a few white people that might feel more comfortable in the black church due to a looser style.

  26. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    The early church generally had one congregation per city, with one eldership, meeting in multiple houses. They weren’t “house churches” in the modern sense. Each house church was part of the church of that town.

    This fact is widely ignored by many commentators — esp. the authors of house-church books — but the grammatical and scriptural case is very strong. For example, this is obviously exactly how the Jerusalem church (with thousands of members) operated.

    http://oneinjesus.info/2015/12/church-2-0-part-10-4-ekklesia-in-the-nt-part-4-autonomy-part-1/
    http://oneinjesus.info/2015/12/church-2-0-part-10-5-ekklesia-in-the-nt-part-5-autonomy-part-2/

    Therefore, in the First Century, for a city to have congregations divided by race, well, the “church” was quite literally divided. God wants one church, with one race — the race comprised of followers of Jesus.

    Does the fact that we insist on dividing churches in our towns over denominational doctrinal disputes, race, wealth, geography, preaching style, translation choices, and padded pews excuse division by race? I think not. Committing the same sin 20 different ways hardly means that it’s okay.

    We are called to be united — visibly united — so united that the world can see Jesus in us. And yet the world finds our racial divisions abhorrent, immoral, and evidence of gross hypocrisy. We don’t even measure up to the world’s standards of decency. And I think they’re pretty much right.

    I grant you that in a very large city with large numbers of Christians, we may have to have multiple churches just as the Jews had multiple synagogues in the Jerusalem. But even they seem to have had a single eldership over their multiple synagogues — the Sanhedrin (the 70). There’s a lot we don’t know. But we know it’s possible to oversee a church of 30,000 or 40,000 members using the multisite model or using multiple services. We are nowhere near the practical boundaries of how big a church can be and still be overseen as a single church.

  27. Dwight says:

    Jay, I agree with your statement of “The early church generally had one congregation per city, with one eldership, meeting in multiple houses. They weren’t “house churches” in the modern sense. Each house church was part of the church of that town.” and didn’t mean to argue otherwise and yet our present church situation doesn’t mirror that reality either.
    The church was large and wide and was exhibited or reflected in small and large groups as well as non-groups or individuals. The members are to aid the body in I Cor.12, the members are individuals of the body which is the church and groups are not represented in this scenario. There was no sense of static grouping, but rather fluidity of people moving in an out, growing and shrinking, almost organically. The church in the house was the same church in the city and the church in the city was the same church in the region and the church in the region was the same church in the world under Christ.
    Considering that they didn’t have a concept of race, exactly like we do, they didn’t divide along those same lines.
    After all a black Roman would be infinitely superior to a black non-Roman, according to the Romans. The same is true of the Jews in regards to the gentiles.

    Now, while the people might have been divided regionally or locally, they were not, as you also point out, really divided. They were all saints under Christ.
    Ironically, we see in I Cor. where they tried to divide based on who baptized them and taking on a name, even the name of Christ, but Paul argued against this, as they were to be all one in Christ, no matter the names. As noted in I Cor.11 they decided to be not in unity when they were selfish.
    And many of the Christian Jews disliked the Christian Gentiles which caused even people like Peter to take sides.
    Today we divide over any and everything.

    But then again while many churches are divided along racial lines, that doesn’t mean they are divided in Christ from other saints of another race.
    I think there are divisions and then there are divisions, meaning that people can be divided geographically or even along cultural lines, but not divided along Christian lines.
    I would argue that in Acts 15 where we read that Paul and Barnabas had a “contention” due to Barnabas wanting to take John Mark and Paul not wanting to, what while Paul and Silas separated from Barnabas and John Mark over this contention, and went separate ways, they were not separated in Christ or really from each other in Christ. The bond of Christ was stronger despite the differences and I have no doubt that if and when they met up again that they would have met as brothers in Christ.
    So while there might be within a city many groups that meet, even if in houses, that are not racially diverse, they can still be united in Christ if when they meet they meet each others as fellow saints.
    Now I’m not saying we do this, because we often make any separation a point of sectarianism, but rather a separation along the lines of one thing doesn’t necessarily mean a separation in or from Christ. We decide who we want or don’t want to accept, not the walls of our buildings (or houses) or differences in cultures, race, liking one preacher over another, etc.

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