The Church and Race: The Sins of Our Ancestors



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.

Our responsibility for the sins of our ancestors

The scriptures are fairly clear that we’re not responsible for the sins of our ancestors.

(Deu. 24:16 ESV) “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

(Jer. 31:29-30 ESV)  29 In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’  30 But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”

(Ezek. 18:2-4 ESV)  2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?  3 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.  4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.”

God damns those who sin for their own sins — unless they find grace in Jesus.

So if that’s true, how can we be charged with sin because our ancestors divided the church over race and we did little to undo the damage? Are we duty bound to fix all the sins of our ancestors? Surely not!

Well, look at it this way.

You visit an unfamiliar church. It’s 100% white in membership, in a town that has 30% black residents and 70% white. Two blocks down the road, in a much more poorly built building, is a 100% black church.

You walk into the white church, and up over the baptistry is a sign saying “Coloreds Not Welcome Here” — just above the Jordan River wallpaper baptismal scene and behind the communion table saying “Do this in remembrance of me.”

You ask one of the members about the sign. He says, “What sign?” You point to the words above the baptistry. The member replies, “I guess it’s been up there so long I don’t even notice it. It’s been there for decades. No one pays it any attention. It’s not who we are today. It’s just a sign that’s been long forgotten.”

You ask another member about the sign. He says, “Well, I certainly didn’t hang it up there. It was here before I even joined this church. I didn’t hang it, and so it’s not my fault that it’s up there. Don’t blame me. Besides, blacks should judge our hearts, not our signs. If they were more God-like in their discernment, they’d not see any problem with the sign since it’s not who we are today.”

“Then,” you ask, “why not take it down?”

“Well,” a deacon now enters the discussion, clearly tired of these kinds of questions, “it’s a part of our heritage. My granddaddy carved those letter by hand, and when I see that sign, it reminds my of my late PawPaw. I just couldn’t bring myself to tear down what he worked so hard to build.”

An elder happens by. He adds, “If were you, I’d worry about my own sins, not the sins of the ancestors of other people. I agree that it was wrong to hang the sign up like that, and I certainly would oppose it if it came up for discussion today, but what’s past is past. Let’s leave the past in the past!”

What do you conclude about this congregation? Are they racist? Are they just too lazy to take down the sign? Or are they too in love with their own past — engaging in something akin to ancestor worship?

Who would argue, with a straight face, that these members are followers of Jesus who want to be just like their rabbi? Who would argue that their behavior is based on the gospel?

Some scriptural arguments

  1. Paul (and the rest of his generation) did not create the Jew/Gentile divide or the racism of the Jews against the Gentiles. I mean, the Torah nowhere declares Gentiles unclean, and yet the Jewish rabbis had for generations said that Jews must not associate with Gentile “dogs” because they are unclean.
  2. Phillip (and the rest of his generation) did not create the bigotry of the Jews against the Samaritans.

And yet such men dedicated their lives — at great personal risk — to unite Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles into a single church.

The gospel compelled the church to take the gospel to the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles. It was the church’s charge to correct the racial and ethnic divisions even though the church did not create the divisions. After all, the gospel’s promise of unity of all peoples, races, nations, and ethnicities is not about whose fault these separations are. The gospel requires the church to overcome these divisions, by the power of the Spirit, because that’s the nature of the Kingdom that God wants to create. Our mission includes working with God to heal these rifts — not just to heal the rifts we are personally morally responsible for, but to heal all such rifts.

Ultimately, the race issue has nothing to do with whose fault the separation of the races is. Fault-finding and blame-placing are a distraction from the gospel. It’s human excuse making, not real theology. What matters is what the gospel calls us to be and to do.

What is that?

(1 Cor. 1:13a ESV) 13 Is Christ divided?  

(1 Cor. 12:13-16 ESV)  13 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.  14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  15 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.  16 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. 

(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.

(Eph. 3:6 ESV)  6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

(Eph. 4:1-6 ESV)  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call —  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 

(1 Pet. 2:9-10 ESV)  9 But you are a chosen race [singular], a royal priesthood, a holy nation [singular], a people [singular] for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 

And then there’s the OT.

(Ps. 2:8 ESV)  8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 

(Dan 7:14 ESV) And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Notice that Daniel prophesies a single “dominion” and a single “kingdom” in which the Ancient of Days (God) will be worshiped by all peoples, nations, and languages. That is, the nations will be joined into a single Kingdom.

Ps 8 says the same thing, as there will be but one King who rules over “the nations.”

The Revelation

(Rev. 5:9-10 ESV)  9 And they sang a new song, saying, “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,  10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

People from many tribes, languages, peoples, and nations become, in God, a single “kingdom.”

The early church

The early church called itself a “third race, ” meaning (a) a single race that (b) was neither Jewish nor Gentile. And yet we know from scripture that the early church included Jews, Samaritans, Ethiopians, Romans, Greeks, Galatians (Celts), and many other races — all of which became a single race through Jesus.


My church may not have a racially offensive sign above the baptistry, but it may be just as offensive because only whites are ordained as elders or deacons, only whites lead communion meditations, only whites teach Bible class, and only whites make announcements. Do that, and you’d may as well hang a sign over your baptistry saying “Coloreds Not Welcome Here” — even if your members have no objection to letting black Christians join — so long as they know their place.

But white churches aren’t the only ones with this problem. I know of a white congregation that approached a black congregation with a merger proposal. The white church felt that racial division was plainly anti-gospel and so they wanted to merge to honor the gospel.

The black church declined, saying they felt they had a mission to the black residents in their neighborhood that couldn’t be fulfilled as a racially mixed church. The white church offered to assure the continuation of their ministries. The black church still declined. It seemed clear that they feared being absorbed by a larger, white church — and they’d lose their identity, their positions of influence, and their control — which was a very legitimate possibility. A smaller church merging into a larger church will struggle to maintain the feel of a small church. Leaders will shift from control to mere influence.

And yet it was, I believe, plainly the wrong decision. The gospel says to unite. The gospel says that we are but one race and should not divide along racial lines. All that is anti-gospel is sin — no matter how natural and ordinary anti-gospel feels.

No one promised an easy gospel.

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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35 Responses to The Church and Race: The Sins of Our Ancestors

  1. Mark says:

    I go back to the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons/children of God.” Who would not to be in this group?

    Isaiah in 51:7 said “Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings.”

    Stand up and try to make peace and don’t worry if men don’t like it. Isaiah has already told you that some men won’t.

  2. Mark says:

    typo. …not want/desire to be…

  3. Alabama John says:

    Much of where folks want to go to church is cultural instead of religious beliefs differences.

    Older folks want to join an older majority church where more old songs are sung and the preacher preaches the old way. Younger want to be a part of a church where far more of the new songs are sung and sermons are shown on big wall screens.

    The outreaches a church seeks to bring those to Jesus differ also. Lessons on everyday living differ with each church, according to who is going there.

    Prosperous church members are not interested in a class and help on how to increase your welfare check or get more food stamps but poor church members are.

    Sermons differ as what is needed culturally sure differs and most don’t want everyone to know their business..

  4. African-American brethren are more evangelistic.

  5. Mark says:

    AJ, I find that your observations aren’t always the case, at least in the cities. Around Washington, the younger people are going into the Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, and Orthodox churches, even if they did not grow up in those traditions. Around London, the younger people are pouring into the Anglican church again. I attend a traditional Episcopal church that has grown from 1100 to 1800 quite rapidly. They still play the pipe organ, sing ancient hymns, use no screens, use language from Medieval England, and the sermon is a 12-minute, one-point, old style gospel homily that makes people from the poor to the powerful squirm in their seats. No verbal invitation/altar call is offered, but there are frequently people seen talking to a lay person or priest during communion (the equivalent of responding to the invitation).

    I know that large numbers of young Evangelicals are in mega-churches with light shows, screens, etc. but the old style isn’t going away. If done right, one short gospel sermon can reach everyone or at least get them all to think about it, which is what you want. It will touch everyone in a different way but still touch them. However, to those who preach, don’t over-talk. Sometimes less is better.

  6. jon says:

    Obviously, I don’t know the circumstances, but from the outside I would guess the main issue for the black church that declined to merge had to do with control. The black church (regardless of denomination) became an important institution among African Americans dating back to the slavery days partly mainly because it was something blacks could control away from the oversight of whites. Given the way race relations have developed, it’s understandable why the leadership of a predominantly black church, with its own traditions and practices, would hesitate to accept the promises of well-meaning whites. We whites do have a tendency to try to take over, and our good intentions could destroy the integrity of congregations we really don’t know very well. So, while I agree with most of your article, I don’t agree the black church was wrong to reject a merger. If I were in a position of church leadership (which I’m not), I would try to welcome believers of all races (including leadership from all races) but be less concerned about having a certain proportion of blacks and whites worshiping together in a mixed congregation. In the meantime, I would encourage fellowship activities between predominantly white and predominantly black congregations so black and white Christians can get to know each other better. IMHO, that would be a start toward better racial understanding (and eventual large-scale integration) than forcing a merger and then arguing about programs and worship styles.

  7. Dwight says:

    Jon, if pressed the white church wouldn’t probably close their doors and join the black church and it has a lot to do with identity.
    I know of two white churches in the same area that don’t communicate with each other due to one being what the other calls “consiberal” or slightly liberal. Each of those congregations exist as a lone entity apart from the other. They would not desire to close their own building to go to the other, but would love for the other to come to them, despite one being much larger and stable than the other. We take pride in our self identity.
    We on the outside would probably argue, as I would, that more congregations are better than a few, but I would also argue that they should not be sectarian in their thinking and actions from other congregations and they should be able to congregate under one roof, even if it is a neutral roof.
    If white churches in the area who have relatively the same style cannot even meet as brothers, then what makes us think that black churches who have a very different style will. We need to get over the “they are them and we are us” mentality for this to happen and embrace we are equally the children of God.

  8. As long as we own our own Christian clubs, control will be an issue. What we built, we tend to want to manage, to make sure it goes on as we think best. The best we can hope for in such circumstances is to find some other group with comparable styles and very open-handed leaders– and perhaps a merger would be considered. Failing that, there are opposing dynamics– the large, successful club will continue to grow and see less and less reason to truly “merge” with anyone. The smaller club will see its market share threatened by defections to the successful large club and tighten its control to keep its members. It is the recipe for the status quo. And nobody seems to have any interest in changing the ingredients,

  9. Ray Downen says:

    Jon’s comment face reality. They make sense. Our goal is to be ONE church. We may be forced to settle for separate congregations loving one another. But the loving is essential.

  10. Christopher says:

    It has been wryly observed that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. If anyone thinks that is acceptable in the Church, he doesn’t know the Bible. The Church should reflect the makeup of city or country in which it is located. I agree with Jay that resistance to this ideal is sinful.

  11. Dwight says:

    I don’t think anybody disagree with Jay’s assessment, but the application may not be what we think it is. In the early church they assembled in homes, so the application was small in that it was probably family and friends/visitors on a small scale, but when you see the city they might have met in one huge group, but chances are they just visited and associated with each other on many different occasions as Christians, but never formed one group that was meant to stay and operate as one big group, as they went back to their homes to worship. When Paul tried to meet with the saints in Corinth it wasn’t with the church as a single group, but the disciples as a people.
    One of the downfalls of this whole scenario is approaching this from a group stand point. We as saints have an obligation to accept other saints regardless of skin tone as saints…brothers and sisters. This should translate to us as a group, but this shouldn’t be quota based, as if we are not the right mix, so let’s bus other people in to fix that. Looking back, the saints in Corinth were probably largely Gentile, while the saints in Jerusalem were largely Jewish and thus the small gatherings were probably small versions of the social reality. There was no call to change this situation or balance.
    They were not told to bring people in, but they could not turn people away.
    They were to adapt and grow and be accepting.
    From the Neil Young perspective “If you aren’t with the one’s you have grown comfortable with, you should grow into being comfortable with the ones you are with”, because they are family.

  12. Jay Guin says:


    Control was the issue, according to a member present at the meeting where the decision was made. It sounds noble for white people to want blacks to have their own churches where they can exercise control without interference from whites. But —

    1. Nothing could be further from the gospel than the idea that each race gets its own congregation to control. And if the blacks get their own churches that they can control, we inevitably create all-white churches controlled by whites. We divide over race under a theory that sounds suspiciously like “separate but equal.”

    (2 Cor. 12:9-10 ESV) 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

    (Jdg. 7:2 ESV) 2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

    (Matt. 20:25-28 ESV) 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    2. The desire for control is worldly. God is in control through his Spirit. The role of elders is not to exercise authority but to be slaves of the church. It’s to be a shepherd, an overseer, and an elder — but not to represent a constituency. If only black men can speak for black people and only white men can speak for white people, well, with such an attitude, we’re defeated before we begin. This is not American politics. It’s the Kingdom.

    3. If we deal with other races based on the assumption that they’ll deal unfaithfully across racial lines, well, we’ve defeated God’s mission to unite the races out of sheer presumption. We act as though we’re smarter than God.

    4. In fact, most elderships operate by consensus. You don’t have to have a black majority for black concerns to be heard and responded to. It does help to have black elders — but not so they can speak for their constituents, the black members. An eldership is not a legislature with elders ordained to speak for this or that group. But an awareness of how a group sees the world only helps the elders act wisely.

    I mean, I know of plenty of churches where a particular elder has a heart for young couples or old members or shut ins and so he makes certain their needs and perspectives are considered — but he has no veto. He doesn’t always get their way for them — nor is it his job. Knowing how people feel and what they want is immensely valuable to an eldership, but no group gets a veto or always gets their way. Each elder should serve the entire congregation.

    5. How did the early church solve these problems? Well, in Jerusalem, the Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked, surely because they were outside the social circle of the local widows due to the language barrier. No one knew their needs because they were separated by language. The solution? Well, they split into two churches so the Greek speakers could hear sermons on their native tongue and not be overlooked in the food distribution . No, they appointed some men, likely deacons, with Greek backgrounds (clear from their names) to be certain their needs were met — in the same congregation. Even though not a single apostle was a native Greek speaker. No split. Mistakes were made, and in love, they were corrected when discovered. The mixed culture of the Jerusalem congregation led to very real problems (hungry widows!), and yet no one thought they should have separate congregations.

    Just so, in Antioch, Peter the Apostle refused to join the Gentile converts at the Lord’s Table to preserve his reputation with the Judaizing teachers in Jerusalem. So they split into two churches. No, Paul declared Peter “condemned” and publicly rebuked him for his sin — because breaking fellowship among Christians along racial lines is a damning sin!!

    So will some blacks lose power over their fellow Christians if we have mergers? Yes. Does that matter to God? Not much. No one was saved so he could boss others around.

    But in a Spirit-filled congregation, some black men will find themselves in positions of authority — elders, ministry leaders, ministers on staff — having responsibility for black and white members, with vastly more resources at their disposal to meet the needs of their community, including the black members of their community.

    You see, the case is a double-edged sword. Some men not really qualified as elders will lose their power — power they never should have had. But men called by the Spirit to be elders will become elders regardless of race — and they’ll oversee a larger congregation, with greater resources, with less waste on duplicated jobs and efforts, and they’ll have far greater responsibility than would have been imaginable in the split churches.

    Meanwhile. the men who weren’t really qualified to be elders, if they get busy and don’t pout, will find plenty of Kingdom work to do in the new church — and they may well find themselves leading ministries with hundreds of volunteers.

    It’s not a zero-sum game. Merged churches eliminate some duplication, but they give birth to new ministries that they could not have done when they were smaller. Bigger churches actually have more opportunities for true leadership per member than split churches. And the new opportunities are far more likely to fit the talents of the members.

    So, no, the black leaders were not okay to preserve their power and authority at the cost of dividing the Lord’s church over race. In fact, imagine the witness to the power of the gospel that a merger would have been! But rather that declaring the beauty of God’s gospel, bought at the price of the life of his Son, a few old men got to keep their authority — and they weren’t even elders, just guys who ran the church by virtue of heading prominent families.

    I found the whole thing very sad and a victory for Satan. Soon thereafter, that church split and it continues to struggle. A merger would have allowed those truly gifted for leadership to lead, rather than preserving old habits and family ties and such like — for no reason that remotely can be justified as based on the gospel.

  13. Gary says:

    I agree that our salvation is not at risk because of sins of our ancestors but we are connected in a very real way to their sins to the point that we may experience punishment in this life from God for their sins. In 2 Samuel 21 God punishes Israel under the reign of David with a famine because of the sin of Saul (who is dead) against the Gibeonites. Action is required of David to bring justice to the Gibeonites and to bring the famine to an end. Remember that famine in ancient times always meant that many people died of hunger.

    Likewise in 2 Kings 24 we find God punishing Judah under the reign of Jehoiakim for the sins of long dead King Manasseh. In Leviticus 26:40 we find that God sometimes requires his people to confess not only their own sins but also the sins of their ancestors.

    So many Americans today, including many Christians, believe that we have no responsibility to try to make right or at least to ameliorate the present consequences of our ancestors’ sins. We may not be personally responsible for their sins at the Judgment but I believe we are responsible in this life to name and to confess the sins of our ancestors and to do what we are able to do to lessen the present consequences of their sins.

  14. Monty says:

    The Boston Movement with all of it’s faults may have been the closest thing(appearance wise) to “neither Jew nor Greek” we will ever realize this side of heaven. They of course operated on college campuses and made converts of all nations. The more diverse the campus the more diverse the congregation. If you ever attended one of their services then you know what I’m talking about.

  15. Christopher says:


    I was in the ICOC for a long time. They consciously aimed to have diverse congregations, and did. So it is certainly possible. I have a hard time still figuring out how they did so much right while doing so much wrong. You do have to expect people to strive to be righteous, however (without resorting to ungodly legalism). I’m not sure there was ever that kind of expectation in the traditional CoC.

  16. Gary says:

    In the 80’s there was a concept in church growth literature called the homogeneous unit principle. The essence of it was that people who are looking for a church overwhelmingly choose to settle in a church made up of people much like them. The homogeneous unit principle has been much maligned ever since but I think it is basically the way life works. We can’t coerce Christians into becoming members of a congregation where they feel like they have little in common with the rest of the church. Church members vote with their feet. This is not to say that churches will always break down into racially segregated categories. In university areas the academic culture may bring together otherwise diverse folks comfortably into one congregation. The same is true for congregations where most folks share military backgrounds or international churches made up mainly of expatriates. Trying to proceed as if the homogeneous unit principle isn’t valid is probably a recipe for failure. I visited the Boston church in its heyday and it clearly conformed to the homogeneous unit principle. The membership was overwhelmingly made up of educated young adults who loved living in cities. The sprinkling of older members loved being around such young adults.

  17. Dwight says:

    “No matter where you go, there you are”. I know for a fact that people go where they want to for varying reasons. I know of many Christians that pass up much closer congregations to go to one farther away for reasons they cannot articulate, except that they like it better or they like the people better. A Hispanic member of our congregation is now attempting to open up a Hispanic congregation in our city, catering to Hispanics or Hispanics who speak little English. This might lure away a family where the husband speaks broken English and the wife and kids very little. On some level we could argue that this is catering to a language and also a culture, but so it is, all to the glory of God.
    It isn’t causing a division, as much as a separation, but all in all we are all worshipping the same God for the same reasons and it wouldn’t really be fair to have people going to a congregation where they cannot communicate with the people well or cannot understand all of the material that is spoken or taught.

  18. Norma says:

    I wonder if, as you wrote the first paragraph of your conclusion to this thoughtful article, you thought about how this paragraph would read if male/female concepts were read here rather than white/black? It would read this way:

    My church may not have an offensive sign above the baptistery, but it may be just as offensive because only men are ordained as elders/deacons, only men lead communion meditations, only men teach Bible classes, and only men make announcements. Do that and you may as well hang a sign over your baptistery saying “Women not welcome here”, even if your members have no objection to letting women join – so long as they know their place.

  19. Dwight says:

    Norma, The only difference is that the scriptures point towards different roles for men and women within the church, just as they have different roles outside of the church, but different roles doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Now sometimes though many men do think in this way, but the scriptures don’t drive this thought or concept.
    For some reason God sought to limit eldership to men, by the qualifications put forth by God in Timothy and Titus. If any body has a problem with that I suggest they take it up with God. But this doesn’t translate to “women are not welcome here” or in particular “women are not welcome by God”. The women in our congregation are highly welcome and highly praised.

    I would, though, suggest we downplay the ceremony of the worship service towards assembling and teaching each other in a less stiff way. The structure of the present worship service makes it seem, through ceremony, as though the people who are doing the serving are on a higher level than those not doing the serving. In reality the chances are when they had the Lord’s Supper in the homes, the women were probably doing the serving, but of course that might in this context seem demeaning to some, although the same action of serving.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    Your point is well-made and well-taken by me.

    My mutualist views (some would say “egalitarian”) views have been very publicly taught here many times. You might enjoy the book on the role of women I make available here: /books-by-jay-guin/buried-talents/

    The traditional practices of the Churches of Christ are indefensible under any interpretation of scripture. For example, serving communion silently is a servant role involving no leadership under any definition of the term, and yet we deny it to women because … well, I don’t know why. But we obviously aren’t defining what women may or may not do in the assembly based on scripture, as there is no conservative argument against women serving men and women. In fact, at the covered dish meal that follows, we gladly allow the women to serve the men their meals. So I don’t know what we’re thinking …

  21. Alabama John says:

    what the coC always taught that caused this thinking was only men were at the Lords Supper in the bible so only men can do it and be scripturally correct by apostolic example.

  22. Jay Guin says:


    Interesting. I’d never heard that. So the men serving the meal to the congregants are seen as like the apostles?

    I figure it’s because they stand — and so appear to be performers — like actors in a play. We cry out against entertainment, and then we decide who is a leader or not by treating the assembly as theatre. Hence, passing trays horizontally is done seated — and not a leadership role. Passing trays from row to row is done standing, and so “leadership.” If we had programs, the tray passers would be listed in the program as part of the show.

    Years ago at my home church, the guys passing the trays skipped one, leaving a woman on the end of the pew holding a tray of juice. There were children near, so she couldn’t just set it down. So she passed it to the young man behind her.

    But he was a teen and had taken his shoes off — and couldn’t figure out how to put his shoes back on without subjecting the tray to greedy three-year old fingers. So he just held it up high and blushed — and eventually enough people whispered to the person behind them that one of the men came and rescued him.

    Of course, had the woman stood up with the tray and returned it demurely to one of the tray passing volunteers, she’d have broken an unspoken rule that surely would have damned us all. Surely the earth would have swallowed us up.

  23. Ray Downen says:

    John, you speak of the first supper with only Jesus and His apostles. But later shared meals by Christians surely included both men and women, with meal preparation mainly done by the women, who surely were not prevented from serving!

  24. Alabama John says:


    In other regular meals, maybe the women served, but we do not know that. Many things might?? The servers might of been male slaves or slaves that had been castrated. We see the Lords Supper drawing all over the place and it has no women in it and its considered scripturally correct.

    There are so many things that might of been done differently from what is written but we in the coC only recognize those written, or, have stressed that far more in the past.


    We here are sure trying hard to break from coC teachings of the past and even traditions.

    Makes one wonder what happened to all those before us that observed those CoC taught erroneously from the bibles examples and scriptures requirements? Are they burning?

    In many cases trying to join with our black brothers and sisters is done out of ancestor guilt far more than good intentions. The blacks understand that reasoning far more than the whites do.

    Another way to look at the race subject that was taught in public school and by the CoC since its beginning here in America as well is the Negroes should be very thankful that they were brought over here as slaves and taught the bible instead of being left in the jungle without that knowledge of Gods teachings and burned in hell for eternity because of that lack. There was no quarter given for lack of availability!

  25. Dwight says:

    We must remember that it wasn’t the Lord’s Supper that was prepared, but the Passover, which was predominantly done by the women with the exception of the Passover Lamb and its roasting, then Jesus picked two items from the Passover to make the Lord’s Supper.
    It was the women who oversaw the domestic affairs in the house, not the men.

  26. jon says:

    Jay—Thanks for your thoughtful and careful reply, and thanks, too, for providing this forum so Christians can address some very important issues. As acknowledged, I don’t know the full circumstances of the proposed merger you referred to. From your description it sounds like a merger might have been the best option. In any case, I have no doubt that those involved were sincerely trying to help what they saw as a congregation in trouble.

    But I think you missed my point. I never intended to suggest that we should simply accept segregation. For what it’s worth, I grew up in a congregation that was more racially-mixed than most; at least a third, and maybe forty percent, of the membership was black, and I appreciate my exposure to black Christians as one of the best things that church could offer my youth (the legalistic teaching, on the other hand—well, I won’t get into that!). The goal we all want to see is the New Testament model—people of all races, ethnicities, classes, and backgrounds joining together to praise God, bear one another’s burdens, and help each other learn how to live out the teachings of Jesus. The question is, what’s the best way to accomplish this end? In most cases, I don’t think a larger, presumably wealthier white church pressuring a smaller, historically African-American church to merge is necessarily the best way.

    Yes, a black church that refuses to fellowship with or accept whites is as far from the gospel as you can get, just as would be a white church that refuses to fellowship or accept blacks as members (which, no surprise, almost all of our white congregations once did). But is a predominantly black church, with black elders and black ministers, that welcomes whites as equals, that provides the teaching and worship style that best helps its predominantly-black membership understand the gospel and its implications, and that is in a good position to reach black Americans whom most white Americans don’t even know exist—is that a church that contradicts the gospel? I don’t think so. Each congregation has its unique character, and different congregations serve and reach different kinds of people. If we refuse to recognize the differing characteristics—including race—of a congregation, we may be moving toward “cookie-cutter congregations” that all look alike and are expected to do the same things—even as they get smaller because they’re reaching fewer people.

    I drafted a response to several other points in your post, but when I reached the fourth page I realized it would probably be counterproductive to share it (though I’d be glad to discuss my thoughts any time in another forum or in person). Instead, I’ll just posit that, living in the shadow of two hundred years of race-based slavery, followed by another century of what might best be described as a system of apartheid, the gulf separating black and white Americans is much larger than most whites realize. We really don’t know each other very well. Even though W.E.B. DuBois said it more than a century ago, a “veil” still divides the races, and most white Americans have no idea what goes on “behind the veil” among black Americans. It would be great if black and white Christians could overcome their humanity immediately and experience complete unity in the Spirit. But our racial situation is kind of like an abusive relationship, and given the history of white violence and manipulation toward blacks, we whites are the ones who’ve been the abusers. Just like many of us wonder when we see a woman take back an unfaithful husband who says he’s changed but hasn’t really demonstrated it through his behavior, we really shouldn’t be surprised if our black brothers and sisters prove reluctant to abandon churches they’ve long treasured to join predominantly white congregations, with white traditions and white leadership—especially if they get the sense that the white churches want black members just so whites can prove to themselves they’re not racist. Unless we’ve been in their shoes and experienced what they’ve experienced, telling them that their reluctance to merge is “defeat[ing] God’s mission to unite the races out of sheer presumption” is sort of like the man who’s cheated on and physically abused his wife telling her, “well, if you don’t take me back, you don’t understand the sanctity of marriage.” Even when a partner has sincerely repented and tried to change his ways, it takes a long time for the wronged spouse to regain the trust on which a marriage is based; likewise, it will take a long time for African Americans to be convinced we’ve changed, assuming that we have.

    I’ll conclude by reiterating that I respect your view and where you’re coming from, and I’ll acknowledge that in the situation you’re familiar with a merger may have been the best outcome. And I’ll admit I may be wrong. I’m not black, so I don’t presume to speak for our African American brothers and sisters in Christ. I would like to hear what they have to say. All I’m saying is that, as a solution to the racial divide, I don’t think affluent white congregations should pressure smaller black congregations into merging. White congregations should be open and welcoming if black congregations want to merge, but we need to respect their decision if they don’t. As indicated, I’m not an elder or church leader (and probably never will be), but from the back pews I’ll encourage white church leaders to meet and arrange activities with predominantly black churches so we can get to know each other better. The Racial Reconciliation service planned at the 4th Avenue congregation in Franklin is a good start, but it’s just a start. It’ll take more than an occasional lunch, but after meeting and fellowshipping with each other for a while, even though in separate congregations, eventually maybe our black brothers and sisters can trust us enough to see when we’re different from non-Christian whites because of the presence of the Spirit. Then, maybe we can have churches in which all nations and races will join together to worship the Savior.

  27. Alabama John says:

    Great post Jon, I appreciate your thoughts.

    For a little while lets consider the joining with our Native Americans instead of our blacks. When we approach them to join us in worship they are soon hesitant as their traditions of worshiping the Great Spirit (God) includes singing, drums, dancing, face and body painting. When we tell them all that is wrong but join us and we will teach you how to do it right most walk away.

    In my lifetime, its always been said and taught in the COC to join us and do it my way or the highway. Choose heaven or hell.

    That is what I fear the blacks see us ultimately doing to them starting with their children.

  28. laymond says:

    Dwight said “For some reason God sought to limit eldership to men, by the qualifications put forth by God in Timothy and Titus. If any body has a problem with that I suggest they take it up with God. ”
    So not only Jesus is seen as God, but now Paul is raised to that level as well. And here I am thinking the bible tells us we have only one God.

  29. John F says:

    Laymond, do you really mean to demean the inspiration of scripture? How else, where else, do we understand the revelation of His will? If you choose to “debate” inspiration, there are other forums, but I think commenters on this forum would agree on inspiration. If you canot trust the “letters” how can you trust the “gospels”?

  30. laymond says:

    John F. I am sure that is you don’t believe Paul, when he said he spoke uninspired, I have no chance of convincing you. Paul spoke many times uninspired. he also referred many times to former inspired words. so you believe whatever you wish, I will believe Paul knew whether or not he spoke of inspiration .

  31. Jay Guin says:

    Jon wrote,

    All I’m saying is that, as a solution to the racial divide, I don’t think affluent white congregations should pressure smaller black congregations into merging. White congregations should be open and welcoming if black congregations want to merge, but we need to respect their decision if they don’t.

    It’s interesting and frustrating that my suggestion that we do what the gospel plainly commands — be one body without racial division — gets interpreted as “affluent white congregations should pressure smaller black congregations into merging.” I mean, I doubt that such a thing has ever happened in the history of the universe. I don’t even know how a white congregation would attempt such a thing. I’m very sure that I never argued for pressuring anyone to do something against their better judgment for their own congregation.

    Black churches are just as autonomous as white churches. They can’t be forced, made, pressured, or otherwise compelled to merge against their will. And no amount of wealth or numbers in a white church gives it the power to force a black church to merge. Can’t happen.

    The one exception that I can think of is a black church so badly led that it’s going to close its doors if it doesn’t merge — but I know of plenty of churches that have closed their doors rather than merge. So even then, there’s simply no power in the white church to pressure the black church to do anything. They can only invite.

    But I have studied church mergers, and have talked to elders and preachers who’ve been through mergers, and I’ve personally been part of merger efforts — one successful, two not. And, trust me, although my church is predominantly white and wealthier than the other churches in town, we have zero power to make the other churches do anything they don’t want to do. Hence, two failed merger attempts — and both failures have been decidedly harmful to the Kingdom, in my view, although only God knows what would have happened had the mergers gone forward.

    Therefore, if a black church merges with a white church, they’ll do so on terms that they find acceptable. Period. It’s like marriage. You just can’t make her fall in love with you. Either you charm her or you don’t get married.

    The bargaining power of the smaller church is actually greater than the bargaining power of the larger church. It’s kind of hard to explain, but whoever wants the merger the least will be in the stronger bargaining position because it can more easily walk away. And the smaller church will have greater fears arising out of the merger (they’ll experience more change) and so they are the harder sell. And so they can hold out for whatever is important to them, and the larger church has no threats, intimidation, or power to change that.

  32. laymond says:

    I have read many posts by Jay and I cannot recall even one where Jay said Christians should pressure anyone to do anything against their conscience.

  33. Jay Guin says:


    I entirely agree. It’s very likely that a woman prepared the Passover meal that we call the Last Supper, and served Jesus and his apostles.

    The disciples were told to make preparations for the Passover. This would include ritual cleansing in a mikveh, acquiring a lamb and having it slaughtered by a priest at the temple, acquiring bitter herbs, flour for the bread, etc. But someone had to clean the lamb and cook it. Someone had to cook the bread. And someone had to refill the cups as they were drunk.

    In that culture, these are women’s work. The disciples are said to be reclined on couches — the customary posture for a banquet — and the posture for people being served by others. And so it’s likely that the owner’s wife, and perhaps other women, cooked and served.

    In that culture, it was considered wrong to stand during the Passover meal, as slaves stood during a meal. In a meal celebrating the end of Egyptian slavery, those celebrating the Passover reclined.

    Hence, the people bringing in food and drink were almost certainly women — who walked among the men as they took the meal.

  34. Ray Downen says:

    I wonder why you thought I was talking about the Supper with Jesus and His apostles? My subject was the church suppers throughout the world during the apostolic age. Unlike the meal shared by Jesus and His apostles, those meals were shared by men and women alike. I say unlike, but it surely could have been that servers were used for the last supper. But no mention is made of others in the room except Jesus and His apostles.

  35. Alabama John says:

    I’ve been to meals after a wedding of two Jews and the men ate separate from the women but were served by the women.

    TRADITION! TRADITION! TRADITION! Remember the song in one of my favorite movies: Fiddler on the Roof.

    Women did serve and prepare but you can bet it was all done by and how a man wanted.

    On the other hand, if I had to choose who in the bible to meet and talk with, it would be more women than men.

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