Monday, February 4
A multi-racial church
Scripture: Exodus 37-38, Psalm 19, Acts 11
Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Acts 10-11 describe a huge and challenging change for the early church: it became multi-racial.
The church started as a Jewish movement. Jews and Gentiles had always been segregated. God gave Peter a vision and then sent him to a Gentile soldier named Cornelius. When Cornelius and his family and friends believed in Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, it created a storm of objections among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
Acts 11:1–3 “The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.””
Peter told the story of what God had done, and when they heard it, those who had objected now praised God that He had granted “even to the Gentiles” new life in Jesus. Even to the Gentiles! They weren’t expecting that!
This sets the stage for what happens next: the birth of a Gentile church in Antioch. The center of the story in Acts shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch, from the Jewish church to the Gentile/Jewish church.
I don’t think we understand how big a deal this was. The ancient world was deeply divided and no divide was deeper than the Jew/Gentile. God went to extraordinary lengths to bridge this divide and create “the beloved community” that included every race.
God’s church is to be a multi-racial community. Sadly, it is still far too often segregated by race, ethnicity, culture and language.
Of course, some of this is understandable. When immigrants arrive in our community, they naturally seek out others of their own race, language and culture, and often create churches to maintain their identity. African Americans historically have had their own churches because they weren’t welcomed or treated as equals at white churches. Today that divide continues for multiple reasons, including a desire to maintain elements of the African American identity and culture. All of us naturally gravitate towards others who are “like us”—whether the likeness is gender, age, race, culture, dress, language, etc. So it is not necessarily wrong that we gather in homogenous communities.
But we are better together. God pushed Peter and the Jewish Christians out of their Jewish bubble into the Gentile world. I believe that God is always (and still) pushing Christians out of their bubbles and toward the other.
How can we make our churches more multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic? I think about this a lot these days and I’m trying to build bridges and learn from my brothers and sisters of different colors and cultures.
Prayer: Lord, help us to catch Your heart—a heart that embraces every race and ethnicity. Help our churches to begin to look more like heaven, where every race and tribe and language and nation will gather together to worship You.