Ben Gordon, BJU Alumnus and Associate Pastor of Hope Baptist Church
"What is it with all this church talk about racial reconciliation? I wish people would just stick to preaching the gospel! If people would stop bringing up racism then we would not have a problem with racism."
These sentiments, among others, I have heard often in Christian circles when talking to people about racial reconciliation. Ignoring or downplaying the conversation about ethnicity and racial reconciliation is not the answer. The approach to the topic is key.
We must allow the Gospel to frame our perspective on ethnicity and racial reconciliation. The Gospel clearly speaks to these sensitive and vital issues and provides the solution. That does not mean that everyone who puts their faith in Christ will not struggle with racism, but when one meditates on all the implications and logic of the Gospel one unmistakably sees that racial reconciliation is a Gospel issue.
Much can be said on the topic of the Gospel and racial reconciliation but let’s discuss a couple quick points that should shape our thinking when discussing ethnicity and reconciliation in the church.
Embrace our Diversity in Christ.
One popular phrase people offer as a solution to racism is “We need to be a colorblind society. I mean God is colorblind, isn’t he?” I understand the heart of that sentiment, but it can be generally unhelpful to people that experience being singled out by color. More importantly, the utopian color blind society ideal misses the mark biblically.
God is not color blind.
God is on a mission to rescue people of every tribe, tongue, and ethnicity to be part of His chosen people. Our ethnic diversity does not erase in heaven but the beautiful Gospel destiny of the church is highlighted in John’s vision in Rev. 7:9-10.
John sees in heaven, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Since God highlights the beauty of ethnic diversity in the Gospel we need to value and cherish it as a reflection of the Gospel mission as well.
Embracing our individual and ethnic diversity in Christ additionally includes embracing a diversity of perspectives from our brothers and sisters in Christ of other races and cultural backgrounds. The church benefits from the perspective, insights, and experiences each culture brings to the table. Assuming our experience of encountering racism is the end-all, be-all is naive at best but can come across as arrogant.
Listen and seek understanding from other Christians of different ethnicities. Learn from their experience and try to put yourself in their shoes. Empathize with their pain if they claim to have experienced the hurt of racism. Even if you might not initially agree with the cause of said racial hurt or are foreign to that experience, as their brother or sister in Christ you are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
Let God’s Gospel plan of national, ethnic, and linguistic diversity (Rev. 7:9-10) in Christ teach us never to wrongly disparage other races, but also refrain from belittling a reality God has underlined in the Gospel.
Embrace Our Unity in Christ.
Despite the many individualities we have as the body of Christ, we share more in common than we have differences. All people, including the lost, are image bearers of God (Gen 1:27) and come from one ancestor (Acts 17:26). All races and ethnicities are born sinners and separated from God (Romans 3:10; 23). All people, from every ethnicity, are offered reconciliation to God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:18).
As Christians from varying races we have equal standing before God in Christ. We are fellow heirs and partakers of Christ’s divine nature. Yes, we make up many different ethnicities, races, and cultural backgrounds but we are all still one in Christ (Gal 3:28) and enjoy immeasurable Gospel blessings.
It is sharply contrary to the ethic of the Gospel to racially judge, stereotype, or mistreat people for whom Christ died, when God Himself cherishes our diversity and made us one in Christ.
Let us view each one another with Gospel-corrected lenses and celebrate both our individual and ethnic diversity in Christ and our unity as one body in Christ.
Jason Ormiston, Church Planting Coordinator
I repeated this phrase over and over again in an effort to understand what it was like to learn a foreign language for the first time. It was awkward, weird, and uncomfortable. Spadnúť is Slovak for “fall down.” Ed and Dorothy Woods from Continental Baptist Missions came to the Greenville area to help our body of believers learn how to reach out to immigrants using English as a Second Language. Their teaching was dynamic and compelling. For years they have participated in ESL classes on college campuses and ESL training in churches across the United States.
I had the privilege of co-laboring with the Woods back in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while starting All Nations Baptist Church. The Lord used them to help us develop an exciting ministry to families of immigrants and international students connected to the University of Minnesota.
A few years later, the Lord led me to Greenville, South Carolina, to join the Bible faculty at Bob Jones University and begin training the next generation of student leaders for Great Commission living. I was convinced that ESL was one of the tools I wanted to pass along to my students and carry over in my local church ministry. I also saw the need in the greater Greenville area to connect the body of Christ to the growing number of immigrants from China, Brazil, and Mexico.
I knew from my own Bible reading that God cares for all peoples… especially the stranger, foreigner, and alien (immigrant). Moses instructed God’s people to show compassion to immigrants. They were to recall what it was like to be an immigrant in Egypt (Exodus 23:9). They were instructed to care for the displaced (Leviticus 19:33-34) and even make sure to leave food behind during the harvest to help meet their needs (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).
Paul encouraged God’s people to welcome immigrants and remember that the Gospel broke down the middle wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22). And of course, Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples of ALL NATIONS.
As a side note, I encourage you to take a moment to mark the 18 times you find the phrase “ALL NATIONS” mentioned in the New Testament: Matthew 24:9, 14; 25:32; 28:19; Mark 11:17; Luke 12:29-30; 21:24; 24:47; Acts 2:5; 10:35; 14:16; 15:16-17; 17:26; Romans 1:5; Galatians 3:8; 2 Timothy 4:17; Revelation 12:5; 15:4.
In the midst of my enthusiasm to build redemptive relationships across ethnic barriers, a sincere student in one of my classes at BJU asked me how I reconciled the tension between reaching out to immigrants through ESL and the knowledge that some may be in the United States illegally.
In other words, how can believers faithfully proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8) while obediently submitting to the government (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-15)? Does the gospel transcend government restriction (Acts 5:29)?
I took his question to heart. After a time of prayer and reflection, I found the answer in the book of Philemon.
This brief book in the New Testament contains a story of how God used the Apostle Paul to reach out to a runaway slave named Onesimus. Apparently, Paul found Onesimus wandering the streets of Rome as an immigrant in hope of a new beginning. The Lord intervened in the heart of Onesimus by using the witness of Paul to draw him to saving faith (Philemon 10). Onesimus understood that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. The book of Philemon is Paul’s appeal to Philemon to receive his slave as a brother in Christ and partner in the kingdom (Philemon 16).
If we follow the pattern of the Apostle Paul we will take advantage of every opportunity to win immigrants to Christ by using ESL, athletic outreach, or any other means of natural connection. Once these image-bearers profess faith in Christ, we should begin the process of encouraging them to reconcile all strained relationships… including their relationship with the government.
The United States of America is quickly becoming a multi-ethnic melting pot. The church must prepare to meet the challenges associated with making disciples from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
Instead of engaging in a political discussion about the value of preserving the English language in our school systems, the need to tighten border security, or the tensions surrounding illegal immigration, believers should pause to give God praise for the tremendous privilege of taking the gospel around the world by simply crossing the street in front of their house.
Participating in the Great Commission has never been more accessible in the continental United States!
May God help us reach out to the growing number of immigrants in our cities by sharing the gospel faithfully with people from all nations.
May we never forget that apart from the gospel, we too were without a home, without hope, and without help (I Peter 2:9-14).
Mark Vowels, CGO Director
Blogging is a form of cross-cultural communication.
It is undoubtedly communication; the cross-cultural element comes because blogging still represents only a certain segment of society.
My parents don’t blog – read or write them. But most millennials I know use some means of digital expression to inform others of their perspectives. For communication to succeed, the idea in the mind of the speaker (or writer) must essentially be reproduced in the mind of the hearer (or reader). Doing this is hard enough, as roommates, spouses, and humans in general can easily attest. But doing this across cultural barriers is harder still.
One of the great masters of this craft was the Apostle Paul. He knew just how to communicate for maximum effectiveness in various cultural situations. More about that to come in later blog posts.
The Center for Global Opportunities is all about communication and we’re all about crossing cultures. So we find every means of sharing our perspective about gospel expansion appealing. We hope our blog serves as a source of information, inspiration and inclination to make a difference in our world by making a difference for you.
To that end, we plan to communicate over the next several months about aspects of life and ministry that matter deeply to us. Among the topics we plan to feature in this blog are racial tensions and the role the gospel plays in reconciliation. Related to that, we’ll blog about how those who are committed to spreading the gospel should think about immigration issues. We’ll take a look at contextualization to see how much we can or should adapt to the world around us for the sake of making Jesus known and forging a path for following Him in diverse societies. That has ramifications for missionaries, but it applies to the shifting patterns of our American culture as well.
Then, in order to advance the gospel, we need to be sure we know just what we are seeking to accomplish. So we will be considering the balance between good deeds and Gospel words. Another of our aspirations is to look at the blessings and challenges of having international students studying in the U.S. in general and at Bob Jones University in particular. Finally, over the next several months we want to focus on the future of missions and contemplate how millennials could be the greatest of all missionary generations.
Stay with us as we strive to communicate from our culture to yours.
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.