A Color Blind Church?

“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.” – Priscilla Shirer

My wife and I were on our flight home from a wonderful visit with her family and friends. We got comfy and waited for the rest of the passengers to board. I pulled out my book and began reading as the plane took off. However, my ears began to pick up a conversation in the row ahead of us from a group coming home from a missions trip.

“I learned a lot about how others really need the Gospel,” said one. The leader responded, “Yes, it is clearly seen with a group who has never heard the Gospel before. That group of people never had seen a white man before or knew about a church. I am grateful we were able to give them the Gospel and help them start a good church.”

This conversation pulled me from my book and grabbed my attention. Never seen a white man before? I knew what the phrase meant, but it hit me it an odd way like bad fish. The sentence of putting “white man” and “church” together needed some searching for me.

What does the Bible say about the church and race? And did it connect to having a “good church”?

Two Conflicting Passages

Galatians 3:28 – There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Revelation 7:9 – After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.

The New Testament discuss the beginning and the doctrine of the church. However, in my search of race and the church, I came across Galatians 3:28 (and others like it). “Well, that clears it up. There is to be no distinction of races in the church. All are equal and one.” I thought my research was done. Yet, I remembered passages in Revelation (like 7:9) where it is mentioned that there are people from every tribe, language, and nation. These passages were recognizing racial and cultural diversity.

Is it a contradiction? Does God really see diversity in the church or does he want everyone the same that these divisions do not matter?

Being Color Blind

According to Meriam-Webster dictionary, to be “Colorblind” means to “not be influenced by differences of race; especially: free from racial prejudice.”

Seeing and treating everyone as the same, despite their racial background, is highly valued in our world today. We are not to judge people because of their race or treat them differently because of their race. We would all agree this is a good thing.

There have been so many battles and debates won in order to make sure we stop people being treated differently because of their race.

But, should the church be colorblind?

Seeing Color – Being One

When we look at the book of Revelation, it mentions there are people from every tribe, language, and nation. In Revelation 21 it mentions the nations brining in their glory into the New Jerusalem. There is no “color blindness” (I am using this phrase in a different way) in these passages.

Why? Does God not want the church to be colorblind?

Passages, like Galatians 3:28, are not referring to being color blind, but are referring to an equality of faith. Everyone is equal in the church. There should be no favoritism. There is no discrimination of race or gender or status in the church.

Yet, we see God mentioning people groups in Heaven and on the New Earth not as one, but as nations. God is recognizing diversity. He is the one that created all of us whether of one race or the other and whether male or female. He loves diversity. In Revelation, there is no mention of a “heavenly language” that we will all speak. It says people from every language. Yet, His people are all one in Heaven through Christ.

There is nothing wrong with recognizing the diversity of people in our churches. We are all one in Christ, but we all come from different backgrounds, races, cultures, and languages. These are God ordained. Diversity is beautiful. When we recognize diversity in the church, we see people as different, yet redeemed by Christ.

In doing so, we begin to see how each person can contribute to the church. We see the history of God working in a culture. We begin to see how we can go to a different country and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Unfortunate White-Washing

In American conservative churches (this is where I mainly observed this), there is a push for being colorblind. However, what has that done?

We see churches that have white-washed themselves. Everything that is done or celebrated is mainly “white.” I have seen a mural in a church that promoted itself as reaching to the nations and being culturally diverse. The mural portrayed various people in church history. However, all of them were white.

If God shows us a glimpse of Heaven and it has people of every tribe, language, and nation, then shouldn’t we be churches that begin to recognize how every nation has a part in church history? Every race may do church differently, yet we can learn from them? Every language can bring out a new way of understanding the Bible?

Without Color… Creativity is Lost

My favorite painting is Starry Night by Van Gogh. Yet, look at it without its color. It is still interesting to look at. Yet, something is missing. The colors work together as one to show the creativity and mind of Vincent Van Gogh.

The church is the same. Without seeing the diversity in the church, we lose the mindset of God of using diversity to the purpose of seeing His glory though the church as they reach individuals with the Gospel.

Each tribe, each language, and each nation has something to add to the church as it marches towards God’s purpose.

We are all one and equal in Christ. Yet, we recognize that our diversity can come together as one, like a beautiful painting, to show the glory of God through Jesus Christ as He works through His church.

Painting our Churches

But, now what? How can we do this in our churches today?

First, look around you. Look for the diversity in your church. Now, if the “diversity” goes against God’s Word, then it should not be recognized (for example, sin is not diversity). But, look for the diversity in the people in the church. Look how God has redeemed each one of you to be apart of His church. Find out the stories of grace that are in your church.

Second, take a trip to the bookstore or library. Have you ever read about the history of Christianity in China? Or in India? Have you ever read about the Spirituals written during the time of slavery in the US? Have you read biographies of women risking their lives for the sake of the Gospel? Do you know how God has worked in the drug cartels in Colombia? Have you taken time to see how God works through history and culture to show how He uses diversity to bring Himself glory?

Third, in our churches, are we celebrating our diversity? Have you taught your congregation a song in another language? It does not have to be on Missions Week. Are you teaching about God working in all cultures and celebrating the contributions all groups of people have given to the church throughout history?

Our culture tells us to be colorblind. In that sense of the word, yes. Never judge someone because of their race and background.

In the church we see each other as equals because of Christ. Yet, we see the “color” of diversity God is using in the church to accomplish His purpose.

“Never Seen a White Man Before”

As I think back to the conversation I heard on the plane, I can’t help but think that this group is missing out on how they should be viewing God’s church. I wanted to ask, “What if someone from Ghana or China brought them the Gospel before you?”

Let us, as a church, appreciate the diversity in the church and see how that brings color to God’s world and how that diversity can be used to march forward in oneness towards God’s purpose of the church.

Lord we stand in the midst of a multitude
Of those from every tribe and tongue
We are Your people redeemed by Your blood
Rescued from death by Your love
There are no words
Good enough to thank You
There are no words to express my praise
But I will lift up my voice
And sing from my heart
With all of my strength

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
To the Lamb
Hallelujah hallelujah
By the blood of Christ we stand
Every tongue every tribe
Every people every land
Giving glory giving honor
Giving praise unto the Lamb of God

Lord we stand by grace in Your presence
Cleansed by the blood of the Lamb
We are Your children called by Your name
Humbly we bow and we pray

Release Your power
to work in us and through us
Till we are changed
To be more like You
Then all the nations will see
Your glory revealed
And worship You

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
To the Lamb
Hallelujah hallelujah
By the blood of Christ we stand
Every tongue every tribe
Every people every land
Giving glory giving honor
Giving praise unto the Lamb of God

Let Them Stand

“For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” – C.S. Lewis

A warm and sunny Sunday in May began. A wife, about 40 years old, and her husband got ready for church. As they arrived, many were dressed up and bustling towards their seats. The pastor approached the pulpit after the opening song. “Welcome to our church. Today is a special day: Mothers’ Day. We would like to recognize all the mothers. If you are a mother or a grandmother, please stand.” A good number of women, over half the church, stood as they proudly proclaimed their motherhood status. However, the woman sat next to her husband not moving. Her eyes cast down. Even at 40, she was not able to join her friends. But, not only were her eyes cast down, but other eyes looked at her in sorrow that she could not join the celebration. She was childless. 

This situation is not uncommon in churches today. Many people experience an isolation in the church and feel unrecognized because they do not fit a certain category. These people never stand in recognition. These individuals eventually leave the church as they feel like they have no purpose in the church. In this post, I would like to address this issue and look at three major groups that have been ignored in the church for their contribution to the heritage of the church: the disabled, the childless, and African-Americans. 

The Body of Christ

The church is not a building. It is a group of people. Ekklēsia is the Greek word translated church. This word refers to those that are called out. But, the church is not just a group of people. Throughout the New Testament, the church is known as the Body of Christ (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 4:12; Colossians 1:24). Paul takes the imagery to tell us that all Christians are part of the body of Christ and all play an important role that is individualized in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). 

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul not only describes the Body of Christ, but he also corrects two wrong attitudes believers had about the Body of Christ. Verses 12-20 states that people should not say since they are not like others in their talents, they are not as valuable to the church. Paul says there is a diversity and Christians should not be jealous over other people in the church. Instead, God has made diversity in the church and given everyone gifts and abilities to play an individual, yet team role in the church. This is the aspect mainly preached on. 

But, the second attitude is not really discussed and belongs to our discussion: verses 21-26. Parts of the body begin to turn on each other. The more visible parts, the eye and feet, say to others who have not as much visibility, “we have no need of you.” Paul condemns this attitude. Instead, Paul states that all parts have their roles and the ones that seem not as visible are to have the same honor as the ones that get honor in public view. This is to be how the church should see each other in each person’s contribution to the church and its mission. 

The church today falls into the second attitude. As the story relayed, there is a minority of people who do not fit in a category that is typically honored or recognized in their contribution to the church. Many childless couples feel shame when they can’t stand on Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day. Those with disabilities are not even seen as those who can contribute to the church. And, many church leave out the contribution of African-Americans to the church throughout history. 

The Contribution of the Disabled

Many with disabilities have contributed to the church despite many physical or mental obstacles. One of these is Joni Eareckson Tada. In her early life, she was paralyzed from the neck down. Yet, that does not stop her from from serving God in the church. She encourages many people through the books she has written (see Beyond Suffering Bible). She reaches out to other families with children with disabilities. She also paints with her mouth the glories of God seen in creation. Many others with disabilities can do many things for Christ. Yet, they are in need of a chance and in need of recognition.

The Contribution of the Childless

Many churches see motherhood and fatherhood as the pinnacle role for Christian men and women. Yet, there are Christians who do not have children of their own because of physical issues. Some marry someone with children or adopt children; yet, they have no biological children of their own. However, in the church today, there is a stigma for those who do not have biological children. There are two famous men in church history who were married, and yet were childless: C.S. Lewis and John Calvin. These two men had step-children, but they never had biological children.. Yet, from the legacy these men left us, the childless can contribute the church in mighty ways. Think about the last time you read or watched “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” How did the Chronicles of Narnia impact you or children you know? How has Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity deepen your faith? How did The Great Divorce make you ponder over Heaven and Hell? Or, think of the time you thought about the Reformation. How has Calvin influenced the church as we know it today? How did he change the way we see the Bible? These are great contributions of childless men. Think about who is in your church who is childless and how they feel when motherhood or fatherhood is seen as the “end goal” for Christians. Don’t they have a place and a role to play in the Body of Christ? 

The Contribution of the African-American Heritage

One group that seems forgotten constantly are the African-Americans. When thinking of American church history many do not think of African-Americans. Instead Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, D.L. Moody, and other white Americans come to mind. Yet, many African-Americans have had impact on the church. Think of songs like Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Soon and Very Soon, Give Me That Ole Time’ Religion, It’s Me, Oh Lord (Standing in the Need of Prayer), and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. These are all songs written by African-Americans. Many of these came out the the dark period of slavery. These are memorials proving that even though many slave owners tried to keep slaves in a “man-made Christianity” (read Unholy: The Slaves Bible), God worked to show his Gospel power in the African-American population despite these dark times. So many names have contributed: Henry McNeal Turner, Martin Luther King Jr., and James Weldon Johnson for example. It is time the church allowed this group to stand up and honor all they have contributed. I highly suggest reading Ain’t Gonna Lay My ‘Ligion Down: African-American Religion in the South.

Contributing in Fellowship

As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12, the church is the unified Body of Christ, yet is filled with diverse individuals in fellowship with one another. The Greek word for fellowship is Koinōnia. In 1 John 1:3, John tells us that we, as believers, have fellowship with other believers that mirror the fellowship the Father has with Jesus and then with us. Yet, it is more than just potlucks and getting along in the church. In Romans 15:26, the word Koinōnia has another word picture: contribution. Fellowship in the body of Christ means seeing that all believers have a contribution to give. This means that true fellowship in the Body of Christ is seeing the individual contributions of each Christian in the unified mission of making disciples of all nations. All believers and all Christians, no matter their background, have been redeemed by Christ to make their individual contributions for the Kingdom of God (Colossians 3:10-11).

A Change for the Church

The disabled, the childless, and African-Americans have all contributed to the church and yet many go unrecognized without honor which Paul says should be given (1 Corinthians 12:24-26). We recognize mothers and fathers, and pastors, but when was the last time the church took time to recognize the contributions of one of the groups mentioned? Think about church history, and the church today, without their gifts and talents being used for Christ. What things would be missed without these groups?

How can the church remedy this issue? Could, during Black History Month (February), at least two Sundays be given over to teaching on the contributions of African-Americans? Could we take time to educate our congregations about the contributions of the disabled and the childless? Are there any other groups of people in your church that are not recognized?

Martin Luther King Jr. observed that Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. Even today, the New York Times and CNN agree this sad reality still takes place. How can the church reverse this sad reality? It could start by letting them stand.

* This does not cover all the contributions of all three groups, and provide all answers to this issue. However,  I encourage you to research more on each group and their contributions to the church. Always be a life-long learner for the sake of His Name.