“From All Tribes and Peoples and Languages”

(This article originally appeared in the October edition of the Baptist Courier.)

Growing up, I had the privilege of living in West Berlin, Germany during the Cold War (1981-1986). While in Berlin, my family attended Berlin Baptist Church, an international church whose members came from England, Lebanon, Vietnam, Indonesia, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia, Germany, and Cambodia. Being a part of such a diverse body of believers. taught me two important lessons.

First, I learned to celebrate the beauty of cultural diversity as a gift of God. Each culture at our church possessed different customs and cultural expressions. Even though we had English in common, our native languages differed. We listened to different styles of music and ate different food. Rather than ignore these cultural differences, we celebrated them. We came to worship in different styles of dress in accordance with our cultures. Worshiping at Berlin Baptist reminded me of a scene from the book of Revelation where Christians “from all tribes and peoples and languages” surround the throne of Christ in a heavenly worship service (Revelation 7:9).

If we Christ followers seek to pursue racial equality and reconciliation, we must start by acknowledging and celebrating the diversity we find in people from different racial backgrounds represented in our communities. In our efforts to pursue racial equality, we must avoid failing to recognize the cultural distinctives and characteristics of neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds. In an article in Relevant Magazine, journalist Trillia Newbell warns against overlooking these cultural differences in the pursuit of racial equality. She writes, “Because we have tried to move past color, we’ve minimized our cultural differences, which can lead to a lack of understanding and grace.”

Rather than looking past color and culture, we must seek to understand the victories and challenges our neighbors of different cultures have experienced. We need to listen to their stories to seek to understand the pain and anger they may have experienced due to racism. We must practice the admonition in Scripture to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Such understanding comes from dialogue between believers of various cultural backgrounds. Are you participating in such dialogues in your church and your community?

Second, I learned, while celebrating the beauty of cultural diversity, to celebrate the greater beauty of the unity the gospel brings within that diversity. We find our ultimate identity in Jesus Christ. The heavenly scene in Revelation, while revealing the diversity of Christians “from all tribes and peoples and languages,” paints a picture of unity in worship before the throne of Christ. Paul explains that the Body of Christ is comprised of many members who work together for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom. Regarding their interdependency, Paul explains, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”(1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV)

This picture of the unity and interdependency of the Body of Christ prompts a number of questions regarding the issues of racial equality and reconciliation as they relate to the church. First, does your congregation reflect the diversity of cultures evident in your community? Is it a picture of the heavenly scene where people “from all tribes and peoples and languages” are worshiping and living out the gospel together? Second, when you see brothers and sisters in Christ from different cultures suffering, do you suffer along with them? When they experience persecution and tragedy, do you stand with them? Do you celebrate with them when they rejoice? Such unity only occurs when we live in relationship together in Christ Jesus for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel.

So, let us celebrate the beauty of cultural diversity as a gift of God. Let us join our brothers and sisters of different races in dialogue, seeking to understand our differences, victories, challenges, and pain. Let us reach out to people of every race and culture in our communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Within our diversity, let us find our identity and unity in Christ. Let us work together, as unique members of one body, for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We All Bleed Red

(This article originally appeared in the September edition of the Baptist Courier)

My father is from Eastern Kentucky. Growing up, he did not know many people from ethnic backgrounds different from his Scots-Irish roots. The odds were stacked against Dad regarding whether he would become prejudiced towards people of color; however, his time in Vietnam turned the odds on their head.

Dad said that, in Vietnam, he shared a tent with an African-American soldier. They went on combat missions together and fought infiltrators at their base together. They placed their lives in each other’s hands and fought for each other. During that time, Dad learned a profound lesson about humanity. He told me, “Son, we all bleed red. It doesn’t matter what skin color we have.” Dad also taught to see each individual as a person and not to stereotype.

The events of recent months have brought to mind Dad’s words and some truths in Scripture regarding our humanity and the issues of racial equality and racial reconciliation. In addition, a spectacular message by Russell Moore at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Summit convicted me that the issue of racial equality and reconciliation is a gospel issue. With that conviction, consider the following biblical principles that provide a foundation for racial equality and reconciliation.

1) We all have equal intrinsic value because we are made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-27)  Because we carry the image of God, any attack upon an individual from any ethnic background is an attack upon the image of God. No one ethnic group has more of God’s image than another; therefore, every individual belonging to any ethnic group carries equal value in the sight of God and should carry the same value in the sight of men.

2) We are all sinners in need of salvation. Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Romans 3:23 ESV) He also declares that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 ESV) Every human being is a sinner who will suffer eternal death in a place the Bible calls Hell if he does not repent of sin and believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, regardless of his color.

3) Jesus Christ died for people from every ethnic group in the world. We often quote Jesus’ declaration in John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) According to Jesus, He died for people from all over the world. He died on the cross to purchase atonement for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

4) Jesus commands His Church to make disciples of people from every ethnic group. (Matthew 28:19-20) In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commands His disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” The Greek for “all nations” here is panta ta ethne. That last word should look familiar to you, for it is where we get our word “ethnic.” Jesus literally tells His disciples to make disciples of people from “every ethnic group” or “all ethnic groups.”

5) Believers from every ethnic group are coheirs with Christ and members of the Body of Christ. Paul tells the believers in Ephesus “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV) He tells the believers in Galatia, “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.” (Galatians 3:28 ESV) Paul clearly teaches that, regardless of our ethnic background, believers are unified by the blood of Christ as brothers and sisters in Christ.

6) The Great Commission will result in people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping Christ. In his description of the great worship service he witnessed in his vision of Heaven, John writes:

After this I looked, and behold, 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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

As a result of the Church’s fulfillment of the Great Commission, people from every ethnic group around the world will worship before the throne of Christ Jesus.

In light of the biblical principles mentioned above, Christ-followers should treat racial equality and reconciliation as a gospel issue (not a social, economic, or political issue).