In the last few years concerns for diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice have been especially prevalent in American organizations and institutions. For the church and its parachurch ministries, there are legitimate questions at hand:
What follows is an attempt to frame those questions within a biblical framework, and more broadly serve the concerns of the local church.
In the beginning, God had a plan for humanity. When He created the first man and woman He
blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."(Gen. 1:28 ESV)
God did not intend for Adam and Eve to stay in place, but to expand Eden and the place of human rule and reign into all the earth as His vice-regents of the visible realm:
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited
After humanity's breach of faithfulness, and his fall into sin, humanity refused God's plan to expand into all the earth, and refused to multiply the likeness of God and spread his Name and authority over the globe. No story captures this refusal so well, and no chapter deals with the issue of human diversity in society more fundamentally, than the story of the tower of Babel from Genesis 11; even so, this chapter does not begin with human diversity, it begins with human unity:
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.(Gen. 11:1-2 ESV)
A breathtaking unity, especially when taking into consideration the vast chasms of our day between culture, language, and nation. But this ancient and unified people set itself against the God who commanded man to spread into the world and magnify his goodness, despising his mission for them:
...they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.(Gen. 11:4-9 ESV)
This unified people, set against God's mission, was thwarted. While some interpreters believe that "nothing will be impossible for them" is to be taken quite absolutely, a better interpretation is "nothing will be impossible for them" morally; their technology, their greatness, will advance their wickedness beyond bounds. So then, with this interpretation, God's act of dividing tongues is an act of grace, restraining the wickedness of man. And in that act is a comprehensive work of diversity.
God himself creates diversity not to advance man's good, but to restrain man's wickedness.
God created a dilemma through diversity, scattering man over the face of the earth with no single name to unify the people. This diversity dilemma, created at Babel, would find its solution in the promises of God, that someday he would unify all the people in one Name.
While true beauty resides in diversity, in the multitude of tongues scattered throughout the earth, along with their attendant cultures and people-groups, the drama of Scripture will give an even more beautiful answer to that diversity dilemma - the Holy Spirit.
The word "Babel" means, quite literally, "confusion." The linguistic, cultural, and ethnic diversities God created in the world were placed there to confuse the evil desires and ambitions of wayward man. But that is not the end of the story! Diversity, in some sense, meets its end in Jesus.
Those who tried to make a name for themselves in Genesis 11 are a character-foil for Jesus' Name. Jesus will not refuse his Father's desire to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. In fact, he will spread his Name and the likeness of God, through discipleship, over the whole earth:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"(Matt. 28:18b-19 ESV)
That single Name of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - goes wherever the Name of Jesus goes, wherever the authority and power of Jesus resides. But how, then, does Jesus deal with the diversity dilemma?
The word for "nations" used in the Greek New Testament is "ethnos," from which the English word "ethnicity" is derived. It is to these ethnicities, or nations, that Jesus would bring hope in his name. This was planned long before Jesus was born. He revealed as much to his disciples:
he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written [in the Old Testament], that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."(Lk. 24:45-49 ESV, Emphasis added)
Jesus tells his disciples how this long-expected hope for the ethnicities of the world will come. He says it is when "you are clothed with power from on high." Jesus ascends into heaven, and when at the right hand of God, he gives gifts to men (Eph. 4:8) in the event of Pentecost - he clothes them with the power of the Spirit. Peter preaches on this very thing:
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.(Acts 2:33 ESV)
What were the people seeing and hearing?
they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? ...we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God."(Acts 2:4-11 ESV)
Jews who were dispersed into all sorts of nations, who had come to have their own native tongues, were miraculously hearing each other in their own language, and their diversity of language and culture gave way to the unity of the Holy Spirit by the power and might of God.
God had reversed Babel in the Name of Jesus.
God had transcended diversity by unity in the Holy Spirit.
The unity given with the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was a foretaste of heaven. The vision of the Scriptures is that the gospel, its spread empowered by the Holy Spirit, would reach every corner of the earth and unify them as one in Jesus' Name. The completion of this task is seen in a vision by John in the heavenly kingdom come:
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!"(Rev. 7:9-10 ESV)
The beauty of this throne-room vision is not that each group has its own diversity, but the emphasis is that out of diversity the Lamb of God has miraculously produced a single song of praise - "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" All the people are clothed with the same clothes, and share in the same identity, those who were bought with the precious blood of the lamb. That's not to say embodied souls lose their original ethnic identities or skin colors in the heavenly kingdom. It's unlikely. Jesus, it seems, was raised as the same middle-eastern, Jewish, brown-skinned man, but with a perfected body, glorious in its splendor (1 Cor. 15). But it is to say that original ethnic identities lose their ultimacy and are back-seated for the unity found in the new kingdom come. How do we know this? Because Pentecost, and the final coming of the Spirit it represented, is a reversal of Babel. The Spirit brings humanity back to one people in the one name of Jesus. This can be called the Unity Principle.
In contradistinction to the Unity Principle, there are those whose say John's heavenly vision should spur the church on to actually produce diversity. This can be called the Mosaic Principle, since mosaic decorations use a diversity of colored materials. The Mosaic Principle argues that God, far from wanting to transcend diversity, established it for the church, takes pleasure in it, and that the mission and vision of Christ's church cannot be accomplished without it. The beauty of the diverse people groups is itself an aim of God in uniting the people in Christ. In order for the church on earth to be faithful, then, each gathering of believers ought to reflect this ethnic and racial diversity, as much as is possible, in order to honor and bless the Father.
In a word, the Mosaic Principle seeks to find unity through accomplishing diversity, whereas the Unity Principle seeks to find unity through transcending diversity.
How does the Unity Principle regard distinct ethnicities, races, skin colors, tribes, and languages? God unifies them into one, without taking away their distinction.
Our distinct national identities, which are also ethnic, give way with language to one unified culture in the Holy Spirit. Peter, who preached at Pentecost, spoke of this very unity in his first letter:
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.(1 Pet. 2:9 ESV)
God made out of many nations one holy nation, "hagion ethnos," a holy ethnic group, to be his peculiar people. This unity of ethnic-identity was not to be diminished by re-establishing codes of a particular ethnic group, such as by adding Jewish circumcision practices to the new churchly identity in Jesus. In fact, for those who insisted that gentiles practice the laws of the Jews, the Apostle Paul had only condemnation. His letter to the Galatians is a long rebuttal against those who wished to, after coming to Jesus, rebuild the Jewish-ethnic identity, admitting gentiles into fellowship only after they were circumcised. For those who said circumcision was necessary for salvation, the "circumcision party," Paul wished that they would go further than circumcision and "emasculate themselves!" (Gal. 5:12b ESV) Instead of reinforcing the necessity of any original ethnic identity, he said,
in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.(Gal. 5:6 ESV)
The cultural identities of the Old Testament and Jewish people, especially as they were expressed in the ceremonial commandments, were abrogated and no longer necessary for the Jewish people who followed Jesus. These commandments had, before Jesus, created a hostility between the Jews and gentiles, because they were a visual symbol of whether or not the nations were being faithful to God. But God, in Jesus, would transform that reality:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us [Jews and gentiles] both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.(Eph. 2:14-16 ESV)
This is an amazing statement about cultural and ethnic reconciliation, especially to those who would like to enforce their own version of racial and ethnic reconciliation. In their attempts to bring about reconciliation in a different way than through the one new man, are they re-building the hostility that was previously there? The beauty of the Unity Principle is that while Jewish believers in Jesus had the freedom to maintain or keep their own ceremonial practices, such as circumcision or abstaining from pork, they were also able, in Jesus Christ, to abandon those practices and still be faithful to God.
This Unity Principle is operative in missionary efforts to this day, since missionaries may adopt the cultural practices, to a greater or lesser extent, of the people whom they seek to reach, so long as they don't disregard their primary identity, their Unity Principle, as it is found in Jesus. This is not a repudiation of the identity with which they were born, but it is an honoring of the identity with which they were born again. Wherever the identities overlap or struggle, the born-again identity wins out in the Spirit of holiness.
How does the Mosaic Principle regard distinct ethnicities, races, skin colors, tribes, and languages? In short, as a goal to be achieved for the church.
Here are three common beliefs associated with the Mosaic Principle, each which will be considered in turn:
First then, considering equality in the representative-represented relationship. Those who espouse this belief will encounter a flood of disagreements from Scripture. For example, Jesus had twelve Jewish apostles. Jesus did not seek to diversify those who would come to represent the entirety of his kingdom. Neither was Jesus concerned about the fact that out of the sixty-six books in the Holy Bible, sixty-six of them were written by Jews. If he wanted to represent all racial groups by placing a diversity of people in positions of power, he could very well have done that. It will not do to say Jesus was merely a man of his times, for not only is this Jewish representation true for the past, but also the future. In Revelation 21 John sees heaven finally and fully coming to earth! He describes it this way:
It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed... And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.(Rev. 21: 12-14 ESV)
The heavenly city Jerusalem has surrounding it the names of 24 Jewish men. Walls and gates, positions of power and authority, belong to a very patriarchal, homogenous, and Jewish group.
Even more obviously, Jesus himself, a middle-eastern brown-skinned Jewish male, represents all authority in heaven and on earth, over all people everywhere. If subordinates and those represented must have their own skin color in power, should they not shout down this Jesus, who does not ethnically represent the majority and all equally, and erect their own savior? This is where the logic goes.
The idea that a person of a certain ethnicity will better represent that ethnicity and its interests best is short-sighted, to say the least. Who would say that because Hitler was German he best represented German interests? The interests of Germany would have been far better preserved by many others, regardless of skin color or ethnicity. So also, any ethnicity which has Jesus for its king is best represented by him.
Some believe that if one privileged identity group or person has power over another identity group or person, that privileged person is an oppressor of the oppressed. It may be asked, is Jesus - privileged possessor of all power and authority in heaven and on earth - is he an oppressor for wielding that power, and for not sharing it equally with all? If racism is, as one person has put it, "privilege plus power", then Jesus is a racist, for he is the ultimate possessor of both privilege and power, having been privileged as the one born (indeed, prophesied!) to inherit all things, and also the one to gain all power by his resurrection from the dead, seated at the right hand of God (Mt. 28:18). Those who seek to diminish the influence of a particular skin-color or origin-ethnicity because of their perceived privilege must ask about new-ethnicity privilege. For example, is it a greater privilege to be born white in America, or to be born again into a new ethnicity and kingdom? If the second is greater, and it is the saints who will judge even angels (1 Cor. 6:3), the church must rethink its priorities in regard to diminishing or elevating particular origin-ethnicities. This is not an over-spiritualizing, or an attempt to excuse the plights of suffering peoples, but it is a recognition of the true identity and great privilege of unity with the risen Lord Jesus.
Second, considering whether or not the church is spiritually fulfilled as a result of achieving greater diversity. The danger with this belief is that diversity can be made into a sacrament, where in diversity the grace and blessing of God is communicated to his people. There are churches and organizations which feel they have been divested or deprived of spiritual good because they are racially or ethnically homogenous. For them, being diverse ethnically makes a church and body of believers more alive to the Spirit, and more in-tune with the plans and priorities of God.
Opposite this belief, the Scripture says,
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.(2 Pet. 1:3-4 ESV)
Life and godliness are not found in having racially or ethnically diverse churches or organizations, but they are found in the knowledge of Christ. Christ may very well use, and has used, the nations and ethnic peoples of the world to awaken each other's sanctifications or bring about each other's realization of their own misgivings or short-comings, but that does not make diversity a God-given recipe for grace. Other ethnic peoples, and diversity, may just as easily create corruption or bring about more misgivings and short-comings in another people, such as when Israel yoked itself together with its surrounding and unbelieving nations.
God's use of diversity, let it not be forgotten with Babel, was to restrain the wickedness of mankind, not to produce God's blessing or grace in the church. Yet even if one ethnic people had a grace of God inaccessible to another ethnic group of people, would this belief not create a sort of spiritual racism? Will this belief cause the Christian to look not to Christ, but to diversity for spiritual nourishment? Instead, the Scriptures teach:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places(Eph. 1:3 ESV, Emphasis Added)
Only in Christ, the Jewish man, does the Christian find every spiritual blessing.
Thirdly, considering creating diversity, or stressing ethnic differences for the sake of achieving diversity.
Many Mosaic Principle churches cheer when they have produced a proportionate race-representation to the surrounding culture; however, who is to say the Spirit of God does not work in one racial group over another? Would then the Mosaic Principle fight against the very disproportionally-acting Spirit of God? Those who adopt this principle, then, are in danger of coupling themselves more with naturalism, believing mankind is merely a product of his environment, than a belief in the mysterious and supernatural power of God (Jn. 3:8, Rom. 9:16-18). God may act in one original-ethnic group more than another, or use them for a certain dispensation, as he used the Jewish people, in his ultimate plan to reach the whole world with the glory of Christ's gospel.
If diversity is itself a goal or ambition of the local church, superficial standards for entry into the church or churchly ministries are a danger. Does the church, or its ministries, dare treat anyone as first or second-class because of the color of their skin or culture of origin? Those who seek to diminish a majority ethnicity may also be in danger of diminishing the dignity belonging to every person made in God's image. Should this majority ethnicity have hostilities to other cultures, the answer to that hostility may not be to merely shove the two groups together, but to address the causes for hostility. But those who believe hostility is created merely by having a majority ethnicity culture, regardless of how they treat the minority culture, are at odds with the Scripture:
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.(Col. 3:11 ESV)
Under Unity Principle, in contrast, local churches of whatever origin-culture and origin-ethnicity should feel comfortable worshipping God as they are, so long as the values and characteristics of their origin-ethnicity is not overshadowing or hindering the power of their new-ethnicity identity in Christ. In this way, the church does not over-emphasize origin-ethnicity, but allows for all people, regardless of their origin, equal footing and neediness at the foot of the cross, where reconciliation and forgiveness are found.
Those who wish to find true reconciliation for true sin and shame, especially as it exists between racial and ethnic groups, can only find it one way.
When dealing with sin and shame, especially guilt as it is associated with people groups and identities, the most fundamental biblical answers come in the form of sacrifice and priesthood.
Since the Old Testament sacrifices have been done away with, looking forward to the final sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for sinners (Heb. 10:11-14), the mode of sacrifice and the removal of guilt reside in one person - Jesus, the Christ - and in none other. And not only sacrifice, but the priestly duty of offering sacrifice, is found in Jesus alone and ends with his final offering up himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice.
This is how the author of Hebrews describes our Lord's priestly intercession for us:
Since therefore the children [of God] share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.(Heb. 2:14-18 ESV)
In this Scripture the writer of Hebrews describes spiritual slavery, and every depth of human oppression. He also describes why the Son of God had to become man, so that in his humanity he might share with the children of God the same temptations, the same proclivities to sin, the same sufferings of the flesh and of this present age, so that, overcoming them, he might bring his brothers and sisters to God. To quote our ancient father St. Gregory of Nazianzus, "That which is not assumed is not healed." Jesus assumed our humanity in the depth of its brokenness so that he alone, having never sinned, might be the perfect sacrifice and the perfect intercessor-priest for healing.
When conversations begin about racial or ethnic representation, along with conversations about shame, reconciliation, and forgiveness, this Scripture is especially important.
Jesus, as has been previously noted, was a middle-eastern, Jewish, and brown-skinned man, and yet - Jesus intercedes for all people, regardless of skin-color, ethnicity, or place of origin. Not only that, but Jesus, in his position of power and authority as the only high-priest, represents people in every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
This is exactly what the Mosaic Principle says is impossible. How can a person of one ethnicity or race fairly represent the people of another ethnicity or race? In order for social justice to be done, Jesus would have to be multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, but he is not. Jesus has an original-ethnicity, and it is not white, or black. And yet everyone can come to him, and he can relate to them in the deepest part of their spiritual being, for their well-being. Those who require Mosaic Principle diversity, or believe members of oppressed groups have special access to truth through lived experience, are at odds with Jesus' representative power-play. Scripture teaches with the upmost clarity that there is no one else who could represent all people, and all their oppressions, before the Father in heaven:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus(1 Tim. 2:5 ESV)
And yet, this does not exhaust the reality of priestly identity. Just as the Apostle Peter said that the church is one holy ethnicity in Christ, so also he teaches that Christ has made every believer a holy priest!
you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.(1 Pet. 2:5 ESV)
Just as Christ is made to relate to all men, so in Christ his churchly people are made intercessors for others, regardless of skin-color or ethnicity. All the saints may intercede for others, and relate to them at the core of their spiritual being. This is why Paul
urge[s] that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.(1 Tim. 2:1-2 ESV)
Those of the Mosaic Principle teach that one ethnic group cannot speak to the sufferings or empathize with the evils done to a group that is not their original-ethnic group, but that is exactly the opposite of what the Scripture teaches. Precisely because believers have been made a nation, a new ethnicity of priests, they are able to intercede for all people before the Father, in the Name of Jesus. Those who deny this cross-original-ethnic relationship and love are denying not only the Scripture, but the valid and necessary cross-cultural love that is so lacking in a sin-sick world.
Only when believers are seen as priestly representatives for all, with power and intercession, as it is found in Christ, can love be shared between communities and unity and reconciliation be found. This unity is God's plan and purpose for every original-ethnicity under heaven. Jesus' prayer made that clear:
"I do not ask for these [believers] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."(Jn. 17:20-21 ESV)
People are not simple, they are complex. Some people and groups pursue the Unity and Mosaic Principles simultaneously. Because these are at odds on so many points, they cannot both be pursued at the same time effectively. But the church must strive for effective ministry in Christ's love.
The church, in order to make haste her mission, must pursue the Unity Principle, so that all may come to Jesus in the spirit of meekness, regardless of race or origin-ethnicity, and become part of his coming kingdom.
And may he quickly come.
A: The answer to this question depends on the reason for feeling marginalized.
If a group feels marginalized because another group has taken real action to marginalize them, such as disallowing their original-ethnic group from attending a church function, then they should appeal to their brothers and sisters, in the Lord, to refrain from this racism and this sin, considering what action they might take to correct this injustice. And yet, they should also know that it is exactly in oppression and marginalization that the glory of God is meant to shine:
"For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."(1 Peter 2:19-24 ESV)
While the ungodly culture suggests that in this situation the marginalized group must revolt and take over in a spirit of outrage, the Holy Spirit teaches God's people to take every means they possess to correct injustice and right the wrongs of others, but beyond those lawful means to entrust themselves to God, who is just altogether. Every Christian is a servant of God, and every Christian is a sufferer - but how greatly will each reflect Jesus, his savior?
Another reason for feeling marginalized, however, is merely in the fact of being a minority group. In this situation, should the majority be welcoming and loving in their Christian faith, the solution is more simple. Teach the minority group to work on feeling the truth - that they are not marginalized in Christ, but that Christ has unified them with the majority group, and they have equal standing in the kingdom of God. Teach the majority group to believe and act the same.
A: Missionary efforts are often meant for a specific ethnic group or language. This is completely understandable. It should only be concerning when in the effort to spread the gospel, someone slights or diminishes another original-ethnic culture, or their hand is not open to give and minister the good news for all men.
Please submit any further questions to Joe Johnson for updates to this document.
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