What are the Scriptural arguments against churches organised on racial grounds?
It has been well–said that Scripture can be twisted to support anything. Thus it has even been argued that John 14: 2 is justification for racially–segregated churches: “In my Father’s house there are many abodes”! Few there are who would stoop as low as that, but even while Christians talk of “one body” (Eph. 4: 4), the existence of ‘black’ churches and ‘white’ churches is proof positive that things are not what they should be.
In Baptism we put off the uniform of what we were previously, and put on the uniform of Christianity. Hence: “For ye, as many as have been baptised unto Christ, have put on Christ. There is no Jew nor Greek; there is no bondman nor freeman; there is no male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus: but if ye [are] of Christ, then ye are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3: 27–29). Again, if we turn over to Colossians, we read that in the new man “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ [is] everything, and in all” (Col. 3: 11). As Christians, our citizenship is not in England or India, but “our commonwealth has its existence in [the] heavens” (Phil. 3: 20). Paul takes great pains to distinguish the “Assembly of God” from both “Jews, or Greeks” (1 Cor. 10: 32).
Race was clearly a huge issue in the early history of the Church as was witnessed by the furore caused by the introduction of the Gentiles (Acts 11: 1–3), and there was even friction between the home-born Jews and the Diaspora (see Acts 6: 1). That the Church in the first few chapters of Acts was completely Jewish is not in question, and, even after the introduction of the Gentiles, the distinction between Jew and Greek seems to have been maintained in that transitional period––at least for a time (see Acts 15). Never, even then, however, do we read of separate churches for Jews and Gentiles. What Paul ministered as to Jew and Gentile in Ephesians 2 came later, but it forever removed the idea that Jew and Gentile were to be distinguished in the Assembly: “For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of enclosure, having annulled the enmity in his flesh, the law of commandments in ordinances that he might form the two in himself into one new man, making peace; and might reconcile both in one body to God by the cross” (v 14 – 16). It might be remarked in passing that ethnic Jews who have converted to Christianity, and call themselves “Messianic Jews” have clearly failed to grasp the Pauline concept of the Assembly as one body.
The NT Church was clearly very diverse, but it was one. Each local assembly consisted of all the Christians in the area. Furthermore, the local assembly was not an independent unit, but merely a local representation of the one universal assembly or church. There was only one fellowship, the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (see 1 Cor. 1: 9). All these facts, when put together, make it impossible to imagine how any gathering of Christians, seeking to walk in the light of Scripture, could give even tacit approval of racial segregation among Christians.
Of course, while we may profess to believe in one body, it may be that we are attracted to persons of our own race, nationality or culture, and repelled or apprehensive of others. Companies of Christians thereby grow up where like attracts like. But this is hardly right! When we act in this way we are looking at what is natural rather than what is spiritual. My African brother is my brother in Christ as much as my English brother. Indeed, they should be viewed simply as brothers in Christ only.
As a point of fact, the various ‘races’ in this world are closer than skin-colour might suggest––the genetic variation between a Negroid and a Caucasian may be less than between two persons in either classification. Scripture itself states categorically that God “has made of one blood every nation of men to dwell upon the whole face of the earth” (Acts 17: 26, my emphasis). If there is a barrier between men, it is based on language. The divinely imposed judgment of Babel (see Gen. 11: 7–9) was, however, reversed in measure at Pentecost (see Acts 2: 5– 11)––and this is a fitting picture of what was to be achieved in the Assembly.