A Global God for a Global Village
The primary purpose and meaning of the universe is to bring into existence, out of all God’s offspring, an eternal Bride for the Lamb. God so loves this rebel planet that he conspires with the world affairs to graft into his body a multitude from every nation, tribe, peoples, and languages.
The high-tech, real-time communication and the global economy have brought the global village into existence. The great metroplex areas of the world serve as magnets to people in the four corners of the planet, creating the largest migration in history. According to the United Nations, about forty million people are constantly migrating around the world.
What does this mean in God’s economy? How does this shape the Christian mission? What should be the face of the Church in this intercultural context?
A Multiethnic International Savior
In paintings from the Renaissance period, Jesus appears with Eurocentric features; however, the historical Jesus was a man born in the Near East, Asia. In order to save Jesus’ life, his parents took him to Egypt, and he became a political refugee in Africa.
Jesus’ roots included several ethnic groups and people with moral issues (i.e., the Canaanite harlot Rahab, and Ruth the Moabite). The Nazarene’s genealogy also included Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the Hittite. These women were either foreigners or had an unattractive past. Their presence in Jesus’ genealogy emphasizes his unrestrainable, ongoing love for sinners.
The Gospels narrate Jesus’ extensive ministry in Decapolis. With the exception of Damascus, the Decapolis cities were founded during Judea’s Hellenistic period. They were centers for the diffusion of Greek culture, and Gentiles comprised the majority of the population. In Mark 5 we see emphasized Decapolis' Gentile character when Jesus encounters a herd of pigs. Tyre was another city populated almost exclusively by Gentiles, and dominated by Greek influence.
The Galilean Jesus spoke Aramaic, was raised in a Hebraic culture, and lived under Roman domination of the Latin language in an area where the current language was popular Greek. Jesus was probably conversant in three or more languages. Likewise, to effectively fulfill the great commission in the global village, the Church must be open to diversity in language and culture.
It was in the “Galilee of the Gentiles” that Jesus performed most of his ministry, and it was from there that he chose eleven of his disciples, the exception being Judas (Matthew 10:2). Jews used the term “Galilean” to signify heathen or sinner. Therefore, they believed “no prophet could come from Galilee” (John 7:52).
As Dr. Ray Bakke wrote in The Urban Christian1, “The biblical profile of Jesus is of an Asian born political refugee in Africa, with a multi-ethnic ancestry, and a multi-lingual and multi-cultural background.” The genealogy of Jesus reveals that he is bound by ties of kinship not only to the tribe of Israel, but to all humanity, and that his mission embraces all of humankind (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-28). Therefore, the homogenous church growth movement of the past is an antithesis of being Christ-like.
A Multiethnic Church
The church born at Pentecost had three thousand men from every nation under heaven. Out of God’s desire that all humankind could hear of his love, each man heard the gospel in his own language. The first church was multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural. God has been thinking globally from the beginning.
However, the early Church’s ethnocentrism was soon to be evident. They sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need, until the number of Greek converts started to grow. Based on Act 6, some denominations believed deacons were elected to give special attention to the widows. However, it is not that the church was not giving assistance to the widows; rather, the underlying issue was that the ethnic widows were being overlooked. To make sure they would be fairly treated, all the elected deacons had Greek names. Greeks caring for the Greeks would avoid preferential treatment of the dominant group, as well as patronizing the foreigners, and make sure the ethnic community had access to the common wealth of the kingdom.
It breaks the heart of God every time there is separation and inequality among his children, for this is cooperation with the kingdom of darkness and plays straight into the hands of the devil (John 17). The sign on the wall of the Temple indicated to the Gentiles where only the Jews were allowed. The cross of Christ broke down that wall proclaiming, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3).
Consequently, Gentile Christians were no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. God then gave the Church the ministry of reconciliation to enable her to be the society of new creation, a rehearsal of what is to come (Revelations 7). We practice eugenics or ecclesiastical Darwinism when we only reach “our people” or the more desirable constituency. This is a church for world success, not for faithfulness.
Genesis starts with a covenant with Abraham to bless all nations. Revelation finishes with John seeing all nations, tribes, languages, and peoples praising the Lamb in heaven. God called the temple “a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Church was charged to go to “all nations.” In Pentecost, God caused all nations to go to Jerusalem.
Preparing for the second Pentecost immediately before the second coming of the Lord, God is bringing all nations to us. Since the Church was not able to go to the outermost parts of the world, God is bringing the world to us, to make it easier for the Church to reach the nations in her own backyard. The challenge of the Church in the global village is to reach the nations across the street. This is more of a sociological than a geographical challenge. Foreign mission has come to us, and in this endeavor it is important to note that tolerance or acceptance of the other is not the same as assimilation.
There is an abundance of racial and ethnic themes in the Bible, for this has been the most prevalent issue in the history of God’s people. We are all prejudiced and ethnocentric people, because we fear what we might lose if we welcome those who do not belong to our tribe. Only Jesus and his gospel have an all-inclusive message for all peoples and cultures. We must involve ourselves in a culture of peace, against all forces of anti-life, respecting the fundamental dignity of every person, and eliminating all forms of racism and social castes in the Church. The tide of history is moving irreversibly away from racial diversity, for it is God’s plan to someday create a global Pentecost with every creature worshiping the Lamb together.
Ethnocentrism, racism, and bigotry are not the monopoly of a specific group. But it is unfortunately very present in the Church worldwide, mostly manifested in subtle ways. But this subtlety will not go unnoticed in the eyes of the creator of humanity. Racism is one of the most diabolical manifestations of evil, for it denies God’s image in the face of the other. God has called the Church to be a place of refuge, and an outpost of God’s kingdom. In Human Rights & Human Wrongs2, John Stott says that when Israel overemphasized the covenant, they reduced God to the status of a tribal deity.
He became Yahweh, the god of the Israelites, more or less on a par with Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and Milcom, the god of the Ammonites. They also forgot the other nations, or simply despised and rejected them. The Bible begins with the nations, not Israel; with Adam, not Abraham; with the creation, not the Covenant. And when God chose Israel, he did not lose interest in the nations.
God’s plan was to make Israel a blessing to the nations as much as he has called the Church to be a “house of prayer for all people.”
A Multiethnic Mission
The Jews wanted a local liberator, a true King, and were stunned by Jesus’ plan to propagate his gospel to all nations (Matthew 28). The challenge for the disciples was when the Holy Spirit brought Hellenist disciples, Samaritan disciples, and eventually Gentile disciples of all kinds (Acts 10). The challenge was so widespread that the first church council was convened to deal with the issue of the Gentiles. From the beginning, the greatest theological issue of the Church has been the assimilation of “the others”! The council was called to liberate the gospel from the chains of ethnocentrism (Acts 15).
The church of Jerusalem was denied the blessing to start the missionary movement, for it had wrapped the gospel with the mantle of nationality and exclusivity. This privilege was given to the church at Antioch, for it was a diverse congregation. Ray Bakke points out the multiethnic leadership in Antioch: “Simon (Niger), an African; Lucius of Cyrene, also of African descent; Manaen, a childhood companion of Herod Antipas; Barnabas, a Hellenist from Cyprus raised in a priestly family.” As Pastor Rick Warren stated,
God is a global God; he’s always cared about the entire world. From the beginning he’s wanted to call forth, from every nation, the people he created. Much of the world already thinks globally. The largest media and business conglomerates are all multi-national. Our lives are increasingly intertwined with those in other nations as we share fashions, entertainment, music, sports, and even fast food. Probably most of the clothes you’re wearing and much of what you ate today were produced in another country. We are more connected than we realize.
A Multiethnic Heaven
The Church is the movement that not only proclaims the coming of the kingdom, but makes itself a prototype of that new creation. John saw in his vision (Revelations 7) a great multitude of all peoples, nations, tribes, and tongues—the culmination of Mathew 28.
In an effort to define who God is, the apostle simply says, “God is love.” His Church can be no other but a community of love, so that the world can believe. It is to be an affirming community, where all feel safe, wanted, and cared for. Only love equips the Church to welcome, embrace, and celebrate God’s diversity in humanity, and enable her to become a sneak preview of heaven, the crown of his glory, and the most spectacular expression of his loving-kindness.
1. 1987. Downers Grove, Illinois, USA: InterVarsity Press.
2. 2003. Oxford: Oxford University Press.