In his article “The Church can bring healing and redirection to a broken world,” Dr. JJ Washington lays the foundation to consider racism – both individually and systemic – as a sin. The argument is that the Gospel is a message of reconciliation both vertically (between humankind and God) and horizontally (from person to person).
Reconciliation from person to person does not happen without intentionality. The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of those reconciled with God, teaching and guiding believers on everything about living in the kingdom of God. But in His sovereignty, God decided to use the Church as the instrument to teach its members to observe all of what Jesus commanded us to do.
Therefore, teaching members to reach out to others with the Gospel is the church’s responsibility. That responsibility is established in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8. These verses contain the strategy of how to saturate the world with the Gospel and, by doing so, to introduce the Kingdom of God to Earth.
God’s intentions are for His people to go, every day, everywhere, and – while they are going – to make disciples of all ethnicities. The word “nations” in Mathew 28:19 translates to “ethnos” in Greek, which refers to peoples of very different races and cultural backgrounds. This task is supposed to be accomplished in the entire world.
As an Hispanic American, I want to pause to highlight an argument that I believe is central in understanding what was happening then and what may be happening now.
Christian Jews had to break down racial barriers in order to obey Acts 1:8. The actions of the apostles and the rest of the disciples in Jerusalem seemed to indicate that they did not believe God wanted to save Gentiles. They stayed in their city sharing the Gospel and worshiping only among their own people – those who looked exactly like them.
Jesus commanded his strategy in Acts 1, but it is not until Acts 7 where we see non-Jewish conversions. A persecution was necessary to scatter the church and begin the spread of the Gospel. It is in Acts 8, after the persecution starts, that we read about the first contact with non-Jewish people: the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch.
Now, what really happened in the church of Jerusalem? Were the believers intentionally disobedient? I believe the answer is no. The story of Cornelius in Acts 10 is a good example of their way of thinking. In verse 34, Peter says, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him” (Holman Christian Standard). He was not sure God would embrace other ethnicities through the Gospel!
But this wasn’t just Peter’s problem. Back in Jerusalem, he was confronted by a group of the church’s leaders about visiting and eating with uncircumcised men. The reaction after Peter explains what happened was one of surprise: “So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!”
Due to the fact that Jerusalem was one of the main cities of the Roman province of Judea, and the place where the King had his palace, there were a great number of nationalities living in Jerusalem. But the Gospel didn’t reach them. For years, the disciples lived, worshiped, and shared the Gospel with others – except with non-Jews. That mentality affected everything the church did, including, of course, its missional efforts.
I strongly believe that those chapters of the book of Acts were written as a warning for the church of all ages.
It is impossible to be effective in reaching the world for Christ if the local church cannot reach its own community. It is impossible to go the ends of the earth with the Gospel if those with a different skin color or who speak a different language in our own neighborhood are ignored. It is impossible to communicate the love of God to other nations if that love is not expressed to others from those nations who already live in our city.
It is impossible to make disciples of all nations in our own cities, our own states, our own country, and the ends of the earth if we are the ones who decide what those disciples should look like. God Himself controls the vision of a multi-ethnic church.
The Gospel is the message of reconciliation. We are reconciled with God, and as a result of that, we are reconciled with our neighbors who are made in the image of that very same God. That is a powerful message that can shine a light in the middle of racism’s darkness.