Posts Tagged ‘Biblical Basis’

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Is Multi-ethnic Ministry Biblically Prescriptive or Descriptive?”

Friday, November 14, 2008

“Does the Bible MANDATE the church to engage in multi-ethnic ministry? Or is it best viewed as a matter of strategy (or methodology) to carry out effectively other biblical mandates (like reaching and discipling the lost)?”  – Dave Hall, Escondido, CA


       While there is no absolute Biblical mandate, “Thou shall be a multi-ethnic church” (prescriptive), that does not mean that the concept is not in the Bible.  In fact there is substantial Biblical evidence that supports and illustrates multi-ethnic ministry (descriptive) in the Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles. 

       Historically the ethno-centric church reflects a prescriptive nature established by society over centuries of practice. The Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. by Emperor Constantine granted equal rights to Christianity. Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, writes that this religious freedom brought about the “conversion of the nations,” during the middle ages. It “was effected or introduced by a few individuals, St. Patrick in Ireland, St. Columba in Scotland, St. Augustine in England, St. Boniface in Germany, St. Ansgar in Scandinavia, St. Cyril and Methodius among the Slavonic Races” (p. 20). In essence these missionary endeavors established mono-ethnic churches aimed to reach a people group in their language and cultural context.

      The Reformation continued to minister to mono-ethnic groups. Lutherans could be found in Germany, Scandinavia and the Reformed in Switzerland, France, Holland, England and Scotland (Schaff, Vol. VII, Modern Christianity, The German Reformation, p. 45). 

      In the New World the racist attitudes of many Northern Europeans justified by the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny toward Native Americans, African Slaves, Mexicans and later toward Chinese and Japanese institutionalized segregation not only at all levels of society but in the church as well. This act gave rise to the necessary formation of ethnic churches and denominations by minority group believers. Giving birth to the Christian version of separate but equal.  Equal within the Body of Christ, just not the local church.

       America has sought to break down segregation in our society through congressional legislation. The recent election of Barak Obama as President of the United States is an indication that we as a nation have made some major advances against institutional racism, prejudice, and segregation. Regrettably the Church still lags behind. This historical fact in no way implies that all ethno-centric churches today are racist. What it does establish is that our ethno-centric churches are such by historical default and not by Biblical precepts.

       Secondly, multi-ethnic ministry is not a strategy or a methodology to help carry out the Great Commandment (Luke 10:27), the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19, 29; Acts 1:8), and the New Commandment (John 13:34,35).  It is the end result of having faithfully carried out these mandates in an ethnically diverse community. 

Jay Pankratz, Sunrise Church Rialto, transitioned into a multi-ethnic church out of a commitment to the mandates of Christ, he states, “I had no vision for ethnic diversity; but, when I began to study God’s Word, the Lord’s mandates, and I looked at the ethnic diversity of our community I came to the conclusion that we could not be anything less.

Mile McPherson, The Rock Church, San Diego, stated that “God wants [his church] to reflect heaven…the more ethnically diverse your church is the more firepower for evangelism you have…”

       These multi-ethnic ministries reflect a biblically descriptive nature as depicted in the New Testament. Once again, not every local church must be multi-ethnic.  If the demographics of a community reflect only one ethnicity then the church will be mono-ethnic. This exemption, as illustrated in the Book of Acts, eliminates a mandate that all churches must be multi-ethnic. For example, seven of the nine church plants listed in the Book of Acts were multi-ethnic; Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:43), Iconium, Acts 14:10, Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), Berea (Acts 17:12), Athens (Acts 17:17), Corinth (Acts 18:4, 8), and Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10). Luke states that these churches consisted of both “Jews and Greeks”, “Jews and Gentiles”, and “Jews and devout converts”.  Only two, Derbe, a small town (Acts 14:20b, 21) and Philippi, a Roman colony (Acts 16:12-40) did not have a multi-ethnic congregation. But in the communities that were ethnically diverse and the Gospel was intentionally proclaimed to all, the church became multi-ethnic.

       If the mandates of Christ instruct us to reach all within our immediate community then expand that Gospel outreach to the outermost parts of the world, and to love one another as he loves us, then ask yourself the following questions.

  • “How is it possible to begin to accomplish the Great Commission by practicing selective evangelism in an ethnically diverse community and growing a mono-ethnic church?”
  • “Does the lack of a mandate for the church to be multi-ethnic nullify Christ’s Great Commission mandate to make disciples of all nations when individuals from those nations live in our community?” 
  • “Should the history and traditions of a local church or denomination exempt it from ministering to all in their diverse community? In other words does the prescriptiveness of history trump the descriptiveness of scripture?”
  • “How can the unity that Christ prayed for and the testimony of the church to the world be achieved in an ethnically diverse community if we remain in segregated churches?”

      The Multi-ethnic Church model, is certainly not the historical model of the church or incontestably mandated in the scriptures, but it is most certainly demonstrated in the New Testament and offers a better reflection of the mandates of the Father and of the Son.

That’s my opinion I welcome yours.