That We Might Be One
Christ followers were first called Christians at Antioch—about fifteen years after the birth of the church at Pentecost. There must have been something remarkable about this particular group of believers—something that caught people’s attention and caused them to come up with a new name for those who previously had been known simply as “Followers of the Way.” What was happening at Antioch that was deserving of such special recognition?
Acts 13:1 lists some of the leaders of this church at Antioch, and if we pay attention, we see that these deacons and other leaders represented various ethnic groups. They came from very different backgrounds, but there they were, worshiping and serving God together in equality. They were living out what Paul describes when he writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
People—people I respect, people who are committed to reconciliation—disagree with me about this, but I am convinced that God’s will is for churches to be integrated. When we come to worship God, we should gladly come into his presence alongside anyone else who has come to worship him. But for the most part we have done something else instead. We have accommodated bigotry within the church. We have become captive to the same divisions and hostilities that have plagued our nation for generations. In fact, instead of leading our culture toward unity, love and reconciliation, the church often lags behind secular efforts to promote equality and healing.
By continuing in this direction, the church weakens the power of the gospel and creates doubt as to whether the power of God as Paul describes it in Romans 1:16 can break down the walls between churches of various nationalities. This is the intention of the gospel—being reconciled to God and to one another. Second Corinthians 5:19 says this so clearly: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” The church has been given the message of reconciliation. We are to proclaim it. If we are not reconciling, how can we call ourselves the church?
I’m not saying every single congregation comprised of only one race or ethnicity can’t be the real church, but I do think that if we’re not striving to integrate, we’re ignoring what we have been told is the church’s mission. The very essence of mission, as laid out by Jesus Christ in the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19–20), is to share the gospel with every ethnic group. The end goal, then, is for all ethnic groups to be together in the family of God. If this is true, then why would we think that our local congregations shouldn’t reflect that goal? If the kingdom of God is made up of every ethnic group, then let’s start modeling that reality of the kingdom in our local congregations.
First John 3:18 reads, “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” We can pass lofty-sounding laws and give speeches about tolerance all day long. We can boast about how we have black or white, Native American or Persian friends, but as long as we do not worship together, it is only talk. Segregation in the church inhibits love, which is the gospel. How can we expect God to break down walls and be present among us when we will not do the same and be present among one another? This idea isn’t new. If you have any doubts, read 1 John 3:11, which declares, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another”.
Adapted from Dream With Me by John M. Perkins, copyright © 2017. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.