I’ve been thinking recently about the subject of race and ethnicity. What is race? What is ethnicity?
Within the Christian church in the United States, I often hear people talk about “ethnic ministry.” When you break down that phrase, what is usually meant is “ministry to people who don’t look or sound like me.” Then, in our society we hear a lot about race; people are described as white, black, Hispanic, Asian – as if we are all somehow fundamentally different from each other due to the color of our skin.
I think this is all a shame that we let something like how we look or talk divide us. The truth is that we are all one race – the human race – and that each of us is “ethnic.”
God created one man and one woman in the beginning, and we are all descended from them (then through Noah, due to the flood). We may look different than each other, but we are all related. So, there is just a single human race on this earth, and we all ultimately descend from Adam and Eve and then Noah and his wife.
In addition, the word “ethnic” comes from the Greek word “ethnos” meaning “nation.” The ministry of the Church is to the “ethne” – the “nations.” We are all part of a “nation.” I was an international affairs major as an undergrad, and it was drilled into me then that “nation” is not the same as “country.” A country is a state; that is a government entity which governs a people. A “nation” is a group of people who share some characteristic, typically language and general appearance. Thus, “state” and “nation” are not necessarily equivalent; it’s only in the last few hundred years that the idea of a “nation-state” has gained prominence.
For most of human history a state was composed of many nations; the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Republic and Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union, modern Russia, the United States, and many others are states composed of many nations. It’s interesting to note that in this sample list, most of the states have “empire” in their name; I don’t know if that’s just due to the fact that anytime we see a collection of nations under one state we feel compelled to call that state an empire. At any rate, there are also “nation-states;” i.e. states composed of one nation. A particularly prime example are the countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prior to the end of the Cold War, they were one state: Czechoslovakia, composed primarily of two nations (the Czechs and the Slovaks). Then, they split into two separate nation-states in 1993.
The point of all this is that the Church is composed of people from all nations; that is to say that the Church is “multi-ethnic.” So, all ministry is “ethnic ministry.” It’s not as if each ethnicity has its own church, like the Czechs and Slovaks who are in separate states. That would mean that there are separate Christs for each nation or that somehow Christ’s death and resurrection is not sufficient enough to reconcile us to each other.
So, I think we’ve been tricked into using race and ethnicity to divide us by the color of our skin, rather than uniting us as one in Christ. Israel is the Church, God’s nation whom He has redeemed from sin, death, and the devil through Christ. So, the Church is the Bride of Christ, one body, and this body is composed of people from all nations who have been brought to faith in Christ and united together in him. That is why in Revelation we see all tribes, nations, and languages united in Christ, worshipping their Savior together; it’s because Christ has reconciled us to God and to each other so that things such as language and skin color do not divide us.
The image of the Table of Nations is By Hannes Karnoefel (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons