Do churches discriminate based upon race? What does the Bible say about this?
Salvation through the Jews
When Jesus encountered the woman at the well and she told Him, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:20), Jesus tells her “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:21-22). What did Jesus mean, “salvation is from the Jews?” For one thing, in the beginning, the first century church was almost 100% Jewish. In fact, salvation came through a Jew as Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and there is no other name by which we can be saved (Act 4:12). In the early years of the church, only a very select few Gentiles came to saving faith in Christ. For the Christian who had a Jewish heritage, they were still having difficulty dealing with the fact that salvation was being opened up to the Gentiles, but this wasn’t new to the Jews. In the Old Testament, Israel was told to accept strangers who would join with the nation to worship and obey God, and they were given the same level of respect and rights that the Israelites had. In conclusion, Jesus tells the woman that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). He doesn’t say it’s only for the Jews because he told the Samaritan woman at the well that it is for all who worship God in spirit and in truth, regardless of their nationality or location.
When salvation was opened up to the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul wanted the churches to know that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). It didn’t begin so easily with most of the Jews, and in fact, the Apostle Peter was reluctant to go and witness to a Gentile who was a Roman centurion. This was a man who had great authority, yet he was called by God, despite the fact that he wasn’t Jewish. God sent Peter a vision of unclean foods where God told him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13), but Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14), however God’s answer to Peter was more than just about what foods he could eat, it was saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15), meaning the Gentiles are now welcomed into the kingdom. The Apostle Paul said salvation “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). Salvation did come to the Jews first and through the Jews, but then it was offered to anyone who would repent and believe. So Peter said to Cornelius, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34) and as a result, they were baptized and put their trust in Christ (Acts 10:47-48).
No Respecter of Persons
God doesn’t really respect one person or nation over another. Yes, Israel is His chosen people, but in the New Testament, the door flies wide open for any who would believe in Christ. We have already read where Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), but elsewhere in Scripture we read where Peter addresses the council of the church and says, “some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:7-9). When it comes to placing their trust in Christ, Paul declares that “God shows no partiality” (Rom 2:11) between peoples and nations. Even the ancient patriarch Job said that God “shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands” (Job 34:19). Since God is no respecter of persons and does not judge people by the color of their skin, their national origin, or their past life, we cannot be respecting one group of people over another either. That’s not how God operates. Grace is color blind.
Grace, not Race
If any churches discriminate over a person’s gender, financial status, the color of their skin, or national origin, then that church is sinning according to God. When churches choose to include only some people while excluding others, they are not living in obedience to the biblical truth that God does not have regard for one people over another. In ancient times, He favored His chosen people, but today, being under a new and better covenant, churches cannot be exclusive to one group or another and exclude others. The Bible teaches that it’s all about grace and never about race. The only race mentioned in the Bible is the human race. No matter what skin color we have, we all bleed red! There is no excuse for anyone or any church to exclude certain people. As long as a person has trusted in Christ, that’s all that matters.
Do churches discriminate based upon race? Sadly, yes, some do, but if you are in a church that seems to discriminate, talk to the pastor or the church leadership and point out to them that we are not to discriminate in any way. There is no justification for excluding some while only including others. That’s now what we find in the kingdom. In fact, the psalmist seems to be writing about a future where he says of God, “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Psalm 86:9), and in time, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.