Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Gospel for all Nations

We pride ourselves as a great commission church. Our motto is "make disciples of all nations..." but an overwhelming majority of my church members comes from one ethnic group. Even in Ranau we have many ethnic groups or "nations" (ethne). Last night I preached one of the toughest messages to date. I am sure I made a few people uncomfortable. I preached from Eph 2,11-19 and Romans 14-15. I knew I had to cover that in about 30 minutes and at the end I preached for about 40 mins. Midweek sermons are normally short and soft, but last night I challenged the church to ask itself why the church is not as multiracial as it should be? Second, is it because of the system, leadership structure and how we do ministry (pendekatan pelayanan)? What do we need changing if we want to see other races and tribes come into our church? Sometimes our lingo is so mono-cultural that other groups will have no idea what we are on about. Several times, Paul used the key phrase, "both parties into one" in the Ephesians 2 passage. Jews and non-Jews (nations) brought together as one people, one church by the blood of Christ. In fact, Paul says "to create a new man out of the two..." as if a new humanity is formed when Jews and Gentiles sit together and worship in one accord.
Yet how often we see churches dominated purely by one race either out of convenience "birds of the same feather flock together" or out of a lack of vision of a multiracial church of all nations under one roof. By early 2nd century, the Christians were known as the third race, namely they are a distinct group from the Jews that by its nature is exclusively ethnocentric and the other pagans, Greco-Romans making the second race. Christians stood out because the makeup of the church in all major cities of the Roman empire was decidedly multiracial. Most cities have Jewish populations (diaspora) and often the Jews were the first believers in the city followed by Gentiles.

Despite Paul being the apostle to the Gentiles, he made it his business to preach to the Jews first in most cities he visited and would have converted some in most places besides the many Gentile believers. In such scenarios, most Pauline churches would be a mix of Jews and Gentiles, the latter made up of various nations or more correctly different peoples from various cities and villages that migrated into larger populated cities like Ephesus, Corinth and Rome.

Most would have facility to converse in Greek, the lingua franca of the day. Even to the church in Rome, Paul wrote in Greek. There would be Roman Christians who spoke Latin but the vast majority of the church members, ordinary citizens, slaves and Jews in Rome would have spoken Greek. With a melting pot of races as the church, invariably issues will arise as how to keep the peace between various groups as culinary habits and scruples may differ but all are one in Christ. Hence, Romans 14-15 where Paul deals with the strong and the weak, most likely Gentile groups and a significant minority of Jewish believers known as the weak as they had scruples in eating meat or keeping to certain days (ie Sabbath). Paul advised them to accept one another and to worship together in one accord despite their differences perhaps accentuated by their different racial or ethnic origins.

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