Granted that there are many factors that lead to church segregation (e.g., language, demographics, economic status, culture), the church must not settle for it but should pursue racial diversity in their assemblies. In this article, I would like to provide some reasons why church segregation continues to happen and provide ways that foster integration in the church.
Firstly, the Great Commission clearly states that followers of Christ are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Unfortunately, many churches have committed the sin of omission by not reaching out intentionally to different ethnicities. This does not always mean that such churches are racist (I would like to believe that most churches want to be racially diverse). Dr. Sansbury observed, “People tend to gravitate towards what is most comfortable. What is most comfortable tends to be what is most familiar.”1 If the church does not do anything about this, it will only attract a particular race. Churches are not called to passively wait for people to show up to church but are called to go into the world and reach the lost for Christ regardless of their race. Philip is a great example of being intentional in this area. Being a Jew meant he was an enemy of the Samaritans; however, the racial animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans did not stop him from preaching the gospel to them (Acts 8:5). He went to a people that was hostile to him because he cared about their salvation more than his own comforts. As a result, people heard the gospel and witnessed its power (Acts 8:6-8 ESV). If a church is not willing to go to a place that is occupied by a group of people that does not look like them, it would not surprise me if the composition of that church stays the same for years to come. Integration can only happen when the church is intentional and strategic in reaching the nations for Christ.
Secondly, the gospel must be of first importance to the church (1 Cor. 15:3). The church must keep the gospel the main thing since it is the message that makes believers one in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 4:4-5). In some Reformed churches, “the particulars of Reformed theology” have become the main thing.2 If the church is not aware of this, it will alienate other people because understanding the particulars of Calvin’s theology, for example, might be difficult for less educated people (due to poverty). Sansbury notes, “Somehow there has to be a way to hold on to the importance of good theology without mandating the ability to really deeply understand good theology to be part of the church.”3 Moreover, the gospel must fuel the church’s love for other races. John Frame states, “People see how we live. Even Christians who are not articulate or eloquent can make, through their actions, a great impact on others.”4 No wonder the early church attracted different races and classes in the Roman world. J.D. Greear writes, “In an age of dramatic social, class, and racial differences, the local church was the only institution in the Roman world that brought unity between classes and races.”5
If the contemporary church follows the example of the early church, the world will see how the gospel preserves the unity of a church that is composed of different races. Frame rightly concludes, “Everyone in Christ ought to love everyone else in Christ. Differences between us on a human level are small compared to our unity in Christ.”6
1 Tim Sansbury, Video Lecture. Knox Theological Seminary, Ft. Lauderdale FL. Lesson 39, October 17, 2018.
2 J.D. Greear, Gospel (Nashville, TEN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), 226.
3 Tim Sansbury, Video Lecture. Knox Theological Seminary, Ft. Lauderdale FL. Lesson 39, October 17, 2018.
4 John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2008), 5-6.
5 J.D. Greear, Gospel (Nashville, TEN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), 230.
6 John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2008), 652.