A number of years ago in a television interview, Billy Graham was asked, “If you could wave your hand and make one problem in this world go away, what would that be?”
Without hesitation he quickly replied, “Racial division and strife.” Across the world racial problems continue to be a major cause of death, hunger and wars.
Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, and although there are ethnic tensions, on the whole our communities are quite peaceful especially when compared to other parts of the world. Sadly, however, the vast majority of our church communities are homogeneous and do not reflect the diversity of our cities. Within most denominations there are many churches that maintain their particular ethnicity and/or language.
Yet, there are other churches whose worship and witness is multiethnic and are multicultural fellowships of believers in Jesus Christ. Despite the different backgrounds, languages and ethnicity of the people, they unite as one church. Hobart Baptist is one such church, with Karen refugees providing a vibrant edge to our fellowship. Perhaps more by God’s design than ours we are a church with people from various ethnic backgrounds. Such a church is close to heart of God.
On the night before he died, Jesus prayed for those who will believe in him through the message of the disciples (John 17:20-23). His prayer was for unity across his church so that the world will know God’s love and believe. Through his obedience and willingness to die on a cross, Jesus was “reconciling the world to himself” and his prayer is for his church as it continues that reconciling work. The Church is God’s answer to the separation we see at work in the world. Our churches are to be a demonstration to the world of ethnic and racial reconciliation expressed through our unity.
A biblical example
In the book of Acts, Luke tells the story of the birth and growth of the early church. He traces its early beginnings in Jerusalem and its movement from there across Asia and on to Rome. In one city Antioch, Luke gives us a glimpse of the type of church it was (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff). Antioch was an urban and ethnically diverse community with a population of one million people and the church reflected this. Its leadership team included Barnabas from Cyprus, a Hellenistic Jew; Simeon (nicknamed Niger, meaning he was black) most likely from North Africa; Lucius from Cyrene, an African; Manaen from Palestine who was most likely Greek, and Saul from Tarsus, a Jew and a Pharisee. From this impressive list we can deduce that the church in Antioch was an ethnically diverse congregation that brought together Asians, Greeks, Middle-Easterners (Arabs, Jews), and North Africans.
Here, in Antioch, we see an answer to Jesus’ prayer, a church demonstrating unity to the watching world. And I believe what we see at work here at Hobart Baptist is also, however small, an answer to Jesus’ prayer. That is not say it is easy. The fact Jesus prayed for us suggests it is a difficult task, yet the reality of his prayer demonstrates how it important it is.
It’s a spiritual problem
When Billy Graham put the eradication of racial division and strife at the top of his wish list, I sense he understood that this is a spiritual problem. And until our hearts are reconciled to the eternal God who loves all men and women equally, there will be no motivation to love those who are different than us.
May God continue to inspire and motivate us to be the church Jesus prayed we would be, by celebrating our diversity and working to maintain our unity.
Stephen L Baxter