Social Justice and the Gospel: 2 – Ethnic Diversity in the Local Church

To start our examination of Social Justice, I wanted to look at the doctrine of ethnic diversity in the local church. No Biblical Christian, understanding how Christ has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2: 14), would oppose a diverse church congregation. A Biblical Christian would desire it and appreciate it when it can be found. So if you oppose the very idea of ethnic diversity in a local church body, you are without a doubt in sin.

In light of the real sin of opposing ethnic diversity, there are those who have contrived a sin related to this topic. Consider this quote from someone in a high position at a para-church organization:

If a church is not at least as diverse as the community that church is in, then that church is not a part of the solution to the problem, that church is part of the problem.

This brief quote illustrates one of the main concerns of Social Justice: ethnic equality. And regarding the topic at hand, it is not enough to desire an ethnically diverse congregation, a congregation must intentionally strive for diversity or it is part of the problem. In other words, congregations that are not diverse are in sin.

The problem with this viewpoint is that it assumes, but does not prove, that Scripture mandates an ethnically diverse local congregation. So we will do the yeoman’s work and go to the Scripture. The idea of a mandated ethnically diverse congregation is a misunderstanding and misapplication of Revelation 5:9:

Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Because the eternal kingdom will be a diverse body consisting of all peoples, Social Justice Advocates infer that local church congregations should also consist of every tribe and tongue and people and nation represented in its neighborhood. In other words, if a congregation is 80% white, and the neighborhood it resides in is 50% white, 20% black, 30% Chinese, there is a fundamental problem with that church, because whites are overrepresented and non-whites are underrepresented.

Even though Revelation most definitely says that God will purchase men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and that a multi-ethnic eternity will be a glorious thing, it does not provide demographic data to inform our current milieu. Yes – all tribes and tongues and peoples and nations will be represented, but we have no idea what the representation looks like. Some groups could number in the millions while others in the hundreds or thousands. We don’t even know the list of tribes and tongues and peoples and nations that God goes by. We understand the general categories being referenced but we are not able to peer into the Divine Mind and understand the taxonomy God applies to all the peoples that have ever lived.

With that being said, even though hard data from eternity is lacking to inform our present day, we are nevertheless able to abstractly think about three ways God could populate eternity. One thing to keep in mind is that this present sinful age is not going to be able to do better than what God will have achieved in the perfected eternal age. A misunderstanding about eternity will necessarily result in a misunderstanding about the church today regarding diversity. So here are the three ways:

  • God will save an equal number from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
  • God will save an equal percentage from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
  • God will neither save an equal number nor an equal percentage from every tribe, tongue, people and nation

Regardless of the particular ethnic composition of an individual congregation at any given time, the final end-time diversity will be achieved by one of these three means – there are no other options. Now let us look a little bit at each one.


God Saves an Equal Number

Let us suppose that God saves an equal number of people from each tribe and tongue and people and nation. In doing so, the smaller groups have a higher percentage saved and the larger groups have a lower percentage saved. Additionally, the number of people saved per group is limited by the overall population of the smallest group (if God saves an equal number of people, then that number cannot exceed the total population of the smallest group).

Refer to the table below to see how this plays out:

Tribe Total Population People Saved % Saved
1 10 10 100
2 20 10 50
3 30 10 33
4 100 10 10

The implication of this method of salvation is that the local church today would not be expected to match the diversity of the local community. If God is calling people at an equal number, rather than at an equal rate, then there will be under-representation of the majority of people, and over-representation of the minority of people.

Regarding this model, we know from history it is not the one God is using. Other than Uriah, how many Hittites do you think will be represented in the new earth? Is God’s ability to save from the billions alive today limited by the number of Hittites He chose to save thousands of years ago? Certainly not. There is nothing in Scripture that would allow us to assert such a thing.


God Saves an Equal Percentage

Moving on then, if God does not save an equal number of people, let us suppose that He saves an equal percentage of people. This is the position of those who want the local church to mirror its neighborhood. Here is what that would look like:

Tribe Total Population % of Total Population % Saved People Saved % of Total Church Population
1 10 7.69 10 1 7.69
2 20 15.39 10 2 15.39
3 100 76.92 10 10 76.92

Although this method would result in the diversity the Social Justice Advocate desires, it limits God’s ability to save. If a congregation must equal the diversity of its community, then God must save people in accordance with demographic data. In other words, if it is God’s intent that a specific congregation matches the diversity of its community, then God is limited to saving people by the demographic data of the community.

Is this a position someone wanting to stick to the Scripture would hold onto? That the eternal plan of salvation is intimately tied to neighborhood demographic data, as if the demographic held more sway over salvation then God’s own free will? There is nothing in Scripture that would allow one to assert God has self-imposed this limiting factor to His gospel plan.


God Does Not Save An Equal Number or Percentage (He Saves as He Pleases)

We have looked at two models of salvation, each of which limits God’s ability to save: God must either save people at an equal number, to ensure all people groups are equally represented, or God must save people at an equal percentage, to ensure the kingdom of heaven matches the demographic diversity of the kingdom of darkness. Both have been briefly discussed and eliminated from consideration as being a Biblical doctrine. There are no explicit references to such limiting factors and they cannot be inferred from Scripture.

This leaves us with the third possibility, and since it is the only remaining one, we know it is the one consistent with Scripture. This third way supposes that God neither saves people in equal number nor in equal percentage. There are no limiting factors placed on God. God is able to save as He pleases: whoever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants. Per Revelation 5:9 God wants to, and will, save from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. But this course of action is completely untethered from regional demographic data. The demographic data plays no role in deciding who God will choose to save.


Conclusion

We have just undertaken a Biblical examination of ethnic diversity in the local church body. And the summary of it is this: since we have no idea the actual numbers of people populating the eternal categories of tribe, tongue, people, and nation, we are unable to make any pertinent Biblical application of Revelation 5: 9 to a local church body. The caveat is, of course, that any lack of diversity resulting from racism is a sin and needs to be repented of.

If a church body does not match its neighborhood, and if minority groups are not turned away at the door by majority groups simply because they are minorities, then who is going to throw a stone at that church and tell them to repent for being too mono-ethnic? One must be able to correlate a lack of diversity to a particular sin within the church body – otherwise one is railing against God’s providential assembling of that congregation.

I for one drive by an all-Vietnamese church and praise God that the gospel went to Vietnam, that the gospel went to Vietnamese Americans, and I have no reason to think they are intentionally segregating themselves from other ethnicities because of prejudice. It would actually take me going to that church and asking questions to find out if they are in sin. And the same holds true for a black church or a white church.

There is much more that could be said, but I will stop for now. If you disagree with this argument, and think that sitting in a church that does not match a neighborhood demographic is inherently problematic, then I encourage you to post comments and rebut what has been presented. Considering a web search of “church diversity” yields 109,000,000 results, this is no small topic and I imagine much of what has been presented here is disagreeable to many.

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