Responding to Racism Biblically

Text: Acts 17:22-28 (emphasis: v26)

Acts 17:26  And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; (KJV)

Act 17:26  From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. (NLT)

I’d like to walk you through this very complicated issue by attempting to answer four questions:

  1. What is Race?

  2. What is Racism?

  3. What are some common Perceptions of Race and Racism?

  4. How should Christians respond to Race and Racism Biblically?

What is Race?

  • When we think about Race, we think about skin color, hair texture, facial features, speech inflection, musical preferences, and other social constructs.  

  • Biblically however, there is only one “Race” as our Text declares: Human.  From one man, Adam, God created the human “Race” made in His image.

  • Definition: “The lineage of a family, or continued series of descendants from a parent who is called the stock. A race is the series of descendants indefinitely. Thus all mankind are called the race of Adam; the Israelites are of the race of Abraham and Jacob.” Webster 1828

  • Our differences are explained through the dispersion of men after the tower of Babel, the confusion of the languages of man by God, and the development within the subsequent “people groups” of variations based on geography, language, traditions, and very small genetic variations based on environment and parental DNA.

  • “If one were to take any two people anywhere in the world, scientists have found that the basic genetic differences between these two people would typically be around 0.2 percent—even if they came from the same people group. But these so-called “racial” characteristics that people think are major differences (skin color, eye shape, etc.) “account for only 0.012 percent of human biological variation.” (AIG)

  • Biblically speaking, men weren't divided by pigment and hair, but by geography and lineage (“Nations”), and more to the central message of Scripture, what they believed about God.

  • In particular, the thing which often produces the visible differences we see in people groups is a pigment called MELANIN.  This is the pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color.  Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin than light-skinned people have. 

  • We all have the same basic color, just different shades of it. We all share the same pigments—our bodies just have different combinations of them.

  • Our true “differences” are more cultural than biological. “The only reason many people think these differences are major is because they’ve been brought up in a culture that has taught them to see the differences this way.” (AIG)

What is Racism?

  • Merriam-Webster: “A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

  • Admittedly, there have always been those, and there will probably always will be those, who look down upon people that look, talk, or sing differently from them: I call this Surface Racism.

  • But the foundation of that surface racism often has more Sinister roots.  

  • In short, in the mid-1800’s a man named Darwin popularized the unbiblical concept of evolution to the world.  Among other things, Darwin believed that man evolved from monkeys and that different “races” of man evolved slower or faster, with the Caucasian race evolving the fastest, and the brown-skinned races evolving the slowest, being closer to apes.

  • This belief is the foundation of the worst racism: that blacks and whites (for example) are ontologically different (or different in our very nature, not just our cultures), and has been used to justify some of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen.

  • TRUTH: There is only on RACE.  From ONE BLOOD, God created all men.

What are some common Perceptions of Race and Racism?

First a question: Is there still racism in the world…in America, in our communities, and sadly in our churches? YES.  And honestly it “goes both ways.”  Pigment does not make any man immune to sin.

There is a debate raging about how widespread this racism is however.  As a result you’ll run into varied perceptions:

  1. Again, you will encounter those who believe our visible differences denote ontological differences…that we truly are different people…almost like a different species!

  2. You’ll encounter many people who still grieve (and are angry about) America’s past, including the great sins of slavery and forced segregation.

  3. You’ll meet those who see every slight, mistake, or unfortunate incident as involving racism.  Indeed, there are those whose entire worldview revolves around perceived (and sometimes real) injustices.

  4. You’ll meet those who agree things have improved, but still believe racism in America is institutional (woven into main areas like finance, education, government, etc) and intersectional (all these area work together to oppress).

How should Christians respond to Race and Racism Biblically?

  1. Examine your own heart before the LORD.  Do you really believe what Scripture says concerning your fellow man?  Have you allowed any racist attitudes to grow in you?

  2. Realize that Racism is a sin, like any other sin.  The answer to sin is Christ and His glorious Gospel.  True Gospel preaching (and hearts that have been transformed by the Gospel) is the only true antidote to Racism.

  3. See people as individuals, with unique experiences, doctrinal understandings, cultural pressures, biases, and sin struggles.  

    • In other words, don’t assume that the brother or sister in the LORD who looks different from you has been totally healed in this area.

    • It’s no different than any other sin that fallen man endures.  We would never say “Don’t worry about all that domestic violence stuff; it’s all under the Blood.”  Or cancer.  Or pornography.  Or adultery.  Yes the Blood IS our answer, but minister with enough grace so people can hear you.

    • Guard against being flippant.  Lean towards being transparent, honest, loving, and patient.  Along with LGBTQ and gender issues, race is THE most sensitive issue of our day. 

4. Pray for the Lord’s wisdom, help, and humility.

5. Serve.  Reach across color lines.  Understand what is biblical vs. what is preferential.  Be a light!

Consequences Pt 5: Black Gate Failure

Many years ago, I likened some critical biblical issues to "black gates."  This is the idea that Satan and other devils have worked hard to undermine the Church of Jesus Christ in areas that have a huge impact on how the church and family function and how the Kingdom presses forward.  The image I used was one of a giant gate, behind which many things have been taken captive.  Things such as:

  • The preaching of the Whole Gospel, including explaining sin in biblical terms that men might cry out for grace.
  • Living a life of holiness and separation from wickedness.  The very idea that Christians should live differently from the culture seems a strange one today.
  • The basic biblical understanding of what a man is and what he is for, what a woman is and what she is for...shucks...the very idea that men and women are different!
  • How we disciple and educate our children, questioning whether we should worship apart from them and send them into a pagan system for their education (sorry if that sounds harsh). :(
  • The bondage that has resulted from our almost total immersion in how the world handles its resources.  Christians are in just as much financial bondage as anyone else.
  • God's very clear instructions on who should lead in the church and how our LORD is to be approached.  So many of us have simply cast aside the LORD's NT commandments for worship, shouting and dancing in the process.  How can this possibly result in more power and anointing?
  • The worldview that informs our decisions.  How often do we prayerfully consult Scripture before we take a social/cultural position? 

Lest I am misunderstood, I believe our LORD loves us with a passionate intense love!  He still adores His church and is still building His church!  Praise His Great Name!  

But I do believe the church in the western world is suffering some unnecessary consequences due to our rebellion.  We've decided that some passages of Scripture no longer apply and simply do not suit us moderns.  As a result, the church is losing her witness.  We look, sound, act, think, and worship like the culture.  We no longer stand out.  Our homes are the same.  Our light is dim.  Instead of being "in the world" but not "of it," we are simply in the world. (Jn 15:19, 17:14-16; Jam 4:4; 1 John 2:15)

This results in a vast number of churches with very little impact.  I struggle with this.  Although the way to life is narrrow and few find it.  Hmmm.

I could be wrong...I pray I am.  But if I'm more right than wrong, we must repent and rebuild critical foundations.  For if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Ps 11:3)

May the LORD turn us again to His Word in mourning and repentance, and may our love for our LORD overcome our love for the world.


Consequences Pt 4: Some New Testament Thoughts and a Question

So far, we've looked mostly at the Old Testament.  Even in the OT, much more could have been covered, including the people's rebellion when Moses was on the mountain with God (Ex 32), the incident at Peor (Num 25), and pretty much the entire book of Judges, where the common theme was people doing what was right in their own eyes! (Jdg 21:25)

But let's move to the New Testament.  As I said in the first post:

Because of the overwhelming love, mercy, and grace of God (Hallelujah!), sometimes there is this thought in the mind of well-meaning believers: because God forgives our sin He also forgoes the assignment of consequences.  In other words, because we are positionally covered by the blood, we also practically escape punishment.

This simply isn't true.  We could discuss one of the most egregious sins recorded in the Gospels: the rejection of Christ as Messiah by the Jews and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.  Jesus Himself prophesied much about what would happen in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24), future eschatological implications notwithstanding.   The famous first-century historian Josephus wrote of the terrible consequences of this sin in vivid detail.  God's judgment would fall and fall hard...

...the rebels shortly after attacked the Romans again, and a clash followed between the guards of the sanctuary and the troops who were putting out the fire inside the inner court; the latter routed the Jews and followed in hot pursuit right up to the Temple itself. Then one of the soldiers, without awaiting any orders and with no dread of so momentous a deed, but urged on by some supernatural force, snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier's back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes. 

Most of the slain were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, and they were butchered where they were caught. The heap of corpses mounted higher and higher about the altar; a stream of blood flowed down the Temple's steps, and the bodies of those slain at the top slipped to the bottom.”

When Caesar failed to restrain the fury of his frenzied soldiers, and the fire could not be checked, he entered the building with his generals and looked at the holy place of the sanctuary and all its furnishings, which exceeded by far the accounts current in foreign lands and fully justified their splendid repute in our own.”

As the flames had not yet penetrated to the inner sanctum, but were consuming the chambers that surrounded the sanctuary, Titus assumed correctly that there was still time to save the structure; he ran out and by personal appeals he endeavored to persuade his men to put out the fire, instructing Liberalius, a centurion of his bodyguard of lancers, to club any of the men who disobeyed his orders. But their respect for Caesar and their fear of the centurion's staff who was trying to check them were overpowered by their rage, their detestation of the Jews, and an utterly uncontrolled lust for battle. 

Most of them were spurred on, moreover, by the expectation of loot, convinced that the interior was full of money and dazzled by observing that everything around them was made of gold. But they were forestalled by one of those who had entered into the building, and who, when Caesar dashed out to restrain the troops, pushed a firebrand, in the darkness, into the hinges of the gate Then, when the flames suddenly shot up from the interior, Caesar and his generals withdrew, and no one was left to prevent those outside from kindling the blaze. Thus, in defiance of Caesar's wishes, the Temple was set on fire.

The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives.

Let's also be reminded of the New Testament situation of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the LORD and subsequently died before the LORD...IN CHURCH! (Acts 5)  How about the situation with the man who committed incest in 1 Corinthians 5 whom Paul commanded to be delivered "unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh." (1 Cor 5:5)  He went on to say a few things that make many of us recoil:

"I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."  1Co 5:9-13

Yikes!  Look at these consequences!  Shunning a willingly sinning brother?  And this wasn't said just once in the NT...

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us."  2Th 3:6

Mercy LORD!

My point in all this isn't to advocate for a mean, unloving church.  I suppose what I'm trying to do is to bring some balance to our understanding of grace.  

My pastor once said, "It's grace, not grease."  Scripture actually says that the grace of God that brings salvation to men also teaches or trains us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. (Titus 2:11-12)  Law and Love work together.  This is because we serve a loving, merciful, but HOLY God.

Who can forget the LORD's Words to His churches in Revelation chapters 1-3?  Much of those loving words were warnings about impending consequence for their sin.  Did Jesus love those churches? Yes...that's why He inspired John to write to them!  Nevertheless, He disciplines (consequences) those whom He loves and scourges every son whom He receives (Heb 12:6).

There is nothing in the New Testament that even implies that our LORD will not allow the consequences of sin in the church.  In fact, the opposite is true.

So, here is a question: Do you believe the church is suffering any consequences at all right now?

"Based on what" you might ask?  Next time! :)

Consequences Pt 3: The Babylonian Captivity

Perhaps there are no greater examples of the consequences of disobedience in the Old Testament than the captivity of God's people, fully by Babylon over Judah in 586BC and Assyria over Israel in 722BC.

Focusing specifically on Babylon, here is what the Bible records:

2Ki 25:1-11  And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it; and they built forts against it round about.  2  And the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah.  3  And on the ninth day of the fourth month the famine prevailed in the city, and there was no bread for the people of the land.  4  And the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between two walls, which is by the king's garden: (now the Chaldees were against the city round about:) and the king went the way toward the plain.  5  And the army of the Chaldees pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho: and all his army were scattered from him.  6  So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgment upon him.  7  And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon.  8  And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem:  9  And he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire.  10  And all the army of the Chaldees, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of Jerusalem round about.  11  Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away.

The king of Babylon starved the people, destroyed the temple, leveled the city, and carried off what remained of God's people in Judah captive.  This terrible event was actually prophesied beforehand.  Here it is from the New Living Translation:

Jer 25:1-11  This message for all the people of Judah came to Jeremiah from the LORD during the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign over Judah. This was the year when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon began his reign.  2  Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people in Judah and Jerusalem,  3  “For the past twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah, until now—the LORD has been giving me his messages. I have faithfully passed them on to you, but you have not listened.  4  “Again and again the LORD has sent you his servants, the prophets, but you have not listened or even paid attention.  5  Each time the message was this: ‘Turn from the evil road you are traveling and from the evil things you are doing. Only then will I let you live in this land that the LORD gave to you and your ancestors forever.  6  Do not provoke my anger by worshiping idols you made with your own hands. Then I will not harm you.’  7  “But you would not listen to me,” says the LORD. “You made me furious by worshiping idols you made with your own hands, bringing on yourselves all the disasters you now suffer.  8  And now the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Because you have not listened to me,  9  I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever.  10  I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out.  11  This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.

William MacDonald writes, "Jeremiah had warned all the people of Judah for twenty-three years; other men of God had not ceased to call them to repentance. Because they would not listen, they would be taken captive by God's servant, Nebuchadnezzar, and remain in exile for seventy years."

Our loving and patient God had persistently warned His people.  He loved them with a love that is hard to understand.  He said:

Deu 7:6-8  For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.  7  The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:  8  But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Oh how great is God's love for His people!  Scripture declares, "He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him."  Deu 32:10-12

Nevertheless, despite the great love of the LORD, eventually, there were brutal consequences for Israel's rebellion.  I personally believe God's discipline is always administered with more than wrath, but also with love and deep sadness.  We can discern this in other passages.  Like Hosea taking backsliding, adulterous Gomer back into his house, God continually received His wayward bride back into His good graces, "For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place."  Hos 4:16

This sort of love is AMAZING...

Jer 3:12-14  "Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.  13  Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD.  14  Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion."

What mercy!  Instead of being cast away forever because of spiritual adultery, God desired to bring them to His special and treasured city!  Of course, Jesus is the ultimate expression of the Father's love, sent first to Israel (Matt 15:24), then preached to all the world (Matt 28:18-20). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Joh 3:16  Hallelujah! 

My point in this post, however, is to drive home the truth that consequences were real then and to posit that perhaps they are real now.  Could this idea of consequences be manifest in the New Testament, and subsequently, now in the church?

More next time!