by Dillon Burroughs (2015)
Recent racially motivated crimes continue to crowd news headlines. Many even argue racism is worse in America now than at the end of the twentieth century. How can Christians respond to the issues that divide the various ethnic groups of our nation?
A look at the New Testament reveals racism has been a controversy for Christians since the first church. Acts 6:1 notes, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” Favoritism took place between Aramaic-speaking Jews and those who spoke Greek. Their barriers included both language and culture.
How did the early church respond? At least five application emerge from a close examination of Acts 6:1-7. First, church leaders take the initiative. Look at how the apostles addressed their situation: “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together.” Church leaders, don’t sit back and wait for someone else to handle the racial divide in your community. Do something! God has called you to address this issue with biblical wisdom and application.
Second, involve the entire church community: “all the disciples together” (Acts 6:1). Improving race relations and overcoming discrimination is not a side ministry in the church—it is everyone’s concern. Address your community’s racial concerns as a community, not as a committee.
Third, choose biblical priorities: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4). In this case, the problem included Greek-speaking widows not receiving daily food. The church chose seven leaders to oversee the problem. These leaders were given full responsibility and accountability to complete their mission.
Fourth, commit to a specific plan: “This proposal pleased the whole group” (Acts 6:5). The church chose seven men of integrity, presented them, and prayed for them (v. 6). They didn’t stop with talking about the problem, starting a petition, or hosting a protest; they actively addressed the concerns impacting their church and responded appropriately.
Fifth, continue making disciples: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). One temptation that takes place when churches address social issues is to set aside the gospel and evangelism to help in other areas. However, the first church offers an example of meeting both social and spiritual needs in biblical ways. We don’t have to choose one or the other; in fact, God calls us to do both. We can meet the needs of our community and make disciples of all nations, including our own neighbors (Matthew 28:19-20).
Every Christian has a responsibility to show Christ’s love to all people. In fact, as followers of Jesus there are only two groups of people—believers and unbelievers. As believers, we are all one in Christ: “In Christ we, though many, form one body” (Romans 12:5). To unbelievers, our goal is to, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
When we view every individual as a person created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), we will seek to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), regardless of the color of their skin, the language they speak, their clothing, economic level, or other factors. A biblical look at race shows that our best response is both a personal and churchwide emphasis on caring for every person while continuing to offer the greatest hope of all—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).