Cultural diversity was built into the Christian faith…in Acts 15, which declared that the new gentile Christians didn’t have to enter Jewish culture…. The converts had to work out…a Hellenistic way of being a Christian. [So] no one owns the Christian faith. There is no “Christian culture” the way there is an “Islamic culture” which you can recognize from Pakistan to Tunisia to Morocco….
Andrew F. Walls, “The Expansion of Christianity: An Interview with Andrew Walls,” Christian Century, August 2–9, 2000.
The Diversity of the Early Church
So if we want to get the church right, we have to learn to see it as a salad in a bowl, made the Right Way of course. For a good salad is a fellowship of different tastes, all mixed together with the olive oil accentuating the taste of each. The earliest Christian churches were made up of folks from all over the social map, but they formed a fellowship of “different tastes,” a mixed salad of the best kind.
A recent study by a British scholar has concluded that if the apostle Paul’s house churches were composed of about thirty people, this would have been their approximate make-up:
- a craftworker in whose home they meet, along with his wife, children, a couple of male slaves, a female domestic slave, and dependentrelative
- some tenants, with families and slaves and dependents, also living in the same home in rented rooms
- some family members of a householder who himself does not participate in the house church couple of slaves whose owners do not attend
- Some freed slaves whodo not participate in the church
- a couple homeless people
- a few migrant workers renting small rooms in the home
Add to this mix some Jewish folks and a perhaps an enslaved prostituteand we see how many “different tastes” were in a typical house church in Rome: men and women, citizens and freed slaves and slaves (who had no legal rights), Jews and Gentiles, people from all moral walks of life, and perhaps, most notably, people from elite classes all the way down the socialscale perhapsto homeless people.
Race and Friendship
In a 2009 stand-up special, Chris Rock made a funny, and perhaps true, statement: “All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”
It turns out, Rock’s joke has been corroborated (in part) by The Public Religion Research Institute, who in 2013 did a wide-ranging study of Americans to determine the ethnic diversity of Americans’ friendships.
According to the study, and using 100 as a representative number, the average black American has eighty-three black friends and 8 white friends.
Compare that with the average white American, who has 91 white friends and only 1 black friend. As racial conflict arises, it is not difficult to see why there is often such a significant disconnect between white and black views. Most white Americans simply do not have the opportunity to hear what their black brothers and sisters are experiencing. Most white Americans do not self-identify as racist, nor do their social groups.
Consequently (and paradoxically) it can be easy for white people to assume that the problem of racism is being overblown by black activist groups for the media. An expansion of friendships between white Americans and black Americans will help bridge this gap. It should be up to white people to expand their circles.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source information from The Washington Post, “Three Quarters of Whites Don’t Have Any Non-White Friends”, August 25, 2014.
The Solution to Divisions
The solution to gender, race and social divisions is not to eradicate our differences but to see them in light of Jesus. The Pentecostal movement in the United States in the early twentieth century was astonishingly diverse. Blacks, whites and Latinos worshiped together, and women played an important role in ministry.
They were fond of saying that the “color line was washed away in the blood of Jesus.” This was because they saw their unity in the Spirit. Males and females, whites and blacks, rich and poor-all were conduits for the same Spirit. Equality was discovered not by disregarding differences but by finding the source of unity within their diversity.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Diversity. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!