Jesus’ Final Command
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of
― Jesus’ final command to His followers, Mt 28:18b-19a (“nations” comes from the Greek word, ethnos, meaning all races and cultures)
The Community of Grace is intentionally multiethnic in its ministry and leadership in obedience to Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation, God has unfolded His plan to redeem people of all ethnicities — all races, nationalities, languages, cultural traditions, socioeconomic conditions, lifestyles, physical disabilities, social positions — and set them on the same path of discipleship. The message of Scripture is compelling:
- God proclaimed a multiethnic Church from the start. When God promised a cultural legacy to Abraham, He also promised that all nations would be blessed through him — a clear reference to the coming Messiah of all peoples (Gen 12:1-3). That theme resonates richly throughout the Old Testament (e.g., 2 Chr 6:32-33, Is 49:6).
- Jesus commanded diversity. Matthew 28 contains His marching orders, and all ethnos is an inseparable part of those orders.
- Jesus prayed for a multiethnic Church. Having endured the most spiritually intense week of His ministry, having taken His last meal with his disciples, and having washed their filthy feet, only to be betrayed by one of them, Jesus laid it all out before the Father in prayer (Jn 17). He prayed three times that His disciples — present and future — would be one. Now, unity sounds very appealing in our broken world, but notice that Jesus stated that the purpose of unity is not unity itself. The purpose is that the unity of believers would reflect the unity of the Godhead (Jn 17:11, 21) and would show that the Father has sent the Son because He loves us (Jn 17:23).
- The gospels portrayed a multiethnic Church. Jesus really messed with the cultural bigotry of His time. He condemned the self-righteous religious establishment of His own ethnos while commending the faith of all kinds of social outcasts — “half-breed” Samaritans, vile Roman occupiers, despised and godless Gentiles, prostitutes, hated tax collectors, and disabled people with diseases so repulsive that they were shunned by society. The poor, the weak, those with no status in society — they were the ones who became essential building stones of His Church.
- The epistles prescribed a multiethnic Church. Scandalously, Paul’s epistles often use the “G” word: Gentiles. That word carried as much perjorative punch as the worst racial epithets today. It described non-Jewish heathens, outcasts, degenerate sinners. Yet Paul said that the mystery of the gospel is that these two peoples — Jews and Gentiles — should become one as followers of Christ (Eph 2:11-22). It is a pattern repeatedly stressed by Paul to the churches and communicated by God by direct revelation to Peter (Acts 10-11). It transformed the monocultural mindset of the early church at Jerusalem (Acts 15). In a rush of the Spirit’s work throughout Acts and in the epistles, we see the Jewish-dominated church rapidly integrate to include Romans, Greeks, Africans, slaves, women, both wealthy and the poor, and people with physical challenges.
- Prophecy reveals the heavenly reality of a multiethnic Church. What does the Church in heaven look like? Revelation tells us that with His blood, Christ “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Rev 5:9b; also Rev 7:9). The question then becomes for those satisfied with a monoethnic church: why on earth would we not reflect the “all ethnos” reality in heaven?
What Multiculturalism is Not About
The laser focus of the Great Commission means that our primal mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ within our spheres of influence. In Memphis, these spheres include black, white, Asian, Latino, the disabled, those of high and low social status, the homeless — persons of any ethnos who will submit to the Master Discipler. The goal is to make disciples; the flavor of the disciples is all ethnos.
That means that diversity is not the prime directive of the Community of Grace. We do not seek diversity for show, to right past wrongs, to feel good about ourselves, to engineer a new society, or to seek society’s approval. We don’t even seek it primarily to promote racial reconciliation. We seek it because it is the will of the Master and it reflects His heart. Yet, as people of all ethnos become discipled, their vertical reconciliation to God naturally flows into horizontal reconciliation with other people. This is powerful stuff. The gospel can transform society, reversing the sin of racism, advancing social justice, and nurturing racial reconciliation — all of which are signs of redemptive faith, fitted with shoe leather.
The Cost of Multiculturalism
The sin of self, in its cultural forms (racism being one), has so contaminated our world that, even for the redeemed believer, becoming one is an uphill climb. According to God’s Word, in reality we are already one (Eph 4:3, Eph 2:14); it is the working out of that reality that we find so difficult.
So it is no surprise that multiethnicity comes at a high personal cost. It requires a complete heart change before God so that, like Christ, we are willing to love our brother and sister in such a way that we put their interests above our own (Php 2:4-11; Eph 5:21). That may mean being really uncomfortable at times. That may mean giving up our supposed right to a certain style of worship music, or becoming a student of how to cross uncomfortable bridges to another culture, or having someone in our home we’re not quite sure about, or being willing to walk the road of past injustice in order to reconcile to a brother of a different color.
Multiculturalism also comes at a cost institutionally. It requires a church to engage a thoughtful, intentional process of inclusion of all ethnos. In the words of one multiethnic church pastor, that means much more than welcoming a person of a certain culture into the building: it means giving that person the keys to the building and a seat at the table. And metaphorically, it may mean tearing down the building and designing one that is better suited to fully carrying out the Great Commission, in living color.
Multiculturalism is costly. But is the cost greater than that which Jesus paid on the cross? And does the discomfort of unity permit us to refuse His command and ignore His heart for the Church?