Multi-colour churches and the defeat of racism

I often get very discouraged by the racist views expressed on so many news and social media sites. It seems that some (sad) people are hell-bent in making any and every issue about the amount of pigmentation of another’s skin. Sadly racism is also sometimes seen in the church; this was especially true of the apartheid years in South Africa. The Bible teaches that there is only one race, the human race. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve.

Within this “brotherhood” of humanity, we have different languages, and cultures, and ethnicities; but only one race. The New Testament tells us that God has acted in Jesus to call people from all nations to be part of His kingdom. The church, being the geographical outposts of the kingdom all around the world, must be demonstrating to the physical and spiritual world the death of racism. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in last half of Ephesians 2 and makes a startling statement in 3:10.

… in order that the multi-coloured wisdom of God may be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms through the church (Ephesians 3:10)

In Ephesians 3:10 Paul states the grand purpose of God in his ministry as a “servant of God” (3:7), which came about “through the working of [God’s] power” (3:7). Paul’s ministry consisted of “preaching” (3:8) the “incomprehensible wealth of Christ” (3:8) and “enlightening” (3:9) all of the “administration of [God’s] mystery” (3:9). The purpose of this God-empowered ministry is stated in 3:10. God wants to make known his “multi-coloured wisdom” to the “rulers and authorities” (3:10). The “rulers” and “authorities” are, like the rest of the powers in Ephesians, probably not human agencies or institutions because they are “in the heavenly realms”. However, we must remember that it was nearly impossible in the first century to distinguish between the sacred and secular and the natural and supernatural. Barth therefore concludes that, according to the author, the church is called to be an example to the “institutions and structures”, “the bodily and spiritual” and the “political and social, cultural and religious forces”.

Church, a demonstration of God’s wisdom

Paul wanted the multi-ethnic churches of western Asia Minor, consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers, to be brought together in unity and “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (2:22), to know that their very existence and being was tangible evidence of God’s multi-coloured wisdom to the whole host of heavenly beings. The terms “rulers” and “authorities” seem to include both the good and evil inhabitants of the “heavenly realms” in this context, but perhaps particularly the hostile spirits. Clinton Arnold believes that this text (3:10) would serve as an encouragement to those believers who were still plagued by a fear of the powers, as these feared powers would perceive that they were unable to impede the progress of the gospel and the establishment of the church of Jesus Christ.

Church, the solution to racism

Paul may have believed that the hostility (racism) between the Jewish people and the Gentiles was encouraged and aided by the evil powers and/or by agents or agencies influenced by these powers. The existence of the multi-ethnic church would then demonstrate to the heavenly powers that their authority had been decisively broken and they could not hinder the advance of the gospel to both Gentiles and Jews. Racism may not only be fuelled by our own proud, sinful hearts, but also promoted and stimulated by these hostile evil powers.

Deceitful demonic teaching

Artemis was the patron goddess of Ephesus and she may once have been held in high esteem by these readers, but, according to Paul, her power had been broken and the very existence of the church in Ephesus and surrounds was evidence thereof.  2 Corinthians 4:4 may also provide insight into this text. Paul wrote here that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel”. The phrase “the god of this age” should probably be identified in Paul’s thinking with “the ruler of the realm of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience”, 2:2). One of the “strategies” (6:11) of this ruler seems to be that of “blinding the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul saw the other religions of the Greco-Roman world, including the cult of Artemis, as idolatry (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4, 12:2) and demon worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:20). It is not too difficult to accept that Paul believed that these idolatrous religions were deceptions encouraged by “the god of this age” (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4) or the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (6:12) to keep unbelievers minds’ blinded to the revelation of the true God in Jesus Christ. The association of demons with false teaching and pagan religion echoes what is said elsewhere in the Pauline literature of Satan’s role in inspiring religious deception.

Ordinary supernatural church

The very existence of the church then, including the house churches in Ephesus, was, a demonstration to the powers that God’s purpose to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head” (1:10) and to unite Gentiles and Jews (3:6) could not be hindered. The deception strategy of the powers had been overcome by the power of God in Jesus. Instead of the heavenly beings mediating wisdom to humans, it is the church that mediates God’s wisdom to them.

You may think that your church is rather ordinary. Far from that. Believers from different backgrounds coming together in Christ is a demonstration to the powers of the incomprehensible wisdom of God. The church must demonstrate the unity we share as humans created in God’s image and the even greater unity we share as brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

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