Racial Segregation has no place whatsoever in Christ’s Church

One of the most sickening and illuminating sections in Stephen Wolfe’s apology for nationalism was not so much what he said about the nation state but this quote on the church.

Indeed, civil fellowship is what makes strong church fellowship possible, because people do not lose their particularity when they pass through the doors of a church building. Spiritual unity is inadequate for formal ecclesial unity. People do not suddenly speak some Gospel language and then assume a Gospel culture. The people’s way of life permeates the visible church, and it serves as an ancillary feature that makes possible the administration of sacred things (e.g., preaching in the vernacular). The administration of the Word and Sacraments require, at a bare minimum, a common language; and church fellowship requires at least a core culture serving as the cultural norm for social relations. Culturally distinct groups of Christians could, of course, start their own churches, and this would solve one problem.[1]

Wolfe is there promoting segregation between ethnic churches.  Note that he goes beyond the Homogenous Unit Principle.  This is not merely about what pragmatically works when trying to reach as many people as possible.  Rather, he is promoting an ethnically homogenous church as the theological ideal for worship and discipleship.

Now, he tries to distract a little from this by prioritising the pragmatic issues around common language.  But of course, barriers to language can be quickly overcome as can confusion around social norms with a little give and take, translation, explanation and a willingness to learn different languages. 

So, what he is basically saying is that people cannot find unity in the Gospel, cannot worship together if they come from different ethnic backgrounds.  Spiritual unity is not enough, ethnic unity is required first.  This is of course the absolute opposite of what Scripture teaches. When Paul said that we are “all one in Christ Jesus” and that “there is neither Jew nor Greek.”  He did so specifically in the context of letters written to help Christians from different ethnic backgrounds to worship together as part of the same congregation.

Paul understood that the ethno-centric pride which denied table fellowship to those from different ethnic backgrounds cut to the heart of the Gospel and what it meant to be justified by faith alone. 

Wolfe is wrong because he not only misunderstands Scripture but he intentionally goes in the face of, denies, attacks and contradicts what God’s Word clearly says. 

I am so grateful that there are so many opportunities today for us to experience the truth of Scripture and see experientially why Wolfe is wrong.  My friend Steve Kneale, a pastor up in Oldham has written about this experience in his church here.

My own experience is of pastoring a church with people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds including Hispanic, Nigerian, Iranian, Afro-Carribean and Asian.  We never did manage to find an Australian to ensure we covered all the inhabited continents but we got pretty close.  At times it was messy and challenging.  We had to work out how to translate, we had to communicate clearly and simply, we managed to offend one another without intending out of cultural ignorance.  Yet, we were a richer church family for that diversity and we really learnt what it meant to be God’s people united in the Gospel.

I am now part of another church family experiencing similar levels of growth in diversity.  I wouldn’t want it any other way!

[1] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 200). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

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