Is the Church unified in Jesus or layers of race, ethnicity & culture?

We began a sermon series in 1 Corinthians a couple of weeks ago.  Week 1 on the first chapter went off fine.  I talked about how the church at Corinth was a squabbling, quarreling church and that Paul was writing this letter to them to teach them to be united Christ and to get along in love.  The root of their problem is described in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 where they are arguing over which person to follow, rather than comparing these people to Christ and realizing that Christ is who they needed to be united around, not this influential leader or that one.  The command given to them is not to boast that their way is best, but to boast in Christ.

After some jokes about churches splitting over the color of the carpet, the sermon went off fine and I think the purpose and message of the chapter was communicated effectively.

As Tuesday came and my work week began, my co-pastor Curt and I were discussing some minor hiccups regarding our vision of Crossroads intentionally become a multiracial church.  These hiccups were nothing major, but are the kinds of things that an anxiety-prone person like me can stew over while imaging worst case scenarios.  As we thought about these things, God clearly began revealing to me: 1 Corinthians 1-2 speaks directly to your situation at Crossroads. 

I’ve written at length about how segregated churches are along white and black lines and how this presents a malformed picture of the body of Christ to our world.  There are a lot of reasons for how we got to this place, but the reason we stay in this place is because we like to follow what we know and are comfortable with.  And in fact, if we’re honest, most of us would say the “other” way of doing it is not the right way.  We judge, make assumptions and mistrust the other side, while feeling like our side is the effective, spiritual and correct way of doing church.

Which is the exact same thing that was happening in 1 Corinthians!

And Paul told them they were to be unified in Christ, not in the layers of race, ethnicity and culture that they were arguing about.

What’s interesting about 1 Corinthians 1:12 is that Apollos is Greek and Peter (Cephas) was Jewish.  Guess what people in the Corinthians church probably thought Apollos’ way of doing things were the best way?  The Greeks!  And guess which people thought Peter’s way of doing things was right?  The Jews!  These early Christians were unifying themselves in the layers of their ethnicity and culture, not in Christ.  And they got an entire book of the Bible written to them to straighten them out!  A book that I’ve read a hundred times but never saw the root racial/ethnic picture of until last Tuesday, and how that dividing line was exactly what Paul was writing against.

So the question that most of us don’t want to deal with is: How does the American Church unify around layers of race, ethnicity & culture that have nothing to do with Jesus, rather than unifying in Jesus himself?

Ouch.

This is where you get upset and come up with a list of reasons why this doesn’t apply to you and why your context is different than this one and most importantly, where you say it’s not a sin to have an all-white church or an all-black church.

Instead of getting upset, I challenge you to simply pray through 1 Corinthians 1-2 and ask God to reveal more of his will for the Church to you.  And I’m not telling you what to do, I’m telling you what we’re doing at Crossroads Church that has God has very clearly revealed to us, and I ask you to pray for us as we navigate this challenging and hiccup-filled road!

5.4.14 United in Christ or United in Layers of Race, Ethnicity and Culture? from Lansing Crossroads Church on Vimeo.

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3 responses to Is the Church unified in Jesus or layers of race, ethnicity & culture?


  1. Good message. . . so good that so often what’s out from your ministry is Jesus. . . that he’s what matters. Realized while listening – and really glad – that I have no idea what denomination you guys are. . . that Jesus is center is what makes you the real deal. Take it that others are believers mainly because of what God’s done and what’s real of Him in them. . . figure anything other than Christ that I’m using to judge and divide is being apart in the flesh. It’s not just outward things that can be layers, crazy thing is that creeds can be a layer used to divide. . . truth in Christ is living and should make things clear. Paul mentions later that factions may be needed to show what is genuine. . . that truth should bring us closer to God, not be a fence.
    Doctrine in the hands of the flesh is not a good measure of body. . . hoping for the day when what’s real and genuine matter more than titles and creeds. Like Paul writes later in the book, that when unbelievers come in, and the believers are speaking according to Jesus, that their hearts are revealed and falling down they say that God is really there. . . that the living reality of the presence and power of God being there is the measure. Wouldn’t it be cool if churches could look past their creeds and look to Jesus alone. . . if even for just one Sunday pastors could switch churches and talk/preach Jesus, just about him. Livingness in Christ will bridge differences better than anything else. Can imagine how good it would be if you went into a black church or a gay church preaching that Jesus is all and the main thing. Will not remove all differences going forward, but Jesus is a good start and he’s where there’s life. Crazy thing is, in Christ the only reality is that we are one already, and we choose to find ways to be apart.


    • Hi Alan, we are non-denominational. It’s amazing how many people, a lot of them non-Christians, ask me what denomination we are and are relieved when I tell them non-denominational, because they’ve had so many bad experiences with this denomination or that one. We definitely have our “close-handed” doctrinal beliefs, such as the Bible being God’s word, Jesus being God in the flesh, and Jesus being the only way to heaven, but it’s been very cool to have a diverse group worshiping and serving together who often have different beliefs on more minor theological beliefs that typically divide churches–often over theological beliefs that have very sound biblical interpretations on both sides of the argument.


      • God bless you guys at Crossroads. . . it’s great hearing of the grace that comes with keeping Jesus first. May just be me but not too long ago non-denominational seemed fringe and now just seems healthy. Read that there are over 33,000 Christian denominations now. . .that brothers and sisters find denominations as the answer to the question of how to stand for the truths of the faith in the face of disagreements, rather than bearing with one another, just goes to show the inadequacy of the answers we come up with. What a weakness to things. Creeds as bullet points seem like the least way to describe something living. Compare that to the African Masai creed which embodies truth but is more vital:

        “We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

        “We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

        “We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.”

        Man, so much better when Jesus is shown as living and we can live in the reality of that.

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