The New Testament and Multi-Ethnic Groups
When examining the incarnation, the apostles, the early church, and the eschatological vision in the New Testament, the ethnic picture is unambiguously multi-ethnic. This is best portrayed by looking at the very first multi-ethnic church.
The Church in Antioch as a Model for the Multi-Ethnic Church
The very first multi-ethnic church in the history of Christianity was not established by the Holy Apostles, but it was a handful of “Christians” (Acts 11:26) who, obeying Jesus’ words in the Great Commission and the Ascension, traveled to the “ends of the earth” – Antioch – to “make disciples of all nations.”
Antioch, the “religiously pluralistic and pleasure seeking” urban port city was “the provincial capital of Syria,” and “the third largest city in the Graeco-Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria.” As a result of the city’s multi-ethnic demographic, there was constant interaction between “Syrians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Parthians, Cappadocians, and Jews,” which created a cultural ethos of “hatred and fear rooted in intense ethnic antagonisms.” Thus, in this global and urban port-city, the first multi-ethnic church was formed.
The church in Antioch was multi-ethnic because it was a community of faith that was composed of more than two different ethnicities, where not one ethnicity held a significant majority. For example, the leadership of the church consisted of one Jew from Jerusalem (Barnabas), another Jew from Tarsus that was also a Roman citizen (Paul), a black African (Simeon who is called Niger), a man from “the capital city of Libya in northern Africa” (Lucius of Cyrene), and the step-brother of Herod Antipas, a Roman tetrarch (Manaen).
Not only was the leadership of the church multi-ethnic, but so was the congregation. And not only was the congregation multi-ethnic, but so was the city.
Obviously, a multi-ethnic church isn’t something that can be realized everywhere, but should they not be much more evident in multi-ethnic metropolitan cities?
(Sources Cited: Ken Shigematsu, Thomas V. Brisco, Michelle Slee, Crutiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, Karen Chai Kim)