Why Revelation 7 is a poor reason to condemn ethnic specific ministries.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7:9-10

In my last post, I explained how Galatians 3:28 is a poor reason to condemn ethnic-specific ministries.

I have had numerous encounters with well-meaning proponents of multi-ethnic churches as they condemn ethnic-specific ministries. I hear that a ministry that is focused on a particular ethnicity is “unbiblical” or even “disobedient.”

Another passage that these well-meaning folks usually cite is Revelation 7, specifically the great multitude that no one could count. In this post, I will make the case that this passage is improperly used to claim that multi-ethnic ministries are somehow superior to ethnic-specific ministries.

At the onset, the big picture message of Revelation is that God is victorious, and we have to decide whose side we will be on. However, with varying views on interpreting the details of Revelation, it is difficult to make solid conclusions that inform our ecclesiology. Assuming that we can even venture to apply principles from John’s visions, my conclusion is that we cannot use this particular passage to point to a mandate that all ministries must be multi-ethnic.

Here are three reasons:

1. There is too much that the passage does not tell us.

photo by lets.book, used in accordance with Creative Commons.

photo by lets.book, used in accordance with Creative Commons.

We simply do not have enough information that will help us determine how to apply this passage to the makeup of a local church. It is not referring to a single ministry or local body. We do not know if the people in the multitude were all intermingled. We do know that John was able to distinguish different peoples and languages, making it possible that they were “grouped” together into homogenous, distinct but not separate sections. There is nowhere in the passage that gives us a command that we should do likewise, or that a local church body should look like this. We have plenty of mandates for the church that are clearly laid out in Scripture. This is not one of them. We do not have enough information for us to make the leap into identifying this as some kind of command for the local church.

2. The identity of this multitude.
This one primarily applies within the framework of a pre-millennial, pre-tribulation return of Christ. John records that these people “are the ones coming out of the great tribulation” (v.14).  This tells us that they became believers after the church age, and they were not believers at the time of the rapture. It was during the time of great trial and suffering that this multi-ethnic crowd came to place their trust in Christ. At this point, the church at large has already been taken away with the first return of Christ. It really is a stretch to apply this passage to the church or to a ministry during the church age when it takes place after the church is gone.

3. Consistency of Application.
Yes, the passage does say “all peoples.” But if we were to apply this to a local church or a single ministry and say that it should be multi-ethnic, we need to be consistent. We would need to also apply “every nation”. After all, a group of African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans is still made up of Americans. Furthermore, we’d have to apply “all languages.” Skin color can look different, but if the ministry is only run in one language, doesn’t that make it unbiblical and disobedient according to this passage? Let’s be consistent.

For that matter, what makes this crowd a picture of a local body the way God intends? The passage just preceding this one The passage just preceding this one describes 144,000 faithful that were Jews. (Now, there are some who say that this group of 144,000 is not referring Jews exclusively, but that the nation of Israel really represents all people who follow God, from other nations. But the identification of the multitude in verse 9-10 as a group from every nation implies that these 144,000 are not from every nation. For good measure, If there was any doubt, it’s erased by the fact that each tribe of Israel is mentioned. 12,000 from this tribe, 12,000 from this tribe, and so on.) Why is the uncountable multitude in vv. 9-10 taken as a prescription of the church, but somehow the ethnic-specific group of verse 4-8 not a prescription for the church? There seems to be a double standard in here. Again, let’s be consistent.

I’m so grateful for Revelation 7:9-10. It is a beautiful picture of worship and how the offer of salvation is available to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, and language. This will even be true after a possible rapture.

How about you? How have you heard Revelation 7:9-10 taught? What are your thoughts about application for this passage?

Related Posts:
“Your Church Isn’t Biblical”
Why Galatians 3:28 is a poor reason to condemn ethnic specific ministries.
Why ethnic-specific ministries exist in America, Part 1.

Posted in Asian American Ministry, Church Ministry, Race and Ethnicity | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Galatians 3:28 is a poor reason to condemn ethnic specific ministries.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 (ESV)

Photo by  Jesse757. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by Jesse757. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

I’ve personally had conversations with believers who are proponents of multi-ethnic churches. I’ve also read a number of church growth books whose authors come from multi-ethnic churches. They provide good and sound reasons for the existence of churches that are multi-ethnic. I applaud and support them. Multi-ethnic churches are a great expression of God’s kingdom and I’m so encouraged when I see that churches like this are growing and having an impact.

However, my encouragement turns into angst when I hear many of the same people start to condemn ethnic-specific ministries. I hear words like unbiblical, idolatry, and even disobedient (perhaps I will respond to each of these accusations in future posts) when they claim, explicitly or implicitly, that the multi-ethnic model is superior to the ethnic-specific model.

One of the Bible passages that these well-meaning folks usually cite is Galatians 3:28. The aim of this post is to respond to the usage of this verse in condemning ethnic-specific ministries.

Here are three reasons that Galatians 3:28 is a poor reason to put down the ethnic-specific model:

  1. Context.
    This verse cannot be divorced from the context that Paul is writing in. The Galatian believers were in a crisis. There were Jewish believers who were coming in and demanding that the Gentile believers undergo circumcision in order to be saved. In other words, they wanted them to become Jewish first. Paul addresses this in his letter to the Christians in Galatia. One shouldn’t have to become Jewish in order to be a follower of Jesus. (see D.A. Carson’s blog on Galatians)As the Jews looked down on the Gentiles, Galatians 3:28 addresses the issue of superiority/inferiority. What Paul is writing is that there is no distinction of class or status in God’s eyes–all have the same offer of salvation.
    Furthermore, some Jews often prayed a daily blessing: “Blessed be god that He did not make me a Gentile; blessed be God that He did not make me ignorant [or a slave]; blessed be God that He did not make me a woman.” (Tosefta Berakoth 7:18, Scott McKnight, NIV Application Commentary, Galatians, p.200) Paul seems to write this verse to fittingly reverse this understanding of demeaning certain groups of people.
    Here, what Paul is writing about is salvation, not churches. This is passage informs soteriology, not ecclesiology. Paul is making sure that the Jewish believers recognize that the Gentile believers were indeed one with them in Christ. While I can’t speak for everyone in ethnic-specific ministries, I suspect that most believers in these contexts would never say that others would have to become [insert ethnicity] in order to become saved. In the same way, I hope that I do not have to become white American in order to be saved and to worship Jesus Christ.
  2. Gender-specific ministries.
    Why is an ethnic-specific ministry looked down upon, yet there doesn’t seem to have the same finger-wagging with gender-specific ministries? After all, Galatians 3:28 says “there is no male and female” right?
    If we are going to be consistent, we have to condemn gender-specific groups too. We’d have to say things like “Your men’s accountability group is sheer disobedience.  Your women’s prayer meeting is absolutely unbiblical.”
    But that would be absurd. We recognize that there is a place for gender-specific ministries. We already know that shared experiences bring fellowship, contextualization, and accountability. That’s why ethnic-specific ministries exist too.
  3. The distinction between The Church and a church.
    When Paul writes, “you are all one in Christ Jesus,” this is a message about the entire Body of Christ, the Church at large. Paul is saying that in God’s eyes, all have the same opportunity to become part of this Body. You don’t have to become Jewish, or become male, or become a freed man in order to be saved.
    I think we often take what is meant for The Body, The Church, and we try to apply it to a small, local, body. Aside from this being impractical and impossible for a local body to reflect, that’s not the purpose of what Paul is writing. Paul is writing that all are one together.  There is no command for every local body to be multi-ethnic, multi-gender, or multi-class. In fact, there is no command in Galatians 3:28 at all. It is simply a statement of who is offered salvation.

I’m so grateful for Galatians 3:28. As a Gentile, I am confident that I do not have to change my ethnicity in order to become an heir to God’s kingdom. As I look at this verse in its context, I thank God that I am included in this promise.

What about you? How have you seen Galatians 3:28? Any thoughts about the use of this passage in discussing church models?

Related Posts:
“Your Church Isn’t Biblical”
Why ethnic-specific ministries exist in America, Part 1.
MEMA: “Multi-Ethnic, Mostly Asian.”

Posted in Asian American Ministry, Church Ministry, Race and Ethnicity | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Imperial Model: Asian American Church Models

This is the eighth post in a series about Asian American church models. Dr. Benjamin Shin, in a lecture for the Doctor of Ministry in Asian American Ministry at Talbot School of Theology, discusses these different models.

Photo by ©HTO3. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by ©HTO3. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

This eighth model, the Imperial Model, is typified by two congregations led by one bilingual pastor, who is able to lead a 1st or 2nd generation church. This is different from the Duplex Model or the Townhouse Model in that it is one church with two congregations, with one pastor over both congregations. This has been seen in some prominent Korean American churches, but we have also seen it in Chinese American churches as well.

An ideal candidate for this singular pastor would be someone who is “1.5 generation”–that is, someone born overseas but relocated to the U.S. at a young age. A pastor like this is in touch with both the overseas-born generation and the American-born generation, and can minister to both groups. Thus, one pastor acts like a monarch over both groups.

The advantages of this model are clear:

  • The entire church maintains the same vision because of a singular leader. The church model is one, and it is unified in structure. There is less potential for conflicts among staff because of one leader over all.
  • The pastor is the spiritual leader that all congregants look to.
    He is like a monarch–an emperor who cares for all the people. All of them are part of his flock and are (potentially) cared for equally. This allows the pastor to seek what is best for the congregation.

The major disadvantages of this model are:

  • It does not allow for much difference generationally.
    As the congregations differentiate in terms of teaching, priorities, culture, and even music style, one or both of the congregations may not have the appropriate contexualization in ministry.
  • It overworks the singular leader.
    Not only is the pastor overseeing a number of people, he is trying to shepherd congregants with different needs, different cultures, and different worldviews. It is a great deal for one leader to handle.

Do you have experience in an imperial church? Are there any advantages or disadvantages you would add?

credit: Dr. Benjamin Shin.

credit: Dr. Benjamin Shin.

Related Posts:

“Townhouse”: Asian American Church Models
“Duplex”: Asian American Church Models
Advantages and Opportunities of an Immigrant Church

Posted in Asian American Ministry, Church Ministry | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Satellite”: Asian American Church Models

photo by Chris Devers. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

photo by Chris Devers. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

This is the seventh post in a series about Asian American church models. Dr. Benjamin Shin, in a lecture for the Doctor of Ministry in Asian American Ministry at Talbot School of Theology, discusses these different models.

This seventh model is the “Satellite” model. More churches are now moving to this model as their churches are growing. In this model, it is one church, connected to one another at different sites. Pastors are shared from site to site. Services meet at the same time, often using video for messages.

If Asian Americans attend a satellite church, they often have grown up attending a Room for Rent or Duplex model, looked for greener pastures in a Hotel model, but ended up wanting a small-church feel.

Here are some advantages of the “Satellite Model”:

  • Big-church resources.
    The church has shared staff and a larger pool of shared resources, and can utilize its best preachers for multiple locations. Staff are specialized and can serve more than one campus.
  • Small-church-feel.
    Each church campus can be locally situated, smaller congregations, and thus more personal. Each location is more convenient. Because the congregations are smaller, they can more readily develop tighter community.
  • Allows for different ministry approaches in the same church.
    While the church is one, the differing campuses often develop their own subcultures.  Perhaps they have different worship styles at different locations. Or perhaps one campus is in a more urban setting than another, offering different opportunities to serve the inner-city community.

And, here are some disadvantages:

  • Requires a Paradigm Shift.
    Those churchgoers who expect the same preacher every Sunday may have to adjust their expectations. The campus pastor often ends up doing more shepherding than preaching. Especially for those who are used to Asian churches, they may feel like the senior leader is lazy by not being as involved in the lives of the people.
  • Use of Technology.
    Some people feel that the use of technology as too secular or too worldly. The preacher is only available via video and does not have the flesh-and-blood connection. Some churchgoers are turned off by the idea that they cannot approach the preacher or shake his hand after the message.
  • Lack of Unity.
    While the model points to the church being one, satellite churches often feel like they are more than one church. Campus pastors may disagree on vision and purpose. With different locations, it can be a challenge to stay on the same page.

Credit: Benjamin Shin

Credit: Benjamin Shin

Do you have experience in a “Satellite” church? Are there any advantages or disadvantages you would add?

Related Posts:

“Room for Rent”: Asian American Church Models
“Duplex”: Asian American Church Models
“Hotel”: Asian American Church Models

Posted in Asian American Ministry, Church Ministry | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Church Plant: Asian American Church Models

Photo by dixieroadrash. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by dixieroadrash. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

This is the sixth post in a series about Asian American church models. Dr. Benjamin Shin, in a lecture for the Doctor of Ministry in Asian American Ministry at Talbot School of Theology, discusses these different models.

There are many Asian Americans who have attended an ethnic-specific church (often a Room for Rent or Duplex model) who elect to join a church plant. Usually these churches begin very small in size. It is often a group of people who break-away from a Duplex model. Typical church plants have charter groups of 12-20 people. They often have visionary pastors. These churches often place a high emphasis on community service and evangelism.

There are many cases where Asian Americans join a church plant because they feel stifled by a Duplex model. They feel unable to have the vision they want.

Here are some advantages of Asian American church plants:

  • Autonomy.
    In a church plant, this independent congregation can call the shots. They can set their own vision and do ministry the way they want to. There’s no restrictions on what they can do.
  • Evangelism/Outreach.
    Church plants tend to be ideal for bringing in new believers. They are often great at serving the community, too. While the church has no property or building of its own, they can outreach to the neighborhood with flyers and word of mouth.

And, here are some disadvantages:

  • Lack of resources.
    With a small leadership that is usually made of young people, the congregation does not have the ability to have a large budget. Often the pastor has to be bi-vocational. As the group is still forming, it is difficult to make ends meet. There are often problems having a location, as church plants meet in people’s homes.
  • Lack of endurance.
    Many people think they are ready for a church plant. But in many cases these folks  are motivated by wanting to escape their current church.  Church plants take a lot of hard work. They often do not have the endurance to stay when the excitement ends. 90% of church plants fold. In fact, within the first year, 75% of the original charter group leave the church.
Credit: Benjamin Shin.

Credit: Benjamin Shin.

Do you have experience in a church plant? Are there any advantages or disadvantages you would add?

Related Posts:

“Hotel”: Asian American Church Models
“Room for Rent”: Asian American Church Models
“Duplex”: Asian American Church Models
Advantages and Opportunities of an Immigrant Church

Posted in Asian American Ministry, Church Ministry | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment