Memorial Day Reflection.

Today, we commemorate the men and women of the armed forces who have given their lives to defend this country. Every day I enjoy the freedom and privileges of being an American. I am free to own a home, free to make a living, free to pursue a career path, free to worship God. I am grateful.

photo by Vjerian Pavic. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

photo by Vjerian Pavic. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

I often take this life for granted. But today I reminded to honor those who have made this life possible. I know it came at a great cost. Whatever my opinion about the wars that our nation has fought in, I recognize the sacrifice that these individuals and their families have made in serving our country. Thank you to the brave, the honorable–our American soldiers.

Today, and everyday, I am proud and grateful to be an American.

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Why Ethnic Specific Ministries?

James Chuong of InterVarsity answers the question “Why do ethnic-specific ministries exist?” He tackles some of the buzz words and most quoted Scripture passages. I especially appreciate his treatment of Galatians 3:28. For my comments on this passage as it pertains to this issue, see here.

I definitely echo the sentiment that ethnic specific ministry is legitimate, but it should not be the only thing. “We need places to focus, and we need places to integrate. Both are good, and both are needed.”

What are your thoughts on the video? What do you think about ethnic-specific ministries?

Related Posts:

Revelation 7 and ethnic-specific ministries.

“Your church is unbiblical.”

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

A quick note of “thanks” for reading.

Hello everyone! Thank you to everyone who has recently told me that you find my blog helpful and worth reading. It takes a great deal of mental energy for me to write a decent blog post, and I’ve recently been avoiding blogging because of the investment and time it takes. But it’s encouraging to hear that many of you are finding it valuable. I hope I can take some time to write out a lot of the thoughts I have running around in my mind recently about church ministry, especially in an Asian American context.

I’m cautious but hopeful about the state of the Asian American church. There’s a unique and legitimate place in the kingdom of God for the ethnic-specific ministry.

Yes, there are a lot of issues that make ministry challenging in an Asian church in America. Many of them are not unique to the ethnic-specific church. The ones that are unique are often the other side of the coin when it comes to advantages of this church approach.

For now, I leave you with some previous posts that might spark a conversation:

The Baby and the Bathwater…Blaming the ethnic specific model

English Congregation: “Just an older version of youth ministry”

Asian-American Ministry Needs: Reflection from the English Ministry Pastors’ Fellowship

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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, used in accordance with Creative Commons.

photo by, 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 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.

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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:

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 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.

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.

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.”

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