(Photo: Mark DeYmaz)
For more than twelve years I have been helping others to see what has long been overlooked, otherwise missed, or outright ignored in the New Testament: namely, the biblical mandate of the multi-ethnic church as envisioned by Jesus Christ (John 17:20-23), described by Luke (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1), and prescribed by the Apostle Paul throughout his writings, most specifically in Romans and Ephesians. Needless to say such teaching, though exegetically sound, is not readily embraced by an Evangelical establishment more enamored by size and growth than with diversity and holistic community engagement.
Nevertheless since the Mosaix Global Network's first national conference in 2010, attitudes have markedly changed. Receptivity to the multi-ethnic church is up across the board; throughout denominations, networks, and conferences, alike. Likewise, an increasing array of local and national influencers is speaking up encouraging biblical diversity in the local church for the sake of the Gospel. The number of practitioners is growing, too, due to intentional multi-ethnic church planting as well as through the transition of healthy but otherwise homogeneous churches. In fact today, according to the latest research, 13.7% of churches throughout the United States have at least 20% diversity in their attending membership (up from just 7.5% in 2000). Beyond this, 14.4% of Protestant Evangelical churches have now reached this marker.
That said, I am sometimes asked: "If this mandate is so clear in Scripture, how has it been so missed throughout history? In other words, who else in the past has shared a similar message or understanding?"
With such questions in mind and in honor of Black history month, consider the following excerpt from the life and teaching of Pastor Elias Camp Morris, or as he is more commonly referred to today, Dr. E. C. Morris.
Dr. E. C. Morris (1855-1922) was a highly respected African-American minister, politician, and business enthusiast. Recognized by white Arkansans and throughout the nation as a significant leader of the Black community, he often served as a liaison between Black and white communities on both state and national levels. Born a slave in Murray County, Georgia, he was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, became an Abraham Lincoln Republican, and was one of the founders of Arkansas Baptist College (1884), a school still operating today as a part of the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). And in 1895, Dr. E. C. Morris became the president of the National Baptist Convention at a time when the NBC was the largest denomination of Christians who were also Black in the United States.
Nearly 130 years ago, then, Morris saw in Acts 17:26 a biblical mandate for multi-ethnic church unity and diversity. In 1885, he wrote:
"Class and race antipathy (a deep-seated feeling of dislike; aversion) has carried so far in this great Christian country of ours, that it has almost destroyed the feeling of that common brotherhood, which should permeate the soul of every Christian believer, and has shorn the Christian Church of that power and influence which it would otherwise have, if it had not repudiated this doctrine. The whole world is today indebted to (the Apostle) Paul for the prominence he gave to this all-important doctrine at Mars Hill.
"We know that the doctrine is not a popular one and that none can accept and practice it, except such as are truly regenerated. But the man who has been brought into the new and living way by the birth which is from above, by contrasting his own depraved and sinful nature with the pure, immaculate character of the Son of God after mediating what that matchless Prince underwent for him, can get inspiration and courage to acknowledge every man his brother who has enlisted under the banner of the Cross, and accepted the same Christ as his Savior."
In reflection I can't help but believe that Pastor Morris, who later died in Little Rock, would find joy in seeing the fulfillment of his prophetic vision and in sensing the pleasure of God in what is today the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, and in every other healthy multi-ethnic and economically diverse church throughout the United States and around the world.
With such things in mind we should recognize that the multi-ethnic church, and on a broader scale, the Multi-ethnic Church Movement, represents nothing new; rather, it is reformative in nature. Indeed it is a Movement beckoning our return to the principles and practices of first century churches such as existed in Antioch, Ephesus and Rome – churches in which diverse people walked, worked and worshipped God together as one so that the world would know God's love and believe.
Therefore let us determine to embrace the vision not because it is politically correct but because it is biblically correct; and though not an easy challenge to embrace, one that is essential to proclaiming a credible witness of God's love for all people, the Gospel, in an increasingly diverse and cynical society.
A recognized leader in the emerging Multi-ethnic Church Movement, Mark DeYmaz planted the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in 2001 where he continues to serve as Directional Leader. In 2004, he co-founded the Mosaix Global Network. DeYmaz has written four books including, "Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church" and "Leading a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via @markdeymaz on Twitter.