The Race Card of the Early Church

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Derwin Gray and Frank Viola explore the early church's secret that can help us transcend racial tension today.

This blog is co-authored by Derwin Gray and Frank Viola

The Zimmerman trial and the tragedy that surrounds it has captured the world’s attention. Including that of the body of Christ.

Media coverage has heightened passions on both ends. Conversations about race, law, injustice, prejudice, guns, etc. are all being argued and inflamed.

In this article, we don’t want to weigh in on the public debate. Instead, our passion is to encourage God’s people everywhere to transcend the debate that the world is holding on its own terms by seeing ethnicity through the eyes of our Lord. There is only one race, the human race, which is comprised of different ethnic groups (Acts 17:26).

We want you, dear Christian, to take your cue from the New Testament believers, for they can teach us a great deal about this subject.

A Walk Into the First-Century Church.

The world of the first century was littered with racism and oppression. In the mind of a first-century Jew, Gentiles (Africans, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, Asians, etc.) were created to fuel the fires of hell.

When a Jew called a Gentile “uncircumcised,” he spit it. It was a name of profound contempt.

If a Jewish person married a Gentile, the Jewish parents held a funeral service for their child. In their eyes, their child was dead.

On the flip side, Gentiles regarded Jews to be subhuman. Historically, the Jews have been an oppressed people, living under the thumb of one Gentile nation after another (e.g., Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome).

In all of human history, there has never been so much animosity, hatred and violence between two groups of people as there has been between the Jew and the Gentile.

But alas, in the first century, there emerged a group of people on the planet who transcended this racial hostility.

Here was a group of people who saw themselves as members of the same family … a people made up of Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, rich, poor, male and female.

These were the early Christians. The Roman world stood in awe as they saw a people who hated each other begin to love one another and do life together in the Name of Jesus.

Watch them walking into the market place together, arm in arm, singing with joy in their hearts.

Jew and Gentile.

Slave and free.

Rich and poor.

Male and female.

Look at them closely.

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  • Charles

    Profound word. I love the insightful and anointed discourse. I had trouble linking it direct to the referenced case. This offers a very progressive, somewhat idealistic, proposal of the goal of the church. I gladly affirm that I am in the 13% which is not homogeneous.

    However, the Martin case, by this text is only an indictment of flawed Christians. It was a demonstration of a flawed value for life both in the choice to “stop a problem kid” rather than to witness to him, to perform a human violent than to offer a spiritually redeeming act. This was followed by a humanistic, not a Christian act, of self justification.

    Zimmerman did not operate in love but in fear.. We do know that the spirit of fear is not of God. In their decision to absolve Mr. Zimmerman, the jury released him into the spirit of Esau who might spend his days without and enrapt with the unrepentent spirit. Sentenced to this earth knowing that the unrepentant have no place in the eternal kingdom.

  • Ken Qualls

    I had not intended to weigh in on the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin
    incident because I do not have the facts. All I have is hearsay and speculation
    that is biased in both directions. However, having given it some serious
    thought and some comments from some Christians, I realize that I do have some
    facts that are not biased and skewed but have been overlooked.

    1. Jesus loved both George and Trayvon enough that he
    died on the cross for them.

    2. Jesus loved both of these men the night of this
    tragic event and would have liked for them to know it.

    3. Each of these men were victims and pawns:

    a. of a sin
    permeated world

    b. of their
    unique cultures

    c. of
    hatred, bitterness and prejudice

    4. Each of these men acted and reacted in ways that
    were not the wisest or smartest or the most reasonable.

    5. Much of the media and certain prominent individuals
    from both sides of the issue are using this tragedy for their own best
    interests and in doing so they are dividing and destroying our country.

    6. Jesus would want us as a nation, especially we who
    are Christians, to rise up in unity, love and respect against these demagogic,
    rabble rousing malcontents and refuse to be manipulated and enflamed by their
    brummagem rhetoric.

    7. We can all use some introspection and a heart

    “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know
    my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way
    everlasting.” Psalm 139:23,24

    “Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make
    the righteous secure– you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts.”
    Psalm 7:9

    “Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my
    mind…” Psalm 26:2

    “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond
    cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

    Anyone of us could have been or could be either George
    Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin. Let’s pray for ourselves and for these two
    families, for each other and for our nation. This horrible disaster can be
    either a death knell or a wake up call the choice is ours.

    Ken Qualls

  • Teresa Colson

    Some very good insight in this article. I am not, however convinced that the “homogenous” churches are as much about race as they are about culture and preference. I don’t speak Spanish. Why would I want to 1) go to a church that is in Spanish or 2) have a translator translate my pastor’s sermon into Spanish/English? I prefer a particicular style of worship. That doesn’t make me a racist because I do not like or want to worship in another style that is often related to other cultures. I think if we ALL stop emphasizing race, the race issue will go away. We put too much emphasis on it, thereby calling attention to it.

  • Robert

    While this is a nice article and I am appreciative of the angle of unity, the fallacy with this article is there was no racism until the late 1400s. The issues of biblical antiquity were class, culture, and ethnicity. The construct of race is a “new world” phenomena developed to justify slavery of Africans and the colonization of Africa. Thus, the arguments are not congruent and lacks merits when applied to what is happening in America today.

    • sharon lujan

      there is alot going on in our country- and others as well, it is time the worl pull together for peace and the brotherhood of man.

      • Robert

        I would agree but until we have honest conversation about why we are where we are, there will be no authentic peace. There can be no peace and “brotherhood of man-(whatever that is)” until there is relationship. And there can be no relationship until there is communication. because communication is where “communion” moves from idea to reality.

        • Derwin L. Gray

          It’s hard to have an honest conversation in the church if we continue to have homogeneous churches. The one community that should be able to have these conversations is the community of the redeemed.

          Conversation happens in community, not in isolation, right?

          We are not proposing “the brotherhood of man” we simply proclaiming the Gospel that paul preached:

          “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through
          faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free,there is no
          male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

          Jesus is the starting point of the conversation. That in Christ, our ethnicity no longer defines us, Jesus does.

          Thanks for the interaction.

  • Aidan

    While I wholeheartedly agree with this article’s stance on unity and our shared New Creation identity I seem to remember Peter and Paul had a little bust up about the acceptance of Gentiles into Christianity – the “circumcision party” wanted everyone to become a Jew and effectively change nationality (see Galatians 2). They faced disagreements and felt pressurised to appropriate Old Creation worldviews too.

    • Derwin L. Gray


      you are correct it happened in Galatians 2:11-21 and Paul jacked-Him up! he told him he was not walking in step with the Gospel.

    • Jerry Edmonds

      Aidan, the Peter/Paul bust up was not over inclusion but exclusion. The Judaizers would only accept the Gentiles IF they were physically circumcised – not at all a Christian attitude or position – and Peter was disassociating himself from the Gentiles when the Judaizers were around. It was Peter’s attitude and action which Paul called out. This situation, incidentally, makes the authors’ points for them quite well.

      • Aidan

        True. Yup, that’s what I said.

  • don

    Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda! A day late and a dollar short! This is modern Christianity always looking through the rear view mirrior, never being in the fore front. Do not get me wrong there is a lot of good being done in the name of Christ. But it is reactionary, not advocacy, it is not transformational. This article is excellent in pointing out what the Church is. The Church is the Body of Christ, a safe haven for all who are carrying a heavy burden, a sancturary where one finds peace, love, and compassion. God through Christ transforms, all we do is what Christ did, offer ourselves as the source of his strength and love. It may take a day, a month, a year, or a life time, or never from where we stand, but God knows we don’t. When Jesus said he is “not of this world” and that he was giving the devil dominion over this earth, he wants us to choose whether our security lies in the vanities of this world or in him. The first real sign of the second coming will be reflected in the teaching of the false profits, those who tell us greed is good, and every individual is in it for him or her self. Those who lecture us about Gods truth, while they bask in their worldly goods, are not to be trusted. They are selling us hate not love, fear not faith and trust in God. Their social issues are a distraction, so that they can do their evil deeds, sowing seeds of distrust, and hate. It’s not about abortion, or homosexuality, if it was then that is all Jesus would have talked about. It is about self sacrifice, self denial, and above all love.

  • Vincent Aja

    Rev. Pastor Greg Ogden, the director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary while commenting on this Gospel of John 13:34-35 says, that the Lord Jesus has given the world the full permission to judge every Christian who says that he or she is His disciple by the measurement of the love that each person has for one another.(pph). I have come today to reconfirm that we are serving a Living God, and that the Holy One of Israel is still speaking to His people (the Church), unlike those who do believe that God is no longer speaking, because the Bible is SEALED and we can find everything in the Bible.

    I love this text because it has answered a lot of questions to me. Which one of them is that one denomination has taken it upon itself to teach the congregation that the Lord Jesus was created because of where the Bible had called Him the First Born (Romans 8:29)(Colossians 1:15). But from this text my spirit had agreed with these writers that what the Holy Spirit was revealing here was that the Lord Jesus has become the First Born that represents the NEW RACE. which is the Church. I have taught about the only three races that God had recognized in this dispensation of grace as the Jews, the Gentiles and the Church, but I have never had this revelation.

    I`m just praying that the Holy Spirit in His INFINITE WISDOM will continue to inspire, fill with wisdom, give special understanding of the Scripture, revelation knowledge, and the ability to interpret the Word of God to these men and women who have been making this ministry (CL) to be more effective through their contributions. And in other hand, may the All-Wise-Knowing God helps those who were visiting this site to know that we are all visiting here to learn, and that we all should understand that nobody that will ever learn anything through argument. Once that we accept that we do not know, and show the sign of our willingness that we want to learn, then the Holy Spirit will come to help us to capture every word according to our individual spiritual levels in Jesus name. Amen.

  • Grady Walton

    We seem to have an idyllic image of the first century church. Granted, the Bible tells us about the many wonderful and miraculous things that happened in the first century church. But it might be naïve to assume they experienced as much racial and class harmony as we like to think. If they indeed experienced near complete harmony, I’d like to know how they (or the Holy Spirit) did it because we certainly don’t have a raceless and classless culture in the modern church. Still, this was a beautiful and artistic article. Very encouraging as to what could be.

    • Derwin L. Gray


      thanks for your response. The early church was not a picture of perfect harmony, the Apostle Paul’s letters were written because of disharmony in the early church.

      Our point was that the Gospel (See Ephesians 2:14-16; Galatians 3:26-28) empowers us interact and experience oneness in Christ and His new humanity.

      Sanctification is a process.

      • Craig Spofford

        Hi Derwin –

        Great article! I’m sure its hard for you to respond to everyone on a thread, but I do have a question – in the article you said,
        “But with His resurrection, three races appeared on the planet: Jew, Gentile and the ekklesia of God.
        For this reason, the second-century Christians called themselves the “third race” as well as the “new race.””

        I am curious if you could direct me to where I can see that? What resource you and Frank might have used or scripture that you used? While I have no doubt of your statement there, I’m just curious about the source.

        Thanks –

  • Michelle Crenshaw

    I am sorely disappointed in the angle of this article. The fact that you began the first few paragraphs listing Gentiles as: “(Africans, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, Asians, etc.)” speaks volumes about your own ignorance (no offense here, I mean “lack of knowledge) of both Biblical and Historical truths. The “Jews” of the bible were in fact AFRICANS and so the entire hypothesis of this article is slanted. And that gross error, demonstrates the western-anglo view of Christianity and perceptions about race. For your information, the “white” Jews you must be referring to, did not become a part of the Hebrew fabric until well into the 14th century when the Ashkenazi Jews from Khazaria (eastern Europeans of Germanic descent) CONVERTED to the Jewish faith (in order to protect themselves from invasions from the west -Christians and from the south-Muslims- who sought to dominate their country. The Czar of Khazaria, ordered the conversion of his citizens to protect them from religious persecution by the Christians and Muslims, and then, simultaneously usurped the historic culture and spiritual practices of African Jews (from whom Jesus and the lineage of David originated), and formed what we now refer to as Judaism the “religion”. And it was these same Ashkenazis who claimed modern day Israel as their home, even though their actual geographic origins are from Europe. So, before you offer any more articles on the subject of race in the Bible, PLEASE DO YOUR RESEARCH. All this information is easily accessible with modern technology, though it has been hidden from view for centuries. And I will also add to that info-the Rothchilds, who are responsible for the sinister and demonic Illuminati influences in our modern culture, were a primary influence in the promolgation of the lie that these modern day “Jews” have historical origins from Israel and they use this lie to foster wars (which they have financed and profited from for centuries). It is time for all ministers of the Gospel to understand the true historical origins of biblical beliefs. God bless and peace to you.

    • MarciH

      Ummm… I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but you’ve obviously never attended a history class or read your Bible. The bible states that Abraham ( the founder of the Jewish race) was from Chaldea. A quick look at any map will show that Chaldea is in the Middle East, and not part of Africa. As far as historical depictions of Jews and what they looked like, Egyptian tomb paintings depict Semites (the people group Abraham was from) as being lighter skinned than Egyptians, with curly black hair and beards. Even early Roman frescos show Jews with lighter skin and curly hair. The idea that Jews were black is a modern revisionist theory. The truth is that the Jews of the Bible, as well as Jesus would have resembled modern Iraqis(who are mostly Semitic). However, as far as listing Africans as Gentiles, the Jews would have listed them as Gentiles. ANYONE who was not a Jew, whether or not they were similar in appearance or not, was considered a gentile.

    • Tod Thompson

      This is revisionist history that would make a holocaust denier blush.

    • MarciH

      Another thing, if Khazaria wanted to protect itself from christians or muslims, the very WORST thing to do would have been to convert to Judaism. During the 14th century, the Jews were persecuted by everyone. If the Czar had truly wanted to protect his people and forced their conversion, the rational thing to do would have been to covert to either Christianity or Islam. Converting to Judaism would have almost guaranteed that either the Christians or the Muslims would have invaded, and the Muslims more than Christians seeing as how they HATE the Jews (do you not watch the news?). I suggest you do your own research, and use some common sense before espousing such nonsense.

  • Reverend BOB

    Jesus , said my peace, i give you and not the peace that world gives
    this distinction is a gift, that meant to be shared, first the believer and then
    to non the believer we are shod our feet in preparation of the gospel which
    is peace that only Jesus give and bring.
    the church in Acts in the New Testament is a beautiful example of walking, living in the spirit of unity
    and peace. being filled with the Holy Spirit. being led and guided in meekness and humility………….
    a wonderful witness to the glory of God …. A Binding Reminder…….

    JESUS SAID THAT THE FATHER AND I ARE ONE……. Lets build on this firm foundation

  • Sheena

    Great article. I received it and my spirit is comforted and inspired. Thank you :)

    • Derwin L. Gray

      You’re welcome.

  • ColorBlind

    If we would share our opinions on the Martin case with God alone in prayer, (not Facebook, Twitter, etc.) ask His forgiveness for any hatred in our hearts, and turn from our wicked ways He would bless us immeasurably. We Jesus followers MUST let go of old paradigms and become ministers of reconciliation rather than “those hypocritical church people.”

  • Vincent Aja

    What I have been struggling for a long time is to understand how many people with the Bible standing on the pulpits who do not believe in what the Bible had said about God, but would rather believe what the secular people or trust in what the scientists have said about God would ever expect their congregations to believe them. The patriarch Abraham whom everybody knew that has fathered Ismael and married a Black woman by the name Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4).
    Every Bible student knew that Abraham had sent everybody packing while leaving only Isaac as the PROMISED CHILD to proceed with eternal covenant (Genesis 25:5-6). How would a self professed believer ever involved him or herself in theory where and when there are the absolute facts.

  • Craig Cook

    Am in constant awe by Your “grace alone” that touches every part of my being

  • Steven Leapley

    Love this article, I have only one question with regards to creating a multi-cultural church. The greatest divide I see in the biggest gap is black and white churches… in those the greatest distance seems to be in how the sermon is presented and the music. What suggestions would you present for unifying those 2 issues? Thank you


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