Divisions, wars and disputes often happen in our world because of differences in race, culture and religion. So what is a Christian attitude towards these things?
Acts 17 tells of Paul the apostle’s time in Athens – particularly his discussions at the Areopagus – the place in which the Areopagites, the supreme judges of Athens, assembled. It was on a hill almost in the middle of the city. Many accounts suggest that this was the most celebrated tribunal in the world. Its decisions were distinguished for justice and correctness. This court punished vices of all kinds – including idleness; they rewarded the virtuous; they were especially attentive to blasphemies against the gods; and to the performance of the sacred mysteries of religion. Paul was brought before this tribunal, being regarded as a teacher of strange gods and doctrines and introducing a new mode of worship.
Athens was a city of people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. When Athens was incorporated into the Roman Empire it became one of the leading cosmopolitan cities in the world. Paul referred to the Athenians as being “very religious.” This was an accurate statement according to Roman Satirist and historian, Petronius, who said it was “easier to find a god in Athens than a man.” The city was crammed full of temples, shrines, altars, images and statues. Paul’s response to this multi-racial, multicultural and multi-religious city is a good response for any Christian facing questions or challenges over race, culture and religion today.
Paul affirmed the unity of the human race by recognizing two things: Everyone was created by one God and everyone was created from one man: “He himself gives life and breath to everything, and satisfies every need there is.” In verse 28 Paul quotes some Greek Poets who wrote, “We are His offspring” – speaking of the entire human race. In a general sense, God is the Father of every person; since He created us we are all His offspring. That means every human being is our brother or our sister. One of my favourite writers, John Stott, put it this way: “Being equally created by Him and like Him, we have an equal right in His sight to worth and dignity, and therefore have an equal right to respect and justice.” We would do well to remember this as we seek justice for every person, especially those who are unable to fend for themselves, like refugees and the 35 million people in modern-day slavery.
One God created everyone and everyone was created from one man! “From one man he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth.” British Anthropologist Ashley Montagu wrote, “Concerning the origin of the living varieties of Man we can say little more than that there are many reasons for believing that a single stock gave rise to all of them. All varieties of Man belong to the same species and have the same remote ancestry. This is the conclusion to which all the relevant evidence points.” This is backed up by the fact that the four human blood types are, in every respect, the same in all human beings regardless of ethnic background.
With this in mind there is absolutely no room for racial prejudice and there is no room for generalizations about races. On this the apostle James wrote these words, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (3:9-10).
The Christian community should be a place that brings heaven to earth, where we enjoy unity together in our faith regardless of racial background with “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
When it comes to race – embrace!
Next week we’ll discuss a Christian attitude to differences in culture and religion.