My last two posts reflected on the topic of ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts (you can read them here and here). Are they faithful and legitimate? Or are they divisive and less than ideal? I think I’m ready to share my answer and make my case.

I am convinced that ethnic churches are faithful and legitimate instruments of the Spirit, and ordained by the Father to bear witness to the Son amongst the nations in this present age.

First things first. My operating definition of an ‘ethnic church’ is any local congregation that indicates – whether by name, vision, or mission statement – an emphasis on ministering to a particular ethnic group.

Now, when considering the legitimacy of ethnic churches, we need to ask at least three questions. 1) What is the history and context behind each specific ethnic church? 2) What is true God-honoring unity as it pertains to the church? 3) What is the church called to do, who is a local church called to minister to, and how?

Examining the stories behind specific ethnic churches, the nature of Christian unity, and the contextual callings of local churches makes it hard to write off ethnic churches.

What is the history and context behind each specific ethnic church?

History and context often legitimize ethnic churches.

When reflecting on the theological merits of ethnic churches, there is a temptation to theologize abstractly. This usually leads to a negative assessment. But theology is always contextual and performed within history according to the needs of God’s people. We must not theologize about ethnic churches in the abstract. We must consider how they came into existence in history. After all, the very discussion of ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts is itself contextual. Apart from contextual factors such as technological development and mass migration throughout history, there would hypothetically be nothing but ethnic churches.

I want to highlight the stories of three specific ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts to demonstrate why we must not ignore history and context in our theological assessment of ethnic churches. First, there was the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, who supported and complied with the state’s apartheid agenda, barring non-white participation in their churches from 1948 to 1991.

Second, there is the African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1787. The AME was established shortly after a few black Methodists were physically pulled from off their knees while praying. This was because they were not confining themselves to the designated area for “colored people” at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. Furthermore, the black preachers in the Methodist Episcopal Church were only allowed to lead black congregations. Hence, the AME was founded for black Methodists seeking a place of worship unfettered by racism.

Third, there is James Tan and the core group of Chinese immigrants, who planted Boston Chinese Evangelical Church in 1961 to minister to Cantonese-speakers around Boston. In 1983, they added an English worship service, and in 1985 a Mandarin service.

Now, which of these ethnic churches is illegitimate? All of them? None of them? Some of them? I imagine most of us would disapprove of the South African Dutch Reformed Church, which participated in the apartheid. But why? Was it inherently wrong for them to pursue the development of ethnic churches in South Africa? Or were they wrong because they violated human rights and reinforced the apartheid agenda that absolutely demanded segregated churches?

What about the AME and Boston Chinese Evangelical Church? Was the AME divisive for founding a church unfettered by racism and extending the leadership of black Methodist pastors beyond racial boundaries? Was Boston Chinese Evangelical Church’s desire to be an ethnic church ministering to Cantonese speakers divisive? By raising these points, I hope to at least problematize the flat and simplistic notion that ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts are inherently divisive and “unbiblical.” After considering ethnic churches in their own historical contexts, we would be remiss to conclude that ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts are inherently inferior.

What is true God-honoring unity as it pertains to the church?

Christian unity is organic and not inherently jeopardized by ethnic churches.

While Christian unity is of paramount importance, fallen creation is always in danger of uniformity, a counterfeit unity. Now, think about all the non-ethnic-specific or self-proclaimed multi-ethnic churches that you’ve observed. If your experience is like mine, wouldn’t you say that uniformity is more common than an organic unity in diversity? In my experience, most multi-ethnic churches in America reveal a uniformity according to a white American evangelical subculture. Soong-Chan Rah commends our movement away from the assimilationist melting pot analogy, but has been quick to observe that in the newer salad bowl analogy the mixed salad is often overwhelmed by white Ranch dressing.[1] I do not mention this to disparage the white American evangelical subculture, nor the noble aspirations of multi-ethnic churches, but to highlight that the supposed unity of multi-ethnic churches often falls short of ideal Christian unity in diversity. One might even say that a church like Boston Chinese Evangelical Church evidences greater unity in diversity with its worshipers from Hong Kong, Boston, Taiwan, and Mainland China. All this is to say that multi-ethnicity is often rather superficial, and multi-culturalism even more elusive.

Organic Christian unity is not at all disturbed by the formation of real-life ethnic churches, nor the God-ordained particularity of ethnicity itself. More accurately, it is more divisive to criticize ethnic churches as unbiblical than to form an ethnic church. After all, every local church belongs to the one universal church. A redemptive-historical understanding of ekklesia indicates that “the universal church is primary and the local church…can be denoted as ekklesia because the universal ekklesia is revealed and represented in them.”[2]

Furthermore, when multi-ethnic churches are promoted as superior to ethnic churches because they supposedly reflect greater Christian unity, they betray a rather mechanical understanding of unity in diversity. Some evangelicals point to Revelation 7:9’s eschatological vision of one body comprised of many nations, tribes, and tongues. They then assert that an already-not-yet eschatology demands that we pursue this eschatological church’s diversity in our local churches. However, they fail to acknowledge that Scripture does not tell us how the nations, tribes, and tongues are assembled. To use an analogy, is the vision of Revelation 7 more like a randomly mixed bowl of skittles or a bowl of skittles with all the reds, greens, yellows, oranges, and purples assembled in the bowl as in a pie chart? Regardless of their arrangement, they are united within one bowl. Furthermore, it is unclear how Revelation 7 should apply to every local church in this present age.

According to Kuyper, Christian unity is organic. He writes:

The one body of Christ manifests itself differently in different countries, provinces, and regions, and even in neighboring villages and cities…The ordination of God’s providential plan and decree divided the church into local…churches, but the unity of the body of Christ keeps these individual parts together in an organic connection.[3]

Kuyper appreciates the providentially diverse ways in which local churches are formed, such as the AME and Boston Chinese Evangelical Church. For this reason, I am persuaded that organic Christian unity can be and is reflected in both multi-ethnic and ethnic churches.

Other critics of ethnic churches point to passages such as Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3:28-29, which speak of a new humanity or a new identity in Christ and the gospel’s destruction of social divisions. John Howard Yoder paraphrased these texts: “If one is in Christ, there is a whole new world. Ethnic standards have ceased to count.”[4] Such critics often believe that ethnicity is merely a result of sin at Babel. I, however, find Mark Kreitzer’s Kuyperian interpretation far more convincing. While the sinners at Shinar pridefully pursued an empire of uniformity, God scattered them into peoples according to His plan for human multiformity.[5] The existence of distinct nations and peoples was divinely ordained, and this rich diversity of tribes, tongues, and nations was always an eschatological goal.[6]

Furthermore, Kreitzer points out that just as Jesus rose from the grave as a physical, Galilean-Jewish male, so also will New Covenant believers retain their gender and ethno-linguistic particularities in the New Creation. He writes: “Biblical Christianity is therefore not platonic-gnostic with a de-particularized non-ethnic, androgynous person as the ideal…Redemptive history does not move away from so-called divisive social identities of the first creation, but rather establishes them in mature and restored form.”[7]

Therefore, if ethnic distinctions were divinely-ordained and remain in the New Creation, arguments against ethnic churches based on a new non-ethnic identity in Christ lose their clout.

What is the church called to do, who is a local church called to minister to, and how?

Every local church is called to minister to the world contextually.

One common-sense evangelical argument for the superiority of multi-ethnic churches is that the local church should “strive to reach everyone.” But this argument is incredibly vague. Of course, every local church represents the universal church. Hence, every local church is called to serve the world. But who specifically? This is where many evangelicals would argue that one should seek to serve one’s local area. Tim Keller himself strongly urges church planters to plant churches that reflect the demographics of their neighborhoods. I admit that I’m sympathetic to this in my own context, but need this be an absolute rule for all churches? If so, almost all English-speaking ethnic churches in America are being unfaithful.

While pursuing a church demographic that proportionally matches the community’s might be a helpful and wise benchmark for certain churches, to impose any particular vision of unity and diversity upon a local church strikes me as mechanistic. This is especially true since the automobile has fundamentally altered our conception of communities’ bounds. How many of us worship at the closest Christian church to our home? Binding local churches to the norm of multi-ethnicity is mechanistic if our conception of church unity is absolutely bound by spatial-location. Is a church less faithful if it’s attended by more people who live ten minutes away by car than people who live ten minutes away by foot? Didn’t Jesus just say that his sheep would hear his voice?

It is not clear that targeting or focusing on ministry toward a particular ethnic group or having “African,” or “Korean” in a church’s name transgresses the aspects of church life and ministry that Christ instituted. Neither is it clear that doing such is an automatically exclusive action. Viewed more positively, focusing on ministry to a people group might indicate the pursuit of contextualized ministry. In every local church, ethnic and multi-ethnic alike, the leaders will make contextual decisions about how to minister to their congregation and their community. They will inevitably focus more on certain things and less on others. Most local churches play their strengths according to their context, stewarding whatever gifts God has given them. Surely stewardship may include the utilization of one’s ethnicity. I’m convinced that ethnicity can be stewarded well in both multi-ethnic and ethnic churches. What I’m saying is, focusing on an ethnic group is certainly not the only way to do contextual ministry, but can’t it be one way?

Might ethnic churches be one way of promoting a rich, God-ordained diversity and multiformity? After all, Kuyper insisted that the people of Indonesia not be made “Dutch” to become Christians, but that they be made into “Javanese Christians in whose domestic and social life a spiritual life will flow according to its own character and form.”[8] Might not an ethnically Javanese church helpfully serve this end?

The body of Christ is filled with a diversity of gifts and contextual callings, all shaped by the reality of ethnicity. This diversity applies to local churches too. Hence, ethnic churches are one of many legitimate expressions of the local churches’ diverse and contextual ministry to the world.

Conclusion

To summarize, the absolute claim that ethnic churches are inherently inferior or more divisive than multi-ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts is very difficult to substantiate if one pays attention to the unique histories and contexts of specific ethnic churches. Furthermore, true Christian unity is organic and not jeopardized by ethnic churches or God-ordained ethnic particularity. Lastly, ethnic churches are not at odds with the local churches’ calling to minister to the world. Rather, ethnic churches are one contextual way of heeding this call.

Admittedly, ethnic churches often fail to maintain a clear testimony. And on its own, a Kuyperian theology of ethnicity could and has fostered ethnocentrism, ghettoization, and even racism as witnessed in South Africa’s apartheid era. But such ills are not inherent to ethnic churches. For this reason, I am convinced that ethnic churches are legitimate instruments of the Spirit, ordained by the Father to bear witness to the Son amongst the nations in this present age.

May God ever help all his local churches to better reflect the unity and diversity of his perfect purposes.


This blog post was shortened and adapted from a paper I recently presented at Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2017 Kuyper Conference, titled: “Ethnic Churches in Multi-Ethnic Contexts: A Neo-Calvinist Appraisal.”

Footnotes:

[1] Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009), 86.
[2] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, transl. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids, MI: WB Eerdmans, 1975), 330.
[3] Abraham Kuyper, “Tract on the Reformation of the Churches” in On The Church, ed. John Halsey Wood Jr. & Andrew McGinnis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 115.
[4] John H. Yoder, “The Social Shape of the Gospel,” in Exploring Church Growth, ed. Wilbert Shenk (Grand Rapids, MI: WB Eerdmans, 1983), 283.
[5] Abraham Kuyper, “The Tower of Babel” in Common Grace vol. 1, ed. Jordan Ballor and Stephen Grabill (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 357-364.
[6] Abraham Kuyper, “Spiritual Unity” in Pro Rege vol. 1, ed. Nelson Kloosterman (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 225.
[7] Mark Kreitzer, The Concept of Ethnicity in the Bible, (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), 394-395.
[8] Abraham Kuyper, “Uniformity: The Curse of Modern Life” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, 40-41.

Posted by Andrew Ong

Andrew is an ABC (American Born Chinese) born to ABCs from Northern California. After completing a B.A. in Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine, he moved to Philadelphia for his MDiv at Westminster Theological Seminary. He and his beautiful wife currently live in Scotland where he is pursuing a PhD in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, researching Chinese American evangelicals and Neo-Calvinist theology. Andrew’s a simple guy whose passions include: sushi, pizza, nachos, and the Golden State Warriors. On his less sanctified days he lives by the maxim: #ballislife.

3 Comments

  1. Copied and pasted from a Facebook discussion with permission.

    Jesse Rey Quesada Haha, just kidding. Ok, in all honesty though, I do have some questions. To be up front, I disagree wholeheartedly with the article, but I’m hoping I just don’t fully understand what you’re getting at because at first glance it seems like the article could be renamed “In Defense of Segregation”. In your previous articles, you seemed to be advocating that congregations in multi-ethnic contexts should strive for ethnic diversity, corresponding with Revelation 7, but this article seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Is that correct? If so, I don’t think you’ve really established a precedent for it. You build the foundation of your case on history and “unity”, but a) history is not our authority, Scripture is, and b) you haven’t defined the “unity” you’re talking about. You simultaneously demean “white” church culture as ranched-down and multi-ethnic “unity” as being superficial while never introducing your replacement unity of greater depth. In fact, it seems that your replacement unity is “being ethnically and culturally Chinese”, which is by definition superficial. The question is not contextual in nature, as you suggested, but doctrinal. Biblical unity is not based upon cultural distinctives, but on doctrinal purity. What NT passage would you turn to where the Spirit instructs to be of one mind “in reference to our Jewish ethnicity and customs”? Regarding the passages you did reference, Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3:28, you didn’t really deal with them in the context of what your article is arguing for, and it’s hard to see your quotes as having reference to ethnic isolation within a multi-ethnic context. While I do think Galatians 3:28 & Colossians 3:11 applied are clearly antithetical to your position, even more relevant are Galatians 2:11-21, Acts 2 & 15 which deal directly with segregation and the ethnically diverse pattern of the first church. Also, in your article reflecting on T4G, I couldn’t agree more with Jeremy Yong’s thoughts on the clear gospel failures of ethnic churches in America, and it seems careless to propose the preservation of these ethnic churches without a full response to these issues. Please let me know what your thoughts are, and if I have misunderstood your position in any way.
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 9:36pm · Edited
    Jesse Rey Quesada
    Jesse Rey Quesada Also for some context, the first 7 years of my Christian life I was a member of 2nd generation Asian American reformed congregations, and I had heard a lot about the gospel failures of 1st generation ethnically Asian congregations. When I married my wife, who was raised in such a church, I had the “pleasure” of experiencing the racism and prejudice they foster first hand. So I’m pretty opposed to these churches being encouraged to bunker down all the more into their ethnic bubble, if that’s what you’re suggesting. Once again, if I’m misunderstanding, please let me know. Thanks!
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 9:42pm · Edited
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Thanks for following the blog posts and reading the latest one. I appreciate that. I’m surprised that we haven’t met, considering how many mutual friends we have. From a quick glance of your photos, it looks like my cousin, Bryan Lee, was even one of your groomsman! Small world!

    Thanks also for engaging with me in this dialogue. I’m always down to have my thoughts sharpened and even challenged. Hopefully I can provide a fitting response that addresses the points you raised.

    First, I definitely did not intend to write a defense of segregation. In my understanding of the history of segregation, segregation implies an involuntary enforcement, infringing upon the rights and liberties of Christian worshipers. I was not arguing that people must worship in ethnic churches, nor that ethnic churches are better. I think people should freely choose whether they want to worship in ethnic churches or multi-ethnic churches based on a variety of contextual factors. I need to clarify: arguing that ethnic churches are merely legitimate is not the same as arguing for the segregation of churches based on ethnicity. Certainly in history, the former has been used to justify the latter, but it is important to distinguish them as not mutually implying one another. My view is that BOTH ethnic and multi-ethnic local churches are good and needed depending on the context, and have come into historical existence organically by the Spirit.

    I’ve wrestled with Revelation 7 in the past couple posts, but as of right now, I do not think that Revelation 7 is a very firm ground for delegitimizing ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts wholesale. It is a very long and tenuous road to go from Revelation 7:9 to “all local churches in multi-ethnic contexts must NOT be ethnic churches, thus saith the LORD.”

    I definitely agree with you that history is not our authority and that Scripture is. At the same time, I understand Scripture to be the divinely inspired record of redemptive-history. And since God has seen fit to reveal his thoughts to us in history, it makes sense to me that we strive to think his thoughts after him in history. We should embrace the diverse ways in which Scripture can be applied across our various historical contexts. I’m not convinced that there is a one-size fits all mandate from Scripture concerning the ethnic makeup of every local church. Out of curiosity, do you think that the AME should not have been founded?

    You’re right that I could have explained what organic Christian unity is better. My understanding of church unity is that it is Spiritual. Church Unity is something that exists by virtue of the Spirit of God’s presence within the entire body of Christ. Hence, my point about true Christian unity is that it is not dependent upon every single local church being multi-ethnic. Unity is constituted by Christ and His Spirit, but it can be reflected by local churches in diverse ways. A Chinese church and a Korean church reflect this unity as they confess the same LORD. I think the problem is that while people tend to see an “ethnic church” as divisive versus a “(just) church” as non-divisive, I see the very existence of ethnic churches as actually demonstrating* the universality of the gospel and the unity that exists in Christ by His Spirit. I think this comes down to how we understand the relationship between local churches and the one universal church. I tend to see the one universal church as primary. At least, that’s how I read ekklesia in Scripture (following Herman Ridderbos).

    To all who read my words as demeaning white churches, please forgive me! That was not my intention. I simply meant to shed light on the fact that what is often thought to be a “neutral gospel” culture in many American multi-ethnic contexts is actually a very white evangelical culture. I am unconvinced that there is simply a single “neutral” Christian culture. I love Lamin Sanneh on this. Christianity is not an acultural faith, it is embodied by real people from real cultures with real particularities. That’s what makes it so much more compelling than secularism or Islam.

    I definitely do not think that the essence of unity is rooted in the particularities of ethnicity, such as my Chinese identity. I definitely don’t think that essential Christian unity is based on cultural distinctives. I’m curious to know what I said that suggested that to you because that is not what I want to communicate, and would like to fix my post if necessary.

    Regarding the question being contextual vs. doctrinal, I would push back a little on this. I’m not sure that the two things are so clearly separate. All doctrines are articulated within particular contexts and inevitably applied uniquely across a multitude of contexts. Perhaps this is a hermeneutical discussion. I am of the persuasion that application is very much a part of meaning (following Vern Poythress). Furthermore, I’m not sure if there is an explicit doctrine that demands a particular demographic makeup for all local churches.

    To your next question, you are right. There is no passage where the Spirit instructs us to be of one mind “in reference to our Jewish ethnicity and customs.” But my question is, how narrow do we have to understand what it means to be “of one mind.” Perhaps the difference between you and me is that while you think that the existence of ethnic churches transgresses this call to be of one mind, I don’t. I don’t think that ethnic churches transgress this because they all have the same mind in Christ by His Spirit.
    Like · Reply · 23 hrs · Edited
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong I’m not quite sure what you were getting at with Eph 2 and Gal 3, but I appreciate your comments on Gal 2 and Acts 2;15. Pentecost in Acts 2 might actually be used as an argument for ethnic churches. This especially follows if we don’t see the proliferation of tongues at Babel as a curse, but as a manifestation of God’s kindness. Also, in Acts 15, one might even argue that the apostles were giving directions for how the non-Jewish peoples should worship and practice their Christian faith. I can see someone actually using this passage to defend ethnic churches and their contextual worship.

    As for Gal 2 I do wonder, if this text was as much about ethnic separation as about the relation of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. Surely, ethnicity is in view, but it’s not JUST about ethnicity. In Gal 2, the problem was not that ethnic churches existed, it was Peter’s refusal to religious and social refusal to eat with Gentiles. To me, this is like a Korean church refusing black Christians from their Communion Table. But surely being a Korean church doesn’t inherently mean you only offer fellowship to those who are Korean.

    And again, my argument for the legitimacy of ethnic churches is not an argument for segregation. I am simply arguing that all the ethnic churches that do exist in multi-ethnic contexts are not necessarily unfaithful and illegitimate or ethnocentric. This is the heart of my argument. It is a lot softer of an argument than what some readers might take it to be.

    Finally, on your point about Jeremy Yong’s words. I ask your forgiveness for my carelessness. I do intend to follow this post up with another discussing some ways that ethnic churches can protect themselves from common pitfalls. I just wasn’t able to include those points in this post. Ethnic churches have definitely failed in many ways over the years (just as multi-ethnic churches have). Btw, thank you for sharing your context and story with me. I especially feel for you and what you and your wife saw and experienced in ethnic churches. My post was not in any way intended to excuse their sins and missteps.

    So yea, I hope I touched upon all your concerns, even if you find my responses unsatisfactory. The main point of possible misunderstanding as I see it is that perhaps you thought I was arguing FOR ethnic churches (as in…we OUGHT to have ethnic churches), when I would prefer to state my argument as a defense of ethnic churches that already do exist and may continue to be planted. By no means do I think ethnic churches are superior. I just don’t think that they are inferior either. Do they have problems? Yes. Are these problems related to ethnicity? Yes, often. But is being a church that indicates – whether by name, vision, or mission statement – an emphasis on ministering to a particular ethnic group inherently* wrong? Does it automatically mean they will bunker down into an exclusive ethnic bubble? I’m unconvinced.
    Like · Reply · 23 hrs
    Jesse Rey Quesada
    Jesse Rey Quesada Wow! Thanks for responding so thoroughly. Now we’ve got a real discussion on our hands! 😀 Haha, yeah we’re practically cousins. Actually, Bryan sent me the article. I suspect if nothing more than because he knew it would trigger me, haha.

    So, maybe I should make a point of clarification regarding what I’m talking about. I am not suggesting that all churches must be ethnically diverse. I am saying that the ethnic composition of local churches should reflect the cultural context in which they exist. So, of course if you plant a church in Mexico, it will be ethnically homogeneous. However, with the Bay Area being one of the most ethnically diverse places on the planet, local churches should reflect that back to the world in their fellowship. So, the argument isn’t “ethnic” vs “diverse”, but “representative” vs “selective”.

    So as not to conflate the issues, when I use terms like “ethnic church” I will be referring to churches that are not representative in their ethnic demographic.

    Regarding the AME, I don’t know enough about it to really give any meaningful insight, however it isn’t parallel to what we’re talking about. The AME’s creation amidst wicked, ungodly laws enforcing racism doesn’t legitimize people planting a “Chinese” church in 2017 in Chicago. That said, I’m not suggesting that God hasn’t and doesn’t use these ethnic churches for His own ends. Of course He does. He also used Judas to cast out demons and preach. That doesn’t legitimize Judas though. The question is whether or not it’s Biblical. The only way we can think God’s thoughts after Him, and discern God’s interpretation of His own providence is to look to the Scriptures, not outside of them. You might say ethnic churches were an organic work of the Spirit, but you’re speculating at that point without revelation from God to say as much.

    I agree that unity is spiritual, but it must primarily revolve around propositional truth and Christ, not ethnicity. Saying it’s spiritual doesn’t mean you get to leave it undefined. The 2nd point in your article seems to suggests that there can be greater unity if a church is ethnically homogeneous; if that’s the case, then the foundation of the unity is not centered on Christ, but on their ethnicity, which is not Biblical unity.

    I agree that someone *could* use Acts 2 & 15 to support ethnic churches, but they would be wrong 😛 The issue is that they’d be looking for justification for the status quo of ethnic churches rather than trying to see what the Biblical pattern is first. The birth of the church in Acts 2 is not an insignificant event, but a providential demonstration of the philosophy and intent of what the church should be. The fact that “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs” heard the gospel, believed, and joined the church *in Jerusalem* is providentially instructive for what God’s creation of the NT church is to be. And this pattern is continued throughout the NT with the Jews being dispersed, so you have churches everywhere that are struggling with the issues of *not* being homogeneous communities, and thus Acts 15. The answer was never “it’s hard to have unity with other ethnicities, so everyone just buddy up with the person you look the most like,” but “be united in Christ!” And that’s why Galatians 2 is important. Paul says that it was hypocritical for Peter and others to withdraw themselves from the gentiles, and form a little Jewish club. Yes, their motives were out of fear of circumcision party, but are you suggesting that if their motives had been, “well, we want to minister exclusively to the Jews” that Paul would have rather commended them? Paul, the champion of contextual ministry? Of course not. He adopted a representative model rather than a selective one to become as those around him in order to protect the ministry of the gospel. “To the Greek I stayed a Jew” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, haha.

    I appreciate that you want to stand with me and condemn the sins of ethnic churches, but you aren’t recognizing the root of those sins. The very nature of creating a sub-community that does not reflect or interact with the outside is the very place prejudice grows. I think you’re right that the discussion needs to focus on what the future of these ethnic churches become, but to legitimize them only encourages the same behavior to continue. Yes, the beauty of Christian unity can be seen when you look at all the churches in homogeneous cultures side by side as a spectrum and see God’s saving people from every tribe, nation, and tongue. But the greater beauty is what you see in the NT, when you have non-homogeneous believers within the same church striving for the faith of the gospel, standing firm in one spirit, united together in Christ. That demonstrates supernatural unity.

    Ok, I really need to step away because I’m getting too passionate about this, haha. Being the child of a mixed ethnicity family, and a husband of a mixed ethnicity marriage, I really just love the beauty of diversity. I don’t understand why in light of the gospel, apart from necessity of language, someone would choose to seek out a homogeneous community.
    Like · Reply · 20 hrs
    James Hong
    James Hong Wow, you guys know each other? Would love to chime in as this is an interesting discussion, but you guys write too much. However, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the treatment of the Hellenistic Jews and how that might apply to this discussion. Glad to see the Berean nature strong here and the desire to come to our conclusions at the juncture of God’s Word.
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · 18 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Jesse Rey Quesada, If you need to step away, I respect that, but would you mind if I responded to your response here for the sake of others listening in to our discussion?
    Like · Reply · 15 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Also, would you be willing to let me copy and paste our discussion into the comments section of the actual blog post? I like to keep a record of these things and to allow people to share in dialogue.
    Like · Reply · 13 hrs · Edited
    Jesse Rey Quesada
    Jesse Rey Quesada Yeah, of course. And I more meant step away for the moment so I don’t just start ranting, haha. Keep the discussion going! 🙂
    Like · Reply · 8 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Thank you for taking the discussion to ‘local churches should reflect [multi-ethnicity] back to the [multi-ethnic] world in their fellowship.” This is very perceptive of you, and I try to touch on this a little more in my actual paper. So the more relevant questions are now: 1) Is language the only* viable reason to have an ethnic church in a multi-ethnic context? 2) Is every local church that ministers in the primary language of its local community obligated to pursue a demographic within its membership that reflects the demographic of its local community?

    I imagine you would say ‘yes’ to both these questions, but I would say ‘no’ to both. For the first question, a lot of this has to do with where the burden of proof lies. Is the burden of proof on me to demonstrate that there are other viable reasons to have an ethnic church in a multi-ethnic context. Or is the burden of proof on you to prove that language is the only* viable reason to have an ethnic church in a multi-ethnic context? I won’t assume the burden of proof is on you. That’s why I shared the stories of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, the AME, and Boston Chinese Evangelical Church, which I think demonstrate that there are both good reasons AND bad reasons to plant ethnic churches that minister in the primary language of their local community.

    For the second question, I wonder if such specificity with regard to how a church should minister and pursue mission activities can be stated so dogmatically. I believe that the texts you mentioned can and should be applied in such a way that calls some churches to strive to be ‘representative’ churches, but I’m not convinced that it is an absolutely binding or universal application that we can impose on every local church. If we were to be consistent with this supposedly ‘biblical’ principle, does it also apply to our own personal relationships? Should my personal friendships and even romantic relationships be ‘representative’ of my local community? Should my personal evangelistic activity be ‘representative’ of my local community? Or is it acceptable that I organically make friends in the way that most people do? And is it acceptable that I evangelize the unbelievers who happen to be in my life, such as family members and friends and co-workers even if they aren’t spatially located as close to me as my next door neighbour who keeps to herself and prefers not to engage with me?

    Another point that could be made is that the notion of who our local community is is rather fluid. I actually would argue that ethnic churches could be seen in a very real sense as ‘representative’ churches. The automobile has problematized what it means to be a local community church, I think. Who of us attends the closest Christian church to our home? I imagine that you might say theological convictions are what people should choose, and I agree to an extent, but this is not something we can be rigid about. Who ever agrees with their pastor’s theological convictions 100%? And even for those of us who might, don’t most of us end up going to churches for extra reasons such as community and philosophy of ministry, even if theologically they are the same as churches that are nearer to us? To erect rigid lines as to which churches people should and shouldn’t go to strikes me as just as dangerous, if not more, than the threat ethnocentrism in ethnic churches. As I think I shared in the blog post, I think it is more divisive to call ethnic churches ‘unbiblical’ than to plant an ethnic church.
    Like · Reply · 7 hrs · Edited
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong As a point of clarification, the 2nd point of my article was to explore the reality that there is a diversity of unities. There is such a thing as ethnic unity that does not nullify Christian unity. I surely do not believe ethnic unity is the foundation of unity. Of course Christ is. I just don’t think that ethnic churches inherently* threaten our unity in Christ.
    Like · Reply · 7 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Very interesting point about “in Jerusalem.” Perhaps we diverge here because I am a Presbyterian, while my guess is that you are a Baptist with a congregationalist leaning? Hence, you might see Jerusalem as an autonomous and independent local church, whereas I see what happened in Jerusalem as, in many senses, the beginning of the entire universal NT church, which all local churches henceforth represent, whether they be ethnic churches or multi-ethnic churches, ‘representative’ churches or ‘niche’ churches.

    To your point about the churches struggling to not* be homogeneous, I would qualify that and say they were struggling not to be homogeneously Jewish. I’m convinced that God didn’t intend androgynous, non-ethnic Christians, but male Christians, female Christians, Chinese Christians, and African Christians, who are all one in Christ. New creation realities do not disintegrate creational particularities.
    Like · Reply · 7 hrs · Edited
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong I do think there is something to be said for distinguishing between “starting a little Jewish club” and “intentionally wanting to minister to the Jews” (though not exclusively, no ethnic church I know claims to exclusively minister to an ethnic group, see my definition of ethnic churches in the blog post). After all Paul was sent to minister to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Galatians 2:7-10 seems to allow a lot of flexibility for (church?) ministry. Per your Paul example, I’d qualify what he did and say he was a Jew who became a Greek to win Greeks. I would accent that his action was to develop a distinctively Hellenistic Christianity for Hellenistic people, as opposed to giving them a Jewish or an acultural Christianity. He wants to make Hellenistic Christian disciples. While I don’t think this MANDATES Hellenistic Christian churches, I do think that it makes room for Hellenistic Christian churches.
    Like · Reply · 7 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong I have to disagree that legitimizing ethnic churches encourages prejudice. Just because certain sins might possibly manifest themselves in ethnic churches does not make such churches illegitimate. It should merely make ethnic churches more vigilant and self-critical as they seek to be faithful to their callings.

    I’m not sure one could say that one beauty is more beautiful than another beauty. I also don’t think it’s fair to say that one evidences more unity than the other. I much prefer to say that both are beautiful and manifest Christian unity in their own God-ordained ways. Such rigid understandings of beauty and unity seem contrary to God’s creational pattern of organic and harmonious unity and diversity.

    Lastly, I really appreciate what you’ve shared from your personal experiences, and don’t in any way mean to criticize your personal convictions. My plea is that we not let our own personal and contextualized convictions impose on others when it comes to our thoughts on ethnic/niche and multi-ethnic/representative churches. To say “I personally don’t feel called to an ethnic church” is one thing, but to say that someone should not attend an ethnic church because ethnic churches are unbiblical is quite another thing. I am supportive of the former, but against the latter.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 7 hrs
    Mark Yunseok Jeong
    Mark Yunseok Jeong Thanks for this Andrew! I was just reading Romans 14-15 for class and think it accents your point that Paul wants to make Gentile disciples while leaving room for Jewish disciples as well. Note how he advocates that both those who honor certain days and those who don’t are both welcomed by God (14:3), which is significant since days and food laws were perceived as “ethnic” differences or markers. Paul wants harmony between Greeks and Jews (15:5) in which they acknowledge each other’s differences (15:8-9). Also, all this should be read in light of the Gentile collection for the Jewish saints in Jerusalem. Solidarity and harmony, but not uniformity, and not even an erasure of differences.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 7 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Mark Yunseok Jeong = the next great NT scholar.
    Like · Reply · 7 hrs
    Jesse Rey Quesada
    Jesse Rey Quesada I’m still working on your response Andrew, but Mark Regarding Romans 14, you’re completely missing the point. The issue is that this is happening *within the same congregation*. These are the kinds of hurdles non-homogeneous churches encounter and have to work through to preserve unity. No one is advocating the abolishing of ethnic distinctives in favor of a cookie-cutter culture, but the history of the NT church is that of unity in diversity. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 14 wasn’t that the Jews form an ethnically Jewish church, and the gentiles form a gentile one, but that they accept one another and live in harmony. It’s the exact opposite application than that of legitimizing ethnic churches.
    Like · Reply · 6 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Jesse Rey Quesada Is it more harmonious to have Jewish churches, Gentile churches, and intermixed churches or to insist only upon intermixed churches? The history and goal of the NT church is indeed unity in diversity. That’s not the question. The question is whether every local church must absolutely and rigidly reflect your personal understanding of unity in diversity.
    Like · Reply · 6 hrs
    Mark Yunseok Jeong
    Mark Yunseok Jeong I should have mentioned that my reply was specifically to Andrew’s point that Paul was out to make Hellenistic disciples and not force them to a certain cultural mold. But I also think your assumption that Paul was dealing with issues in “the same congregation” is off. There’s no evidence that Paul was writing to one congregation; in fact, the evidence points to multiple congregations scattered throughout Rome (see Peter Lampe’s “From Paul to Valentinus”). I also think the picture the NT gives us of the church is more diverse than you say. I think the “harmony” Paul advocates in Romans 15 is between primarily (exclusively?) Gentile congregations in Rome and their Jewish neighbors, especially the Jewish congregations in Jerusalem (15:27). I agree Paul’s point isn’t to advocate or legitimize ethnic churches, but that “they accept one another and live in harmony.” The fact that Paul can say this of multiple congregations that WERE ethnically distinct (though perhaps not exclusively so) at least shows that Paul’s response to such congregations isn’t that they disband their churches, but that they glorify God with “one voice.”
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 6 hrs
    Jesse Rey Quesada
    Jesse Rey Quesada So, I think a problem I’m seeing is that you’re stating what your position is rather than proving it from Scripture. I’m trying to show what the meaning and intention of the church is based on Acts and other passages in the NT, and you’re kind of responding, “Yeah, I don’t agree”, but instead you need to establish a pattern of the church in Scripture, not extra-Biblical history.

    Since you’re Presbyterian we probably disagree on what the NT church is, but either way, according to Ephesians 2 the point of the NT church is that the ethnic boundaries have been taken down. You’re suggesting that when Paul says God “made both groups into one” that we should read that as “He made them into equal but separate groups.” There just isn’t any evidence in the NT to suggest that the church was not representative wherever it existed, or that certain ethnicities clumped together as the “Greek church of Galatia” or the “Jewish church of Philippi”. It is only sheer imagination to assume this is what was happening. In Acts 2 the narrative says 1) all these different demographics were in Jerusalem, 2) thousands of them got saved, and 3) they remained “together” as one unit forming the church (“all those who had believed were together and had all things in common”, “continuing with one mind in the temple”, and “taking their meals together”). There is no second option even hinted at that they “organically” segregated based on ethnicity.

    To your first point, if language is not the only legitimate reason to form an ethnic church (and I would argue that such a congregation would still need to be attached to a representative model church), then why stop there? Why not all male churches, or all rich churches, all disabled churches, all blonde churches, all firefighter churches. I trust you find the suggestion as silly as I do. The gospel clearly tears down the ethnic barriers (and all others) previously intact, so to suggest only ethnic-based churches are legitimate and not any other category is arbitrary.

    On your second point, if you agree that the texts indicate a principle of representation, then the burden of proof is on you to produce a contrary principle in the text. And yes, of course your evangelistic outreach should strive to be representative of your community! Are you suggesting that within your workplace, you would only share the gospel with other Asians? That would be horrific! This obviously doesn’t apply as a mandate for personal relationships because we’re talking about the entity of the church, not a marriage. I would say however that although marriages are clearly not mandated to be mult-ethnic, the gospel would make it wrong for one to exclude people based on race from consideration (which is absolutely rampant in ethnic churches).

    You keep mentioning “organic” as though it is an unquestionably good principle, but I’m not convinced of this. The question is what is the mechanism by which one “organically” orders his life? Racists “organically” clumb together too, so obviously “organic” is not inherently praiseworthy. The mechanism we should organize our life by is supernatural love. The gospel nature of the NT church is *not* organic, but ordered in a representative way because we love all people. Paul’s missionary journeys were *not* organic, but representative. The nature of all missions is *not* organic, but representative. I think it’s a real twist of words to suggest that a representative model of the church is the “rigid” one rather than the selective model. It’s clearly more rigid to narrow down the scope of who your church is for. You’re saying it’s legitimate for ethnicities to go out of their way to exclude others and group together, rather than being united with their surrounding demographics. Paul commanded to appoint elders in every *city*, so the basis of the church is clearly representative. He didn’t say appoint elders based on every ethnicity.

    I think you’re being naïve to say “no ethnic church I know claims to exclusively minister to an ethnic group.” The fact that ethnic churches put their ethnicities in their names automatically precludes other ethnicities from joining, wanting to join, or feeling welcome. I mean, try to use that logic on any other group outside of the church. Wouldn’t naming a group “Soccer team for whites” clearly imply that blacks were not welcome? And you wouldn’t accept their explanation that, “well, in our purpose statement we never outright said we were *only* allowing whites on the team.” Let’s be real here.

    Regarding Galatians 2:7-10, the only way to think this supports ethnic churches would be to presuppose it beforehand. Peter was set up in Jerusalem, and I have already established from Acts 2 that this church was a single unit comprised of diverse ethnicities. In Galatians 2, the clear picture is that Peter came into a church that was comprised of Jews & gentiles, and that his subsequent hypocrisy sought to divide the established mixture. It doesn’t say he came to Antioch and “had no dealings with gentiles, for he was the apostle to the Jews.” The church was representative when he arrived, so there is clearly no argument here for ethnic churches.

    Yes, you can say one beauty is greater than the other because that is what the Scripture does. The entire point of the gospel is that the breaking down of the dividing wall produced a greater beauty in salvation. What on earth would the purpose of Revelation 7 be if not to show how beautifully far-reaching the church is? Yes, it is more beautiful and, as I said, demonstrates a *supernatural* (not organic) unity to see a representative model function well rather than a selective one. It doesn’t require a supernatural work of the Spirit for white people to organically clump together. The demonstration of the gospel of peace is that it undoes all the ways in which we are naturally divided: by ethnicity, class, gender, status, etc. It makes us into one group, which is patterned throughout the NT as individual churches.

    Yes, I am passionate about this issue because of my personal upbringing, but I am not biased by it. My upbringing is representative of the culture I live in. Conversely, it seems as though you are presupposing your stance based upon your own upbringing (being raised in CCS and ethnic churches). I do appreciate your insight into this matter, but it seems as though you are starting with the assumption that it’s good, rather than proving it.
    Like · Reply · 3 hrs · Edited
    Mark Yunseok Jeong
    Mark Yunseok Jeong I can’t respond to everything you wrote (I’ll let Andrew share his thoughts ?), but just want to point out that Acts 2 doesn’t support your case, since those gathered in Jerusalem were diaspora Jews (2:5) who spoke the language of their homelands but were still ethnically Jews. As you said, they were attending the temple together, something forbidden to Gentiles. What about Romans 15:26-27? Paul equates the churches in Macedonia and Achaia with “Gentiles” and the church(es) in Jerusalem with Jews. This is clear from v. 27 where he says these Gentiles owe it to the Jerusalem church.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs
    Jesse Rey Quesada
    Jesse Rey Quesada Mark Yunseok Jeong I definitely have to disagree with you on Acts 2. Verse 5 is a summary statement, but verses 9-11 fill out the meaning as “both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.” And those were the groups from which thousands got saved, and went on to comprise the church in Jerusalem. As for Romans, yes, those regions are regarded as “the gentiles” and represent predominately gentile believers, so Paul naturally refers to them as such. As I said in one of my responses, I am arguing for a representative model. So if you were to plant a church in Macedonia, and the demographic of the city was Macedonian, then that is what your church would look like. You wouldn’t need to convince residents of Egypt to travel to join your church. But still, as persecution breaks out and the Jews are dispersed, they join these other churches. They don’t create Jewish cliques wherever they go.
    Like · Reply · 2 hrs
    Jesse Rey Quesada
    Jesse Rey Quesada I’ll give you guys the last word 🙂
    Like · Reply · 2 hrs
    Mark Yunseok Jeong
    Mark Yunseok Jeong Cretans and Arabs explains the term “proselyte”, which means a Gentile who had become a Jew. Also, if Acts 2 describes Gentiles along with Jews coming to faith, Acts 11:1 makes no sense. Why would it surprise the apostles and brothers in Judea that the Gentiles had also received the Word of God if that already happened in Acts 2 in Jerusalem? Acts 11 also serves as a good example that the church in Jerusalem was Jewish. Note how Peter is having to justify to fellow believers in Jerusalem that the Gentiles have also come to faith. The concluding verse in v 18 is especially poignant: “When they (Jewish Christians in Jerusalem) heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.””
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs
    Mark Yunseok Jeong
    Mark Yunseok Jeong I’m gonna bow out too, since I don’t think I’m really furthering the specific points Andrew is trying to make.
    Like · Reply · 2 hrs
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Jesse Rey Quesada I think a better way of stating my line of thought throughout this is that I’m trying to dismantle the dogmatic position that every local church must be ‘representative’ of its local community according to the community’s ethnic diversity, or else it is illegitimate. I think the burden of proof is on you to prove that that is the case.

    Ephesians 2 is not enough to absolutely mandate the dogmatic position that illegitimizes all* ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts. The reality of unity in Christ across ethnic boundaries does not absolutely necessitate that every single local church in a multi-ethnic context pursue the exact same demographic as its context. That’s my main point. But when you say that my main position is that God made equal but separate groups or that I am advocating “segregation” or that “only ethnic-based churches are legitimate” it indicates to me that you are either not understanding my position, or just choosing to interpret it uncharitably and to attach fallacious implications to it.

    My argument is not based on conjured up ethnic churches in Galatia or Philippi. It’s based on looking at ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts today and how they were established, and then asking if every single one of these cases was illegitimate. I don’t think you can make that case. Even if you tried, I think I’ve demonstrated that the case isn’t airtight.

    I’m surprised that you don’t even see ethnic churches that were starated to worship in ethnic tongues as legitimate if they are independent from “representative” churches. That’s even more extreme than what I thought I was dealing with. Does it also follow that a church next to SF Chinatown is illegitimate if it is not attached to a church where people worship in Cantonese and Mandarin?

    I am sympathetic to your question about why not all male, blonde, or firefighter churches. But it’s for exactly this reason that I do not think we should theologize outside of real-life historical contexts. However, in an absolutely hypothetical sense there could very well be situations in which such churches might be legit, I think. Perhaps there could be a community with a high % of males, blondes, or firefighters. You are assuming that “niche” churches are automatically exclusive, but that need to be proven. This goes to your other point about ethnic names being in churches. Do you really think that you can justify from Scripture that it is wrong* to include the word “Korean” in a church’s name? I think the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that, and Ephesians 2 won’t get you all the way there. Ephesians 2 means that Christ is for everyone, he is for Chinese churches and Korean churches and multi-ethnic churches, not* that it is absolutely wrong to have an ethnic church in a multi-ethnic context. Do you understand that difference that I’m trying to tease out? Perhaps another problem is that you are assuming that an ethnic church cannot be *for* people of other ethnicities in any meaningful way. I would disagree. I think ethnic churches are definitely for people of other ethnicities, but in differing and unique ways.

    I agree with the principle of representation, but not with a rigid principle of representation. So for example, in the Bay Area there are tons of Asians, so I think in many ways, Asian churches are* representative of the Bay Area. Again, this has to do with how we understand local churches and their relationship to the universal church. Maybe that’s what it comes down to, an independent Congregationalist understanding of the local church versus a Presbyterian one.

    I’ll stop using the word organic, since it seems to be distracting from the main argument. However, I do think that your understanding of supernatural love and unity is more rigid than even Scripture demands. Also again, I’m not saying that the ‘representative model’ is more rigid than the ‘selective model.’ I’m saying that it is rigid to say that only* the representative model is legitimate.
    Like · Reply · 10 mins · Edited
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Again, I think it is assuming too much to view ethnic churches as inherently being exclusive. Appointed elders in every city hardly substantiates the narrow claim that ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts are illegitimate.
    Like · Reply · 25 mins
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong You think I’m being naïve in my belief that ethnic churches are not exclusive. I disagree with this, but in any case, I’d rather be naïve than unfairly condemn ethnic churches as automatically being exclusive. I don’t think that’s a fair or charitable claim that any ethnic church I know would affirm. Once again, I would like to cite Boston Chinese evangelical Church’s mission statement which states that their “purpose is to glorify God through worshipping God, edifying believers, and sharing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by word and deed to the Greater Boston Chinese community and the world.” I don’t see anything problematic about that, and I think it would be very difficult to prove* that this mission statement is “unbiblical” from Scripture.
    Like · Reply · 24 mins
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong I think Mark Yunseok Jeong has sufficiently probelamtized your understanding of Acts 2, so I’ll leave that alone. And again re: Gal 2, I’m not arguing that it is indicating that we should* all have ethnic churches. Rather, I’m saying that it is *not enough to exclude the possibility* of ethnic churches in multi-ethnic contexts. I really am not sure that you are catching this distinction in my argument.
    Like · Reply · 23 mins
    Andrew Ong
    Andrew Ong Where does Scripture say that beauty and unity in a multi-ethnic local church is greater than beauty and unity across ethnic churches? Where does Scripture indicate that supernatural unity is only present in multi-ethnic churches? I don’t think we should stretch Scripture this far. Per your question about Revelation 7, I refer you to my skittles analogy, and also Jonathan Stoddard’s comments below.

    My apologies if anything I said made it seem like I thought you were biased by your personal upbringing. Furthermore, I assure you that I am quite critical of my own CCS and ethnic church background.

    I agree with your last sentence, I think. I think my position is “innocent until proven guilty” whereas yours appears to be “guilty until proven innocent.” Perhaps that’s another foundational difference that has led us to differing positions.

    Thanks for the interaction, bro!
    Like · Reply · 22 mins · Edited

    Reply

  2. This is really helpful, Andrew. I love the insight that insisting that every local congregation literally express all the diversity of the body of Christ through its ethnic statistical makeup might be missing the point. I guess that would be a sort of false catholicity.

    I’d love to hear more about what catholicity looks like in the context of ethnic churches. Beyond admitting people to the Lord’s Table, what concrete actions could we take to further this? How do we ensure that churches are actually connected across ethnic lines, and not just closed in on themselves? I mean, Presbyterian polity seems like a good start to me of course.

    Reply

    1. Thanks for the kind and affirming words, Jamie. And thanks for taking the time to hear me out on this topic.

      I think you’re absolutely right in your perception of the issue being about catholicity. This is something I’ve been struggling to understand and develop my own thoughts on recently.

      I think I personally gravitate toward Bavinck and Vanhoozer’s conceptions of catholicity (that catholicity is constituted by plurality that is united by the Spirit under Christ’s Lordship and in union with him), but as Gray Sutanto pointed out in his paper at the Kuyper conference, this is not without its problems.

      What concrete actions can further catholicity? Yes, I think moving toward a Presbyterian polity is a good place to start in terms of steps. Unfortunately, most ethnic churches, (i guess besides the Koreans) are not Presbyterian. I do like Ridderbos’ emphasis on the universal ekklesia. So maybe all local churches need to more self-consciously see themselves as part of something bigger and be in constant engagement with other local bodies. How do we ensure that churches are actually connected across ethnic lines, and not just closed in on themselves? Hoping to write another blog post on that.

      Reply

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