Ethnicity and the Kindgom of God
What’s the point of ethnicity? I’ve asked myself this question several times. If becoming a Christian likewise means becoming a citizen of heaven, what difference does it make with what ethnicity we identify?
What i’ve come to realize is while my citizenship is in heaven, in no way is that mutually exclusive with having an ethnic background and being proud of it. Isn’t it God that “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place”? (see Acts 17) If this is so, then God is the one who determined that I be a Puerto Rican male, raised in the Bronx (boundaries), during the 20th and 21th centuries (allotted times).
What, after all, are we as Christians suppose to live like on Earth? Naturally we are to resemble what Scripture says of us. But the one thing we should not say is Christians is to be “culture-less.” Why not? Well, for one, there simply is no such thing as a culture-less person. Christianity is expressed in multiple ways through a myriad of cultures. God is redeeming a people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” which means ultimately we retain our ethnic diversity in the consummated Kingdom, all the while recognizing that the gospel uplifts those positive aspects of any culture as well as challenges those corrupted, shalom-suppressing aspects. Thus, the gospel doesn’t scrap culture and ethnicity, but instead redeems them.
Naturally this leaves the question regarding the passage in Galatians where Paul says that in Christ there is “neither Jew, nor Greek” (Gal 3:28). Here, context is key. Paul is not addressing the issue of whether Christians must give up all ethnic distinctives. Rather when he says that there is neither Jew nor Greek he is saying that ethnicity is not a badge of merit that warrants our justification before God’s righteous judgment. Take a look at the passage yourself. Likewise, he says there is neither male nor female…but surely we wouldn’t say, “I’m a Christian, not a female,” or, “I’m a Christian, not a male.” We retain our gender distinctions, while, at the same time, finding our ultimate significance in Christ.
As I read the Apostle, I totally agree with his message. I cannot, and do not look to my Puerto Rican heritage (or my 20/21th century American heritage) as a ground for my acceptance with God any more than Paul looked to his Jewish heritage to “get him in” with God. Christ, and Christ alone is my righteousness.
Again, we are all culturally embodied people. Christianity does not look exactly the same in India as is does here in North America. What about German Christians? Over the centuries, has not God used Lutheranism (which has been woven into the very fabric of German culture) as a means of bringing people to Himself? Ought Latino Christians, or African Christians, or Chinese Christians, be ashamed or forget everything we’ve learned about our culture? What about those cultural expressions God used to draw us to Himself? Sure, they all have their share of compromise because of their cultures…but so do we.
For more on the gospel and ethnicity, see