What We Can Learn About Multiethnic Church Planting from the First Church Dispute

Derwin L. Gray
Derwin L. Gray

Earlier this year, I posted a large part of the following post on Ed Stetzer’s blog. But I want to share it here as well, with some important additions, to set the tone for an ongoing conversation on multiethnic churches.

In Acts 15, we find the first major church dispute. Considering how Christians like to argue about stuff, the reason for the disagreement is quite interesting.

Was it over Calvinism, Arminianism, or Molinism?

Was it over speaking in tongues, prophecy, or healing?

Maybe it was over worship music styles? Those Jews just couldn’t stand those Greek worship leaders wearing tight, skinny-leg jeans.

The first major church dispute actually was over how fast multiethnic churches were growing outside of Jerusalem. These ethnically diverse congregations were blowing up the mental and cultural circuits of the Jewish believers in the holy city.

These first-century multiethnic churches included Jews and Gentiles of Phoenicia and Samaria, as well as uncircumcised Africans, Arabs, Greeks, Syrians, Asians, Romans, Persians, and more. Their presence and growth challenged traditional concepts of what it meant to be Jewish and what it meant to follow Jesus.

Theologian Christopher J. H. Wright in The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative summarizes the disagreement

If only all the theological disputes in Christian history had been caused by successful mission and rapid church growth. Undoubtedly the first dispute was. The first major council of the church (Acts 15) was convened to consider a knot of problems caused by the success of cross-cultural church planting efforts. These had been initiated by the church of Antioch and carried out among the predominately Gentile and ethnically diverse peoples of the Roman provinces that made up what we now call Turkey. Paul and Barnabas, who had been entrusted with this initiative, were not the first to cross the barrier from Jew to Gentile with the good news of Jesus Christ. Philip (Act 8) and Peter (Acts 10) had already done that. They were, however, the first to establish whole communities of believers from mixed Jewish and Gentile backgrounds―that is, to plant multiethnic churches.

During the first century, there were several streams of thought concerning the salvation and inclusion of the Gentiles into Israel––from the destruction of the Gentiles, to the Gentiles coming to worship God without proselytism, to Gentiles making a pilgrimage to worship the one true God.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Christianity Today
Derwin L. Gray

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