NEITHER BLACK NOR WHITE
By Wayne S. Walker
In a 1970 newspaper cartoon, someone is peering out the door of the “Lily White Gospel Church” at a black man who desires entrance, and says, “No. But if you’ll go back to Africa, we’ll be glad to send you a missionary.” The following story is taken from an article by Al Diestelkamp in Pillar and Support, a bulletin published by the Paris Ave. church of Christ in Peoria, IL (Vol. 1, No. 4; Nov., ’74).
A young man of high school age, with his hand gripped firmly to the small hand of his five-year-old sister, stepped up to the door of the church building. He paused nervously, but after glancing down at the eager eyes of his little sister, who was listening to the melodious verses of “More and More Like Jesus,” he bravely opened the door and stepped in. He was encouraged by the sign which read, “A Cordial Welcome to All.” Besides that, he played ball with a boy who attends there, and he’s a really nice fellow. But instead of receiving a welcoming smile and a handshake from the man who was attending the door, he was greeted with a cold, curious stare. Disappointed and dejected, the young man left the building never to try again.
The young man and the little girl grew up. He was always considered a “good man” by those who knew him, but he never heard the pure gospel, so he was lost! The little girl became a wife and mother. One of her sons became a denominational preacher. But for the price of one sincere smile—several years before—perhaps these people would have been taught the truth, and today we would still be reaping souls for Christ because of the inquisitive young man and his little sister.
But they were black! The sign on the building applied to all—if they were white.
This is a very sad state of affairs. Not only is this kind of attitude true of some denominations, but it is also found among some so-called New Testament Christians, in whose hands the gospel has suffered much because of their bigotry. Our nation has been plagued by racial prejudice in politics, industry, education, and, no less, religion. It ought not so to be, especially in the Lord’s church.
Brother Diestelkamp went on to say, “The story is fictitious, but the attitude is not. For years brethren have been sending black people to the other side of town to hear the gospel. And even today, if a faithful black family moves to an unfamiliar city, they are faced with the dilemma of where to worship.
“Thankfully much progress has been made in recent years, and there are many, many congregations of the Lord’s church which welcome all, without regard to race or color, or any other God-given characteristic. In reality, any church which would discourage attendance of anyone who is seeking the truth could not be considered a ‘sound’ church of Christ.”
In Jeremiah 13:23, we read, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to doing evil.” Jeremiah is saying that Judah was so far in sin that it was now as impossible for her to repent as for an Ethiopian to change his skin or a leopard to change its spots. The reference to an Ethiopian changing his skin obviously indicates a difference between the Jews who were Caucasian and the Ethiopian who was Negroid.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “Critically Ethiopia may refer only to the Nile valley above the First Cataract, but in ancient as in modern times the term was often used not only to include what is now known as Nubia and the Sudan (Soudan), but all the unknown country further West and South, and also at times Northern, if not Southern, Abyssinia….Prehistoric population of Northern Nubia was probably Egyptian, but this was displaced in early historic time by a black race, and the thick lips and wooly hair of the typical African are as well marked in the oldest Egyptian paintings as in the latest….The Negroes, though brave and frugal, were slow in thought, and although controlled for centuries by cultivated neighbors, under whom they attained at time high official prominence, yet the body of the people remained uninfluenced by this civilization….There are many communities of mixed races in Ethiopia, but the ancient basis is invariably Negro, Semitic or Egyptian” (Vol. 2, p. 1031; article “Ethiopia”).
Thus, the term “Ethiopian” was commonly used in ancient times to denote a black person. J. M. Fuller in his Bible Commentary on Jeremiah noted at this place, “This verse answers the question, May not Judah avert this calamity by repentance? No: because her sins are too inveterate. By the Ethiopian (Heb. Cushite) is meant not the Cushite of Arabia, but of Africa, i.e., the negro.”
Can the Ethiopian change his skin? No, and no one should expect him to. Why? Because in the sight of our God, there is neither black nor white so far as one’s spiritual status is concerned. We’ll be citing some passages later from which this conclusion may be drawn. But in general, we want to look at the sin of racial prejudice.
1. Jesus was not subject to the racial prejudice of His day. A great enmity existed between the Hebrews and the “half-breed” people of Samaria, so much so that the apostle John wrote, “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). Yet this did not stop Jesus from speaking to a Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob near Sychar and offering her, as well as other Samaritans, salvation (John 4:6-42). In fact, Jesus used the good deeds of a compassionate Samaritan to illustrate what it means to love one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). And when ten lepers came to Jesus to be healed, He did not turn them away because one of them was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). Interestingly enough, only the Samaritan was grateful enough to return and express his thanks. Furthermore, Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ unto them in Acts 8:4-5.
Beyond the Samaritans, one of the worst cases of racial bigotry in history was between the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews considered the Gentiles as dogs, though such was not Jesus’s attitude (see Mark 7:24-30). Notice the Jews’ reaction when Paul mentioned his mission to preach among the Gentiles (Acts 2:21-22). Yet the book of Romans tells us that “there is no difference” (Romans 3:22). Certainly it is true that the Gentiles had forsaken God and were rejected by Him (Romans 1:18-32). But the Jews were just as displeasing to Jehovah because of their hypocrisy and formality (Romans 2:17-29).
Therefore, it was God’s desire to reconcile both to Himself and to each other. This process began in Acts 10 (note vs. 28, 44-48). We need to have the same attitudes towards people of other races that Peter here expressed towards the Gentiles. The reason that Gentiles can be saved as well as Jews is found in Ephesians 2:11-19. Jesus “came and preached peace to you which were far off, and to them that were nigh” (cf. Acts 2:39). In dying upon the cross He “abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace. And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” Because He did this, “He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us,” and “through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Now, if Jesus could do this for Jew and Gentile, why cannot it be true for black and white?
2. There is no spiritual difference between black and white. There are a couple of passages in the New Testament which might refer to racial characteristics. In Acts 8:27 we read of the Ethiopian eunuch. There is disagreement over whether he was black or not. The ISBE, quoting W. Max Muller, says the eunuch was probably “no black proselyte but a Jew who had placed the business ability of his race at the service of the Nubian woman” (p. 1033). However, others disagree with this conclusion because of the way the term Ethiopian was understood in the ancient world. R. H. C. Lenski wrote in his commentary, “He was an Ethiopian, a black man! AITHIOPS, from AITHO, ‘to burn,’ and OPS, ‘countenance,’ points to race and nationality and not merely to residence. Thus the idea of his being a Jew who had risen to great power in Ethiopia is at once excluded. In fact, the entire narrative points to the fact that this man was a Gentile,” although still others suggest his being a proselyte of the gate. Thus, it is highly probably that he was a black man.
Also, in Acts 13:1 we read of Simeon that was called Niger. Again, there is disagreement as to what this implies. Albert Barnes said, “Niger is a Latin name meaning black. Why the name was given is not known.” J. W. McGarvey wrote, “Symeon, as his name proves, was a full-blooded Jew; and though his surname Niger (black) can scarcely justify the conclusion that he was an African Jew [a footnote here refers to a quotation from Alford, ‘From his appellation, Niger, he may have been an African proselyte’], it could scarcely have been given to him without complexion.” So it is at least possible that Simeon here may also have been a black man. Anyway, we can all agree that there are differences of a physiological, sociological, and historical nature between races.
But there are no differences of a spiritual nature. Why? Because Galatians 3:26-29 tell us that God does not view people as they come to Him for salvation in terms of nation or race, class, or even sex. As the Lord told Samuel, “For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). We must remember that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11). An application of this principle is made in James 2:1-9. Verse 9 is the reason we can speak of the SIN of racial (or any other kind of) prejudice. If God is perfect in His love for all men, we also must be perfect in our love for all men (Matthew 5:43-48).
3. The gospel is for all mankind and is not limited to one nation or race. The gospel is to be preached to everyone (read Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:23). Why? Because all men are sinners and need the gospel to be saved (Romans 3:23). That includes both black and white.
Some people try to excuse their prejudice by claiming that Negroes are the result of the cohabitation of white men with baboons (which is ridiculous), or by saying that they don’t need preaching because they don’t have souls. Much of this foolishness is prompted by the supposed “curse of Ham” in Genesis 8:22-25. It is true that the black race is the descendants of Ham (cf. Genesis 10:6). However, the curse was not actually given to Ham but to his son Canaan. Noah was not referring to all Hamitic peoples, but prophesying about the Canaanites. In any event, the Negro race deserves a chance to hear and obey the gospel just like anyone else.
As we think about the gospel call, everyone is included. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Jesus pleas for all who are heavy-laden to come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30). God loved the WHOLE WORLD (John 3:16). “WHOSOEVER will may come” (Revelation 22:17; emphasis mine, WSW). Both white and black, as well as all others, are invited.
Conclusion. We sometimes sing the hymn “The Gospel Is for All,” but do we really mean it? What are some practical implications of these principles? Suppose a faithful family of black Christians moved into the community. Would we invite them to worship with us and accept them into the assembly? Many would rather buy a run-down old hovel in a poor section of town and proclaim to the brotherhood, “We have started a ‘colored’ congregation.’ I am always glad to hear of black and white brethren who can meet together in peace and harmony. Or what would you do if a local church, predominantly white, brought in a black preacher to work in a gospel meeting? I am afraid that even many of the members might be bigoted enough not to support it! Some churches are now beginning to have black preachers for meetings to reach into the black community, and this is good.
Brother Al Diestelkamp, in the afore-mentioned article, concluded: “Racial discrimination has found its way into almost every area of life. Christians (?) are sometimes heard to say, ‘I have to work with them (referring to people of other races) but I don’t have to worship with them!’ But they have completely reversed the matter. If one doesn’t want to, he doesn’t have to work at a job next to, or with those he doesn’t want to (he can quit), but in order to please God, he must be willing to worship and work with other faithful Christians without regard to their God-given ancestry. Division simply for the separation of races is as sinful as dividing into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ congregations, or ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’ churches. Until we remove prejudice from our lives, which has caused this unscriptural split in the church, there will continue to be an unsightly blemish on the Bride of Christ.”
Brethren, let us remember that Christianity is not a white, Anglo-Saxon, middle-class suburban American commodity. There should be no national, economic, sexual—or racial—in short, no class distinctions whatever between Christians, or among those to whom we preach. Since God loves every human being on the face of this earth, let us emulate His good will and show our love for all mankind by preaching the gospel to whomever we can and by accepting those who obey, whether Jew or Gentile, black or white, rich or poor, native or immigrant (and that includes Polish, Mexican, Italian, Irish, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.), old or young, urban or suburban, white-collar or blue-collar, and anyone else. There must be unity in the body of Christ. “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of all them that observe thy precepts” (Psalm 119:63).
—taken from Torch; January, 1983; Vol. XVII, No. 1; pp. 7-15
[Editor’s note: I wrote this article back in 1983. The congregation where I was working at the time had a young black couple from a faithful church in a nearby city move into our community and visit with us. However, they didn’t come back. But they had filled out a visitors card and we had their address, so a couple of us visited with them. They informed us that they had decided to worship at another area congregation. It was not until several months later that I found out why. Some of our members were friends with some members of the church from which the young couple had come. When our members were talking with them about the black couple, their friends told them that the couple had told several in the other congregation that when they had visited with us, someone—I was never told who it was, though I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew—came up to them and said something like, “Your kind really aren’t welcome around here.” When I heard that, I was simply flabbergasted, so, after waiting a little while longer for things to settle down, I gathered this material together for a sermon and then worked it into this article which I later sent off for publication. WSW.]