Are segregated churches biblical?
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
In our last post we saw that race as a concept is unbiblical; and racism as a practice is sin. I now want to explore this further, by asking if it is biblical to segregate churches? Where I'm from it's a common practice that white, black, and Hispanic people meet in separate churches, or at least in separate services. This however is not just common in the southern half of the United States, but throughout the world. Let me be clear though, that what I wish to discuss isn't separation over moral issues or standards; but for superficial differences, like skin color. So is it biblical to segregate churches and worship services?
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.”
1st Corinthians 12:12-14
The easy answer is no, there are times where divisions are needed, but rarely for the reasons we choose. Language can often generate the need, however 1st Corinthians 14, shows this is not a necessity. Instead Paul explains that translation is possible when needed, and even how to do it. While language can be a legitimate reason almost no other reason is. Race is certainly not an acceptable cause, seeing as God doesn't recognize race as a distinction in the first place. We also have to understand that in Christ: racial, societal, and even gender differences should not justify separation. God is not stating that these distinctions somehow disappear, but that they should not segregate us.
“If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.”
1st Corinthians 12:17-20
While I understand that the context of 1st Corinthians 12 is spiritual gifts, the principle is the need for diversity. A body without diversity is not healthy, it is deformed; the same is true of a church. We all understand a healthy church needs people of every age group, but the principle extends beyond this. We need diversity of cultures, families, genders, education, and most anything else you can name. A church cannot be healthy if it is limited to one skin color, one nationality, one age group, or one gender. Very similarly to how Paul rebuked Peter in Galatians 2 for dissembling, by being one way with the Gentiles and another with the Jews; we are hypocritical to claim we love everyone but not be willing to worship with them.
“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed,
and turned unto the Lord.”
The church at Antioch, is without question, the best church we find in the new testament. It was the place where believers were first called Christians, or Christ like. It was the church from which God called the first missionaries, Paul and Silas. It was also a church made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities. People who put Christ, and building His church, before their differences. A healthy church, will be a church where all those who want to follow Christ are welcomed; and a healthy Christian will put following Christ before any racial, national, cultural, or personal loyalties. If that is true, we will let go of these superficial things, and seek the church that is teaching God's word and doing God's work, not the one that appeals to our fleshly or carnal connections.