Russell and Duenes

God in the “melting pot”

with 10 comments

Race, ethnicity, ethno-nationalism, nationalism, multi-culturalism – whatever term you like –is a touchy subject these days. I have suggested previously that ethno-linguistic distinctions (“people-group” distinctions, if you like) are not something to be completely transcended or done away with. Rather, when God says in Revelation 21 that “the holy city, the New Jerusalem…has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it…They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations,” I take God to mean that there will be distinctive nations, “people-groups,” in the eschaton.

Some have suggested that this is incompatible with the Bible’s teaching on “oneness in Christ” and its teaching on the irrelevancy of ethnic distinctions when it comes to individual salvation. Let me briefly disagree. Let’s take some texts.

John 10:14-16 says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” Indeed there will be only one flock, and that flock will consist of people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.” They will all worship Jesus, and they will worship him in unity as distinct ethne.

Ephesians 4:1-6 says, I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Again, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in no way necessitates the obliteration of distinctive ethnic identity. The same point applies here as above in John 10.

Galatians 3:26-28 says, For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. This text would seem to be decisive, but we must look closer. Take the “neither male nor female” phrase. Does this mean that all distinctions that make up masculinity and femininity are obliterated now that we are “one in Christ?” Surely not. Neither does it obliterate racial/ ethnic distinctions. This passage “proves too much,” as it were. The proper interpretation limits this text to the place of ethnic, sexual and status categories when it comes to saving faith in Christ. They don’t matter. All are welcome equally to share in Christ. But it is not intended to give us a primer on every facet of race in the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:9-10 says, God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. Ethnic distinctive need not be done away with in order to avoid divisions and be joined together in the same mind. Surely in Christ I can have perfect fellowship with my Christian brother from Cambodia without our ethno-linguistic identities being abolished first.

You get the idea. I would say the same about all such passages. They simply aren’t germane to the point at issue. This is a topic in sore need of addressing in the church, and we do well to back up a bit and try to think about some things from the ground up. Right up front I stand with R. Charles Weller when he writes,

We have no intention of affirming or promoting a sociobiological view [of ethno-national identity]…associated as it correctly is with dangerous theories of ‘pure blood’ and ‘pure race’…Our position incorporates ideas of flexibility so that we do not wind up with an overly naturalistic determinism based in some kind of rigid ‘natural law’ (whether of creation or evolution) strictly defining and governing human society while at the same time recognizing that ethnonational identity forms a genuine, ‘organic,’ integral part of the social and psychological dimensions of human nature and identity (Rethinking Kazakh and Central Asian Nationhood, 45).

So when we talk about having “multi-ethnic” or “multi-racial” churches, we have to wrestle with many things (culture, class, educational level, to name a few), but it seems that chief among them will be our understanding of the term “nations,” as that term is conceived of in Scripture, in history and in modern culture. America presents some unique issues on this as well, which we can hopefully address. All of us are biased by the cultural milieu in which we’ve grown up, and the “melting pot” ideal in America is very strong. But is it true to the teachings of Scripture?


Written by Michael Duenes

March 3, 2010 at 4:39 am

10 Responses

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  1. I appreciate your interpretation of these passages. Interpreted wrongly, these verses could be used to argue that it is wrong to have Churches comprised of one culture.

    My take on nations:
    In scripture – Used primarily to describe ethnic groups. At first there were primarily rural families. By the writing of the NT city-states/empires arose but were comprised of many ethnic groups.

    In history – Historically many tribal ethnic groups existed. The greeks called these people barbarians (germanic tribes, celtic tribes, etc…) Empires gave rise to Imperialism. Germany, England, etc, follow in the footsteps of Rome.

    In modern culture – Nations have evolved from being ethnic groups into being civic political entities that have sovereignty. This is a relatively new concept. We would never say that a distinct group of people in the jungle of New Guinea is a nation, rather we would recognize them as an ethnic group or a tribe. Unfortunately, the utopian ideas of people like hitler and stalin lead the 20th century to be the bloodiest in history. Thankfully, Jesus’ Kingdom will eventually be fully realized and everything will be restored.

    By the way, that was meant to be a rough outline of a few thousand years. There are many intricate details that I just skipped over, hope all of you historians are not to offended. I really do find the historical progression that lead up to the forming of modern nations to be quite an interesting topic.

    Kevin Parr

    March 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

    • Indeed. More to come.



      March 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm

  2. If you are taking “nations” to mean ethnic groupings v. “actual” nations as we know them (America for instance), then who are these “kings of the earth?” Do ethno-national groups have kings or do actual nations? For example, who would be the “king” of Latino’s or African-Americans? I think this is critical to your interpretation of this ONE passage.



    March 3, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    • Critical indeed. I don’t have a definitive answer yet, but it strikes me that “kings of the earth” and “the nations” are not 100% synonymous. So when it says that the kings of the earth will bring into the City the glory of the nations, I don’t know if that has to mean that every “nation” has a king. My inference from that text is limited to the fact that “the glory and the honor of the nations” is something that is there, which I take to mean that these nations have some identity and are not just the aggregate individuals of the earth.



      March 3, 2010 at 4:17 pm

      • The sentence structure (in English) doesn’t just imply connection but definitively shows it. There is no question in my mind that the “kings” referred to are the kings of the nations.



        March 3, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      • Literally it says, “The kings of the earth bring their (i.e. – the nation’s) glory and honor into it.” All I’m saying is that there is not a necessary one-to-one correspondence between kings and nations. That is, not every “nation” (ethne) has to have a king. The Greek nor the English requires it. But, what I’m not trying to do is make a complete distinction between “nations” and “political” structures. There likely is some kind of connection. Further, “kings” may not mean “recognized political potentates.” But I’m not trying to do semantic gymnastics here. What you’ve pointed up is part of the difficulty in trying to understand the term “nations.” What might be an alternative interpretation of this text?



        March 3, 2010 at 6:54 pm

      • This seems to be a picture of what the “capital city” of the New Earth will be like. It shows that we will still have nations and still have rulers in the New Earth and the nations will exist the way God intended. There is a re-affirmation of the fact that God created nations and that it won’t be different in heaven. It clearly appears to be talking about nations with “kings” or rulers. This is why I disagree with your assertion that it is exclusively talking about ethnicity. Some nations are made of multiple ethnicities and races, like the United States. My question, again, is who would be the ruler of the ethnicities within multi-ethnic or multi-racial “nations?” Unless this question can be answered, I find no evidence that this refers to ethnicity and hence any mirroring of that in the church is a huge stretch.
        If it did not mention the kings of the nations, I would investigate further. Because it does, it clears up the interpretation.



        March 3, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      • I don’t know that it “clears up” the interpretation, seeing as Scripture has a rich and widespread teaching on “nations,” and we’d need further light from other texts, which is why I’ll be going back to the Table of Nations and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10-11. It seems likely simply from Matthew 24:14 and 28:19-20 that “nations” can’t be merely synonymous with “multi-ethnic political nations.” But again, my purpose was limited, and I think you’ve affirmed it, namely that, whatever “nations” means, they are not obliterated or done away with either now in the church age or in the eschaton.



        March 3, 2010 at 7:59 pm

      • It does clear up the interpretation of Rev. 21 as you have used it. I will be glad to discuss Rev. 21 with you further, but I won’t respond in writing. I will save my written thoughts for the other posts you will write on the topic.



        March 3, 2010 at 8:41 pm

  3. D-

    Usually I disagree with R about everything. Not this time. It’s clear to me that kings and nations go together in this passage.

    It seems too awkward to interpret it any other way.



    March 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

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