The Colour of Christianity

Christianity is commonly mistaken as the religion of the white Western world. It is no secret that Christianity once found a home in Europe, but the Bible refutes any suggestion that Christianity is merely a Western religion, as Jesus upset the cultural status quo through his teachings. The Good Samaritan is tearing through social divides in uplifting the status of a person from a marginalised racial group.

Some of Jesus’ final words on earth were instructions to “go… and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew chapter 28 verse 19), and later the Bible tells us that the Good News was heard “from every nation under heaven” (Acts chapter 2 verse 5). The apostle Paul learning from the example of Jesus went on to write that “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians chapter 3 verse 11).

Jesus’ brother James also wrote that that “if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James chapter 2 verse 9), emphasising that the church community is one that ought to be accepting of different races, statutes, and backgrounds as part of the fellowship.

Christianity predates colonialism

Global conquest through Western imperialism has often been to the detriment of traditional ways of living. But the decline in Biblical literacy and history has resulted in the first African Christian’s conversion story being overlooked. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity arrived in Africa through a eunuch who was “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Acts chapter 8 verse 27).

In AD316, fifty years before Rome was Christianised, the Axum Empire now in modern Ethiopia adopted Christianity not through crusades or imperial conquest, but rather from two slave brothers named Frumentius and Aedesius.

Even though much of Africa’s north is dominated by Islam, the continent’s Christian influence is felt even today with notable church fathers such as Augustine of Hippo coming from Numidia which is now modern-day Algeria.

Despite the growing persecution of Christianity in the Middle East, it is in fact in this part of the world that “Christians” first were known as such. Churches across this region predate the spread of Islam and it is mainly the geopolitical events of the past decades that have seen the destruction of the Christian population through the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and in Iraq from the rise of ISIS in 2013.

As we move further east across the world, we arrive in India with Hindu-nationalist government. Looking into history before British colonialism, the Christian church was established in the first century through the apostle Thomas. Christianity continues to offer hope for India as it affirms the value and dignity of each individual, as an alternative belief system to the traditional caste system which marginalises and divides subsections of the population.

The coming new world order

Although Christianity does not have historical roots in China before the eighth century, the missionary efforts of James Hudson Taylor from the mid-1800s onwards has left a lasting legacy for Christ. Taylor gave up his Western cultural norms to immerse himself into Chinese culture including growing a Manchu pigtail during his time there and eventually producing a colloquial Chinese language translation of the New Testament.

There is no official data for the fast-growing number of Christians in China but with many of the 100 million believers belonging to underground churches and predictions that by 2050 that a majority of the population will become converts, we await a new world order where it is no longer the West that leads in the faith.

As the Western world further forsakes its Judeo-Christian upbringing, Asian Christians are now leading the way in proving the fact that Christianity is not a Western religion of imperialism.  Soon it will be Asian missionaries perhaps from South Korea that evangelise to the white communities in the United States, Europe, Canada and even Australia.

Strength in diversity

With the United States and the West struggling to come to terms with its racial history, the rise of identity politics has further fragmented community cohesion. It would be wise to heed the words of Baptist preacher Martin Luther King Junior, who said that one of the most shameful tragedies is that “Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours… and that any church that stands against integration… is standing against the spirit and teachings of Jesus Christ”.

Our church communities in the West have often failed to live up to Godly expectations of an affirming and diverse fellowship. Too often do we fall back on Western-centric or white-orientated ideals in the running of our church lives. Often our in-groups at church are divided upon racial or class lines without us realising. But as Christians, we are called to form a bond with those who are different no matter how difficult this may be.

The Christian identity throughout history has been abused and wielded as a weapon against other cultures and people groups to the detriment of the testimony of Christ. From a persecuted minority to military might in the Roman Empire and the Crusades, it is often with power comes the greatest danger to the faith.

There ought not to be such a link between Christianity and Western culture of conquest, as the Bible tells that in the end times there will be a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation chapter 7 verse 9).

A multicultural church is what will come together to worship Jesus. Even though the Western church has made many egregious mistakes in denying the place of diversity among believers, it is through Christ that redemption can be found. If we desire to overcome the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic divides in our society, we need Christ.

This article was first published at Christian Today Australia on Tuesday 11 August 2020