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DIVERSITY AND ONENESS IN THE CHURCH

by David K. Bernard



The Bible teaches that every human being is of equal worth in the sight of God. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). The church has diversity of members but is one body; by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body (I Corinthians 12:12-13).

In Christ, there is no unequal treatment based on race, social class, gender, religious background, or national origin. “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” (Galatians 3:28). “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

We are to conduct our lives and ministries without partiality, discrimination, or favoritism (I Timothy 5:21). It is wrong to be prejudiced against someone because of race, social standing, lack of education, or poverty. “If you show partiality, you commit sin” (James 2:9, NKJV).

In the apostolic church, people of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds worshiped together and served in leadership. The ministers in Antioch included Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus; Simeon Niger, whose surname means “black” in Latin, probably referring to skin color; Lucius of Cyrene in North Africa; Manaen, of a noble family; and Paul, a Jew and Roman citizen from Tarsus (Acts 13:1).

When the modern Pentecostal movement began in the early twentieth century, American society was characterized by racial prejudice and segregation, yet the Holy Spirit overcame these barriers. The Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, which spread the Pentecostal message around the world, was started by an African American, William Seymour. Hispanics, blacks, whites, and people from many nations worshiped together. Blacks and whites served in leadership.

The three most significant theologians of the early Oneness Pentecostal movement were Frank Ewart, an Australian who immigrated to Canada and then to the U.S.; G. T. Haywood, an African American; and Andrew Urshan, an Assyrian immigrant from Persia (Iran). The oldest surviving list of Oneness ministers, from 1919-1920, contains 704 names. Twenty-nine percent were women, about twenty-five to thirty percent were African American, and several Hispanic names appear on the list. Once again, both blacks and whites served in leadership.

In recent decades the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) has sought to recapture the biblical unity of the apostolic church and the early Oneness movement. It adopted a position paper entitled “Racial and Ethnic Affirmation” that opposes racism, prejudice, and segregation. The paper states that the UPCI “must continue to take deliberate, intentional steps toward inclusion in all areas of the fellowship and at all levels of the organization. . . . [It] is dedicated to overcoming any appearance of racism within the church by making a deliberate effort toward inclusion and a firm, open stand against racial bigotry and segregation.”

Around the world in 197 nations, the vast majority of the UPCI is nonwhite. As of July 2012, in the U.S. and Canada an estimated 25-30 percent of the constituency is nonwhite. Of fifty-six districts in the U.S. and Canada, eleven have African American board members; five have Asian, Pacific Island, or Native American board members; and four have Hispanic board members. Thirty-one have minorities as district department heads, and thirty-nine have minorities in some leadership position. The General Board has significant minority representation as do all six divisions that have district directors. For example, six African Americans and five Hispanics currently serve on the General Youth Committee. North American Missions has thirteen minority committee members, Sunday School has eleven, and Ladies Ministries has five.

Much has been accomplished, and much remains to be accomplished. By God’s grace, let us represent the church in heaven, where people of every race, nation, and language will gather around the throne to worship the one true God in oneness of heart and mind.

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