I am convinced that there is only one way to achieve harmony among people of different “races” or ethnic groups, and it was spelled out for us about two thousand years ago. To understand this, it helps to remember that the early church was made up of people who were natural enemies. Most famously, the Jews and Gentiles disdained, and even hated, each other. Against that backdrop, the apostle Paul described our status in Christ in this way:
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. (Galatians 3:28 NKJV)
His point is unmistakable: we all share the same spiritual “genes.” We are all on the same level. No one is better than anyone else. Therefore, in the context of describing how Christians ought to treat each other, it’s not surprising to find this statement:
…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11 NKJV)
To the ancient Greeks, who had achieved the pinnacle of learning, culture, and civilization, anyone who was not Greek was a barbarian. So, who were the Scythians? According to ISBE, they were a nomadic people whose chief occupation was war. They drank the blood of the first person killed in battle, used scalps as napkins and skulls as drinking bowls, and never washed in water. Clearly, such behavior would be repugnant to Greeks and Jews alike. Yet when a Scythian came to Christ, he became a child of God, and was to be treated the same as all the other brothers and sisters.
The clear lesson here is that the way to have harmony in a diverse group of people is to recognize that each individual is of equal value in the sight of God, and for all members of the group to treat one another accordingly. Regardless of ethnicity, culture, economic status, or sex, we are all fundamentally the same. Therefore, when building a community, the focus must be on what we have in common, not on what makes us different. Certainly, our differences can add value and richness to our relationships and our collaboration, but if we focus on them, we will not hold together.
No one could deny the fact that Christians have often failed miserably at applying this teaching. History provides plenty of examples. However, whenever it has been applied faithfully, it has proven to be effective: it builds unity and harmony, and it promotes selfless love and willing sacrifice for the good of others.
The lesson is not limited to churches; it can be applied to other diverse groups of people. If we accept the innate value of each individual, and focus on what we have in common as human beings created in the image of God, then we can work together harmoniously and effectively. By contrast, any approach that categorizes people based on ethnicity, economic status, sex, etc., and assigns a different set of rules to each category, is doomed to failure, because it will inevitably produce envy, resentment, bigotry, and hopeless division.