Cru exists to glorify God by helping fulfill the Great Commission through winning, building and sending in the power of the Holy Spirit and partnering with the body of Christ in evangelism and discipleship. As we pursue this mission, we do so with Scripture as our anchor and North Star. Our Statement of Faith affirms that the Bible is “God’s infallible written Word” and that Scripture is “the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.” Our work is guided by our belief in and commitment to the Scriptures. In what follows, it is our aim to provide a biblical and theological framework for Cru’s approach to questions surrounding ethnicity, culture and race. Four biblical themes shape our vision: (1) God created humanity in his image with great dignity and worth; (2) humanity has rebelled against God and is alienated from God and one another; (3) Jesus Christ died and rose to gather a community of redeemed people from every tribe, language, people and nation to reflect God’s glory in the world; and (4) Christ has called that community to proclaim this good news and make disciples of every nation. This framework is best understood in light of the posture Cru seeks to reflect as we navigate these conversations. In addition, we live out this framework through a set of practices that we seek to embody, as a missionary community, while we help fulfill the Great Commission.
Our Theological Framework
I. Created in the Image of God with Dignity and WorthWe believe every person is uniquely made in the image of God (Gen 1:27; 9:6; Jas 3:9). As image bearers, human beings from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev 7:9) possess God-given dignity, worth and honor. As image bearers, Adam and Eve were given a mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” to “fill the earth and subdue it,” and to “have dominion” over all living things (Gen 1:28–30). This design is lived out in four relationships that reflect the goodness of God’s creation:
- Relationship with God: A personal relationship with God (Gen 2:7).
- Relationship to Self: God-given understanding of themselves as created, God-dependent and relational beings made in the image of a relational God (Gen 1:27; 2:18–20, 24).
- Relationships with Others: Interdependent relationships with others that include families, households, tribes and nations (Gen 2:21–25; 10:1–32).1
- Relationship to Creation: Stewardship and care for the created world (Gen 2:15).
II. Living in a Fallen WorldGod’s good creation was corrupted by the rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1–24). The Fall impacted four key relationships:
- Relationship with God: Every human being is born alienated from God and stands under God’s righteous judgment (Rom 3:23; 5:10; 6:23; Eph 2:3). This alienation from God is expressed individually (Ps 14:1; Rom 3:23) and corporately (Exod 32:1–6).
- Relationship to Self: Corruption extends to every aspect of our human constitution — body, mind and soul (Gen 2:17; 6:5; Rom 5:12–18; Eph 2:1–3; 1 Pet 2:11).5
- Relationships with Others: Human beings are alienated from each other (Eph 2:11–14; Rom 1:29–31). Cain murdered his brother Abel and then denied responsibility for him (Gen 4:8–9). This murder, and rejection of responsibility for others, offers a vivid picture of alienation. Alienation exists not only between individuals but also among families, ethnic groups and nations.
- Relationship to Creation: In his judgment on sin, God warned our first parents they would experience futility and difficulty in their work: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” (Gen 3:17).
- Individual sin: One person sinning against another (Matt 18:15). James condemns the sin of “partiality,” calling those who engage in it “judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:1–4). The intentional or unintentional mistreatment of individuals based on their physical appearance, ethnic and/or cultural identity is one expression of the sin of partiality.6
- Communal sin: A group of people sinning against an individual or group. For example, following his sermon, Stephen was stoned by an irate mob (Acts 7:54–60).7
- Institutional sin: The unjust use of authority, through customs or laws, to sin against individuals or groups. The psalmist laments those “who frame injustice by statute” (Ps 94:20). Ancient Israelites, as a nation, were enslaved, oppressed and exploited by the Egyptian government (Exod 1:11–14). Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow bears witness to the experience of injustice by the vulnerable (Luke 18:1–8). Paul condemns the practice of slave-trade (1 Tim 1:10). James and Peter bear witness to oppression and injustice experienced by God’s people, including abuse of the poor in courts (Jas 2:6), oppression of slaves (1 Pet 2:18–20), and exploitation of the poor by the wealthy (Jas 5:1–6). Biblical teaching about institutional sin helps us understand the mistreatment or marginalization of groups through laws and customs based on physical appearance, socio-economic status or ethnic and/or cultural identity.8
III. Redemption, Reconciliation and a New Community“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). Through his incarnation, teachings, obedience, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and enthronement, Jesus Christ reconciled men and women to God (2 Cor 5:18–19); granted eternal life (John 3:16; 17:3); brought freedom and liberation from bondage to sin, Satan and evil (Luke 4:18-19; Rom 6:1-11; 1 John 3:8); inaugurated God’s kingly rule (Matt 4:17; 10:7; 12:28; Rom 14:17); and will eventually return and restore the world he created (Rom 8:18–25; 1 Cor 15:25–28; Rev 21:1–14). Christ’s redemptive work transforms all four relationships: God, self, others and creation. Through the redemptive work of Christ, God is creating a multiethnic and multicultural community — the church — which includes, honors and embraces people from every nation alongside descendants of Abraham (Eph 2:11–22; 3:1–12; Acts 10:34–43; 1 Pet 2:9–10). The church is called to live under the lordship of Christ, displaying the fruit of the Spirit in her relationships (Gal 5:22–23; Eph 5:1–2; Gal 6:10; Rom 12:9–21). Love, vulnerability, humility, confession, repentance, forgiveness, justice and grace are to permeate relationships in the community of faith (Mic 6:8; Matt 18:15–17; 23:23; Luke 11:42; Col 3:5–17; Eph 4:25–5:1; Jas 2:1–7; 5:1–6). As redeemed people, we have a new identity, in Christ, as members of God’s family (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:19; 1 Tim 3:15). This doesn’t devalue our ethnic and cultural heritage(s) but speaks to our common calling and new family bond, which unites us as followers of Jesus. It also speaks to Christ’s ability to heal the universal problem of sin and its particular manifestations in our lives and cultures. The redeemed in Christ will live faithfully and beautifully within their cultural contexts, enhancing God-honoring aspects and throwing off ungodly aspects. The global testimony of Christ’s Lordship is more fully magnified by believers of diverse ethnicities from different cultures, as it will perfectly and gloriously be in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 7:9). As he forges this new, beautifully diverse community of brothers and sisters, God calls his people to protect, preserve and live out the unity and oneness they share in Christ: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:3–6).9
IV. A Redeemed Community on Mission to the NationsOur God is a missionary God (John 20:21–23). God’s mission to redeem the nations begins with the calling of Abraham to mediate his blessing to all nations (Gen 12:1–3) and is carried on through Israel’s role as a light to the nations (Exod 10:5–6; Deut 4:5-8). The Father sent Jesus Christ to bring this blessing to the nations (Gal 3:14; 4:4–6). Following his resurrection, Jesus called his followers to continue in his mission, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). In Acts, we see the initial outworking of this mission as the gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, then throughout the Roman empire and beyond. As they fulfilled their mission, the apostles navigated a complex variety of challenges related to ethnicity, culture, justice and cross-cultural witness. For example, the apostles navigated ethnic tension arising from the mistreatment of Greek-speaking widows who were being neglected in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1). They commissioned a group of leaders from the Greek-speaking community to address this challenge (Acts 6:2–6), and the gospel continued to spread as a result (Acts 6:7). After the Holy Spirit helped Peter realize that “God shows no partiality” and that no one is “unclean,” Peter was able to lead a Roman centurion and his household to faith in Christ (Acts 10). Peter had to address his own bias and prejudice when Paul confronted him over his posture toward Gentile believers (Gal 2:14).10 Cross-cultural ministry presented many challenges to the early church (Acts 6:1–6; 11:1–18; 14:8–18; 15:1–35; 1 Cor 8:1–13; Eph 2:11–22; 4:4–6), as it does for us today. We seek to courageously press into these challenges as we seek to fulfill God’s mission, believing that God will empower work that may feel impossible on our own. By God’s grace, Cru is a participant in God’s continuing story of bringing the gospel to the nations. Our distinct role within that story is to help fulfill the Great Commission by winning, building and sending in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Conclusion:While real differences exist among Christians about how to approach questions of race, ethnicity and culture, we believe there is much more that unites us as followers of Jesus. Oneness in our ethnic and cultural diversity reflects God’s heart, and the Bible provides the categories we need to navigate historic and contemporary challenges related to ethnicity, culture and race. Moreover, in view of our Savior’s prayer in John 17, we recognize that our unity in the midst of diversity is one of the most compelling apologetics for the truthfulness and power of the Gospel. Our goal and hope as Cru is to be faithful in our day as we trust God’s Spirit to transform us into a colorful tapestry of missionaries, serving together in unity while proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world.
Appendix: Defining Key TermsDefinitions of key terms used in this document can be found below.
- Creation Mandate: God’s call in Genesis 1:28–30 (reaffirmed in Gen 9:1) for humanity to be fruitful, multiply and cultivate the earth.11
- Culture: “The customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group. The set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”12
- Diversity: Within Oneness in Diversity, we focus on three areas organizationally: ethnicity/culture, men and women, and generations. Diversity in this document refers to ethnic and cultural differences.
- Ethnicity: Identification with a social group based on shared nationality, cultural heritage, history, language and traditions. We find the language of ethnicity throughout the Bible (e.g., the Greek word for “nations” in Matthew 28:19 is the plural of ethnos and refers to people groups).
- Justice: Justice involves giving people what they need in order to flourish as the people that God created them to be, especially when something or someone is preventing that. Justice concerns the duties toward one another that exist among individuals, groups, communities and institutions. When we use the term “biblical justice,” we are speaking about the teaching of Scripture as it pertains to any dimension of justice.
- Multicultural: Representing several different cultures. A ministry or church is considered multicultural if there is a diversity of leadership styles, communication styles, content and values that are expressed and/or reflected.
- Multiethnic: A group or community including individuals from several ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds.13 (Multiethnic and multicultural are not identical. A group could be multicultural while composed of people sharing the same ethnic background — e.g., a church with first- and second-generation Chinese members.)
- Oneness: In Scripture, oneness is both a gift and a command. Through union with Christ, diverse people (ethically, socio-economically, culturally, etc.) are brought together as members of God’s family, citizens of God’s kingdom, and as a place where God dwells. Yet oneness is also something we work to preserve and cultivate: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3).
- Race: “The idea that the human species is divided into distinct groups on the basis of inherited physical and behavioral differences. Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that ‘races’ are cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations in the wake of western European conquests beginning in the 15th century.”14 (Some English translations use the term “race.” This should not be confused with the social construct of race described above. “Race,” when used in Scripture, generally refers to a “people group”. For example, 1 Peter 2:9 claims that Christians are a “chosen genos.” The NIV translates genos as “people,” while the ESV uses the term “race.” In his evangelistic message, Stephen refers to “our genos” (Acts 7:19), by which he means Jewish people. The ESV translates genos in Acts 7:19 as “race,” while the NIV uses the term “people.”)
1 Genesis 2:18 (“it is not good that the man should be alone”) suggests that the fullness of our humanity is found in relationships with those who are different from us. Although the immediate context of this passage is marriage, the principle can be generalized. We can look at the other as an equal partner in experiencing the fullness of who God created us to be (Gen 2) or we can treat them as a threat to our well-being (Gen 3-4). This is why, in the covenants, God continues to remind us to not only be faithful to him but to look outward toward others. 2 Even if humanity had never rebelled against God, we believe these elements of culture would naturally have emerged. For example, human beings would have developed means (e.g., technology) for agriculture or expressions of beauty and truth in art and music. 3 We find the language of ethnicity throughout the Bible. The first place we see explicit reference to ethnicity is in the “Table of Nations” listing the descendants of Noah (Gen 10). In this ethnographic table, we see groups identified on the basis of “land,” “language,” “clan” and “nation” (Gen 10:5, 20, 31). At Babel (Gen 11:1–9), God gave diverse languages both in judgment of human pride/rebellion and to advance his original creational purpose (cf. Gen 9:1–7). We also see ethnicity reflected in the language of the Great Commission to make disciples of all “nations” (Matt 28:19). The Greek word for “nations” is the plural of the Greek noun ethnos and refers not to nation-states but distinct people groups. 4 We see the goodness of ethnicity most clearly at the end of God’s story in John’s vision of a renewed humanity “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). This passage seems to indicate there will be an expression of ethnicity and culture in the new heavens and earth. We also see the work of the Spirit in relation to ethnicity when each person heard the gospel communicated in their native tongue on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-13). 5 Theologians use terms like “inherited corruption,” “original sin,” “hereditary depravity,” “indwelling sin” and “sin nature / flesh,” to describe the moral corruption of humanity. 6 The partiality James condemns involves treating people differently in public worship based on socio-economic distinctions. Showing partiality based on skin color, ethnic identity or cultural heritage would be another manifestation of this same sin. 7 Individuals who participate in communal sin are still responsible and accountable for their actions. 8 Several biblical categories are important for understanding institutional sin, including (1) the relationship between idolatry and oppression (Is 1:16–17; 2:6–22; 3:13–15; Ezek 23:36–39; Rev 18:1–20); (2) teaching regarding the stewardship of power (Mark 10:41-45); (3) warnings about pride (Luke 18:9–14; Jas 1:9–11; 4:6; 5:4–5); (4) warnings about greed (Luke 12:13–21; Jas 5:5; 1 Tim 5:10); (5) biblical witness to the reality of demonic influence (Eph 6:10–20); (6) condemnation of institutional injustice (Isa 1:18; 58:1–9; Jas 5:1-6); and (7) the distinction between God-honoring ethnicity and the cultural construct of race. 9 For the believer, unity isn’t something we produce in our own wisdom or power. Rather, we live into the reality of the unity that the Lord Jesus has purchased by His own shed blood (Eph 2:13–21). 10 Other examples of challenges related to ethnicity and cross-cultural witness include the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15); Paul’s decision to circumcise Timothy, who was a Gentile (Acts 16:1–3); Paul negotiating his ethnic, religious and civil identities in his imprisonment at Philippi (Acts 16:16–40); and Paul’s collection among Gentile churches throughout Asia Minor for suffering Jewish believers (1 Cor 16 and 2 Cor 8-9). 11 Some theologians prefer the term “cultural mandate” because “creation” points to the work God does while culture-making captures the work of human beings. 12 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “culture,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture. 13 A local church is generally considered multiethnic/multiracial when one ethnic or racial group makes up no more than 80% of the congregation: “We define a multiracial church as a congregation in which no one racial group is 80 percent or more of the people. We use the cutoff of 20 percent of the people of a different race or races because this is the point of critical mass.” Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, Karen Chai Kim, United by Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 76. 14 Britannica, “Race,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human.