Raj Saha
The Multicoloured Church - Part 1 of 3

Oneness in Difference
As an introduction, I’m Raj and over the course of a number of posts I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on the wonder and beauty of building a multi-racial community, the church. Who am I? Well I'm part of the leadership team at Jubilee Church Teesside, a church which has a passion to serve the poor, marginalised and vulnerable and contribute to the city and neighbourhoods around us. We partner with churches throughout the world bringing diverse groups of people together both joyfully and with purpose. Jubilee Church Teesside is a church made up of people from over 20 nations with 30-40% of the congregation originating from other nations. I’m also a GP and the practice I am part of has been able to contribute to the prison sector, addiction services and serve those with severe mental health problems in various setting. We’re also involved with refugee medicine, training GPs and contributing to the future of NHS strategy and development. I mention this simply to underline the fact that our Christian faith and influence for the good of all is much bigger than a 'church service' on a Sunday morning or evening! But you know that already?? God has a wider and weightier agenda!

George Floyd
In the midst of the tragic death of George Floyd in the USA and all the emotions and reactions that this horrific killing has resulted in, the church also has it’s part to play in this change to anti-racism or Gracism as one church pastor has phrased it. For me in this period of unrest there has been a growing realisation that although this isn’t a new problem, as one journalist put it, systematic racism is “the longest ongoing saga in American history”, it certainly is a new opportunity for the church, for Christians, for you and me wherever we are. Friends, George Floyd did not die in vain. 

Quoting one theologian:
"There is something magnificently fitting in all this.  For the first few centuries, a high proportion of Christian leaders were Africans.  It all started in the first multiethnic church at Antioch, where at least two of the five leaders were black…Much of the theology of the early church was developed by Africans such as Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Cyril and perhaps the greatest of them all, Augustine, to whom Luther and Calvin looked in building the foundations of the Protestant church, to which we today are heirs.  We are here because in large measure Africans laid the foundations.”

So in these next few articles I will be sharing a few thoughts on this and a bit of our own experience at Jubilee Church Teesside as we have sought to build a multiracial church. 

Where do we start - 4 Theological Tent Pegs…
How about we use 4 theological 'tent pegs’ to support what we are establishing. 

1. Ephesians 2 tell us that in Jesus we are new creations, we have a new spirit dwelling in us. We like that bit don't we? But it means change! Because of our anti-racist, Gracist, indwelling God, this new you, this new humanity looks like something different than before. Dividing walls of hostility, both conscious and subconscious come crashing down, racial barriers are meant to topple and fall in the unifying power of God the Holy spirit. Self awareness of our past and present prejudices doesn't produce an unhelpful defensiveness in us, but rather a progressive repentance. Faith should therefore produce an openness in us to change and be changers. We become One.

As Desmond Tutu said:
“Our own dignity can only be measured in the way we treat others…We must be radical. We must go to the root, remove cleanse and cauterise that which is festering, and then a new beginning is possible”

So, Ephesians 2 tells us by the power of the spirit, through the Gospel of Jesus, we are One.

2. In Revelation 7 we see God's ongoing purpose for a new humanity of every nation, tribe, people and language. In other words very, very, very different - a celebration, a party if you like, of multicolour, interweaving, interdependence, ethnic and cultural diversity and distinctiveness. A lot of my friends over the years have said things like, I don't see colour in you…your just Raj.  Although I understand the positive heart behind those words, the reality is I am different. My colour, isn’t just superficial but deep, generational, historical, social, behavioural, psychological, experiential. My difference your difference, brings something extra to Gods beautiful world canvas. God doesn't want to blot that out. Neither should we, it’s far too precious! Multi-ethnic church is not boring monocultural church. Both One (Ephesians 2) and different (Revelation 7) at the same time in fact!

So by the power of the Spirit, through the Gospel of Jesus, we are one and through God’s ongoing purpose for a new humanity we are also different at the same time! 

3. This one but different new humanity is played out in and through the church of Jesus shaping the rest of the world. Matthew 5 a city on a hill. When I first became a Christian 20 years ago, in the midst of loosing the 2 most precious people to me at the age of 20 (my mum within a few weeks of diagnosis died of breast cancer age 50 and my brother around the same time committed suicide age 28), in a cultural background which suggests that my family was the cornerstone of all my hope and security - in the midst of all that, God found me! I was welcomed into a bigger family, a glorious family. I found love and belonging that stunned me. Then I was the only person of colour in the church. This is the treasure we have friends - the eternal one but different dazzling delightful family.

Phil Moore bible teacher and church pastor in London writes
"The fierce battle that has raged between the nations through world history has been turned to peace through the church, gods new multiracial humanity. Hallelujah!"

But,working this out on this side of Jesus’ return, is tough, like in any family. Relationships are fraught with danger!! This path of a one but different Holy community is Messy. Slow. Chaotic. There’s huge potential for tension! There's friction.But hear this, our churches are God's plan A where this stuff is all worked out in togetherness, joyfulness, perseverance, humility, word and spirit. Therefore making this a priority in the church, keeping it on the table all the time, not seeing it as a problem to address, but an opportunity to progress,isof paramount importance and one of the greatest thrills of leadership.God wants you to change your mind on this.

So, by the power of the Spirit, through the Gospel of Jesus, we are one. Through God’s ongoing purpose of a new humanity we are also different and that this different new humanity is designed to be play out in and through God’s family the church. 

4. Finally, the Gospel, the 'Joy News Of Jesus' is the best answer. Jesus brings reconciliation like no-one else.
God so loved our multiracial and multicultural world that he gave his only son, to unite all the people groups of the world together in him.

The great Charles Hadden Spurgeon once said:
"Jesus Christ was up on the cross, hurting, bleeding, dying, looking down at the people forsaking him, denying him, betraying him, and in the greatest act of love in the Universe, He stayed for you”

Mediating on a God like that can only lead you to into loving those who are different to you, those who are not ‘your kind’, those who perhaps you or your family have been generationally hostile towards and even to those who you may be even subconsciously discriminate against.

The church should be the showcase of this to the whole world. It's an awkward conclusion, the church will get into difficulty with it. In many parts of the world it will result in further persecution but we must hold fast to this Gospel. Because nothing else, nothing short of this goal will do!

An Iranian member of Jubilee came from a background which hated Afghanis but when he came to faith at Jubilee he was surrounded by Afghanis. God also gave him a job working with even more people from Afghanistan. Gradually he grew to see Afghanis through God’s eyes and a love grew in his heart for them. You see contemplating on and getting to know Jesus changed his whole worldview. Why? Because relationships change us more than any set of ideas and principles ever have. 

A relationship with God is the pinnacle of this relationship affect. My dear brother from Iran glimpsed this and revived himself through the powerful work of grace in our church which eventually became his church and which he eventually modelled in his world, it shaped his whole world view! It is also now shaping his families lives too! 

Our neighbourhoods don't need a milder, tamer, dumbed down form of Christianity as many people would tell us. No! They need a deeper truer richer one! Hold fast to the Gospel!

So this is my simple foundation for approaching this subject: One, Different, The Church, The radical gospel. I hope you have found this article helpful as an introduction! In future articles I’m going to use these foundations to build a context for building churches which truly represent God’s heart. This is really an attempt to unpack some of the things we have learnt at Jubilee Teesside so far. You can read and download the complete set here. You can also watch the video that goes alongside this series below and there are options to listen to this available on the ChristCentral media page: christcentralchurches.org/media and we’ve also made this series available on the ChristCentral YouTube Channel: youtube.com/c/christcentralchurches 

The Mulitcoloured Church:
Part 1 
Part 2 
Part 3 
Full Article (PDF)

Short Film: