Black and White Church Catholicity


How can predominantly white and black churches work together without compromising the convictions of each? Answering that question has been difficult.

Some folk contend that merely calling American blacks and whites to reconcile reignites a problem that has already been resolved. Others believe that we perpetuate America’s historic white-over-black problem by not actively fighting against racism. In between these opposite positions are countless solutions, every one of which seems to offend as many as it satisfies.

Here’s the problem. Born again believers all agree that we must love each other as brothers and sisters and should walk in unity (John 4:21; Eph. 4:1–3). However, how can predominantly black churches and predominantly white churches work together without compromising their convictions on matters like justice, police and prison reform, the question of systemic racism, and more? This brief article cannot comprehensively address this multifaceted problem, but it will recommend an approach that will motivate us to address it.

What’s the approach? Stick to the Bible. Use verses from the Bible and language drawn from them to define the problem and to prescribe solutions.

I’ll provide two examples by answering two questions about how predominantly white and black churches can work together to build Christ’s international, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic catholic church without compromising their convictions.

1. Why Even Think About Developing Relationships between Predominantly White and Black Churches (Galatians 2:11–14; John 4:4, 34–42)?

As much as I hope this doesn’t sound controversial, I fear that it may. Historically, white Christians in the United States created white-only churches, creating a Galatians 2 problem. In doing so, they left black Christians no alternative but to start black churches. This lasted throughout slavery and for another hundred years under legalized segregation.

Now, we should not apply Galatians 2 and the biblical divide between Jews and Gentiles to modern day racial divisions too quickly and without qualification. After all, that divide had originally been ordained by God. Still, we can draw out lessons from Galatians 2 for any of today’s ethnic or racial divides pretty easily. Peter failed to recognize the universal (or catholic) nature of the gospel and its call to all humanity, regardless of what group people belong to. His separation worked to fashion the boundaries of the church around something other than the gospel, as if the Jew/Gentile divide continued to hold soteriological significance. In so doing, said Paul, he opposed the gospel.

What Peter did individually, the American church did categorically for centuries, and there weren’t enough Pauls to stop it. It is lamentable that some of America’s most respected preachers, like theologian Robert L. Dabney, taught that white people couldn’t mix with black people or, worse, that God created a hierarchy of races with white on the top and black on the bottom. We can all thank God that this heresy is rejected today, but we have to acknowledge that its legacy gives us communities and churches separated by color. Predominantly black and white churches don’t relate to one another, and both sides are too easily content with this state of affairs. Yet this state reveals the problem. Jesus didn’t die to build a segregated church.

A few years ago, I was asked by the ministry of one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in America to organize a gathering of black pastors so that he could meet them and introduce a book he had written about race. I gladly did. A couple hundred black pastors attended, he preached, and every pastor left blessed by his ministry. However, I was deeply saddened that most of the pastors knew nothing of his ministry.

I mention this story only to reveal the impact of the legacy of America’s segregation on the relationship between black and white churches. For the most part, predominantly black churches don’t have relationships with white churches, and the only black preachers white evangelicals know are the few who preach in predominantly white spaces. The church in America remains divided by color.

Conversely, Jesus declares that the world will know us by our love for one another. What a powerful witness it would be for the world to see predominantly black and white churches express a real love for one another. This is not to suggest that we ignore our theological differences. Of course, there are anti-gospel churches to avoid. There are bad black churches and bad white churches. Yet there are also healthy black churches and healthy white churches. If healthy churches discuss race issues with Bible verses and biblical language, we might find a way to agree, or at least agreeably disagree.

The question we should always be asking and helping each other to ask is, what does the Bible say?

In John 4, Jesus confronted and mended the historical Jew-Samaritan divide that he did not cause. Jews and Samaritans were divided geographically, spiritually, ethnically, and relationally for hundreds of years. Jews refused to have dealings with Samaritans. Yet Jesus made it his mission to go to Samaria, to preach the gospel of how to be reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins, and to tear down the racialized wall that had separated them. Why? Because our vertical reconciliation with God produces a horizontal reconciliation with each other (see Eph. 2:1–10 and 2:11–22). Christ wanted to show his disciples that he was the Savior of the world and that ripe harvest fields existed on the other side of the wall of segregation.

Likewise, predominantly black churches and predominantly white churches need to apply their gospel-first convictions and develop relationships with one another as Jesus did. By virtue of being reconciled to him, we are reconciled to one another. And both forms of reconciliation occurred at the same place—at the cross (Eph. 2:13, 16).

2. Why Persist in Trying to Develop Cooperative Black-White Church Partnerships?

We must persist because of who we are in Christ. Jesus redeems sinners into a unified new humanity (Eph. 2:13–14; 1 Peter 2:9).

At the tower of Babel, God judged fallen humanity by scattering people into lands and languages, and eventually cultures and ethnicities (Gen. 10–11). For believers, Jesus has begun reversing that judgment.

Conversely, Satan wants to unify the world in rebellion against God, and he wants to divide and conquer the church. So churches need to be careful about which spiritual voices they listen to. John commands Christians not to believe every spirit (1 John 4:1–3), meaning we are not to listen to every spiritual utterance because spiritual utterances come from different spiritual sources. The spiritual sources that deny Jesus is Christ are demonic.

So when Jesus-denying voices on the political right or the left inflame Christians to fight each other rather than seek reconciliation, we need to stop listening to those voices.

Christ commissioned the church in Acts 1:8 to cross geographical, ethnic, and language boundaries to build one church. He sent Jewish Christians to traverse pagan lands to reach Gentiles.

Christians today, likewise, must aspire to reach people-groups within different cultures. Some aspects of our differing cultures are morally significant, but other aspects are not. They’re morally neutral. Yet when we treat those neutral matters as universal principles of right and wrong, particularly in a way that impacts the boundaries of a church’s membership and its pursuit of its mission, we risk perpetuating those Galatians 2 divisions. In order to build church cooperation, churches must build bridges across our cultural differences. Along these lines, Paul exhorts a New Testament church to strive to become all things to win all people (1 Cor. 9:19–23). He prioritized the gospel over amoral cultural differences. What then happened? God united Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and barbarians.

For us, then, by prioritizing our mission (Acts 1:8) over amoral cultural preferences, God can unite white congregations with white cultures together with black congregations with black cultures. Together they can work for his glory in reaching the nations.


This is not always easy to do. Years ago, I was alone in an elevator with an elderly white pastor at a predominantly white Bible conference. He stared at me. Then he asked, “Why are you here?” I was dumbstruck. I cannot speak with certainty to his heart, but the comment sure felt like racism. This pastor knew who I was and why I was there. I was one of the plenary speakers. My face and name were plastered all over the conference registration material that he signed in order to attend the conference. Embracing an old lie, he was telling me that this was a white conference, and I didn’t belong there. To him, black and white Christians shouldn’t mix.

But he was wrong. I was there because one of my white Christian brothers had invited me, and more importantly, because Christ created one body and he calls all Christians to a transcultural mission.


So I write as a descendant of Stephen Scott, a former slave turned preacher, and of March Dillahunt, a former slave turned soldier, who fought and died in the Civil War. I was born in 1964. I am therefore the first American born in my family with all the legal rights of an American citizen. Yet my American story is marked by growing up in black spaces that America created. I never entered a white home until I was in my twenties.

I also write as a born-again believer, saved by Jesus in 1984. I was trained for gospel ministry in conservative white evangelical spaces. In those spaces my experience confirmed that my brothers are not defined by the color of their skin or by their cultural preferences (which at times starkly differed from mine), but by the robe of righteousness they wear and by the gospel.

So I choose to build relationships in both black and white spaces. I agreed to write this article when they invited me, for instance, because I love my brothers at 9Marks. And I continue to strive to build a multicultural brotherhood because racializing the church perpetuates a demonic lie that Satan perpetrated on American churches.

In spite of how exhausting America’s race conversation can become, I hope we all keep trying to love each other with uncompromising truth. Maybe one day the segregating legacy of the racial wall built in America will be a faint memory of the past and the glory of Christ will radiate through an undivided church bound together by his love, no longer divided by color.

Bobby Scott

Bobby Scott is a pastor of Community of Faith Bible Church in South Gate, California.

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