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September 12, 2007


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Colin Thomas

Dr DeYmaz,

How would you answer the objection to the scriptural sanction of multi ethnic churches (I think initially raised by Peter Wagner), that when Paul wrote his epistles he wrote to groups of churches which would of been ethnically and culturally distinct eg when he wrote Romans it would of been passed to a jewish house congregation and then to a gentile house congregation ?

Therefore the great exortation to horizontal unity in Ephesians was between different congregations ?

Thankyou for your assistance

Colin Thomas

Mark DeYmaz

Thank you for your good question, Colin. It is true that Paul's letters were circulated among the churches in the first century. However, I do not at all agree that segregation within the church, i.e., "a Jewish house congregation" and a "Gentile house congregation" existed at this time.

It is possible that such a conclusion is drawn from a misreading of Paul's farewell comments to the elders of the Ephesian church as recorded by Luke in Acts 20:17-21. In the transition from verse 20 which ends, "... but have taught you publicly and from house to house," and verse 21 which begins, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance ..." some may not recognize that these are two separate points. In other words, Paul is not saying that he taught Jewish and Gentile Christians in separate houses, only that he has proclaimed the gospel to Jews and to Greeks alike. Notice further that he called for the elders of the (singular) church of Ephesus (verse 17) and it is the people (Christians) of this one church that he has taught both publicly (as, for instance, in the School of Tyrannus) and from house to house in a small group setting (as we often find in churches today), in no way implying a segrgaed church (verse 20). Indeed, to assert such things, in my view, is to read into the text that which is not otherwise stated or intended. Such an argument most surely flies in the face of all that Christ envisioned (John 17:20-23ff.), what was most certainly the case in the integrated environment at Antioch (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1; see also 11:18) and Paul's prescription for the church throughout Ephesians (see specifically 2:11-4:6). For instance, if Paul had in mind one Church of segregated, house-to-house congregations, why would Paul write, "And in Him, you (i.e., Jewsish and Gentile converts), too, are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit," (NIV). Such things are further explained in my book. In fact, here's an excerpt you may find helpful.

"Paul’s experience in Ephesus begins with a brief stop there en route to Syria. As was his custom, “he . . . entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews” (Acts 18:19). Though invited to remain in the city, he deferred, promising “to return . . . again if God wills” (Acts 18:21).

It was on his third missionary journey that Paul fulfilled this promise. Coming into the city, he encountered twelve men—disciples who had been baptized only into “John’s baptism” (Acts 19:1–3, 7). Discovering, however, that they had not yet received or even heard of the Holy
Spirit, he offered them a more complete explanation of the Gospel. “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” (Acts 19:5).

The timing of their introduction in Acts makes it probable that these men were disciples of Apollos, whose ministry in Ephesus is reported to have taken place between Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord (Acts 18:25), and
though fervent in spirit, his understanding was limited; according to this passage, he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John.” In addition, Luke tells us that in Achaia, Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public” (Acts 18:28). We can assume he had done so in Ephesus as well.

Following this event, Paul again entered the synagogue, “reasoning and persuading [Jews] about the kingdom of God,” for a period of three months (Acts 19:8). According to the next verse, there were some who believed and some who did not. Those who did believe were taken from the synagogue to be taught in the School of Tyrannus, to which Paul transferred his public teaching ministry for the next two years. And it was through Paul’s teaching there that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks ” (Acts 19:10, emphasis mine).

Consequently, the multi-ethnic nature of the church at Ephesus began to take shape. In Acts 19:17 we learn that the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified among both Jews and Greeks who lived at Ephesus. Even Paul himself speaks to the diversity of the church in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:21).

From the beginning, then, the church at Ephesus included both Jewish and Gentile converts. Together with the tone and tenor of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, such passages argue strongly for a community of inclusion at Ephesus."

I hope these thoughts help you in your further consideration of the Biblical mandate for the multi-ethnic local church. Thanks again, Colin, for the question.

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