“A House of Prayer for All Peoples” (Isaiah 56:7)
In the opening chapter of the book, “United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race”, the social context for the first-century world in Palestine is summed up in these words:
“The world in which Jesus and members of the church lived did have distinction that brought division and hierarchies that produced discrimination rooted in personal and societal understandings of ethnicity and culture. These differentiations often contained the same emotional and structural power to divide as race does today. This was particularly true of the divide between Jews and Gentiles (people from other nations).” (DeYoung, Emerson, Yancey, Kim. 2003:11).
In the midst of this social context, Jesus makes the bold assertion in Mark 11:17 that “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples” (quoting from Isaiah 56:7). “All peoples” was and is to include Gentile nations, the strangers and the outcasts. In the New Testament we have the example of the church at Antioch where the diversity of the city was reflected in the church. “Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of nearly half a million people. A wide cultural mix of peoples including Syrians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Parthians, Cappadocians, and Jews made up Antioch’s urban population” (DeYoung, Emerson, Yancey, Kim, 2003:27). The example of the church at Antioch gives us a model of “a house for all peoples”, a challenge for us to ponder as we consider our churches and Christian colleges/universities today. We live in a world that is divided as ever. The basis for our coming together as a multi-ethnic community is the command of our Lord Jesus and the example of the early church.
As we embark on this, the 16th Annual Student Congress on Racial Reconciliation, let us ponder the question: whose house is it that we are building? What should this house look like? How does it operate? God’s house is a house for all peoples. "All peoples" encompassed the poor, the outcast, the stranger, the widow, the orphan and the diversity of the Gentile world. For our times, "all peoples" encompasses the ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, the immigrant, the urban, suburban and rural community, the global and international community. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:6-7).
How might our Christian colleges/universities reflect this house of God, a house for all peoples? As we come together for SCORR 2012, let us engage one another. To listen, to pray and to worship with one another. May we move closer to making this “house of prayer for all peoples” a living reality among us today.