“Christianity is the white man’s religion,” said Malcolm X in his autobiography. This is a claim we often hear, but is it true? As a black person, I can understand why people might believe that Christianity is only for white people.
They question, “How can you believe in the Bible if it was used to justify slavery? After all, black people were not Christian before the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”
While accusations like this may sound convincing, they contradict the true message of the gospel, which is unity with God the Father through Christ Jesus, and by extension, unity with each other.
With this understanding of the gospel, let’s dive into a few reasons why Christianity is not just for white people, it’s for everyone.
Universal Human RightsChristianity is universal because it claims the whole of humanity is made in the image of God. Click To Tweet
Christianity is universal because it claims the whole of humanity is made in the image of God. This core doctrine, found in the very first chapter of the Bible, unites and equalizes all people. In Genesis 1:26, God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
As the political philosopher Richard Rorty said in an address to the United Nations, the concept of universal human rights came from “religious claims that human beings are made in the image of God.”
If we are all made in God’s image, then we are all equal in God’s eyes.
Breaking Down Cultural Barriers
The word gospel means good news. The gospel is meant for everyone no matter their race, culture, or background. Jesus makes this clear in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:18-19).
If Christianity were a white man’s religion, why did Jesus command His disciples to go to all nations to preach the gospel?
Once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become a child of God and a part of the body of Christ. While we all have our differences, Christ unifies us in Himself. Because of the gospel, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Everywhere the gospel goes, it breaks down cultural barriers.
Ethnic Diversity in the Early Church
You may have heard people say, “There were no black Christians before the transatlantic slave trade.” This is a false historical claim. A brief examination of the early church shows that Africa played a huge role.
· Luke 23:26 The man who carried Jesus’s cross was Simon from Cyrene, which is in Northern Africa, in the modern nation of Libya.
· Acts 11:19-24 Some of the earliest missionaries were also from Cyrene.
· Acts 2:10 At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, there were Africans in the crowd from Egypt and Libya.
· Acts 8:26-36 Philip baptized an official from Ethiopia, a nation located in Eastern Africa.
Already in New Testament times, Africans were getting baptized and becoming disciples.
Early Church Fathers
After the New Testament era, many of the early church fathers were African.
· Tertullian (155-240 A.D.) was the first theologian to write in Latin. He was from present-day Tunisia located in North Africa.
· Athanasius (296-373 A.D.) was best known for defending the doctrine of the Trinity. He was from Alexandria, which is in Egypt. He was nicknamed the “Black dwarf” because he was short and dark skinned.
· Augustine (354-430 A.D.) is often considered the greatest of the church fathers. He was a Berber, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. He became the bishop of Hippo, now modern-day Algeria.
This history demonstrates that Christianity was already in Africa before the transatlantic slave trade. People who claim otherwise are unaware of Church History.
One Body, Many Parts
Christianity is not a Western religion, but a universal religion because our God and Father is King over the entire universe.
Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom, reports that immigrants are flooding into Western nations from Asia, Africa, and South America. He writes, “On a typical Sunday, half of all churchgoers in London are African or Afro-Caribbean.”
In France, the city of Paris has two hundred fifty ethnic Protestant churches, most of them black African. In America, over the past fifteen years, more than one hundred new churches were started in New York City alone by African immigrants from countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, and Ethiopia.
Lamin Sanneh is a former Muslim from The Gambia in West Africa who taught at Yale University. In his book, Whose Religion is Christianity?, he observes that, “Christianity is the religion of over two thousand different language groups. There are more Christians who pray and worship in more languages than in any other religions in the world.”
Christianity is not the “white man’s religion.” Christianity is meant for every nation, tribe, and tongue.
“And they sang a new song saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:9)