The Early Church, still aglow with the experience of touching the resurrected Christ before his ascension and the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, face their first conflict and it was over food. But dig deeper. It is never just about food. It was the ugly face of discrimination.
We are great self-deceivers if we think today's church don't have issues of discrimination. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook who is championing women's equality with her new book Lean In, was asked if she was happy that there are more women CEOs than just two years back. She answered that 5.2% is a sign that there is still inequality because leadership should reflect the workforce and there are more than 5.2% women in the workforce.
Look at all the leaders of the evangelical Christians. They are mostly white and male. This is discrimination.
When the Apostles hear of the discontent, they don't shush the complainers for the sake of the Gospel. For they sake of the Gospel they take action. They immediately called all the believers for discussion and decision. They did not disregard the issue.
But neither did they make it the primary issue. This would have been the wrong approach. They take themselves out of it saying their task is preaching. Then they give the task to newly elected deacons. This move was not relegating the discrimination issue, but putting it in its proper place so it can be dealt with directly.
The deacons were not chosen simply for their management skills. They were chosen for their spiritual leadership. After all, the very next story is Stephen's preaching. Stephen can step right up the pulpit after Peter. They empower such a person as Stephen to handle the issue. They saw discrimination as a spiritual issue.
The primary task of the apostles, and thereby the church, was witnessing to Christ's resurrection. But that witness is threatened by discrimination, for the community is the evidence of resurrection. If Christ rose from the dead, then there has to be Kingdom-communities, and in Kingdom-communities everyone is welcome at the Table, and everyone has their fair share. Food distribution was Communion issue.
This spiritual perspective gives the apostles courage for a bold step. They empower the people who are discriminated against. All seven deacons have Greek names because they are all Grecian-Jews, whose widows were being overlooked. Not even the most progressive secular organization would do that. The church can because the church worships Trinity who, to bridge the difference between God and human, took Jesus, a full human being into its Godhead. A human being is empowered to be part of the Trinity. The church empowers the discriminated.
The evangelical church should be bold and empower non-white male leaders until leadership reflects the makeup of the church, and the church reflects the makeup of the community God has placed it.
We have to work to where we don't have to use the labels "White Church" and "Black Church." The Dutch Reformed Church said the "Apartheid is Church Policy" only because they were already compromising back in the 1800s when they said separate communion tables for colored people out of convenience was not unbiblical. Food and fellowship, they are witness issues! As long as the churches are mono-cultural, our witness will be powerless.
“Businesses are going to care about diversity not because they want to do good in the world,” says Sandberg. “They’re going to care about diversity if it’s going to change their bottom line.”
For the church, it is actually not about doing good either. It is about our bottom line, witnessing to the Kingdom inaugurated by Christ's resurrection.