The church is made up of people who are different. In the New Testament people from all kinds of backgrounds were converted and became members of the same congregation. Paul said what mattered is that they were Christians. In Christ he said there is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). They were to be humble and loving toward each other regardless of culture or social standing (Col. 3:12-15). When you think about how different these groups were, it is amazing that they could have unity.
Jews and Gentiles were very different, and yet when they were baptized they often found themselves sitting beside each other in the same congregation. Though the law of Moses had been nailed to the cross, Jewish members were slow in giving up many of their customs. Jews were taught not to eat pork and some other meats. Gentiles ate things that disgusted Jews. Think of what a dinner on the ground must have been like! No wonder we read sections like Romans 14. These Christians had to learn to separate matters of culture and conscience from matters of obligation and to have peace in the church.
Greeks were different from the Gentiles. Non-Greeks were called “barbarians.” This word is usually an insult today meaning a brutal, ignorant savage. In the New Testament, however, it simply referred to a person who was a foreigner to Greek civilization. It is like the word “heathen” in this respect. To call someone a heathen today is a derogatory word, but in Bible times it simply meant a non-Jew. Still, Greeks and barbarians were different in education, language, dress, and many other aspects of culture. Greeks sometimes looked down on these people. Yet in the church they were to love and respect each other.
One group of barbarians stood out from the rest. They were the Scythians. A Scythian was “an inhabitant of Scythia, i.e., modern Russia…By the civilized nations of antiquity the Scythians were regarded as the wildest of all barbarians” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 580). These people were rough around the edges compared to the Greeks and even to other barbarians. When they obeyed the gospel, however, they were Christians the same as anyone else in spite of their odd appearance and lack of social grace.
Many slaves became Christians in the first century. They were looked upon as a lower class of people. Free citizens sometimes had a hard time respecting them. In the body of Christ, however, slaves were just as much Christians as their masters. They still had to obey their owners, but they were to respect each other and follow the Golden Rule. Congregations in the New Testament often had slaves and free people. The free citizens were not to look down on slaves, and slaves were not to be resentful of those who were free. They were to love each other and be one in Christ.
What a mixture of people these congregations were! What a challenge it was for them to be longsuffering with each other! We think we have different personalities and differences of opinion in a congregation today, and we do. The population is also changing, and people move more often than people in the past did. Now congregations are even more diverse. But if all the different kinds of people in the New Testament could come together in the church and have peace, why can’t we?
West End church of Christ