The wall of animosity between South African whites and blacks has shrunk since the formal fall of apartheid in 1994. Government has tried to mandate equality, but only the gospel of Christ can bring true unity.
My experience in Africa has taught me that among the last dominoes to fall in unifying Christians of different races is not church membership but table fellowship. In the pews, the votes may count the same, but around the dinner table, we are more like Joseph’s court:
They served him by himself…because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians”(Gn. 43:32).
For many white believers, it is a bridge too far to have blacks equally, joyfully, and freely join them at table. We coddle our conscience: “But the foods, manners, tastes are too different.” Maybe. Maybe not. But even if we grant the former, is not a change in menu or method but a small price for unity? As John Flavel said, “If you take away union, there can be no communion.” And if there is no communion outside the church walls, can we really argue for unity within them?
Neither are blacks innocent. During our ten years in the village, the meals we’ve had with Tsongas in our home are well into the hundreds, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been invited over for the same. Now it is true that the blacks in our setting are unaccustomed to sharing frequents meals at each other’s homes. When I would ask the students at Bible school what the strangest thing was they saw in me, they always pointed to the number of times my family ate with the family of my colleague. “We don’t do that kind of thing,” they’d say. But the truth is that the deep racial divide is still the greatest cause for such scant interracial fellowship.
The way to overcome this is to understand that food itself and the satisfaction it brings is a secondary matter. Jesus came “eating and drinking” (Lk. 7:34) because it was a living symbol of the reason he came to earth. By eating with different cultures and races, Jesus was communicating his love and affection for them, a message the Jews clearly understood: “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Peter sent the same message during his taboo meal with Cornelius: God doesn’t show favorites (Ac. 10:34). Not surprisingly, the Spirit came down soon after (v. 44).
The reason believing whites and blacks should make a habit of eating together in public and private is the very reason many do not: the meal communicates friendship, love, and unity. When I take my guys to a restaurant, our gang resembles a grain of salt in a bowl of pepper. The eatery inevitably stares in stunned silence. But it is not enough to be seen together. Everyone in our group has a responsibility to convey to a watching world—both verbally and nonverbally—the message of the gospel. For if we sit together but communicate in a detached way, it would overturn the precious message we are after.
Instead, a heavy dose of multiracial back slapping around a tasty spread will burn Galatians 3:28 into their eyeballs: “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.”