In Romans 16:13, Paul said to the saints at Rome, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been mother to me as well.” Many scholars believe that Rufus was the son of Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21). Cyrene was a North African city, located in Libya. Paul referred to Rufus’ mother as his own. Mark was the only gospel writer to record the names of Simon’s sons, Rufus and Alexander *Mark 15:21). Thomas C. Oden, in his groundbreaking book, “The African Memory of Mark” provides a compelling argument that Mark was an African Jew born also in Cyrene, and was personally familiar with Simon and his sons. Consequently, that’s why he was the only gospel writer to name Simon’s sons, according to Oden.
Furthermore, if Oden is correct in his belief that the Gospel writer, Mark, was an African Jew, that would make at least three of the Gospel writers descendants of the three continents: Luke, a descendant of Europe/Gentile (Colossians 4:14), Matthew and John, descendants of the Middle East (Asia), and Mark a descendant of Africa. It is possible that three of the gospel writers emanated from the three continents that comprise the biblical lands.
“In February 2015 chapel message at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary addressing “The Table of the Nations, the Tower of Babel, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb: Ethnic Diversity and the Radical Vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” R. Albert Mohler Jr. stated, African and Asiatic people may well be rooted in the sons of Ham.” It is rare that a white Southern Baptist—particularly with academic pedigree—would affirm an African/black presence in Scripture to that magnitude. The implications of his statement are staggering.” (Removing the Stain of Racism From the Southern Baptist Convention, by Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones, p. 134)
If Mohler is right, the color landscape of the Bible is different from what many of us thought growing up, and from what we’d been taught. Mohler makes it clear that color diversity is a reality throughout the Scripture, and Oden makes it clear the Gospel writers were diverse as well as the New Testament Church and her leaders.
The late Dr. Oden (Ph.D., Yale University) was an evangelical scholar and missionary. Dr. Paige Patterson served on his board. Oden argued that the Simon of Cyrene and Simeon called Niger of Acts 13:1 might be one and the same person. “It is based on the confluence of eight facts or probabilities,” according to Oden. The eight are listed below:
- The names Simeon and Simon are varied spellings of the same name.
- It is Mark alone of the four Gospel writers who earliest provides this unique and personal information about Simon of Cyrene: He was the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mk 15:21). Other Synoptic writers may have learned from Mark that Simon was from Cyrene.
- If other arguments from Coptic historians should prove correct that Mark was from Cyrene, and Simon came from Cyrene, that would make more plausible that Mark alone of the three Synoptic writers knew Simon and his sons personally. The hypothesis is that Mark and Simon had ethnic and cultural affinities with the same Diaspora Jerusalem synagogue referred to in Acts 6:9—at that time messianic and activist.
- It is an anomaly that “Simeon called Niger” had a Jewish name. Niger is Latin for “black.” This would fit the ethnic profile of a Jew known within the circle of disciples to be from Africa, and perhaps (though not necessarily) having darker skin. Whether he was the same person as the cross-bearer remains debated. We do not know, but what is clear is that Simon of Cyrene has a Jewish name, also spelled Simeon, and that he was a foreigner traveling to Jerusalem at feast time. In any event, we must posit some reason why this Simeon was called Niger.
- It has been overlooked that there is a mountain in Libya named Niger in the Garama region.
- Remember that Jews had resided in Cyrene for three hundred years. The skin pigment of Berber Jews is unspecific but could range from light to dark.
- We know that Simon of Cyrene was a visitor to Jerusalem, remembered in a personal fashion by Mark and perhaps by Paul. We know that Simon called the Black was first mentioned as being among the “men of Cyrene” (Acts 11:19-20) who first undertook the mission to Greek speakers in Antioch and Cyprus. Saul of Tarsus himself had cultural affinities with these “prophets and teachers.” Some common link bound together Saul and the Cyrenians.
- Simon the Black was a leader in a church founded by Cyrenians. These vectors point in the same direction: Simon of Cyrene was likely called Simon the Black.” (Early Libyan Christianity; Uncovering a North African Tradition by Thomas C. Oden, pp 101-102).
The point that I’m trying to make is simply this: In the early church descendants of Africa, Europe and Asia who had submitted themselves to the Kingdom of our God and His Christ, regularly fellowshipped together (Romans 16:13), planted churches together (Acts 13:1-2), worshiped together (Acts 13, Ephesians 2) and received and proclaimed Christ together (Acts 2:5, 17).
It is fairly common for African Americans to engage in worship in venues sponsored and led by Anglo leadership. It’s less common for Anglos to engage in worship in venues sponsored and led by African American leadership. It’s high time the Body of Christ break those barriers as did the early church.
Dr. Joel C. Gregory was scheduled to preach eight consecutive Sunday evenings at our church about 20 years ago. An Anglo gentleman read the announcement in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram and called our Church to ask if he attended, would he be welcome, and would he be safe. I sensed that his questions, although ill-informed, were sincere. I assured him the answers to both of his questions were a resounding, “YES.” The brother came the first night with his wife and attended every subsequent night. About mid-ways the eight weeks, he asked me how much was I providing for Dr. Gregory as an honorarium. I thought it was rather an invasive/intrusive, unnecessary question; but contrary to my nature, I decided to give the brother an open, honest, specific answer. Upon hearing the answer, he said, “Good. I will write your church a check for the entire amount.” And he did. The check cleared the bank too. He later blessed our congregation with a substantial generous gift, separate from the Gregory-inspired gift. This brother crossed a cultural chasm in a mighty way. We remain friends.
The Forrest Park Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a once thriving, growing Anglo SBC Church, had recently declined to fifteen active congregants, due to changing demographics in their community. They voted to pass the baton of the legacy of their church to a nine-year-old African American SBC church plant who was renting—by signing the deed of their well-maintained, fully-operational facility over to the New Fellowship Baptist Church, accompanied by a $21,000 check as a gift. A couple of the Forrest Park members are contemplating remaining with the New Fellowship Church. The ultra-benevolent and missionary act and cross-pollination of the congregations are truly crossing cultural chasms as was done in the New Testament. Shiloh Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL, recently assumed financial responsibility for a predominantly Anglo SBC church and merged with them. They jointly worship, crossing a cultural chasm.
The whole point and purpose of this article is to challenge SBC and NBC believers to practice crossing cultural chasms in volunteer worship services in each other’s venues when there’s no formal joint worship service planned.
Pastor H.B. Charles will be preaching at Cornerstone Baptist Church, Arlington, TX, Sunday evening, July 9, 7:00 p.m. to kick off the Annual Galilee Griggs Baptist Association meeting. I’m inviting everyone to come, but particularly I am inviting SBC Anglo persons to come worship with us and cross this cultural chasm, as did Rufus, Paul and “their” mother; and also Simeon and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-2).
Please join me at Cornerstone Church (5415 Matlock Road, Arlington, TX 76018) this coming Wednesday evening, July 12, 2017, at 7pm, for a Metroplex-wide gathering of 40-50 participating churches, to hear an incredibly dynamic preacher, Dr. Jerry Young, President of the National Baptist Convention and Pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church, Jackson, MS. Two great choirs will minister: St. John, Grand Prairie and Shiloh Baptist Church, Plano.
This will be a historic occasion—the first time a National Baptist President has spoken in Arlington; the first time a National Baptist President has spoken during the Galilee Griggs Baptist Association; the first time a National Baptist President has spoken at Cornerstone Church; and the Koinonia Church and Cornerstone Church of Arlington, coming together with St. John Grand Prairie, Shiloh Plano, Como First Baptist and, again, 40 other churches as one Metroplex Baptist family celebrating our common faith in Christ, and strengthening our bands of brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ. What would make this even more historic would be hundreds of our Anglo brethren and sisters in the Kingdom of God joining us for worship to celebrate our oneness in Christ. We look forward to the fellowship. A reception will be held for President Young following the gathering. Finger foods (wings) will be served; ALL ARE INVITED, to come and cross this cultural chasm reflecting and demonstrating the Kingdom of God and the early church. The world needs to see us in harmony, not wrestling in havoc. We can do it! Please join us.