What Christ has united…

10 Oct

I am happy to be part of a local church filled with people from many different countries and cultures.

I guess, more than that really, I am so happy to be part of a local church where people from different countries and cultures are learning to sincerely love God and one another. For one thing, it has had so many practical spiritual benefits in my life. I am a different person because of the friendships I have developed within my church. Take those relationships away, subtract what I have learned, and I am not sure, I’d really like who I would be.

This distinction between simply being filled with people of different cultures and developing deep biblical unity and friendships within a local church is important, especially as we talk about multi-ethnic churches.

I like how Jarvis Williams puts it,

“…evangelicals can confuse racial reconciliation with multi-ethnicity or diversity, and so they begin conversations about racial reconciliation with a push for multi-ethnic churches.

I agree that gospel-grounded racial reconciliation produces multi-ethnic and diverse churches.

But diversity is not the same as gospel-centered racial reconciliation and the goal of gospel-centered racial reconciliation is not simply diversity. An assembly of the United Nations is multi-ethnic and diverse, as is the army, or the local public high school, or so many other groups. Yet such settings hardly enjoy the racial reconciliation of the gospel.

Gospel-grounded racial reconciliation begins with what Christ accomplished at the cross. He united one-time enemies to God and therefore to one another. He made the two one. Racial reconciliation begins, in other words, with the “indicative” of who we are in Christ. And then racial reconciliation shows itself in our love for the “other.”

It flows from the Spirit-empowered obedience and demonstration of who we are in Christ.

To define racial reconciliation as simply diversity, or to think that our churches are racially reconciled simply because they might be diverse, is misleading.”

In other words, as far as I understand what he’s saying, we shouldn’t start talking about this issue the way the world does. “Oh, we just need to have a lot of different people from different backgrounds in here.” I guess that sometimes how people hear it. Instead, we have to start instead with the gospel. What has God has done in Christ and what difference does that make on the way we relate to one another and think about church?

If I am living in an area where there are many people who are different than me and I am not pursuing friendships with people who are different than me, why? Is there something I am missing in my understanding of what God’s accomplished in the gospel?

In his article, Racial Reconciliation, the Gospel and the Church, he writes,

“In order to understand what biblical racial reconciliation is and what it means for the church, Christians, first of all, need a better understanding of the relationship between the gospel and racial reconciliation. Let’s just consider Ephesians 2 and 3 for a moment.

The mystery of the gospel is an important theme in Ephesians (1:9-10). Paul defines this mystery as the unification of all things in Christ (1:10) and “the gospel of your salvation” (1:13). Chapter 2 then begins by recalling the fact that we are all dead in our sins and separated from God (vv. 1-3). “But God,” verse 4 famously begins, makes us alive in Christ and saves us by grace, say the following verses. Based on Ephesians 2:1-10, evangelicals often define the gospel with reference to our reconciliation to God (see esp. Eph. 2:1-10).

Yet that’s not all God does in the gospel.

Paul goes on to say that the gospel includes the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles into one new humanity. Verse 13 begins with a second sharp adversative: “But now,” Paul says, and then points to something else Christ has already accomplished: those Gentiles “who were far away have been brought near.” They were brought near God’s promises of salvation to Jews “by the blood of Christ Jesus” (2:13).1

The good news of the gospel includes the fact that the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died so that he would put an end to the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, to reconcile Jews and Gentiles to God, and to each other into one body through the cross, which made both groups into one dwelling place of God by the Spirit (2:14-22). And Jesus himself preached this gospel of peace (=reconciliation) to Jews near the promises and to Gentiles far away from those promises (Matt 15:21-28).

In chapter 3, Paul refers to the stewardship of the grace of God given to Paul (v. 2). He describes that stewardship as a mystery that was made known to Paul by a revelation, and that mystery is the mystery of Christ as revealed to Paul by the Spirit (vv. 3-5). He explicitly states the content of the mystery is Jew and Gentile inclusion as “fellow heirs” and “of the same body” because together they are “partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel” (v. 6). And he connects reconciliation between Jew and Gentile to the gospel by stating that God graciously called Paul to proclaim as good news the inexpressible riches of Christ to the Gentiles (v. 8).

It would not be exegetically accurate to say that Ephesians 2:11-3:8 are “about racial reconciliation,” at least in the way we think of those terms today. The ancient division between Jew and Gentile was not the same as the divisions we know exist between Black and White or Serbian and Croatian or Hutu and Tutsi or Japanese and Chinese. The division between Jew and Gentile was God’s own doing according to his covenantal plan, and Ephesians 2 and 3 dwell on the fulfillment of that covenantal plan.

But certainly we must say that a lesson or an implication of Ephesians 2:11-3:8 is that Christ united Christians of every ethnicity together. He removed ethnicity as a barrier. The good news of the gospel, in that sense, includes racial reconciliation. Christ did it! He reconciled us both to the Father and to one another!”

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