No other New Testament passage addresses race relations in the church as directly as Ephesians 2. In verses 11-22 Paul addresses both Jewish and Gentile Christians urging them to adopt an attitude of humility. Both groups depend upon Christ for their salvation and in that truth both groups should find unity.
The key verse found in this passage is verse 15b-16,
His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. (VOICE)
For most of my life I have focused upon the role Jesus’ death on the cross plays in allowing God to forgive our sins. Forgiveness and restored relationship with God epitomise the cross.
So when I read these verses in Ephesians 2 I’m forced to expand my understanding of the cross. We’re told here that Jesus died to break down walls between Jews and Gentiles. To welcome them both in to the kingdom of God.
This is where the Bible gets tough for us. If Jesus died to remove barriers and dividing walls. If Jesus came to preach peace. Then this is an element of the Gospel that we must proclaim also. If God could make one new humanity out of Jews and Gentiles, what can he do with us?
The church doesn’t have the luxury of preaching oneness in Christ and peace with God while having nothing practical to say to our society caught up in racial tension in cities across the country. However, the church has a credibility problem. We want to tell Charlotte, Baton Rouge, Ferguson, San Diego, etc that Jesus brings peace and removes the “dividing wall of hostility”, but in too many cases the church is as segregated, or more so, as our communities.
If Jesus died to remove barriers between people so that people could be reconciled to God, then what are we doing about that?
As a first baby step we challenged the church to make October a “Month of Hospitality”. Over the next 30 days we propose to remove some barriers by having each member enjoy a meal (or coffee, etc) with another member on the other side of a common dividing barrier:
- Racial divisions;
- Age divisions;
- Education divisions;
- Income divisions;
- Political divisions;
- Marital status divisions; and
Why only apply this challenge to members in the church? Because, if we can’t overcome the barriers that exist within the church, we have no credibility to tell the world that we bring a message of God’s peace and reconciliation.
What will you do to live out the Gospel that breaks down barriers?
We can all sing in the car, alone.
We can all pray in a dark room, by ourselves.
We can all give online, individually.
Taking the Lord’s Supper requires community.
When it comes to the Lord’s Table, we come together to remind ourselves of the blessings of His body and blood offered for us.
Regardless of our personal resumes, we all celebrate exactly the same thing at the Lord’s Table. We’re equally separated from God and equally reconciled.
- Our sins are forgiven;
- Our guilt is removed;
- Death is defeated; and
- Intimacy with God is restored.
Every person receives every blessing.
Three times in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus acts as the host of a meal. Luke 9 (Feeding 5000), Luke 22 (Last Supper), & Luke 24 (Emmaus). Each time we’re told, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” The message of the Lord’s Supper, the significance of this table isn’t limited to a solemn Sunday morning. The Lord’s Supper is a continuation of eating with Christ on the hillside, and in the home.
In Luke 24:31, right after Jesus hands these disciples their bread, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him”. When we come to the table each week, it’s good that we don’t see hatred responsible for hanging Jesus upon the cross. It’s good that we don’t see division or classes or races. We see Jesus. Because Jesus is still our host. He still serves us. Our eyes can still be opened to recognize Jesus among us. And as our eyes are opened we acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is not something we do alone. Our eyes are opened to those around us and we see people forgiven by God, just as we are.
The original corruption of the Lord’s Supper that Scripture reveals to us, was the introduction of division into the experience. Class warfare took over the Supper and removed the values of unity and equality before God. 1 Corinthians 11:20 describes the situation as so severe that “when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.“
And just as Jesus took his meal on the road, we cannot keep our worship to Sunday morning. I love that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol that we ingest, because it means we take it with. Our challenge is whether we take any more with us than a cracker and a sip of juice.
I wonder when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” as he shared the Last Supper with his disciples, did he just refer to eating crackers and sipping juice? Or did he mean something more? Did he mean to eat with sinners, in remembrance of me? Did he mean break down political, racial and whatever barriers and eat together, in remembrance of me? Did he mean to forgive and serve our enemies as he washed Judas’ feet, in remembrance of me?
This is a lot more challenging than making sure we have the right type of juice and cracker in the trays each Sunday.
I wonder if he didn’t have in mind this description of the family members of the victims of the Charleston shooting this week. They appeared at the bail hearing for the shooter and while communicating their hurt and loss also managed to speak mercy and grace to him. A journalist at the New York Times described the scene this way…
It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.
What a wonderful description: It was as if the Bible study had never ended….
Jesus inspires us to go into the world as ambassadors of reconciliation, taking a message of hope and healing. Having ingested Him on Sunday, we are to live, as if the Lord’s Supper never ends… until the kingdom of God comes.
I don’t believe that Heaven is the eternal dwelling place of the soul. Instead, I believe the Bible looks forward to a New Creation: A new heaven and a new earth.
I’m familiar with 1 Thessalonians 4:17:
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.“
I know the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16.
I remember Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:3:
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.“
I believe that each of these familiar passages and images can be reconciled with a New Creation understanding of eternity. 2 Peter 3:12 describes a purifying fire that melts the elements, but v13 continues that “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”
One of the most poignant images of this new heaven and earth is found in Revelation 21. In verse 10 the faithful Christians are not taken up to heaven. Rather, John saw “the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out heaven from God.” God relocates his dwelling place from “Heaven” to the midst of his “New Creation”.
I’m really not super passionate about this topic as I understand that God reveals himself to us in terms and images that we can understand. It’s quite possible that His plans for our eternity are simply beyond our understanding and all these images are the most we can grasp.
However, I am convinced that our understanding of eternity influences the way we live in the present.
Here’s one application of that principle.
1 Corinthians 5:17 reads,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
When we are “in Christ” we exhibit God’s new creation. We provide a glimpse of eternity. We taste the blessings of eternity in our lives.
This amazes me.
My life doesn’t always (seldom?) actually feels like a glimpse of eternity. But neither does my life feel like it’s held in bondage by darkness.
Christians don’t always do a great job of demonstrating what New Creation looks like. But we can demonstrate grace. We can provide examples of forgiveness. We can work to bring peace. We can wipe away tears and ease pain. We can because God’s Spirit lives within us. We can because we represent the kingdom of God which is so much bigger than the kingdoms of this world.
Verses 18-6:1 describe how we, as representatives of New Creation, now have responsibilities as as Christ’s ambassadors carrying out a ministry of reconciliation. Reconciling the world to God. Communicating to the world that because of Jesus, God no longer counts people’s sins against them!
If we are “in Christ” we are a beachhead of New Creation in the midst of a Fallen Creation.
Let’s live like we mean it. Let’s live as though eternity will be a good thing. Let’s live as though we represent God’s best. Let’s live like we know where we’re going.
BONUS TRACK: Coincidentally, a friend of mine wrote a similar post today HERE. In this blog Rex describes how our understanding of New Creation impacts our attitude toward race relations in the present.
When Israel complained about God’s apparent detachment from their lives he responded by promising to first send a messenger to prepare the way for his coming. While the Israelites sought for God to free them from foreign oppression, instead God warned them that his application of justice would begin with them. In God’s eyes justice involves much more than political and military oppression, although they can be horrible. Justice also involves how society treats those living on the margins.
I recognise that this is an odd approach to thinking about the nativity. I’m taking this course because Mark 1:1 quotes Malachi 3:1 to introduce John the Baptist, who in turn introduces Jesus.
In Malachi 2:17 the prophet accuses Israel of “wearying God with your words”. One of the specific examples he offers is the question they ask, “Where is the God of justice?”
Ruled by the Persians, the Israelites longed for the return of autonomy. They apparently also longed to keep the tax money they paid to Persia. In their mind God should pour out just judgement upon the Persians and grant Israel freedom.
In response (3:1) God promises a “messenger who will prepare the way before me.” The messenger is only a precursor to the coming of God. But when God himself appears, rather than bringing justice against the Persians he will appear and hold court in His temple in Jerusalem. The first to be judged will be his representatives, the Levites.
Since Mark 1:1 (and Jesus in Matthew 11:1-10) identify “the messenger” as John the Baptist then it seems natural to identify Jesus as the Lord and judge Malachi anticipates.
What fascinates me is the list of people going to be judged:
- employers who exploit their employees,
- those who oppress the widows and orphans,
- those who deprive foreigners of justice, (those who are inhospitable to the homeless. The Message)
- anyone who does not honour God.
In our society when we think of justice we tend to think more like the Israelites than like God. Our list of people needing God’s justice might include: thieves, drunk or careless drivers who cause injuries, medical malpractice, politicians lining their pockets, big companies who hurt communities through pollution, gangs, drug dealers and anyone committing violence in our community.
The big discrepancy between God’s list and ours is his focus upon the margins of society. Sure he starts and ends with those who pursue other gods, but in between he cares for:
- those betrayed by their spouse,
- those abandoned by a corrupt judicial system,
- unpaid employees
- widows and orphans
- foreigners, refugees, the homeless, those without family support systems.
How would our world be different if we defined justice by how these social groups are treated?
How would our churches be different if we expressed God’s justice by addressing these issues?
In Jesus’ ministry we also see that he didn’t bring the style of justice the public expected.
Like Jonah and Micah, “the messenger”, John the Baptist, first came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Then in Mark 1:15 we see Jesus message summarised in similar terms “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The justice Jesus first preached wasn’t condemnation and destruction, it was repentance and forgiveness. We also find God’s concern for the poor and defenceless throughout the New Testament. The very setting of Jesus birth, in a stable, places him among the homeless. His parents then flee to Egypt as refugees to escape Herod’s persecution. In Matthew 25 Jesus identifies himself with the marginal when he says “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Over in James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
These messages of justice didn’t appear in a vacuum, they reflect God’s heart as expressed in Malachi 3.
Nelson Mandela recently died at age 95. The fall of apartheid in South Africa may not have been quite as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin wall, but it was equally profound. Mandela became the figurehead of the movement pushing for change and was the first president of South Africa post-apartheid.
By the end of his life, Mandela had grown to become an icon for forgiveness and reconciliation. As a leading representative of a marginal and oppressed class of society, it would have been so easy for him to call for justice in the form of retribution and violence. Instead, like Jesus, he modeled the peaceful, but difficult, path of forgiveness.
The baby in the manger was the God of justice the world sought. But for the world to recognise Him we need first to accept His definition of justice and sacrifice ours.
HERE’S some more reading on this text from Malachi.
- My sermon on HARMONY Sunday (20 October, 2013) HERE
- Don McLaughlin “Jesus Teaches the Unclean” (9 March, 2013) HERE
- Dan Rodriguez “Multiracial & Multigenerational Ministry in the 21st Century” (9 March, 2013) HERE
Do you know that only 8% of all churches in the United States meet the definition of multi-racial churches? THAT’S EIGHT PERCENT!! (Yes, I’m shouting that in shock and horror.) I’m blessed to serve one of those 8% but we need to keep reminding ourselves of the value of our racial makeup. It’s far too easy to take our racial harmony for granted.
DEFINITION: According to George Yancey a multiracial church is defined as “a church in which no one racial group makes up more than 80% of the attendees.
Racial harmony is not the Gospel of Jesus. Racial harmony is a powerful response and witness to the Gospel of Jesus and the power of God.
On Sunday our church celebrated it’s 4th Annual “HARMONY Sunday”. This special day celebrates God’s work not just in bringing two racial groups together 20 years ago, but on keeping them together for 20 years. Today our church consists not only of Anglo & African-Americans, but some Hispanics, and several other nationalities. We have members raised near the Gulf of Mexico, and others in the Dakotas. Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit is the glue that keeps us together.
Our church forms part of the Restoration Movement. This group of churches has spent the past 200+ years calling the broader Christian community back to the forms and teachings of the first century church as described in the New Testament. This mission has been carried out more successfully in some areas than in others.
One aspect of the earliest church that the restoration movement has given little acknowledgement is the area of race relations. The pages of the New Testament are filled with examples and teaching relevant to Jew and Gentile relationships, but little application has been made to contemporary racial tensions. Churches of Christ are still as segregated as any other denominations in the United States.
I love God’s vision of his church as described by John in Revelation 7:9,
I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
God’s kingdom is multi-national, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual. That crowd at the throne of the Lamb is our goal and destination, and there’s only one building. (See also Rev. 5:9-10 and 14:6) If it’s Jesus prayer, and it is, that “God’s will be done on earth as in heaven” then this vision of God’s throne, must be part of our vision for God’s church.
One of the problems churches encounter is that our vision for the church is too one-dimensional. We focus on doctrine over practice. Where we do focus on practice we often limit it to corporate worship. It’s interesting that throughout Revelation the throne scenes don’t describe a liturgy (order of worship), but they take considerable time to describe those present and worshiping.
That the church in eternity appears as a unified body should not describe those of us who’ve studied the first century church. Acts 2 describes how the crowd on the Day of Pentecost, which became the first church, consisted of at least 15 language groups. Although they held Judaism as a commonality, one can only imagine various cultural customs and values this crowd brought with it from across the Roman Empire. It’s no surprise that one of the first church arguments involved the distinct cultural groups of the Hellenistic and Hebraic Jews. But they didn’t split!! They didn’t form distinct Hebraic and Hellenistic churches. That came years later. Rather, they worked to find a solution to the issues at hand.
God’s vision for a racially inclusive kingdom and therefore a racially unified church is found throughout the Bible. Here’s a just a few passages to consider:
- Genesis 12:3 All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. [A messianic promise made to Abraham]
- Psalm 67:2 May your salvation [be known] among all nations.
- Isaiah 56:6-7 My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.
- Matthew 28:19 Go and make disciples of all nations.
- John 3:16 God loved the world so much…
- Acts 11:17 If God gave them the same gift he gave us… who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way? [The apostle Peter after baptising the Roman, Cornelius]
- Galatians 3:8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith…
- Revelation 7:9 I saw a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language…
Perhaps the greatest challenge most churches face is overcoming indifference with intentionality. Most churches I’ve visited will say “Blacks, Whites, Indians, Chinese, Hispanics… Anyone’s welcome here.” But this is a very passive statement. What most of these churches don’t realise is that they’re really saying, “Any Black, White… person that comes here and fits into our existing culture is welcome here.”
Hispanics may be welcome, but we’re not printing anything in Spanish anticipating their arrival. African-Americans may be welcome here, but we’re not learning any Gospel songs or celebrating Martin Luther King Day. Chinese Christians may be welcome here, but we have no clue when Chinese New Year is, and little interest in learning much about it.
If existing churches are to represent the kingdom of God as seen at the throne of the Lamb they must learn to be become aware of different cultures and cater to them. We must admit that our way of doing things is not the only way of doing things, even if it’s the way that makes us most comfortable.
WE MUST BE INTENTIONAL.
What does intentional look like? Mark DeYmaz describes how in the early days of Mosaic Church in Little Rock they were starting to attract Hispanics. They began printing their church bulletins in Spanish as well as English. One week a well-meaning volunteer separated the different language bulletins to different sides of the entrance. Yes, this is only a small thing but DeYmaz notes, “Think about it: two separate tables, two separate groups.” That’s intentionality.
I love that as chapter 21 of Revelation (v1-5) describes God consummating his relationship with redeemed humanity, there are no longer any nations, races, people groups or languages. Rather, God’s dwelling place is simply “among is people” and “They will be his people, and God himself will be their God.” The only distinction among people are those with God in his dwelling place and those outside his city who rejected the forgiveness he offered.
Now there’s a vision for the church.
2 Corinthians 5:18
- You can listen to this sermon here.
You can’t talk about reconciliation without acknowledging a fight. The word reconciliation was one of the signature words of my youth. (Right up there with “recalcitrant“. Thanks Paul Keating.) Reconciliation between white and indigenous Australians was, and continues to be, a major political issue. For years our politicians, and much of the public, denied the need to apologise for actions taken against aborigines 50, 100 or 200 years earlier. Without the acknowledgement of wrong doing, reconciliation was impossible. (The official apology was offered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in parliament in February, 2008.)
Regardless of your views of race relations in Australia, I have always found this a useful lens to understand the need to be reconciled to God. Until I recognise that God has a quarrel with me, I won’t apologise, and He’ll be distant. Until I admit that I’ve offended God, the bridge between Him and me is irreparably broken.
Even though God is the offended party he takes the first steps toward reconciliation by sending Jesus to Earth with a message of forgiveness. One of the big reasons Australian governments were reticent to issue an apology to aborigines was a concern that an admission of guilt would lead to large financial compensation claims. In contrast, when we admit our guilt to God he doesn’t demand compensation because he’s already paid it himself… to himself (yes, it’s complicated). Jesus died in our place. That’s how much God desires relationship with us.
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Cor 5:19 (tNIV)
No message is more vital than the message of divine reconciliation. The risk we run is that we limit this message to the spiritual realm. This passage in 2 Corinthians 5 also paints an inspiring picture of a church and world reconciled to each other. Note in particular verses 14 -17. Christ died for all… So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. We no longer look around us noticing skin colour and accents. As followers of Christ we consider the presence and work of God’s transforming Spirit in the lives of others. This Godly perspective encourages us to live lives of reconciliation.
I cam across someone else’s good blog post on this topic here.
- Where have you most often encountered the word or idea of “reconciliation”?
- How are you a “minister of reconciliation”? What does that mean to you?
- Do you agree that this “ministry” has a social application in addition to a spiritual meaning?
Division. It sneaks up on us so gradually. It feels so comfortable and familiar. Jesus understood the challenges the church would face after his death, and he begins addressing them here in Matthew 18. In this, his 4th discourse in Matthew’s Gospel, he echoes many of the ideas found in the initial Sermon on the Mount. Life in the kingdom of heaven is counter-intuitive to the world. And just as the Sermon on the Mount begins with the statement, Blessed are the poor in spirit, this discourse also places humility front and center in Kingdom life.
In this section of teaching Jesus covers the topics of humility, purity, accountability, discipline, reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness. This is a lengthy list, but humility is front and center as it pervades each topic and ultimately breeds unity.
For some reason the disciples felt a need to ask Jesus, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus doesn’t initially answer their question. Instead he responds by calling a child to him and telling them that unless they become like a child, they won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven. They’re much better off worrying about whether they’ll get in, than whether they’ll be great!
Humility is something that we grow indirectly. As we concentrate on the needs of others. As we love our neighbours as ourselves. As we do to others as we’d have done to us. As we refuse to compare and to compete, our humility gradually grows. We establish ourselves in the Kingdom of Heaven. The following applications demonstrate this:
Purity (v6-9)– Do whatever it takes NOT to cause others to stumble. (v6) Consider their circumstances.
Accountability (v10-14)– We’re accountable for those around us. How do we respond when someone leaves our church? Do we think, “Well, it’s just one person. There’s still plenty more here, and they were just asking for trouble straying so far from the flock.” If we’re to follow Jesus’ example we’ll leave our comfortable environment and go looking for that individual who’s wandered away. They’re more important than our comfort.
Discipline/Reconciliation (v15-20) – It takes humility to accept discipline. It also takes humility to administer it in a Godly manner. It’s easy to adopt an attitude of superiority when pointing out the faults of others, isn’t it? But Jesus doesn’t then prohibit discipline, rather he entrusts us to confront one another with a pure attitude. An attitude not of condemnation, but seeking to restore that person’s relationship with God and the church.
Restoration (v21-22) – After hearing this teaching on discipline, Peter asks how many times he must forgive someone. Jewish teaching at the time said 4 strikes and you’re out. But Jesus says if you really want reconciliation, or relationship, with that individual, you won’t limit your forgiveness. Pride, and standing up for my rights resists this idea. Humility says “we won’t keep count”. Later on Paul would write that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Humility involves the same idea. It welcomes wandering sheep back into the room, even if they keep wandering. This teaching seems ridiculous to the disciples, so Jesus tells another parable to explain it.
Forgiveness (v23-35) – In this parable the bottom line is found in v32, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” Within the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus expects us to forgive, because we’ve been forgiven. We need to humbly acknowledge that our place in the kingdom only results from the grace and mercy of Jesus. It’s only when we recognize the extent of God’s forgiveness toward us, that we’ll have the humility and patience to forgive the shortcomings of others, reconciling and restoring their relationship with God and ourselves.
None of these virtues are possible without humility. “God, may your Spirit overwhelm our spirit and allow us to serve and love others as you love and serve us. Help us to acknowledge our position as your children and to eschew greatness.”
- Do you agree that each of these points requires humility? Or is something else more essential?
- Do you know someone that you would characterise as humble? What behaviour of theirs most demonstrates that attitude?
- How do you work at becoming a more humble person?
On 30 May the Lawson Rd Church of Christ celebrated our 2nd annual “HARMONY Sunday”. While the impetus for this annual event arises from the number of races, nationalities and cultures that make up our membership, we also use the day to acknowledge the truth of 1 Cor. 12. The church consists of people with many differences. Each church must address the question of whether those differences will enrich the church or tear it down. In musical terms we might ask will the different notes work together to create music, or noise?
Calvin Bacon from the Northside Church of Christ in Syracuse, NY, was our guest speaker. The Northside congregation was only planted a year ago and serves one of the poorer areas of Syracuse. I appreciated Calvin’s story of the church’s conception and first year as they seek to represent Christ in that community.
The theme for the day, Harmony, still fits within the series I’ve been teaching that asks the question, “What are the implications of having the name The Church of Christ, rather than another name?“
In merging these two thoughts, my mind turned to Romans 8:35 which asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The answer is no one! Nothing! It’s impossible! Nada! Zilch! Hardships, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword nor any other circumstance in which we may find ourselves, can separate us from Christ’s love!
However, the sad truth is, that while we can’t stop Christ from loving people, we can impose barriers that prevent people experiencing His love through us. The church can sometimes function as a filter determining who will receive God’s love. I believe that God will find a way of still touching these people’s lives, but my point is that the church was never intended to act as a filter! Which brings me to today’s thesis:
Since we’re the Church OF Christ, we don’t the determine membership.
It’s my understanding that most people have a natural urge to associated with others who look, sound, and act similar to ourselves. While that urge may be a natural, subconscious means of providing comfort and security to a person, it unwittingly erects barriers between those who look, sound or act differently than we do.
This separation may be as obvious as those in the first 3 chapters of 1 Corinthians who claimed allegiance to Paul, Peter, or Apollos. It may be as obvious as black and white churches meeting at the same time in the same small town. It may be as obvious as one church having many professional members, and another having many members unemployed or working for minimum wage.
At other times the separation may be as subtle as that found in 1 Corinthians 11 where the wealthy and poor at the congregation were “sharing” a meal together, but eating at different tables and eating different food, even to the extent that some didn’t eat at all! I suspect that the tables at many church fellowships also function in this way at times. The same people eat together each time, thus leaving little, if any, space for newcomers to the church. We might have all this diversity in the building on Sunday morning, but that doesn’t mean we’re really working together or fellowship during the week and creating Godly harmony.
I don’t know of any churches that deliberately exclude people with particular characteristics. But I do know churches that establish particular social standards that make “different” people uncomfortable, and therefore unwelcome. It might be a formal church culture that frowns on someone wearing a t-shirt to worship. It might be a “family friendly” church that has few opportunities for singles, or childless couples to get involved. It might be a male dominated church that gives women few opportunities outside the kitchen to explore their spiritual gifts.
On the flipside, I know of some (not lots) of churches that make deliberate efforts to include different cultures and characters. The difference in my mind is often one of awareness and purposefulness. The barriers we at times erect are more often a consequence of lack of thought, that deliberate hostility. It’s easy to become consumed by our interests, relationships, needs etc. and overlook the opportunities we have to extend God’s love to others.
When we take seriously the mission Christ has given us to embrace the people God sends our way, then we are living up to our name, The Church of Christ. When we consciously reach out to those who are different from us, to those on the margins, we ensure that Paul’s words become the message of Christ’s church.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither hight nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [not even self-absorbed churches] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Have you attended a church where the culture subconsciously excluded you? What could the church have done differently?
- How much responsibility does the individual coming to the church have to adapt to the culture of the church?
- What are some ways churches can embrace different cultures without compromising their beliefs regarding Biblical worship or church structure?
- Read 2 Peter 1:3-4 here. Also read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (31 August) you can listen to it here.
In the sermon I suggested that it’s more appropriate to think of God as a “Divine Doing” rather than as a “Divine Being”. Does this make any sense to you? How is the distinction helpful, if at all?
Just as God saved Israel FROM Egypt, FOR the Promised Land, I believe that God concerns himself more with what he’s saving us FOR, that with what he’s saving us FROM. On a big picture level, God is more interested in saving us for eternity with Him, than in saving us from Hell. On a more personal level we’ve also been saved for a purpose in this life. The story doesn’t end just with being rescued from something, the question is what comes next. Do you feel that you know what God’s saved you FOR?
2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us that God has made us his ambassadors. Specifically, we’re his ambassadors of reconciliation. What responsibilities do you personally have as God’s ambassador of reconciliation? Does the word “reconciliation” mean anything special to you?
Scripture & Songs
I’m trying to think of songs that convey the idea of being saved from the dumpster – not a common theme, at least in those words. I think I’ll also throw in a few about being God’s representative, ambassador, or body here on earth. If you have some suggestions please add them to the ‘comments’ below.
- Love Lifted Me (SOC, SFP, GSII)
- In Loving-Kindness Jesus Came
- Master the Tempest is Raging (SOC, SFP, GSII)
- Wonderful Grace of Jesus (SFP – the verses particularly match this theme)
- Consecration Medley (SFP – these songs all express a desire to imitate God)
- – Make Me New
- – Change My Heart, O God
- – Heart of a Servant
- – Servant Song
- Hands and Feet (released by Audio Adrenaline in 1999 on their album Underdog)
- If We are the Body (released by Casting Crowns in 2003 on their album Casting Crowns)
- You’re the Only Jesus (sung by David Will of the Imperials on the 1983 album Side By Side)
- Years I Spent in Vanity and Pride
- O the Bitter Pain and Sorrow (GSII, SFP, PFtL)
- My Sins, My Sins, My Savior (GSII, PFtL)