Cracks in the Foundation: The Significance of the Rise in Racial Tension for the Church

The resurgence of racial tensions in our nation is unmistakable. Like the family member who brings strife with every visit, racism is an old, often welcomed, and all too familiar relative, returning to bring trouble. And much like our kin, we can’t avoid it. It keeps coming around. It’s a part of us. It’s descendent from us. It’s the cross we will not bear.

It’s most recent rise is particularly disturbing because we had begun to believe we had finally put it behind us. None were naïve enough to believe it no longer existed. We knew it was still there, lurking in the shadows. But I don’t think we imagined it would walk so boldly back into the light.

As always, it is exposing the cracks in the foundation of the church. This evil is not simply a historical social vice. This is an attack upon the credibility of the church of Jesus Christ. In an area that we were founded to lead the way, we are sadly bring up the rear. Hip hop has arguably done more to bring the races together than the church in America.

As a nation, we shop together, live together, work together, play together, but we still don’t worship together.

We experience diversity daily all around us. But on Sundays we return to our homogeneous ethnic huddles to worship the Lord of all.

The church’s response to America’s most crippling vice has always done much harm to our message. But somehow we have been able to retain a measure of credibility. However, at the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I believe if we don’t get this right, we may not get another shot. Where we stand in the racial divide is a direct reflection upon the essence and nature of the church and the coming of the savior. We have become a hinderance to the work of God to reconcile all men to Himself. If that seems overstated, then let me tell you the biblical story of the founding of the church.

The Unity of The Spirit

Ephesians 4:1–3 (NASB95)

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In order to bring the necessary gravity to this request of the Ephesian church, Paul recounts for them the historical founding of the church. The history lesson helps to place their faith as a local church, within the timeless purposes of God for the church worldwide. It was important to him that they know the God-sized reason to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The Story of Two Groups

Paul begins by recounting the blessings the Ephesians have in Christ and the prayers he has been praying for them. That they had received every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus, reminded them that they were not in need of further blessings to do what he would ask of them.

It’s in chapter 2, however, that the story of two groups begins. These two groups would play a central part in the church’s beginning.

Here’s what he says about the first group.

Ephesians 2:1–2 (NASB95)

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

He emphasizes the past condition of the first group, of which the readers are a part. Though it is to be noted that this first group had the stench of death from sin in their past, the greater argument is that the second group shared a similar history. He says this about the second group.

Ephesians 2:3 (NASB95)

3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Despite their similar histories, the hostility and hatred they shared for one another is legendary. Before there were Hatfields and McCoys, there were Jews and Gentiles. Their historic separation was both ethnic and religious in nature. Listen as Paul uses their historical name calling to describe the two groups past relationship.

Ephesians 2:11–12 (NASB95)

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Foundational Reconciliation

Here is were we must pay close attention to the story. In Jesus Christ and through His cross these two hostile groups are reconciled to each other. Jesus becomes the peace between the groups and makes both groups into one new group. He abolishes the enmity in His flesh. In other words, He dies that they who were two hostile groups would become one group at peace.

Ephesians 2:14–15 (NASB95)

14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,

And if that doesn’t shiver your timbers, listen carefully to what happens to this one new group.

Ephesians 2:16 (NASB95)

16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

I am completely in awe of the manifold wisdom of God.

Did you hear the order of the reconciliation? The two groups were reconciled to each other first. They become one body; one new man first. Then they are reconciled, in one body to God. The Spirit of God accomplishes an incredible work of reconciliation in the two historically hostile groups, through the cross of Christ, before they are reconciled to the Father. The Spirit of God gives birth to the church in this unity.

And the grand implication is that our reconciliation to the Father is dependent on our reconciliation to each other.

Thus the command to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. This is the calling with which we have been called. We must walk worthy of this high calling. I join the Apostle and implore you to walk with all humility and gentleness. I implore you to walk with patience and to show tolerance for one another in love. We must not let the politics of our nation drive a wedge between those whom the Spirit of God reconciled. Finally, I implore you to not return to the hostility of our past, since Jesus died to establish our peace and to make us one new man. The glory of God in the very purpose of the church is at stake.

God’s glory is in the Church and in Christ Jesus

Ephesians 3:20–21 (NASB95)

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Obedience is Better than Sacrifice?

This often quoted and more often misused passage is from 1 Samuel 15:22. I’ve heard it for most of my church life. It’s never been my favorite, but until recently I’ve never given much thought to why. But the recent sting of its use, led me to consider my feelings. I realize now that it’s not the passage I don’t like, it’s how it’s being used. In fact, now that I’ve looked at it in it’s historical context, I find it’s use more disturbing.

Actually, I love the way the prophet Samual uses it historically. Israel’s failing first King, Saul, has been given very specific instructions ahead of battle with Amalek. He is told not to spare anyone or anything. Yet the passage makes clear that Saul was unwilling to destroy the best of the livestock. When confronted by Samuel, he blames the people, and insists that they only spared the best in order to sacrifice to the Lord. That’s when Samuel utters the famous phrase. He uses the statement to expose the folly of Saul’s excuse. We use it to try to get disobedient people to obey, but Samuel used it to get the disobedient King to realize or admit the folly of his disobedience.

Within the redemptive story of God’s grace the answer to man’s disobedience is not to get a disobedient mankind to be obedient. The great struggle is to get the disobedient to realize they are disobedient. And yet, the brokenness of that realization leads us to the mercy seat of God. And in His great mercy we find a better sacrifice; better than the best of Amalek. We find the lamb of God who dies once for all time.

Yes, there was a time when to be obedient was better than repetitive sacrifices. For it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. But now, by one offering, Jesus has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. So let’s not encourage the disobedient in their feeble attempts at obedience. Samuel was talking about the blood of bulls and goats. But the blood of Christ is better, and we are all disobedient.

As You Have Been

It may be the most daunting command in all of scripture. Forgive. It causes immediate defensiveness and fretful feelings of inadequacy. We all know just how hard it is to forgive. We all know the pain of wounds inflicted by others. So much of the counsel on forgiveness minimizes very serious offenses. As result, we run in defeat or in defiance from scriptures command to forgive. These  feelings will inevitably come while our eyes remain fixed simply on the command. How unfortunate. We miss the grace of God in the command, believing that God is aski20130706-201227.jpgng us to do what His grace is insufficient to accomplish in us.

If we can move beyond the command to forgive, what we may find is that God has acted in our lives in a way that supplies us with a grace sufficient to forgive. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. In this is the sufficiency of God’s grace. The key is not to try to scale the mountain of effort to forgive, but to plumb the depths of the grace that has forgiven. And when the waves of grace wash over you, those who stand in need of forgiveness get caught in its deluge, by virtue of their proximity. Is it really possible to be guilty of a capital offense, receive pardon, and press charges on your brother for a petty crime? Can it be anything but unwillingness, for the power is in the pardon?

I must warn you that this is no formula or recipe for forgiveness. There is no impersonal principle to be applied. This is worship. In this you must deal with God. To plumb the depths of His grace, is to also delve the depths of one’s depravity. We must know the true nature of the forgiveness we have been given. You must let go of the notion that by your efforts you remain afloat in the sea of sin. It is only when we know that we are at the mercy of sins undercurrents, and lost to the safety of the shore, that we will know what it means to have been forgiven in Christ. In this is the truest sense of salvation; to have been rescued. Then, forgiveness of others is simply an appropriate response to how much you have been forgiven. Then forgiveness is what it should be, worship.