“From Racist to Grace-ist”
When we think of the issue of race in the church, we often assume an American context, but I believe this issue surfaces all over the world…
This morning I woke up with a painful sore throat that had begun late afternoon yesterday. Since attending a church service was not in the best interests of the people who would be sitting near me, I decided to stay home. Those of you who know me personally know my passion for church and I already got one phone call that contained a surprised, “You stayed home? You?”
This meant that in addition to my weekly connection with Andy Stanley at North Point in Atlanta, I was free to do some electronic megachurch hopping.
I started out with an over-the-air TV sermon by Charles Price of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Charles will be retiring in a few months, so I’m trying to catch as much as I can on the Living Truth program and website, though I’m told they still have about a year’s worth of material that will be broadcast. Charles spoke about the prophecies that foretold the coming of Jesus and the odds that the prophetic statements about the Messiah would actually combine into a single narrative focused on one individual in history. At a certain point, you have to believe the Biblical record about Jesus not because of what the Bible says happened, but because of what it said would happen.
After North Point’s 11:00 (EST) live broadcast, I discovered I was on time to connect with an 11:15 (CST, 12:15 EST) broadcast from Willow Creek in Chicago. The whole service was about prison ministry with teaching pastor Steve Carter presenting the strongest scriptural case for Christians to be involved in visiting and encouraging prisoners, founding pastor Bill Hybels interviewing Burl Cain, warden of Angola Prison, and then the entire congregation taking about 10 minutes to pack Christmas paper bags filled with books and snacks. I was reminded again how every service at Willow is an event, and how they do everything with excellence. You can watch that service on demand now at this link.
Finally, I ended up at Saddleback Church where Rick Warren introduced guest speaker Derwin Gray, Lead Pastor of Transformation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The theme at Saddleback is “Peace on Earth” and Derwin’s message (which I believe will be streaming throughout the day and on-demand later this week) was titled:
How Does Jesus Transform You into a Peacemaker?
I got interrupted by a telephone call and missed about ten minutes in the middle, but the outline (the answer to that question) was:
1. By receiving Jesus’ gift of grace.
2. By partnering with God and fulfilling His dream for Humanity: Peace on Earth!
3. By believing that Jesus, through the cross united different ethnicities.
4. By believing that Jesus, through the cross brought peace (reconciliation) between different ethnicities.
5. By believing that Jesus, through the cross, created a new multiethnicity called the church.
6. By believing that Jesus, through the cross, killed hostilities between ethnicities making one new, multi-ethnic body.
Some of the key scriptures, reminding us of the multi-ethnicity of the Kingdom of God, were:
“What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this GOOD NEWS to Abraham long ago when He said, ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” Galatians 3:8-9 (NLT)
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down tin his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in cone Spirit to the Father.”Ephesians 2:8-18 (ESV)
The key verses in Ephesians can be broken down individually as they appear in another translation:
“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:11-13 (NLT)
“For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations.”
Ephesians 2:14-15a (NLT)
“He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.” Ephesians 2:15b (NLT)
“Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Ephesians 2:16 (NLT)
Both Steve’s sermon (prisoners) and Derwin’s (racial reconciliation) are big problems in the U.S., but also are seen in other parts of the world. At Saddleback, viewers leave comments during the sermon that you can read in the margin. One person from Hawaii wrote:
Here in Hawaii, racism isn’t a problem against any ethnicity except toward our own kind. It’s sad to see Hawaiians against Hawaiians.
Everyone reading here can think of other places where ethnic hostility has existed over the years, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland to the place where you live.
As Christians we are to be distinct from the world and the world’s ways. Among Christians such things should not be. The First Century church comprised people of different ethnicities, generations, and social standing. Since they included both Jews and Gentiles, a new word was needed to describe them, so the term “Christians” was born.
“Jesus broke down the dividing walls- may we be a generation that breaks down dividing walls for the sake of the gospel!” – Derwin Gray