Revisiting a 2000 Year Struggle
That verse is a strong passage that speaks to our identity as believers. But do we know the context in which that verse appears? Sadly, it is a context perhaps very similar to many churches over that last two weeks.
The church’s response to the events of the week of July 4 may be reminiscent of the early church. Many don’t understand that the early church was severely stuck in a struggle with racism and prejudice, and it took some serious struggle to see the church move out of that rut.
The culture was not stuck in a struggle between two groups: white and black. It was stuck in a struggle between five groups:
Jews who thought they were God’s people and thus better than everyone else;
Gentiles who knew that the Jews thought that they were better;
Freedmen who had bought or earned their freedom from slavery;
Slaves who hated the freedmen for becoming free;
Women who had even less rights or protections.
Into that culture the church was thrust. As the Gospel message begins to burst forth into Greco-Roman society, the deep wounds of prejudice begin to show up. Paul and Barnabas have been working with the church in Antioch to pioneer a Greco-Roman church plant. Peter comes for a visit, and has his first taste of pork chops and pigs feet. But when his anti-pork Jewish friends make an appearance, Peter moves away from the table.
Now, remember this is the same Peter who received a vision from God of “unclean” animals being let down from heaven for him to kill and eat. Out of that vision God taught him that nothing (or shall we say no one) that God has created is unclean.
When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, his first words are a startling: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile of visit him” (Acts 10:28). Not really the best words to ingratiate yourself to your Gentile host.
But here we are sometime later, and Peter is again struggling with his association with those who were unlike himself. He was quick to back off in order to maintain a reputation among his Jewish friends.
I have to wonder if the Gentile believers felt something like my African-American friends during our recent troubled week. More than once I heard people say, “Where is the white church? What do they have to say about these events?” Yet, many in the white church either quietly moved away from the table or ridiculed those who remained seated.
Peter was ultimately publicly reprimanded by Paul for his prejudice behavior. It is immediately in this context that Paul writes that about our identity in Christ, and Christ living in us.
Sadly, the church has often be complicate in the reconstruction of racial prejudice in the intervening 2000 years, notably with the enslavement of millions of Africans, but also in various ethnic and religious struggles.
As believers, we cannot stand idly by and become silent advocates for the advance of racism. Jesus tore those walls down. How dare us take part in their reconstruction, either by our active prejudice and racism or by our silent consent.
Martin Luther King, Jr. shared the following in 1967: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Black people are simply saying, “Stop killing us.” Yet, the response they receive, even from much of the white Christian community, is, “But …” if they say anything at all. But is such an effective immobilizer!
On Tuesday, July 12, President Bush, at the memorial service for the slain officers in Dallas, shared, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
We should weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. Our hearts should break with those who are broken-hearted.
If Christ has been crucified in me then the walls I have used to define my difference from others, to limit the parameters of God’s grace, need to come down. The old way of thinking that allows me to restrict grace to those like me has to be hung on the tree. I need to actively engage in being an ambassador across racial and cultural lines. I do this because it is no longer for me just about “black and white”. It is about living life in Christ, living life by faith.
In the next chapter he would write, “There is neither Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When will we see this oneness in the church? When will we hear the church unified speak for this sense of unity?
— Pastor Steve