What 40 years as a pastor have taught me: We are far from God’s goal for a multi-racial kingdom (part V)
Recent events around the world—including those in Ferguson, MO, just a few miles away from where I sit as I write—underscore what we all should know, but too easily ignore: Prejudice against those who are “other” is a rampant human sin, both at a personal level and at the systemic level of all societies. And, this prejudice is all too blatantly obvious where race and ethnicity are concerned. I am horrified by what I have heard and seen some white Christians say and write on the internet and in our local paper concerning the shooting of Michael Brown and the protests by his neighbors.
The most blatant prejudices, however, are not the only hurtful ones. Almost daily I see both systemic and personal slights and partiality exercised, even as the people doing so vehemently deny that they would ever do anything smacking of prejudice. It happened again just this week to members of my extended family! It is so frustrating. As a Caucasian, I can hardly imagine what my dear sisters and brothers who are not Caucasian see daily with their much more clearly-sharpened eyesight.
The basic biblical theology about multi-ethnicity in the Jesus Movement is fairly simple. The Scriptures tell us that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah” is committed to creating an eternal multi-ethnic kingdom/society/culture of the people, by the people, and for the people—with God’s reign finally coming to full fruition in each of these areas of human reality. Sounds kind of like a Monarchical Democracy with God as King and we as citizens, living face to face with God and one another in love and creative community, right?
I have certainly learned through my lifetime, and in my years as pastor here in New Covenant, that we bent and broken humans are not very good at genuine multi-ethnicity. Nor are we very good at genuinely embracing diversity in God’s presence together. We were totally sincere when we, as New Covenant Fellowship, adopted the B.R.I.D.G.E. as our mission, with the “E” standing for “Embracing diversity.” Nevertheless, at our best, those of us from every ethnic and cultural background find this an incredibly stretching mandate. Many left New Covenant about a decade ago, as we attempted to continue wrestling with “embracing diversity.” I am not claiming we have done everything well or right in this wrestling; I am sure we have not. I am just sadly aware that many people were not willing to see it through together—to learn together and to love together. And sadly, this should not surprise us.
Enacting this mandate from God through Jesus was also a huge stretch for the earliest church, which was made up entirely of Jewish followers of Jesus. It was a new step by God that was difficult to reconcile with how they had understood God’s earlier steps in the history of their people. They stumbled all over themselves in this early process. The books of Acts, Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, Philemon, and James all give us a fairly clear picture of how intense the struggle was. But, without diminishing the difficult decisions and the stretching recorded for us, the New Testament is also full of great excitement concerning God’s multi-ethnic kingdom—both the tastes we can enact now and the promise of God’s future enactment through us. And, these promises all claim to be a long-planned (by God) extension of God’s long-ago covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
Here are a few of the Biblical claims/promises. (I am certainly aware that ethnic exclusivity and prejudices and violence based in ethnicity occurs in many events recorded in the pages of our Bible, and we must not attempt to ignore that reality, but that is a topic for another day.)
Genesis 12:3 – God said to Abram, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
23 On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. 24 On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.”
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
26 For in Jesus the Messiah you are all children of God through faith (or perhaps “Jesus’ faithfulness”). 27 As many of you as were baptized into the Messiah have clothed yourselves with the Messiah. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Jesus the Messiah. 29 And if you belong to the Messiah, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise….4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Revelation 5 & 7 & 21 – the celebration of God’s multi-ethnic kingdom coming to fruition in spite of the systemic and individual brokenness of human history runs throughout this book.
5:9-10: 9 They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; 10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.”
7:9-12 9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
21: 22-27 22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Can you even imagine what an incredible human society God is planning if the best of every human culture in human history (and none of the evil and bad from each of these cultures) is brought to the feet of Jesus and becomes a part of the future human society God wants to create? WOW!
As the world, and American society, make clear that many do not want a genuinely multi-ethnic world, country, neighborhood, or church, let’s recommit ourselves as New Covenant Fellowship to co-laboring with God in Jesus’ mission. We have tried. We have also been blessed with tastes of the wonderful blessings of those efforts. We have, as well, failed pretty miserably at times. We have sometimes stumbled even in our good intentions. It is time to take another look at this part of our BRIDGE calling. What does it mean and look like today? We still have so much to learn and practice. But, let’s make no mistake—costly and difficult as it may be: This is God’s goal, God’s heart, and God’s future for humanity. And, when we allow God to act for us and through us, it tastes good!
As always, if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about this post, or if there is another topic you would like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts. / Ron