The Irreducibility of the Communal Narrative pt III

If the community of God's people is the medium for communicating the message of God's good news, then many of the behavioral prescriptions of the New Testament are actually just as important in terms of their communicative properties as they are in terms of their ethical properties.  What we do is important because God wants us to act a certain way, but it is just as important because of what it says about God's Kingdom...

In other words, we are commanded to behave in certain ways because God wants us to behave in those ways, but also because God wants our lifestyle to communicate certain things about the gospel.  This is true in all NT commands but we will here discuss one in particular, and for two reasons.  Firstly, the New Testament authors (Paul in particular) make it clear just how important this commandment is and are explicit about its communicative properties, and secondly, it is a particular shortcoming of the contemporary church.

I am speaking of the calling of the church to be the united, newly created, people of God, called out from among every ethnic group, every social class, every cultural group, and every language, into allegiance to Jesus.


John 17:20-26

John quotes Jesus' prayer for his followers, including those in the future (you and I).  Jesus' prayer makes it clear that the unity of the church will communicate the veracity of the gospel to the world.  In other words, when the world comes upon a community of people who have nothing in common (a community that crosses political, racial, language, class, educational, sexual boundaries) they will be forced to wonder just what it is that binds us together.  Contrariwise, when the church ghettoizes itself along denominational, racial, political and socio-economic lines, we damage the proclamation of the gospel message.

Romans 10:9-13

"I am saved by faith, therefore____________"

The typical evangelical fill-in-the-blank answer to this is "I am not saved by effort," but this is not the scriptural answer!  In every single place in the NT where justification by faith is brought up, it is tied directly to the unity of the Church across social divides.  We have been blinded to the words of scripture, and have failed at our exegetical task, by the history of Protestant anti-Pelagianism.  The Scriptural argument is "I am saved by faith, therefore there is no longer a division between Jew and Gentile, slave or free..."

Galatians 2:11-21

Paul gets in Peter's face over this!  This is not a peripheral issue.  Paul essentially tells Peter he is denying the gospel when he refuses to eat with people of another race!  This is a gospel issue for Paul, and should be for us too.  Why are our communities of faith divided?  Why do white Christians and Black Christians, English speaking believers and Spanish speaking ones, rich brothers and poor brothers, eat at separate tables?  And even more importantly, why aren't we getting in anyone's face about this issue?


In short, you are not a committed disciple of Christ unless you are committed to work through your biases, and actively engaging in deep, formative, and submissive relationships with people who do not share your racial, economic, educational, political, or even theological, heritage.


LindaFaye said...

Amen and preach it brother. What a great point you bring up. My heart goes out to you as you face this reality in a more painful way that I do on the other side of the country. I have a passion for the cultural divides to be gone, but am not seeing so much the hurt caused by it as you are seeing first hand.

I am encouraged by our small gathering here that there are people who are so different from each other, yet are part of the same family. There is something about it (a feeling, more than a theology) that is good and right and beautiful when I look and see that we are not held together by status or race.

When my homeless earth hippy friend comes to church with saplings to share and my Cuban business woman friend comes too I realize that there is something good happening among us.

I don't know how to reproduce this on a large scale, but I can say that there is beauty in what I have experienced first hand here in my church family. I pray that you can experience more of the same too.

steven hamilton said...

i hear the echo of Dallas Willard: "The Gospel and Salvation is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning." In fact, one of my favorite scriptures is where Paul says this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15: "But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me -- and not without results. For I have worked harder than all the other apostles, yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace."

my paraphrase for what you're saying here: I want unity in diversity, and unity is God's gift to us, but I'm working harder than all the rest to cultivate that...but it's still God's gift.

...love the comments on Galatians as well...

Sean said...

that's cool that you are featured on this blog.