Do differences unite or separate? In a fallen world we struggle to see goodness in God-ordained diversity, and the unfortunate outcome is often conflict. However, God’s design is that the church, a glimpse of light in a dark world, should display a blueprint for unity in diversity.
As I recently thought about God’s beautiful and good purposes in creating a diverse world, and the fallen human struggle to see those purposes, I wondered how the Core Values of College Park Church could add to the conversation.As I read through our Core Values I did so with this lens: how might they speak into racial or ethnic divisions? In this post, I’ll try to briefly convey a few thoughts as a starting place for your own reflections. I welcome you to join in on the conversation because there’s a lot more that could—and should—be said.
BIBLICAL UNITY IN DIVERSITY
Giving myself a little wiggle room with what Biblical Unity in Diversity means, I think it provides the best starting point. No surprise, but the idea finds its source in God. God is one in essence (unity) and yet three distinct persons (diversity). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share full equality as the eternally infinite God and yet they are different in their operations or activities. For instance, the Father sends the Son, the Son saves us through his work, and the Spirit sanctifies us.
When Genesis 1:27 informs us that God creates mankind “in his likeness”, it immediately adds the commentary, “male and female he created them.” Not only do human beings reflect God in the complementary but equal genders of male and female but they also image the Triune God through other differences, including skin colors and ethnic groups. Adam and Eve weren’t just the first male and female but they stand atop every single person’s family tree.
The obvious inference from this has been well argued in One Race One Blood by our former church elder, Dr. Charles Ware.If race is defined as “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity,”there really is only one race, the human race. The image of God in all mankind and the common father of Adam unite every ethnicity and people group as one race. And yet, we also embrace the diversity of those ethnicities, genders, colors, people groups, and cultures as a beautiful God-intended design. We take great strides when we move past, “Yeah, okay we’re all equal,” to actually embracing diversity as valuable and advantageous. More on that to come…
PRE-EMINENCE OF JESUS
Having seen our connection as humans through the first Adam, Christians have an even stronger bond through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul provides a theological rationale for why the wall dividing Jews and Gentiles has crumbled as Jesus unites all believers as one new man. This passage reminds us that an indissoluble union with Christ also includes an inseparable union with other believers. If the slogan “tear down that wall” ever applied to a situation it surely does so with the people of God.
Our church’s stated summary of this core value begins, “While many things vie for priority in life, we are committed to centering our lives on Jesus…” What this entails is that Jesus becomes the defining reality of our lives, including our truest identity (in Christ) and most significant community (the Church). All believers stand together with the fundamental identity of being a sinner redeemed and forgiven by the grace received through Jesus. All other ways we may self-identify prove secondary and fall under the umbrella of my identity in Christ. If there’s ample reason to value one another through a common relative—Adam—think how much more motivation is found in a common redeemer—Jesus.
AUTHORITY OF THE WORD
The explanation of the Authority of the Word states, “The Bible is the foundation of who we are, what we believe and everything we do.” Hopefully, we’re already seeing from Genesis and Ephesians how the Bible determines our understanding of race. Where we get into trouble is when we allow culture, tradition, assumptions, or bad ideas passed down to become our authority for life rather than God’s Word. Much of the (ir)rationale I’ve heard from people on race issues comes from anywhere but the Bible. However, as we put ourselves under the authority of Scripture, we allow it to shape our thinking. We often assume our way of thinking, ways of viewing others, and discerning events are “the right way.” But, as we bring our questions and our assumptions to the Bible, it often confronts and corrects us.
When our ways of thinking, coming to conclusions, perceiving others, hearing the news, and interpreting “right and wrong” are ingrained from years of family, cultural, or community habits, it will take intentional and deep work of letting the Bible become our authority and grid. We must not assume our thinking, convictions, and views are biblical. We must intentionally let them be formed and forged in the Scriptures as we ask, “What does God say about this in his perfect Word?” As believers live together under the direction and authority of God’s Word, we will be defined not as people of a particular color or ethnicity, but as the people of the book. We will be informed not by what our parents, our neighborhood, or our media outlet of choice thinks but what God declares.
As believers belonging to one another because we belong to Jesus, we’ve entered the tightest of communities. We’re a community of the redeemed living out life together as we push one another to press on. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:4-5).
Whatever our color or background, as one body in Christ we suffer under the same problem—sin—and find hope in the same solution—Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Blood here is most certainly thicker than water. We cling together as imperfect people who encourage one another with the Word, point one another back to grace, strengthen one another in prayer, and pour fuel on the flame of our affections for Jesus.
If we are not first and foremost a diverse community bonded and united by the gospel, then what kind of community do we have to offer the world? If we find community only with those like us in above-the-surface ways, or if we define our “camp” by color, politics, and culture rather than our shared union with Jesus Christ, how is our community gospel-centered rather than man-centered? However, when we let a common identity in Christ create our shared community in Christ, then we truly hold out to the world a deep, lasting, committed vision of beautiful community, and we do so declaring it to be a work of God’s redemptive grace among us.
When we move beyond outward appearance to the heart we see the basis on which God sees and accepts us. On our own, wherever we land on the spectrum of skin colors, we stand condemned and corrupted by sin. Anyone who has put their hope in Christ receives extravagant grace from God as he lavishes us with the double cure of salvation and cleansing.
Christians extend grace to one another not because of anything in us or about us but simply as an outflow of what we’ve received in Jesus. We may think, act, speak, or worship differently because of cultural or ethnic backgrounds but we demonstrate this core value—Extravagant Grace—by not making our way the right way. Within the unity of a common set of beliefs and practices we allow for diversity, and thus for grace as we joyfully accept the way these differences actually prove complementary. Just think what a gospel billboard our churches would be if Sunday mornings moved from the most segregated day of the week to a beautiful picture of every tribe, nation, and color united around the grace they received in Jesus.
THE CALL TO GO!
One of the first songs I learned as a kid taught me these truths in the simplest of forms. “Red, brown, yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight.”The call to go ripens from the reality that every person on planet Earth is precious in the sight of God but desperately in need of a savior. God fashions each human life in his likeness and stamps each person with an intrinsic worth that never gets a recall. For nearly two millennia this has catapulted missionaries into the whole world.
In fact, missions exists precisely for the purpose of seeing people from every group one day gathering around the glorified Jesus on a new earth where, in a harmonious song, they will worship Him forever. Jesus is gathering to Himself worshipers as we speak and when our eyes eventually see the racial rainbow of collective worshippers surrounding the throne we’ll glorify God even more because of the beauty of His community. I’ll give the apostle Jesus loved, John the revelator, the final word in hopes that our hearts would long for a day when race and color are seen not as walls but windows into the love and creativity of our great God.
“After this I looked, and behold a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”(Rev. 7:9-10)
College Park Church’s six core values can be found at: http://www.yourchurch.com/about/
Charles Ware and Ken Ham, One Race One Blood(Master Books: Green Forest, 2010).
 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/race?s=taccessed on March 20, 2013.
Words by C. Herbert Woolston, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” http://childbiblesongs.com/song-30-jesus-loves-the-little-children.shtml