The Gospel Doesn’t Produce Sameness; It Produces Oneness
This guest post is from Chris Green (@ChrisG_UNC), a Campus Pastor here at the Summit and one of our Directional Elders.
As our staff has been dialoguing through issues of racial reconciliation, we’ve been reading an excellent book by Pastor Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced. In his introduction, he gets right to the heart of the matter: “The fundamental cause of racial problems in America lies squarely with the church’s failure to come to grips with this issue from a biblical perspective. . . . God does much of what He predicated on what His church is or is not doing.”
We at the Summit believe that the local church is God’s “Plan A,” the primary body through which he does his work in the world. That means that true reconciliation—at any level—will only happen through the church. This, after all, was Jesus’ vision when he prayed, “May [the disciples] be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). Our complete unity is a sign for our world that Jesus was sent and is real and that he reconciles.
But what I love about Dr. Evans is his reminder that reconciliation is never an end in itself. It’s a means to an even greater end: bringing God glory. When we embrace oneness, we bring God glory. We don’t pursue racial reconciliation for its own sake, but because we want to see people become disciples of Jesus. As we often say around here, we have one problem—sin; one answer—Jesus; and one message—the gospel.
Reconciliation has two separate but equally vital facets: multi-racial and multi-ethnic. Multi-racial refers to people of various physical backgrounds. Those of the same race share skin color, facial structure, etc. Multi-ethnic refers to more than these physical characteristics. It dives into cultural traits like language, history, and religion. It’s closely synonymous with the term “multi-cultural.”
The distinction between race and ethnicity explains why we end up with people who look the same but certainly don’t act it. For example, as Fellowship Memphis pastor Bryan Loritts points out, consider Ice Cube, Denzel Washington, and Carlton Banks: racially similar, but ethnically miles apart. Or take Eminem, Chuck Norris, and Donald Trump: racially similar, ethnically…not so much.
A lot of people are uncomfortable pointing out differences like this. But generalizations don’t have to devolve into negative stereotypes. In fact, unless we really understand the differences between us, we’ll never develop oneness. We’ll only keep drifting toward people like us, toward sameness. And sameness is a pale imitation of biblical oneness.
I’ve been a pastor now in both predominantly black and predominantly white churches. I’ve still got a lot to learn. But I’ve noticed a spectrum that I think helps those of us who want to become more multi-ethnic:
IGNORANCE – AWARENESS – INTERACTION – GOSPELIZED COMMUNITY
We all start on the left, with ignorance. We harbor certain presuppositions about race and culture. At times, we must admit that some of these presuppositions might be true, but 99.9% are myths. And as Dr. Evans says, “Myths don’t need facts, they just need supporters.” As believers, we never should support these myths in any form or fashion.
On this part of the spectrum, minorities are often at an advantage, because they are forced to deal with the realities of race and ethnicity every day. Living in a majority culture different from their own makes it impossible to ignore ethnic differences. On the other hand, it’s simply easier for a white person to go through most days without thinking about race or culture. Fish don’t think about the water they’re swimming in.
But even if minorities have a leg up here, we aren’t omniscient. We need to begin from a posture of humility, admitting that we just don’t know other ethnicities as well as our own.
Admitting our ignorance leads us to the next step along the spectrum—awareness. This is a result of information and experience. For instance, some people heighten their awareness through books or movies. For others, it might be more personal, as we see people from other cultures in our midst. At minimum, awareness means we’re in the know. At maximum (and this is the goal), our awareness pushes us to interact.
We should celebrate the moves people make from ignorance to awareness. But it’s the jump from awareness to interaction that really begins to change our presuppositions. Healthy interaction puts us in situations with other ethnicities, where we desire to respect and listen to one another. This is tough work. It’s uncomfortable. And our first attempts at interaction will reveal a lot of embarrassing assumptions from both sides. But when it’s done well, this feels like a win.
Interaction might be a win, but it’s not the end goal. The ultimate goal is gospelized community. This kind of interaction moves beyond listening and respecting to treating one another with love, as a family. The world might be able to work up to multi-ethnic interaction, but it can’t offer anything else. We know a secret they don’t: grace. As Tim Keller says, the gospel is the grand leveler.
Our approach to people changes when we go to them the way Jesus came to us. It’s really that simple. So here in the church, we pray together, we weep together, we are excited together, we run together, we witness together, we play together, and then we worship together on Sunday. How can we put up boundaries that the gospel doesn’t? It still stuns me how we can confess that we were once walking zombies, God made us alive, and then…we’re picky with who we hang out with. Why are we picky zombies? Me, I’m just glad I’m not dead anymore!
The goal is gospelized community. In this community, things are not perfect, but our love for one another is centered on something bigger than our imperfections – Jesus. The most natural gospelized community that we currently function in is with our marriage and parenting. We don’t always see eye to eye, we argue, we are often dissatisfied with one another, but our love remains. We submit to one another. We desire to outserve one another. We allow Jesus’ lordship to be the final authority. This is what gospelized community looks like at home.
How does it look in our church? Some of us have tasted it now and then, but overall, we are not there. Even the Apostle Peter, after he learned how to eat pork chops with Gentiles, was liable to slide back into old habits and trade gospelized community for ethnic isolation (Gal 2:13). And if an apostle, who literally walked, talked, prayed, and cried with Jesus can forget the gospel, so can we.
We avoid ignorance, unawareness, and unhealthy interaction through repentance. Continual repentance is a sign that you understand the gospel. It means that you are actively allowing the gospel message to intersect with every area of your life. Martin Luther said the entire Christian life was one of repentance. We can begin today. Let’s drive the gospel deep into our communities and see the unity that Jesus prayed for. Unity isn’t an ideal somewhere “out there.” It’s a spiritual reality, and it’s already ours in Christ. Let’s not let our ignorance, unawareness, and unhealthy interactions build something that Christ has already torn down. It’s time to live it out.