There was a time when people thought we were moving into a post-racial culture. Some now are seeing how naive that sentiment was; others knew it to be naive all along.
Its hard to imagine a more racially charged year than the past few years. We’ve witnessed horrific acts of violence and what looks to many like unjustified violence toward minorities by some members of the police. We’ve seen race riots and protesting in our cities. And now we’ve elected Donald Trump, a man who, if he is not in fact racist himself, at the very least does not distance himself from people who would incite racism. People are legitimately scared of what will happen next.
As Canadians we watch what happens in the states like a little brother watching his older brother going off the rails. Its hard to watch because we’re so close to it, and we also wonder if we are cut from the same cloth.
Sadly the evangelical church often seems silent in the face of these issues. It’s easier to not speak up for fear of being political. And some people are upset. They are upset at the church, at the white church. at the white evangelical church. But we will speak today, first, because people are hurting and confused, but second, and more importantly, because we have an answer that we need to know how to articulate and the world needs to hear.
I wasn’t going to speak on this issue of ethnic tension until late in this series. Because, while ethnicity is part of how we as human beings identify ourselves and one another, in the biblical worldview, ethnicity is not fundamental to who we are as human beings. What I mean is that in the first chapters of Genesis, God creates one humanity in his image, male and female. He does not create Jew or Gentile or Asian or African. He creates male and female in his image. It is only later, much later in the Genesis record, that God divides the sons and daughters of Adam among the nations of the world, into which they form languages and tribes and unique cultures.
This is not to say that ethnicity does not matter at all in forming our identities. Not only would we be naive to downplay the role that ethnic background and cultural transmission plays in forming who we are, it seems that the Bible suggests that God is glorified and takes pleasure in the diversity of our ethnic identities. One of the final pictures in the Bible is “of a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” So John is seeing a mission of heaven, and is still recognizing people in this great multitude as belonging to various nations, tribes (ethnic groups) and speaking in different languages. The diversity is not erased, but it is redeemed, and it is honoured and it is set into the context of this glorious worship service, of all redeemed humanity singing with one voice “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
That’s an awesome vision, but we’re not there yet. We’re not in the garden, but we’re not yet around the throne. So I want to give you a different vision. A vision for today. We can pray thy kingdom come, but there is something that God is doing right now, that we can strive for, set as our goal. So if you’ve got your bibles turn with me to the book of Ephesians.
Just an overview:
- Ephesians 1: God’s Universal Story: overarching plan of salvation, from before the foundation of the world to unite all things in Christ.
- Ephesians 2:1-10: Our Individual Story: personal individual experience of God’s salvation, but salvation is not merely individual, we experience salvation in the context of our people group, as the gospel has been proclaimed among us.
Jesus Tears Down the Walls of Ethnic Hostility
Eph. 2:11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles [ta ethna] in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
The heart of ethnic tension that affected the church of the first century was between Jew and Gentile. the Jewish people were God’s chosen people to bring about salvation through the Messiah, yet they had assumed that this status given to them by virtue of their role in God’s plan not only set them apart from other nations, but set them over other nations, so the that term Gentile in the Gospels, when it is used is used with words like “dogs” or lumped in with “tax collectors” and other sinners. Though God never commanded to do such a thing, Herod’s temple had been built with a wall separating off the area in which the Gentiles were forbidden. And by the time of Jesus, the Jewish temple authorities had so little regard for the Gentiles that they has turned even their segregated section for worship into the place in which they sold animals to be slaughtered and which Jesus overturned the tables.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
The Profound Innovation of the Church Age is That Christ Is Gathering the Nations Together.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Eph. 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
- Fellows citizens … members of the household of God … being built together in to a holy temple… fellow heirs, members of the same body.
- Mystery: unknown to previous ages. Former revelation suggested a Gentile inclusion, but not in this way. For examples, Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations and that in Him all nations of the earth shall be blessed, and Isaiah foretold that all the gentile nations would come streaming to the house of the Lord, but it was understood that the Gentiles would be blessed through Israel, not by being on equal footing with Israel. Others, even in the church denied that Gentiles could be saved as Gentiles and that they must become Jewish to be saved. And the biggest battle of the early church, and you see this in Acts at the Jerusalem Counsel, and in the book of Galatians, was this mystery, that Gentiles could be saved as Gentiles and that in being saved by Christ they were admitted full inclusion into the church on equal footing with their Jewish brothers and sisters. But before we bring this back to us, we’ve got to go a little further:
The Local Church is to Display the Manifold Wisdom of God Through Its Ethnic Diversity
Eph. 3:7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Paul was put on the earth to do two things. the first, everybody remembers 0 to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
But hardly anybody remembers the second, verse 9-10 “9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Its not enough to proclaim the mystery. The mystery must have a tangible expression, a visible institution. Paul says, I was put on this earth to bring to light - that is to reveal - the plan of the mystery. Not “the mystery” but “the plan of the mystery” The word is well translated, “the administration, the dispensation, the house-order” but it is not ambiguous to what this is referring - verse 10, so that through the church the wisdom of God might be revealed.
Canadian multiculturalism is not going to resolve ethnic division. Putting fingers in our ears and shouting slogans is not going to do it. Ignoring our differences and saying that we live in a post racial society or colour blind society is not going to do it. Only when we are forced to live face-to-face and walk in life together will we understand each other and grow together and celebrate each other and the God who has made us brothers and sisters.
Social media hashtag activism is not going to do it. When the police shootings happen this summer I saw a lot of people retweeting hashtags and sharing articles, and that’s alright, but it doesn’t help if you don’t also, call up your black neighbour and say how are you doing? You ok? You need anything? What you feeling?
Its hard being in a multi-ethnic church. Sometime you feel neglected. Sometimes you just can’t understand what the other side is thinking. Miscommunication happens. Offence happens. And you think, its not worth it. It would be easier to just find my own people, my own age, my own demographic, my own race, and just build my tower of babel church over here where we’re all untied and its easy.