Though racial strife and divisions have always been present in our country, events of this past year — the killings of Black men and women by police officers, the tragic shooting in Charleston, SC and countless other incidents — have brought this painful and complex issue into the national conversation in a profound way.
During these times of crisis, what is our theology of reconciliation? How should we respond as Christians?
Individual or systemic response?
There are those who believe that Christians should respond by focusing on changing individuals, and as those individuals experience spiritual conversion that radically changes their lives, lives around them as well as our society are changed for good. Others believe that change is not possible unless Christians address the systems and structures that can perpetuate evil.
I believe that both individual and systemic responses are necessary if real and lasting change is to come spiritually in the souls of people and socially in the healing of communities in the pursuit of justice.
The Bible teaches that God has reconciled us to himself through his son Jesus Christ and imparted to us the ministry and message of reconciliation as his ambassadors and it is God who makes his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20) This speaks of a spiritual conversion to become a new person in Jesus Christ through his saving grace where the old is gone and the new is come. The ministry of reconciliation, then, is of a personal nature between the sinner and God.
But it is dangerous when we assume that the ministry of reconciliation stops with the individual. If we do, we are concluding that Christianity has no framework from which to understand and address relational brokenness and sin among individuals and people groups. This limits the power of the gospel to only addressing the vertical, spiritual needs of the individual with God at the neglect of presenting the power of God to heal the horizontal strife among people and across ethnic groups and nations.
Hope for Reconciliation in Ephesians
In Ephesians we know that one of the great mysteries of the gospel was that Gentiles who were once far from God now have equal access to God’s forgiveness through the peace and reconciliation with God that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection brings. We are restored to God and to each other through the very body and blood sacrifice of Jesus. The walls that divided us from God are now torn down just as the walls of hatred and hostility that separated Jews and Gentiles are also torn down by that very same salvific work of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:14-18)
It is not enough to seek to save the souls of people and care nothing about the places of ethnic and racial divides that are plaguing our nation.
The ministry of reconciliation of God includes the personal component but also, and just as importantly, the corporate, relational component between people. It is why we are told in the great commandment to love God, to love our neighbor and to love ourselves. If we focus only on individual sin and salvation we miss that fact that God cares for all nations and peoples and their relationships to each other.
Ephesians 2 ends with the beautiful picture that all of us who are from different ethnic and racial groups are no longer adversaries but together belong to the beloved household of God. Ephesians 2:21-22 presents us with a wonderful image of unity with Jesus at the center of our community and citizenship with God:
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
It is therefore not enough to seek to save the souls of people and care nothing about the places of ethnic and racial divides that are plaguing our nation. To believe that God is big enough to address both the horizontal and vertical needs of people means we become Ambassadors of the full reconciliation of God in both its personal and corporate aspects.
5 Ways to be an Ambassador of Reconciliation
How then can we become Ambassadors of ethnic and racial reconciliation on our campuses and our ministries? Here are five ways you can begin to take steps in that direction:
You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did... You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
- James 2:22, 24
- Acknowledge that corporate sin that leads to injustice is real and that God wants to heal ethnic groups and nations. It is hurtful when we ignore or minimize the pain and oppression of ethnic or racial groups who express deep pain over present injustices. This undermines trust and the very unity we are pursuing in Jesus Christ as believers.
- Pray and ask God to give you love for those with which you are most hostile. God’s word tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. Pray for one another with a genuine heart of repentance and a deep desire for healing and wholeness. As you do so, God will begin to reveal our sins and the actions we need to take to honor Him and each other.
- Begin to take steps of understanding and action. It is not enough to believe the right things without an appropriate response. In James 2:22-25 we are encouraged to not just listen to God but to also do what God’s word says or we are in jeopardy of being foolish, like a person who forgets their appearance immediately after looking at themselves in a mirror. It is in the doing of the word that the blessing of God comes to us.
- Align yourself with the pain and needs of others. As you begin to accept that you are fellow citizens and members of God’s household together in Christ, begin to identify and connect yourself with their concerns so that the “dividing walls of hostility” begin to be dismantled in your heart and mind.
- Commit to Becoming an Ambassador of Reconciliation. As you see with new eyes and take steps as a doer of God’s word, He will begin to show you where you can walk alongside those that are hurting and begin to participate in God’s work of reconciliation, restoration and renewal through “Jesus Christ our chief cornerstone. It is in him that the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22)