Archives For Racism

Take a brief look at Church History and you’ll realize that the Church is kind of an icky place. Or at least, it often has been. I love my church, and you probably love yours too. But historically speaking, the church has a tendency to be really really messed up.

The Church has a lot of blood on its hands. Protestants have killed Catholics and vice versa over the practice of Communion. Reformers literally drowned Anabaptists who believed that baptism was for believing adults and not for infants (“You like to be baptized? Let me hold you under a little longer…”). Think of the Crusades. Or of corruption within the church throughout the Middle Ages. Simony (selling church leadership positions to those looking for a good political career) was a recurring problem in the church. Our modern sex scandals are nothing new in terms of Church History, except that many times in the past the promiscuous church leaders have been unrepentant, unapologetic, and unashamed.

Think of the times that the Church has advocated slavery, has fought against human rights (unbelievably, Martin Luther King, Jr. had to “fight” against Christian churches), or has stood by and done nothing while holocausts were afoot.

Think of the hypocrites sitting in the pews around you. People actively involved in affairs even as they pretend to be devout Christians. Think even of yourself: Who among us truly practices what Jesus preached?

We get pretty worked up when people accuse the Church of being hypocritical, but let’s admit: they have a point. The Church can be (and often has been) a dirty bunch. That’s the case with all human enterprises.

Imagine God hiring a PR representative: “Well, God, you’ve got a decent reputation, at least in some circles, but that Church you continue to hold on to is not doing you any favors. You have a growing constituency of people who love you but hate the Church. For centuries upon centuries a large demographic has stayed completely away from you because of the Church. It’s time to distance yourself. Be God, do the good things you want to do in the world, change lives, bring healing to impossible situations—all of that. But do it without the Church. The Church is only bringing you down.”

Simony, a practice common throughout the Middle Ages, means buying a church leadership position.

I’d fire any PR rep that said something different. The Church is a huge liability for God.

And yet God refuses to abandon the Church. He refuses to distance himself. It’s true that we cannot confine God’s activity within our church walls. God works all around us in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine. Yet he remains inextricably tied to his Church.

And he has tied himself to the Church by choice. This was his idea. God’s mission in this world has always been about redemption, about reversing what went wrong with the fall, about defeating evil and healing what has been broken. His mission moved through Abraham and Israel, through David and Isaiah, and finally reached its climax in Jesus. But then God did the unthinkable: he passed the mission on to the Church. The Church! This wandering, embarrassing, inept group has inherited God’s mission to fix the whole world. And God did this on purpose!

As David Platt says, the Church is God’s Plan A, and he has no Plan B.

Why has God stubbornly refused to distance himself from the Church? Because his plan of redemption will be brought to completion through the Church. Because God does great things through those who are weak. Because God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. Because God takes earthen pots and uses them to unleash his glory upon an unsuspecting world.

churchI am as broken as anyone in Church History, yet God uses me. My church is as full of sinners as any other church in history, yet God is bringing healing and purpose and life and hope to the world through this ragtag group of Christians I call my church body. We will continue to mess up. We will continue to be weak and cowardly. We will forget the mission and get worked up about things that don’t matter. We will continue to be a liability. But God will not abandon his Church.

And because God will not abandon His Church, we will continue to bring healing that far exceeds our abilities. We will continue to embody reconciliation and forgiveness and peace, though in ourselves we lack these resources. We will continue to show the world that Jesus is alive, that the Spirit of God has not for a single second neglected God’s mission, that the Spirit fulfills the mission through the apparent foolishness of God’s Plan A Church.

God has not dumped the Church, and he never will.

“On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

David SterlingLike most everyone who heard the news of this past weekend, I was angered and appalled at the news of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s (alleged) racist conversation with his former girlfriend V. Stiviano. His words are almost unbelievable and unbearable to listen to.
I don’t believe I have a racist bone in my body. If I become aware of any racially insensitive thoughts or comments, I seek to change them immediately. I have friends from numerous races, nationalities, and ethnicities. I teach on racial unity. I speak against racial prejudice (prejudice of any kind, for that matter). I believe people should be treated like human beings regardless of color, class, creed, culture, or whatever other category we like to tag each other with.
I have listened to and read on the public outrage over Sterling’s comments. The people of the public are right for their shock and anger over such racism. It’s heinous.
Yet I find myself asking: How many of those who are commenting on this issue harbor racist thoughts themselves? How many of those who decry his racism speak and/or act as racists themselves? What if their conversations were recorded like Sterling’s were? What if we were able to hook them up to a “racial heart monitor” to see what’s happening on the inside, in their thought life? Are we naive enough to believe that many of these people wouldn’t be exposed for having racist tendencies of their own? It’s one thing to condemn very public comments by a very public figure in a very public way; it’s another to condemn yourself for thinking, speaking, and acting like him yourself.
What about you? What about me? Are we harboring “closet racism” ourselves?
Please do not mistake my questions as any kind of defense of Donald Sterling; if he is truly guilty of these words then he is indefensible. (My prayer is he would publicly confess his wrongdoing and take responsibility for his hurtful actions, and that his wrong would further eradicate racism from all races.) I in no way am coming to the defense of this man. I just believe his stupidity gives all of us an opportunity to examine ourselves and see if we are like him in any way.
Racism is a result of humanity’s fall into sin and death. God’s original plan for the world was for people of every color and culture to bear His image and bring about His ways on the earth in total peace and complete harmony. He has never abandoned this vision. The book of Revelation shows us that He is redeeming and restoring people from every ethnicity:
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“All Nations” by Andy Barber (2014)

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10; my bold and italics).

After this I looked, and behold, 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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (7:9; my bold and italics).
All of this was launched in our crucified and resurrected King, the Lord Jesus. When He came announcing the return of His Father’s kingdom (see Mark 1:14-15), He did so by treating people as human beings. He did not view people through the same lens as we so often do based upon our prejudices. And His death tore down the greatest racial divide in human history: the one between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Everyone who is in Christ is now a member of this renewed humanity that God is forming in the world—a people of all colors, cultures, and classes. The church is to embrace one another in love without prejudice (see 1 Cor 12:12-13; Gal 3:25-28; Col 3:9-11). We are to lead the way in showing the rest of the world what racial harmony, unity, love, and peace looks like.
While Donald Sterling’s comments are awful, what if we took the time to see if our own reflections come back through our TV sets or computer screens as we watch or read about the fallout of his words? What if we used this time not so much to stand in judgment of him but instead we rushed to judge ourselves, making sure to cleanse ourselves of the filth of racism in our hearts and in our churches? Maybe—just maybe—times like these would lead people to look to the church for the answers to the problems that still plague our world, giving us the opportunity to tell them the good news of Jesus.
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