Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Character of the Church

"His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to GOD through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility." (Eph. 2:15-16)

This is the mystery explained to us by St. Paul. The hostility spoken of here is that between the Jews and Gentiles. When people are reconciled to God by the cross, their hostility is put to death. It is done away with. However, hostility in any form between any peoples is also put to death because God’s purpose is to create in Himself one new man. This means that Turks who have been reconciled to God and Armenians who have been reconciled to God are now one. It means Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda who have been reconciled to God have lost their hostility. It means Shiites and Sunis who have been reconciled to God by the cross have ended their hostility. Do they meet together for the Lord’s supper? Yes!

What about their language and culture differences? Those things are a consideration, but they are secondary. It is important to know a people’s language and culture for preaching and teaching the gospel so that they can understand it. However, if these things are used to keep up the barrier, they work contrary to the cross. They are in opposition to the gospel and should be renounced as evil. This is why Paul stood up to Peter at Antioch. The very purpose of God was at stake.

A few years ago, I received a letter from a missionary in another city who told me the following about his work with internationals. He would take them to an evangelical church for fellowship and the gospel. One day, one of the leaders of the church told him that the church’s objective was to reach the upwardly-mobile, upper-middle class, white Americans and that he should not bring other races to the church services because his actions hindered the church from carrying out its primary objective. Obviously, their objective was not the same as God’s objective.

Many years ago, I was in the South visiting a couple who were missionaries to international students. The church we visited was the missionary wife’s home church. She had grown up in it. The sign in front of the church read, “We preach Christ crucified, risen, and coming again.” The church sponsored missionaries in different parts of the world, including Africa. These missionaries brought African students to the church. The leaders of the church asked them not to. When confronted about this discrepancy in their missionary outreach, the church relented partway and said they could bring black Africans to church, but not African-Americans. This is contrary to the gospel “Christ crucified” that they claimed to preach.

Oneness in Christ is not limited to different races. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28).

Following the 1993 international student missionary convention at Urbana, Illinois, there was a small conference of about 400 for foreign students only. (I say “only,” but there were a few of us Americans there, too.) Besides the excellent teaching, there was a wonderful occurrence when the Japanese students confessed as a group Japan’s sins against Korea in World War II to the Korean students and asked their forgiveness. This was evidence of hostility being put to death, although it was fifty years later. Hostility is transferred through generations and centuries. Christians have been known to participate in this hostility.

There are cultural differences that make up an unofficial caste system in our society. They include family, education, wealth, profession, vocabulary, athletic ability, fame, music, car and horse racing, and hobbies such as skiing and backpacking. There are a thousand others. Should all of these be in one church? The answer is an unqualified Yes! That is what the gospel is all about. Jesus Christ saves us into oneness. Will people feel uncomfortable? Perhaps, but the right way to solve that is by being in one church.

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