Monday, January 31, 2011

Reconciliation -- a mandate, not an option

I had the honor of delivering my testimony at church two weeks ago; I had asked to do it in recognition of the birthday celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which officially was the next day, because he initially sparked my interest in the Scriptures. King, of course, was despised in his day in some circles and ignored by most evangelicals for not being sufficiently pious and focusing on "soul-winning."

When I first "encountered" him in the fifth grade, however, I realized that he was onto something. Really, really big that most people that most "religious" people, especially in that day, were missing. And what was that?

The very heart of the gospel -- reconciliation.

Now, most of us evangelicals have believed and taught that the primary focus of the Christian life should be studying the Scriptures and living one's earthly existence as "godly" as possible and, at its end, being accepted into heaven. The trouble is that, in such an atmosphere, faith becomes privatized and cultural and doesn't really cause that much change in the culture.

On the other hand, if you see the Gospel as being about reconciliation, it clearly has all kinds of ramifications for not only the individual Christian but also the church in general and the surrounding culture.

You see, if you focus on reconciliation, you're assuming a breach to be mended, starting with fellowship between man and God broken by man's sin, his inability to do anything about that and being in danger of perdition without a remedy. And this is where we get the first part correct, because Jesus did give His life on the cross so that we could come to God and establish that fellowship that He intended.

But there's more.

You see, that propensity toward sin also leads to a disconnect with other people, whether in or outside the church. Whether a church or denominational split, an over-reliance or lack of focus on theology, a disdain for others for being "less than" or an emphasis on such things of the world as money or political power, there's no shortage of ways in which even God's people can suffer from broken fellowship with each other. One thing of which the church should always be ashamed is that the civil-rights movement, which came out of Southern African-American churches, pitted one set of Christians against another set of Christians, which sabotaged our collective witness. (It's especially galling in light of Jesus' two great commandments, my paraphrase: Worship God with everything you have and do right by others.)

Thing is, God has called us believers in Jesus to belong to one family, one church, one nation under His rule, and that means that we will need to put our differences, pride and anger aside to focus on that spiritual goal. Fortunately, He will help us do that if we allow ourselves to be transformed.

The early church had no choice in that matter because it was a culturally and ethnically diverse underground movement with few friends that was targeted for extinction by the political and religious authorities of that day. Put another way, following Jesus quite literally cost some folks everything, including their lives; thus, they learned to suffer together and became "one in heart and mind." And while it did have to deal with some factionalism in its ranks, still its membership clung to Jesus -- and to each other.

Things, of course, are different today; Americans live in a nation built in part on freedom of worship. But since the church has become part of the "establishment" it has fallen prey to the same fault lines as the rest of the world -- race, economics, social class, ethnicity. That's why we need to focus upon reconciliation -- if all we understand is the way our little clique does things we miss the lessons that other groups, churches, theologies, denominations can teach us about Who God is and His eternal purpose.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela brought out this point in a 1995 speech he made honoring the late Bram Fischer, an anti-apartheid activist of Afrikaner stock who originally believed that black and white should live separately, albeit as "equals." In rebuttal, a veteran member of the African National Congress, Mandela's party, told Fischer, "If you place the races of one country in two camps and cut off contact between them, those in each camp will begin to forget that those in the other are ordinary human beings, that each lives and laughs the same way, that each expresses joy or sorrow, pride or humiliation for the same reasons. Thereby each becomes suspicious of the other and each eventually fears the other, which is the basis of all racism."

We're at that point now. It's time that we allow God to come in and heal the breach, so in His Name, let's reconcile.

No comments: