I've been thinking a lot about the church these past few weeks. And by "church" I mean the whole messy thing, every tradition, location, size, group. As the national conversation around racism continues and deepens, I am reminded of two important truths:
- The church is the most diverse body of peoples on the planet.
- The church does a lousy job of living this truth out.
|Oh the Humanity by Charles Pulley|
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision" — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
The issue Paul (or whoever you think wrote Ephesians) is addressing is the divide between Jews and Gentiles. But don't miss the larger issue Paul is addressing here and in other letters: God has formed a new humanity, a united gathering of peoples, through grace in Christ. This new humanity, reconciled and united in Christ, is how God creates a new world of peace.
How often do we consider that the way the church exists as a reconciled community of diverse people actually matters? In the New Testament, the way the church exists as church, as one body in one Spirit by one baptism, matters deeply because it is how peace comes into broken humanity. Not through coercion. Not through laws. Not through war. Through grace and reconciliation in Christ.
Now, this might sound like the church needs to go out and convert every individual in the world to be Christian so that peace can reign. I think that is a mistaken notion. What the church is called to do is be the reconciled community of every race, tribe, nation, sex, class, and language. The church doesn't force uniformity upon the world; it exists as a peaceful diversity in the world, and the world is changed by it.
That's why I say we're failing at being something in particular, and it is something particularly vital for this and every age.
In my own denomination we talk a lot about diversity, and then bemoan the fact that our denomination, or our individual congregations, don't reflect that diversity well. I'm all for increasing diversity in mostly white traditions within a white-dominated culture. Yes, it is good to do that. But, what we fail to do is widen our circle and see the diversity that already exists within the whole church. It is already there. It is a gift. Let's celebrate it.
Paul often describes the church as a body made of different members or organs. So, let's see how that is true, and then build better nerves, arteries, and connective tissue. Let's work as congregations not to necessarily perfect our diversity, but connect to other congregations with their differences and declare our unity. We don't need to wait for denominations to do anything. We just do it. Make a phone call. Send an invitation. Have a dinner together.
Let's be something in particular, something unseen in our world: a peaceful gathering of every kind of peoples living as a new humanity, living as one.