This afternoon we enjoyed a panel discussion in which Ligon Duncan spoke with several African American pastors. He asked about how they were saved, how they came to embrace the doctrines of grace, and how they feel the church can best address issues of race. He also spoke briefly on the phone with Mark Dever (asking Mark about his upcoming writing projects) and then with D.A. Carson (whom he also asked about his upcoming writing project). In the afternoon we had a few hours of free time which I used to make a long and circuitous tour of this incredible facility. I even found myself at a shooting range with a bunch of pastors blasting away at some targets with at .45 (two to the chest, one to the head seemed to be the order of the day). We walked for at least an hour and still had to stop short of seeing everything.
After dinner we reconvened for another worship service, this one led by Jay Harvey and with a sermon by Thabiti Anyabwile.
Thabiti spoke from Ephesians 2:11-22 on the topic of “The End of Alienation, Hostility, and Homelessness.” He began by discussing how important and confusing this issue is, and how racial identity continues to be a major struggle for individuals and for our culture even in the twenty-first century. Many unbelievers are attempting to sort out the issues, but even the best and brightest minds continually contradict each other. The vision held out to us by God through His apostle in Ephesians 2 is glorious and provides the biblical solutions.
The three problems connected with race and identity that are addressed and answered in this passage are Alienation, Hostility and Homelessness.
The answer to our alienation is nearness to God. Verses one through ten of this chapter see Paul addressing individuals but in verses 11-22 he zooms out and looks at the people of God. He addresses these Gentiles with whom there is sharp ethnic division from the Jews. Because they were not Jewish they had been foreigners to the covenant and were without hope and without God. This is how people show up at our churches, in a desperate, desolate condition. They are estranged from God, from His people and from any kind of hope. Through Christ they are now brought near to Christ and are Christians. They are a new spiritual ethnic group. This changes everything! Alienation ends when we find nearness to God.
The answer to our hostility is reconciliation and peace through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself is our peace. Peace is a person and He is the only peace available to Jew or Gentile. To achieve this peace, Jesus made groups that were once hostile to be unified, He destroyed the wall or barrier of hostility, He abolished the law and its regulations, and He came and preached this message of peace (which is a way of summarizing His earthly ministry). Jesus’ purpose in creating this peace was to create one new man, a man characterized by reconciliation with God and with fellow Christians. We see the power of what Christ achieves in the cross when He offers Himself in our place. We see the end of alienation and the end of hostility. He does not make it possible or make it available in the future, but something He does and accomplishes. Why stress this? Because in most Christian churches we live beneath our inheritance on this issue. The power for reconciliation is found in the power of the cross. The danger for us is that we can live in a way that we show the world, which is so confused by racial reconciliation, that we haven’t figured it out either. When we do this we lie about Jesus and what He has accomplished for us.
The answer to our homelessness is a new, permanent dwelling with God. Because of our hostility we are a people that are not at home with God or with each other. We are a household built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets and with Jesus as the chief cornerstone. He anchors this building, keeping it level and sturdy. All of history is about God building for Himself a holy temple, a dwelling place. It is a new building made of living stones which each of us is (or, as Thabiti said, “we be that!”). We are the temple, the place where God resides.
God ends the alienation, hostility and homelessness. So what? How does this impact a pastor’s ministry? What difference does a passage like this make in living out our faith? There are several applications:
First, Ephesians 2 lets us know that Christianity is more corporate than we may be accustomed to thinking. It is about more than our personal relationship with God. The doctrine of the church may be a secondary doctrine but it is not a primary reality. We cannot afford to have an anemic understanding of how we cultivate togetherness in the church.
Second, this passage promises greater unity than we may imagine or experience. The cross holds out for us more promise, power and deliverance than we may have ever imagined. We need to preach the cross in such a way that it applies to the way people think about identity.
Third, this passage begs us to be an aggressively inclusive people. Christians, of all people, who have been strangers in this world and who have been alien, are to be the people with the widest arms, the people seeking to embrace the most. This may be in evangelism or in hospitality or in any other way either inside or outside the church. Failure to do so is a failure to rightly grasp the gospel with our own lives.
Fourth, we need a new anthropology, a new understanding of man. We need to speak to the likeness of all people, regardless of race, but we need more. Distinctly Christian anthropology has to go on to talk about our new identity of Christ in dialog with notions of culture. We need a Christological anthropology. It also needs to be ecclesiological as well.
To summarize briefly, through the cross of Christ we can hold out to the world what it looks like to no longer be alienated, hostile or homeless.
Tonight’s winning quote came courtesy of Thabiti: “I’m in Mississippi in front of a largely white audience…in the woods!”
I’ll be back tomorrow with one more update and possibly some reflections. And then I’ll be heading home!