A Journey Toward Kainos
The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.
-Ephesians 2:14-15, The Message
One of many sad fractures of sin left on the face of humanity is racism and along with it ethnocentrism. Humanity has mastered this sinful pattern of dividing along ethnic lines and then weaponizing our differences to further push away and down those not like us. Not that ethnic differences are the only ways we divide; status, education level, income level, employment and on the list goes, in ways we sinfully sort out who “belongs” and who doesn’t. But, what Paul focuses on in Ephesians 2:11-22, are ethnic divisions and in particular one of the oldest, ethnic/religious divisions that exists- Jews and Gentiles. His bold claim is that in Jesus, there is a “new humanity” (NIV), one not divided by their ethnic differences but in fact united in Jesus regardless of their ethnicity or religious background before Jesus. In saying this, Paul is really building on the foundation of all that he’s said and prayed so far in Ephesians 1:1-2:10.
Sadly, the church which is to be the place where this new humanity is on display is in fact a place where racial differences are magnified and such sin is rarely addressed. Lest we think these matters are for a by-gone era, we need look no further than the Sunday gathering we attend. So, how do we grow from where we are to a place of kainos (a whole new kind of human grouping)? Here are a few humble suggestions I offer as someone on this journey but certainly not having arrived:
1. Godly sorrow. Does racism in the church make you sad? If Jesus died to bring us a new humanity where the defining quality is not our physical DNA but a spiritual DNA, have you ever grieved how far from that we are?
2. Repentance. Being sad about something doesn’t always lead to repentance, but godly sorrow always leads to repentance. Like Daniel and Isaiah and other godly men and women have done, we need to include ourselves in the ‘we’ that has culpability for the racism still haunting the church. There may or may not be a personal history of racism in your life (though if we are honest there probably has been some). But, you are definitely part of a group (the church) which has sinned badly in this area and the remedy for that is repentance; that act by which we admit our fault, ask God for forgiveness, and turn from our sin, seeking to do right.
3. Lean in. The quickest remedy to seeing someone as they are and not as a stereotype is getting to know them in a personal relationship. Have coffee with a brother or sister in Christ who is not from your ethnic background. Invite someone who doesn’t look like you to dinner at your house. Ask hard questions about how racism has impacted their life. Lean into difficult conversations. As you do this, God will be faithful to help you (and them) grow.
4. Learn. We need to be students of Scripture and history on this issue if we seek to solve it. Do you know how racism has expressed itself in history (your family, church/denomination, city, state, nation, the world)? We all ought to condemn slavery and Jim Crow and xenophobia but, do we understand how those things still shape our behavior and culture in 2019? Nevertheless, it isn’t enough to address this societal sin as just a cultural or historical issue. Such attempts, while right minded, will fall short of the kainos Jesus died to bring. So study the Scriptures on these matters. Listen to good preaching and teaching. Preach the Gospel of reconciliation to yourself. Here are a couple of resources you might find helpful in that regard:
Brian Loritts from Alliance General Council 2019 An outstanding message on Ephesians 2:1-22.
MLK 50 Conference Sessions A series of messages/teachings from a conference held in Memphis, TN last year.