Racism, Outrage, and the Church’s mission

What happened this weekend in Charlottesville, VA was a shameful, grotesque, damnable display of racial bigotry. There’s no excuse for behavior that proclaims one race to be better than another, that parades under flags representing racial hatred and murder. This behavior is sinful, and anyone persisting in such sin will earn the consequences of unrepentant sin – condemnation.

It feels odd to have to make such strong statements. Not because they aren’t true – they certainly are. But odd because, until recently, I thought it was a given. I thought that saying, “I love Jesus and live to proclaim his Gospel,” would be enough for anyone to assume, “Yep, he’s not a racist.” The Gospel, as a package deal, carries some pretty anti-racism concepts, such as:

  • ALL people, regardless of race, are a part of God’s special creation called “humankind”
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are under the curse of sin, inherited from the first two humans
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are so loved by God that he sent his Son to be the sacrifice for sins
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are treasured by Jesus, who gave everything so we could have everything
  • ALL people, regardless of race, are desired by Jesus to be part of his kingdom and to give him glory

Whether or not you believe in Jesus, the Bible, or trust what the Gospel has to say, at the very least please understand that these are the truths that Christians express when they say, “I love Jesus and I live to proclaim the Gospel.” To any genuine disciple of Christ, the notion that we have to explain why we’re not racist feels like a redundancy. It’s like an AARP member having to state that he likes saving money – it’s just a given!

Then a bunch of guys go marching under Nazi flags and call for racial segregation, while claiming to be Christian. Then we’re told that we cannot claim to be Christian and not denounce them immediately, otherwise we are giving approval and are, in fact, racists ourselves. It’s confusing. You’re sure that the eternal truths you hold to have not changed, yet because of the actions and opinions of a relative minority you have gone from “Disciple of Jesus” to “Closet racist” overnight.

Identity drives purpose

Does that matter? If my black neighbor faces injustice daily because of his skin color, do I really have a right to complain about how people see me?

No, I don’t. However, my reaction to this discomfort does matter, and that reaction is going to be driven by how I see myself. Identity drives purpose, and if I accept the identity of “closet racist” then my behavior will be different than if my identity is “disciple of Jesus.”

This is important.

Yesterday someone sent me this article: How to Tell If You Go to a White Supremacist Church. Here is his basic proposition:

“If your church does not spend a significant amount of time this weekend denouncing, condemning, and speaking out against the actions of the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville, VA in the strongest possible terms, your church is racist as hell.”

In my church this past weekend, I watched a baby receive the miraculous gift of Baptism, where God pours his Holy Spirit on a child, claims that child as his own, and puts saving faith in the baby’s heart. There was an affirmation of Baptism for two twins who were born early and baptized in the hospital. We confessed our sins and heard the absolute forgiveness of our God. We heard a sermon about the importance of contentment. Having recently accepted a position on this church’s ministry staff, I was received by the congregation, along with my wife and two others who are also serving on staff positions. The congregation prayed for us and encouraged us to faithfully serve them with the Gospel. Throughout the service, the grace of God was emphasized as we gathered around his Word. (Aside, my friend had a pretty good response to this article as well. Read it here. Also, I stole his post picture.)

Now, if I accept the identity of “closet racist” and accept the assertion that my church is “racist as hell,” then my reaction by necessity is to make some major changes. Either I need to find a new church (the advice of the article), or launch a major campaign to fundamentally change the heart and spirit of my congregation. But what would that do? The Gospel is, in and of itself, anti-racism, so why would changing the focus from the Gospel to social action be the solution? It’s like changing a cancer patient’s treatment from chemotherapy to pain relievers in the hopes that feeling better will make him better.

If I see my identity as “disciple of Jesus,” then I want to dig deeper into the Gospel. I gain a better understanding of the great love Jesus has for me, and this translates to a deeper love for others. When I see hatred, bigotry, racism, etc., I am motivated toward action.

How does that action look? That’s up to individual Christians to by led by the Spirit to bear fruit in keeping with their gifts. Some Christians might take to social media to take up campaigns to raise awareness. Some Christians might hit the ground and be involved in their own demonstrations. Some Christians might choose to attend prayer vigils in solidarity. Some Christians might choose to work one on one, helping the disenfranchised and meeting their needs.

Some Christians might find other causes to champion. That’s another side to all of this, and please forgive this very related tangent. I’ve seen many of my Christian friends stating in no uncertain terms that if you are not outraged and outspoken about the racism on display this past weekend, then you are endorsing it. That if you don’t speak up, then you are no better than the racists themselves.

Selective outrage

What about abortion? What about the sex slavery that underlies pornography? What about the hundreds of drug related deaths per day in our country? Why aren’t we outraged about those things? Why aren’t we speaking out about those daily? Are we endorsing abortion, pornography, and drug abuse? Are we no better than the abortionists, sex slavers, and drug lords?

I’m not saying we are. But I am saying that we are being somewhat selective in our outrage here. Talking with a friend of mine today, he put it this way:

“We as Christians are often selectively outraged, and our outrage isn’t God’s outrage. God gets angry. He is furious. And while injustice outrages us, it’s only certain injustices… oddly enough, often the same ones our culture tells us to get upset about.”

One of the focal points of the January Women’s March was the right not only to have an abortion, but the demand that it be provided as a free service across the country. In other words, women were taking to the streets to say, “I don’t just want to be able to kill my child, I want my country to kill my child for me!” Which is worse? To call for segregation of races, or to call for a national program of selective murder? Why are Christians racist if they don’t openly condemn white supremacy, but anti-woman if they do openly condemn abortion?

The problem is the same in both cases, because both are a symptom of our common disease of sin. The solution is the same – the Gospel, which reveals all the wickedness in all of us and offers the same absolute forgiveness for all of it. We need Jesus. And the Christian who uses the Gospel to fight racism is no better or worse than the Christian who uses it to fight abortion, or porn, or drugs, or any other societal problem.

The Church’s Mission

But it must begin with the Gospel. This is the Church’s mission. Not to make a utopia on earth, but to win souls for heaven. Not to make people nice and better, but to give people eternal hope and an eternal future.

Another thing the Gospel is set against is legalism. Legalism is when we declare that, to be a Christian, one must adhere to a certain set of rules or regulations. For instance, it would be legalistic for me to say that in order to be a Christian, you must give up alcohol (something I’d never say anyway, because frankly, I like beer). It would be legalistic for me to say that in order to be a Christian, you must attend worship a certain number of times per month. It would be legalistic for me to say that in order to be a Christian you must make certain statements about racism, bigotry, and injustice.

Certainly, I would encourage you to denounce such things, just like I’d encourage you to attend worship. But to call your faith into doubt because you didn’t take to social media in the most outraged way, or to claim you harbor sinful racism in your heart because you didn’t speak up enough, would be to go against the Gospel. So, Christians… stop doing this. Stop laying burdens on the hearts of your fellow believers.

The same Gospel that has cleansed you of your sins has cleansed your brothers and sisters. Celebrate that. Cherish that. Come together under that Gospel. And yes, go take action where action is needed. Encourage one another to be the disciples of Jesus that you are and fight for change.

Then come together again… and again… and again as a Church to hear the Gospel that motivates your action. Not to hear rousing speeches about how to fight injustice, but to carry out the mission of the Church. To make disciples of all nations. To carry his love to all people of every race.

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Little Churches

How do you define church?

Dictionary.com offers these top definitions of the word “church”:

1. a building for public Christian worship.
2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.
3. the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
4. any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination.
5. that part of the whole Christian body, or of a particular denomination,belonging to the same city, country, nation, etc.
6. a body of Christians worshiping in a particular building or constituting one congregation: She is a member of this church.
7. ecclesiastical organization, power, and affairs, as distinguished from the state.
Every one of those definitions falls short of the true meaning of what the Church is, and even all of them taken together still doesn’t measure up to it. Our English word “church” can be traced back to the Greek word kyriakos, which literally means “the Lord’s dwelling.” Where does God dwell? Paul writes in Eph 2:22 – “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” In other words, God dwells in his people.
Whenever you see the word “church” in Scripture, we’re actually translating a different Greek word, ecclesia. This word can either mean “a called out people” or “a gathering.” Words like “assembly” and “congregation” work as well. But the most important point about this word is that Scripture never uses it to refer to an organization, a hierarchy, a building, or a function or event. It refers to people – people called out of the world gathered together in the name of Jesus.
Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” While the Church can be all the people of God in all the world, it is also present where two or more people come together in the name of Jesus, united by their saving faith in him.
Have you ever thought of your family as a church? It fits the definition. If you are a Christian parent seeking to raise your children as disciples of Jesus, you should know that your family is a little church all on its own. You might not be called by a larger congregation into public ministry, yet you have a responsibility to shepherd – to pastor – your family. This is especially true of fathers, to whom God has given the role of leadership in the family, but it’s also true of mothers (all the more when the father is not present or not a believer), grandparents, uncles and aunts.
As a Little Church, your family can do all the things a larger congregation, and the Church as a whole, does. Think about the main things you do at church:
  1. Worship: In corporate (large body) worship with your congregation, you sing, praise, pray, and hear the Word. At home, you can sing songs of praise and devotion to Jesus. You can lead your children in prayer, confessing sins and asking God for what you need. You can read the Bible to each other.
  2. Grow: In your congregation you have Bible studies, Sunday School, and other activities to help you grow in your faith and knowledge of Scripture. At home, you can study the Bible together, talking about its meaning, and read devotions that help to explain what Scripture says.
  3. Serve: In your congregation you have opportunities to give of your time, talents, and treasures to bring the Gospel to others and to help meet people’s needs. As a family, you can find ways to financially support someone you know who is struggling, or reach out to people with the Gospel, or do work to benefit someone who needs your help.

 

Really, the only difference between your local congregation and your family is size. So start looking at your family as a Little Church, and use some of these practical ideas to help you worship, grow, and serve:

  • Who is the “pastor” of your Little Church? If you have the nuclear family, God’s clearest call is to the dad. But not every family is the same. Determine who is the natural “head” of the household, bearing in mind the roles God has given us in Scripture. If there is no dad, then it’s mom. But maybe it’s Grandpa, or an adult son, or an uncle. That person should take responsibility to lead the family spiritually.
  • Set aside time for study of the Word and for prayer. Not sure where to start? Remember that the Word has power all on its own, so the simplest thing is just to open the Bible and read. There are also many great devotion books, kids’ Bibles, and other resources for families. (see the bottom of this article for some links to some good resources)
  • Look for ways to serve. Sit down as a family and brainstorm the things you’re interested in and can do in your community. Try to come up with a family or an individual you know who needs your help. Look for a mission opportunity through your congregation. Find a way to serve together as a family, using the gifts God has given you.

 

Resources for growth:

  • The Story Bible – a beautifully illustrated Bible written toward kids, with questions for discussion about each story.
  • The Jesus Storybook Bible – a cute kids’ Bible aimed at helping children see Jesus in every story.
  • WELS.net Daily Devotions – a resource site from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with daily devotions on many topics.
  • Focus on the Family – a conservative Christian organization aimed at helping families be spiritually strong, with lots of great devotional content
  • Seeds Family Worship – a site full of Scripture songs and devotional content designed for families
  • Mike Westendorf’s blog – the blog of Christian musician Mike Westendorf. Why his blog specifically? Because he’s the one who got me thinking about this topic a lot lately, and he has lots on his blog to encourage and get you thinking about how to grow your Little Church.

Excellent article on submission

Today I came across this blog post: How the Church Paints Submission. This was an excellent article on the subject of submission. Often we struggle to properly define the concept of the godly submission of a wife to her husband. Our culture says it is entirely negative and should be discarded. Others end up thinking submission means a wife’s blind and absolute obedience to her husband in all circumstances. Neither of these is the Biblical concept of submission. If we want to speak the truth to our culture, we need a proper understanding of what submission is and what it is not.