This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
Too many of us have forgotten the major facet of Christianity that set the 1st-Century religious world on fire: Reconciliation. If you were a woman and wanted to speak freely, or a slave and wanted to be treated equally or a Gentile and desired to be treated like someone who could actually love and be loved by God, then the swelling church that worshiped Jesus was the place to be.
Or at least it was supposed to be.
If you cranked up your flux capacitor and landed back in the first century, it wouldn’t take too long to notice that the burning issue of the day was who is “in” and who is “out” in the Christian church. The “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15 (and just about every word from the pen of the Apostle Paul) emerged as a result of the percolating debate regarding who could claim the name of Jesus. Quickly, though, the Apostles made decisions about it. They determined the church to be an all-skate.
The Apostle Paul, when describing the purpose of the Jesus event, wrote, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Radical hospitality and inclusion was the core of what it meant to be Christian. This impulse has been lost and found time and again throughout the years. Martin Luther King Jr, once said, “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization” (from The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma, 1957).
Yet everywhere I look, Christians are not simply a part of division, we are at the heart of it. Each time I turn on “Christian” television or radio, my brothers and sisters on the political right treat me to a litany of enemies – the GLBT community, Democrats, judges, elites, socialists, Muslims, and anyone who ever thought Muslims, Democrats gays and lesbians, judges, elites, and socialites were not inherently evil. The lack of reconciliation streams in from the left side of the political spectrum too. My more liberal kinfolk disdain the 1%, corporations, Evangelicals, the NRA, and anyone demonstrating the least bit of understanding and affinity for them. And obviously, there remains the tried and true divisions of old – black, white, rich, poor, city, country. It seems we spend an awful lot of time figuring out ways to bisect and carve up one another.
This lack of reconciliation has very real results. I’ve ministered in churches where certain members refuse to speak to others in the same pew because they voted for a different candidate. Young committed Democrats have shared with me that once they leave home they will never go to church again, “Because church isn’t safe for people like us.” A young gay man told me that “the church hates gays so I’ll never go back.” I have friends who won’t darken the door of the church because, “Everyone in church is backward, ignorant, and regressive.”
Is it any wonder so many younger people chose to opt-out of church? In a world struggling with terrorism, genocides, protests, uprisings, and inner-personal conflict, why would it make sense for anyone to opt-in to more partitioning of lives? I’m not sure about you, but I’ve got enough enmity in my life without having to sign up for the new set at church.
For that reason, the church must hold tight to the dream of “the beloved community.” Church was intended to be a place of gathering, a location where varied people join together under the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. This confession, laying aside our personal histories, political preferences, cultural impulses, and the other opportunities for opposition. God actually seems to believe that there is something for us to discover about ourselves as we sit at table with others. Perhaps the church exists to give us glimpses of the inexhaustible vastness and complexity of God. Maybe those “others” that otherwise annoy us are hints of the holy whether we like it or not. Perhaps we cannot be saved alone.
If the Scriptures are to be believed, Jesus’ cross is a collective punishment serving a collective purpose. We cannot be “one humanity” without one another.
Reconciliation, then, is not an agenda item. It’s not something we can save until next year’s budget like renovations to the narthex. Reconciliation is the demonstration that God is at work in the world. Any fool can put people at odds. Only God can bring those opposed to one another together as sisters and brothers. When we lose reconciliation, we lose Jesus. If your church is all one thing – white, black, Hispanic, gay, straight, Democrat, Republican, whatever – the Christ may have left your congregation.
Jesus, who is other (holy), came to earth to reconcile people, who are not like him to himself. The gospel was, is, and has always been about reconciliation, the “ministry of reconciliation.” And the scriptures insist we join in as full participants. Paul believes that followers of Jesus would “regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16).
How is your community doing with that?
Sean Palmer: Sean is the Lead Minister at The Vine Church in Temple, TX, a community rooted in God, growing in Christ, and reaching the world. A speaker and writer, Sean blogs at The Palmer Perspective and is a contributing writer to The Voice Bible. He believes in gracious hospitality to the Other, the Atlanta Braves, and boarding flights with more books than you can read.