Social change is everyone’s dream. Well, most people desire to see a better community, fairness, affection and unity in all areas of life. OK, let’s be honest, ‘some’ people do. The question then is how can social change be found? A dear brother in the faith has been tasked with the burden to have this conversation specifically on racial tensions, racially divided fairness etc. Gladly, he is a marvelous man of God and has the heart to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and for that I am thankful. The conversation is also necessary, but what is the actual change agent? I pray this little-bulleted article will help keep all who desire such a dialog on task without creative polarizing generalizations that sweep vital parts under the rug, or worse, out of the door.
The Body is Manifold
God has built His church and has placed the parts of the body as He sees fit. (1 Cor 12:18) All parts of the body are important for the building up of the body, so, there is no one person in the church of Jesus Christ who is not there by the will of God for the purpose of each other. This is vital in order to have a right understanding of the matter of racism. The body of Christ is not comprised of white Christians and black Christians etc., it is made up of believers only, whose identity is not in culture or color, but Christ. While some Christians are blind to the problems of hate, racism isn’t like all other sins in that when it is allowed to breed among the people of God, it voids the power of Christ and His cross.
Change Happens Only in Christ
Throughout the ages of our country (the United States) civil liberty and equality as been on the lips of men. Even during the expansion of colonies, white men stood side by side with black men to cry out about the injustice of slavery. The reason God does this is because when someone is birthed by God into the Kingdom, they are wide awake and no longer slumber on issues of hatred, especially among the church. Jesus says that all the laws of the prophets are hinged on two: the love of God with all of one’s heart, mind and soul and the love of each other in like manner, as one loves himself. Therefore, to turn a blind eye to blatant sin in the church is an egregious sin. So how does the church affect change? By preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ who saves through the hearing of His word (Romans 10:17) and then by making sure people are held accountable to living out the gospel. (1 John 3) Only then we will see actual change in the community of faith. Whether we see change in the world will be determined by the overarching reach of the gospel within the hearts of men.
The Issue isn’t the Issue
Racism is not the issue. Sin is the issue. Bishop Clark in Oakland said very plainly during our talks on this matter in 2009, “Racism isn’t a skin issue, it’s a sin issue.” That resonated greatly. But the question then is what is the issue? Well, the church has failed. It has failed in many ways, let’s name a few:
- Failed to uphold Scripture as the final authority over the church.
- Failed to exercise church discipline when sin is found within the church.
- Failed to keep to the task of submitting all things related to the new life to God but relegating such efforts to the human will, and by doing so, puts the burden back on men to do what they cannot do apart from God.
- Failed by turning a blind eye to racism as if it doesn’t exist.
- Failed by having a quick answer instead of actually listening to others who are the body (remember point one)
- Failed by being segregated in the first place due to cultural distinctions. (This breeds racial division).
- Failed to honor the Lord with their hearts by loving their neighbor.
- Failed to make disciples and teach the nations to obey Christ.
- ….. this list could keep going.
- Failed to preach the power of God unto salvation!
The issue with sin is that all men are slaves to sin. Even those well-meaning pious groups of pale folks back in early history who preached a gospel while living a lie and owning slaves. But God was eventually gracious to “some” of them, who renounced such things and came to know and to believe that all men in Christ Jesus are one body.
Saying, ________ isn’t the Answer
There are many things that are said that are not “the” answer. Sadly, our emotions and hearts are destined to become fleshly when we are passionate about being heard. Here are a few things that need to just disappear from our language because they don’t even work to open the issue to the eyes of people, they just place the Church in more division:
- White men are ignorant and shallow.
- Black men are ignorant and shallow.
- White men have greater access to Christ.
- Just preach the gospel.
- If you don’t believe what I’m saying, you’re racist.
- You can’t see my pain because you’re privileged.
- You can’t understand my argument because you’re uneducated.
These statements have been said in the last month in my presence and in my inbox. They are not working toward a solution but rather create more division. The quickest way to make someone ignore what is said is to create a strawman that they are not willing to try and put back together. Those who are in Christ must be willing to have engaging conversations that are not fixed to 140 characters or quick statements. Food for thought must be given in such a way that it is actually engaging within the reality of empiricism, not ambiguity. To say (or think) that any person is grounded in a certain set of beliefs because of their experiences is bearing false witness about their heart and defaming the grace of God. Stating what scripture says is good, but making a dogma out of one’s own experiences is wicked. The example is this. If I want you to know my heart, it is best I say to you, “I feel like there are many that just don’t see the wickedness of hatred and racism. For instance _____, _____, _____.” Because if I say, “Anyone who doesn’t see my hurt or this sin is an idiot”, well, I’ve just sinned against you, violated scripture, exposed my heart as fleshly and spoken not out of the Spirit.
The difference comes when there are actual statements by actual people who need to be corrected and called out. For instance, if I say, “just preach the gospel” and it isn’t actually a thought out, faith-based response, then someone should call me out for clarity. If I stand on the fact that it means a dialog on racism shouldn’t happen or doesn’t matter, then I must be brought to the table of correction. If I say such things because I hate people without my skin tone, then I must be removed from the life of all those who claim Christ. But if I mean it to say what Paul meant it to say in 1 Corinthians 1, that there was no other purpose in life than to preach the Gospel of Jesus and to do something else would cause the cross to lose its power, then I am right. The implications of the Gospel of God are far and deep. So let’s stop just using simple cliches and start teaching, learning and living as Christ enables us to live.
Living the Gospel Mission
Living in the light includes not only loving each other, our brothers and our enemies of all skin tones. It also includes the continued discipleship of those who profess to be in Christ and those who don’t. Making disciples of those who are not yet walking in Christ is called Evangelism. It is long overdue for the Christians of the land to be known for their supernatural affection and obedience to Christ. It is time for believers to speak out against sin at all costs. Not so that people will change, we’ll cover that later, but so that it will be clearly seen what is tolerable and what is not. December 19, 2016 I spoke at a Unity Conference hosted by the MLK Observance Committee in Evans County. During this message I gave several applications that must take place if the church is to see hearts change in our culture:
- WE must be in unity. Same faith, same Christ, same message, same mission.
- We must be intimate. I can love you, but if I continually am divided in my life, I am not a true friend.
- We must be prayerful. We know that there is no way anything will happen for good if God does not do it, so we pray for that to happen WHILE we work and labor toward it.
- We must be missional. In doing so, we need to recognize that unity is not the point, it’s the glory of God.
- We must be real. This means that we must be willing to accept the fact that those who hate Jesus Christ will hate each other. Back to #1
- We must be accountable. If we are to be the LIGHT in darkness, then we have to be accountable as commanded in scripture. First in our own hearts, second in our homes, then with our congregation and finally with each other. This applies that when someone promotes racism and hate, I am supposed to rebuke and correct it; every time!
- We must continue the conversation. WE can’t just meet four times a year and say, “Look, we love each other.” No, are we serving our fellow siblings? Are we being served by them?
- WE must stop calling those who look like us, “our people.” This is not true. Only those who are born of God are my people, everyone else is unified as objects of wrath.
When we live, it is not us who lives but Christ who lives within us. (Galatians 2:20-21) So we hold fast to Him because He has held fast to us!
The Church is the Agent
The Civil Rights movement did little to blend racial harmony, but it did a great thing to open the eyes of the country to the truth of the matter. Those living in the MidWest had little experience with the bigotry that plagued the SouthEast, and the movement made it all clearer. But now 53 years later, the unity and love for humanity are still absent. While laws have protected basic civility, the overarching bigotry is still perpetuated by the very people who are supposed to stand against it. No matter how much work is done in the culture, without the church being a LIVING LIGHT and LASTING SALT, there is no hope.
Considering some of the application previously mentioned. We must hold a light to darkness and we must hold it accountable while remembering that it is all for God’s glory! I am often disturbed by the vast number of agencies and groups, including Christian conferences that operate outside the local church. It’s like a rally, everyone agrees, but there is no lasting intimacy. We have intimacy with our churches (I pray) and we have the opportunity for intimacy in our communities. So, the local bodies all over the nation are the central connection points for such a task. This little article will in no way even rightly touch on everything, but it is a reminder of things we should not forget. Most importantly, let’s stop looking at other Christians as our enemies and rejoice that God has put some of us together for this grand task of giving Him glory through His gospel that transforms the lives of some people.
Church Discipline is the Key
That transformation is indeed supernatural and it is accountable to the local assembly. When there is racism found in the church it should be approached and corrected just as any sin would. If someone cheats on their spouse, the church responds with warnings, rebuke, encouragement, and discipline. If the sin continues, the entire body, widely in an area are to be warned of the sins of such a person so they do not contaminate other congregations. The same is true with racism. The problem though is its sometimes hard to see it. Maybe we could consider the following:
- Are people often offended by the discussion of racial tension and the call to unity?
- Does their social media presence appear to be in favor of racially divisive and hateful things?
- Does their speech exude bigotry?
- Does their life exemplify segregation?
- Is it you?
What if we find it? What if we find it, call it out, and the person wasn’t even aware? This could be the case. But, if we have approached them sinfully like I mentioned before, then we have lost the opportunity to be a change agent and a disciple maker. But repentance brings forgiveness and God is honored in restored relationships. Let’s rejoice in the Lord when someone sees and let’s rejoice in the Lord when we see what He has shown us in our own hearts.
Division will Birth from Righteousness
One final application I left until now is that when God’s people stand united and intimate in Christ against any darkness, it will cause great division. Some who were thought to be brethren will depart. Others who we thought to be bigots will join the praise. In the end, standing for righteousness has always created division with the world. Be forewarned.
A Final Thought About “My People”
We were not a people but now we are a people because God has chosen to call us His own and has made us alive in Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice in that and endure until the end. As we part the sea of iniquity in our own hearts by the Grace of God, be ever mindful that even those who seem to be in this conversation may not like it when “others” who are not “their people” begin to talk. This is a sad reality and reveals an even bigger bigotry than is usually displayed. It says, “Our people want to stay our people and have nothing of ‘you people’ involved in it…” Sometimes it is because we cannot fathom that anyone could understand our position. But God gave Paul, from the tribe of Benjamin, the heart to understand a pagan life that he had never even witnessed. Beloved, we are the people of God and in Him, we are able to move mountains!
For His Glory by His Grace,
Pastor Tippins serves as Pastor of GraceTruth Baptist Church. More information about GraceTruth and more teaching can be found at GraceTruth.org