Jonathan David Faulkner
Have you read the vision of the last days sprinkled throughout the book of Isaiah? The beauty of the described coming Kingdom, a House set on the highest mountain where Rivers flow up to the summit and all the nations gather together as one. When we will “Beat our swords into plough shares” (2:4) and “He will decide many disputes among them” (2:4). Such a wonderful reality that we will one day see when Christ returns and the Revelation Prophesy is revealed. What a day that will be, when we will see the righteous rule of the Lord, the same God who created heaven and Earth. If that thought does not move us to praise and wonder I am not sure what will.
There have been times in Christian History where we have tried to envision this vision before Christ returned. Martin Luther thought the times were upon us, as did Jonathan Edwards and Phil Schaff and others. This was a theory known as Post-Millennialism, the notion that we would see a glorious age of the Church here on Earth before the return of Christ. While I do not subscribe to that (I believe Christ has to return for the Post-Millennium vision to be realized which is called Pre-Millennialism) I do believe that these passages, which though we are waiting on their fulfillment, have already been fulfilled in Christs first coming. In short, these days described in Isaiah and in Jeremiah and elsewhere in Scripture are merely awaiting their appointed time for the work has been complete by a God who is outside of, but steps into, time. These days are coming, when, we do not know, but we have assurance after assurance that they are coming.
But what does this have to do with reconciliation in the modern day? If you pay attention to Christian Print Media, you are aware that there has been a debate going on in Christianity Today concerning the setting of tables. One commentator says that the White Church needs to open up its tables to members of different ethnicities and colors while another argues that people of other ethnicities need to set their own tables and open up seats for members of the White Church to join in while some continue to argue for the separation that is part of our current crisis in the Church.
It is true that for most of the history of the Church, Western Christendom has dictated the doctrines and standards for what is to be considered “Normal” within the Church and even within the culture. The result has been a white, male dominated Christendom that has even done away with the old testament protections for women, widows, orphans and immigrants. Which has most recently defended a man who glorified his own sexual exploits and has ostracized a pastor for being willing to step out of the shell of what has been made “normal” for the sake of standing up for the other, the one we reject. The indictments in our culture, not counting some of the most insane of them (ones obviously made up) are generally true though not in every case and in some places less so than in others.
Soong-Chan Rah and others are right in saying that Western Christendom has set the table and determined what even constitutes a human and those who do not conform to that normate standard or who have conformed but then subvert that system are not considered or lose their standard of humanity. Of course, because this kind of thought has been normalized, western, white Christendom is not the only group to do so, but they have been the most dominate and loudest voice and most insolent oppressor.
If you do not believe the previous paragraph, consider the article I wrote a few weeks back on Lecrae and his divorce with White Evangelicalism. He was considered human because he fit the white Christian Music standard/mold. When he left that he was treated as less than human, when he left the requirements set forth by the power structure, he lost his human status in their eyes. He was lied about, attacked and his life was threatened. Same with Collin Kaepernick who has been told, along with hundreds of NFL players, that because he protested a flag that had never really represented him, he was less than human. These men stepped outside the bounds of the mold set for him and was treated as if they were less than human because of it by the established power structure.
I think one of the greatest problems with this whole business is that Man thought he could set his own table apart from God. What do I mean? I mean that if you read Scripture you cannot come away with anything less than God has determined what is when it comes to his creation and it is part of our rebellion to want to set the terms of creation and make the standard our own when in truth, the standard is much, much higher and broader than anything we can possibly imagine.
I apply the same logic to relationships in the Church. Scripture never uses the Complementarian / Egalitarian Language in scripture, which is why I think it is unhelpful when discussing relationships in the Church. What it does say is that “And he made them, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). And “Be sure to treat older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters” (1 Tim 5:1-2). These thoughts should completely eclipse our use of certain passages, some of which are highly contextualized and cannot be applied to the topics they are applied to or are misinterpreted and used to justify oppression and violence. The fact is, Kingdom relationships and relationships in the Church are extremely nuanced and at this point, their extent seems more a divine mystery than something set in stone. As in, the Imago Dei exists in all of us, but how they works cannot be quantified by Man and how we are transformed so that this Image that is intrinsic comes to the forefront is a mystery by the Holy Spirit. In kind, Kingdom Relationships are meant to be relationships that are mutually beneficial and beneficial to the corporate body. When we use unhelpful language or try to define it in terms of human philosophy we fail to understand the deep complexity and uniqueness of relationships in the Church. Be they leadership, friendship, pastoral or whatnot. If we are all created in the image of God, man and woman, then we are equal and if all of us have different manifested gifts then we are equal there too in that we all have the variety of gifts and some of us have certain ones and others do not but I cannot say, based on scripture, that certain gifts are given to men and certain to women. It would be nice if the writers of scripture had said that, but it does not.
What we do find is that man, so affected by the fall, cannot determine for himself who God is and who others are without allowing God to dictate that to us through His word. Because God’s understanding is perfect, for He is the created and He has determined in that creation what denotes being human and man’s understanding is clouded and his interpretation is clouded by Sin. The Holy Spirit then is given so that we can learn the things of God and learn them from Him through prayer and His word. We are desperately in need of Him and yet we are not content to let God be God in every way, we have denied Him the power to be the God of Isaiah’s prophesy. The god worshiped by many of us in White Christendom is not the God who wrote scripture, he is a poor substitute that looks more like man than the God of the Bible. It is certainly true that while God has made us in his image, we have done him the same favor. This is to our detriment and should not be praised, in fact it should be condemned since it has done so much damage to us as the Church.
Brenda McNiel says in her book “Roadmap to Reconciliation:” “We need our difference in order to reflect the glory of God which is our mission and human calling. This was God’s original intent in the beginning and it is still God’s will for the human family today.” God created us the human race and determined that we, as humans, are made in His image and that Image is as evident in our differences as it is in our similarities. Man cannot, and should not, undermine this by trying to whitewash or hide behind the hurtful excuse of “Colorblindness” as a way of diminishing the beauty of the diversity that God has said is created in His image and which is part of His plan.
So what is the point? And where does all this talk of tables mentioned at the beginning of this piece come into play. The point is this: God has set the table, He has set the standard and that standard is that He and He alone, the creator, can determine what makes up a human and that standard is higher and broader than anything, yes anything, than we can even conceive in this lifetime and the very moment that we try to use manmade tables or try to set a table and invite God to it we reject His design and His plan and continue our rebellion. When we try to use manmade measures and philosophies to determine what a man is we commit blaspheme against the creator. God has set the standard, He has set the table, He has determined that the table should infinitely and unapologetically diverse, encompassing every ethnicity and color and culture and that this table does not have a limit to the seating capacity or that one person can tell another they are not invited.
The implications for reconciliation here are huge, that is, God is the reconciler because He has set the table and one day, as promised in Colossians 1 all things will be reconciled to Him. Just as the vision in Isaiah shows us, a world that is reconciled to God and where men are reconciled with one another through righteous and just means. For those in Christ, this is our future and our present reality for it was accomplished from the beginning through Christ. It frees us to live together and to embrace one another as brothers and sisters with many languages, tongues and skin tones. The beautiful and diverse Body of Christ that worships Him and transforms this dark world.
Let us start to live this vision today because we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, received from God through Christ who is blessed forever and ever, Amen.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.