Month: August 2018

MacArthur’s Comments on Social Justice: Why He’s Half-Right on Matthew 5:13-16

Jonathan David Faulkner

If you have been following me for awhile you know that I tend to take a hard line stand on the churches involvement in society. The Church is given the Gospel and is meant to live out that Gospel in every sphere. Now, how we do that I generally leave up to the reader, especially as one who refuses preach and agenda or support any particular agenda especially one put forward by the current political nightmare. There is one issue I have and will continue to insist upon: that Christians should always take up the cause of Justice in their immediate context and work towards the horizontal reconciliation we have in Christ. I have argued before that Christians should be engaged in Social Justice issues because the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in tandem with the Gospel compels us to be a people of Justice.

So when a man as learned and knowledgeable about scripture comes out against the idea of Social Justice I tend to wonder if we are reading the same scripture. I do understand that we all approach scripture with our biases and upbringings and hopefully the Spirit will help us put those aside and bring us to what God is actually saying in the text. The problem is, I think MacArthur is partly right in his comments. I have preached on Matthew 5:13-16 as part of a sermon series called “The Hard Words of Jesus” while I was at Stafford, a series I spent a month reading for in total because I wanted to understand the difficult texts of 5:13-20. MacArthur is right when he says that Christ is talking about the Light being Christ and His Gospel and the salt being the Gospel as a preservative. However, Jesus however uses the first-person plural in Greek, meaning “You” or “you all” to refer to those listening to the Disciples. He has also just finished the Beatitudes and will soon talk about his mission to fulfill the law and not abolish it.

Jesus is literally instructing those around him, “you are the salt of the Earth, you are the Light of the world.” Yes, it is true that elsewhere Jesus refers to himself as the Light of the World and is referred to many times as the Light of the World by the Gospel writers especially John. Jesus is the light of the world and his words are the salt of the Earth, but here He is addressing a crowd, speaking to a group of people who have come to hear him speak. He refers to them in the sociatic Those who are there are being told that they are the salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Obviously this conflicts with MacArthur’s understanding as he is quick to use this passage to dismiss a myriad of social situations that Christians have spoken into Moral, Political and Social.

I do understand his hesitancy, and his critique is not wholly without merit. I myself am critical of the modern Social Justice movement because it tends to reject scripture in favor of some enlightened statement of “tolerance” which is actually extremely intolerant. This though, is a result of the Church forfeiting its responsibilities in large part, in the social sphere, to pursue political advancement and power or to maintain some perceived status quo. Christians once led everyone on matters of Justice in America from Homeless ministry to care for the elderly to detox centers and so on and so forth. At the beginning of the 1900’s fundamentalists began pursuing an agenda of social reform through the government and even abdicated their responsibilities to the federal government by supporting The New Deal and expansions of government services. Meanwhile Christian leaders became more insular in their focus and even began rejecting those they had once served. Adopting the rampant individualism of their time and ours they dismissed the suffering as people who simply needed to work harder so God would lift them from their poor state. The result tends to be a Social Justice that is done poorly and without the influence of scripture. In fact, I would even argue that the current Social Justice movement is not even Just since it seems more concerned with turning the oppression back on the oppressor instead of true reconciliatory Justice.

There are, however, many within the Church who understand biblical justice and how it should be lived out. Names like Timothy Keller, Branda Salter McNiel, Bryan Lorritts and many, many more are calling us to true biblical justice that results in biblical reconciliation. Secular Social Justice has no basic or principle for a true notion of Justice, the Church does and many of its leaders are embracing that.

That being said, here is why MacArthur is more wrong then right on this topic: Jesus speaks knowing the completion, knows that He will promise the coming Spirit that will make a way for us to live out the Gospel and knows that one day Paul will call us to be imitators of Christ. He had then the benefit of foreknowledge, He knew that those people could not just hear the Gospel but be the Gospel because the spirit was dwelling in them. They could, by His power, go out and be Salt and Light to the world. The Gospel, working through us, lights the way towards truth and the Gospel, acting as Salt through us is to preserve the society.

One of the ways to preserve a society is to preserve Justice in its highest form. That is, because I can act righteously on God’s righteousness, even if that be imperfect at this time because I am still imperfect, then I can be Just in my decision making and actions towards others. Conversely if I am living a righteous life I will not do that which is unjust or commit any injustice towards my brothers or sisters. In short, a righteous society will naturally do Justice since Justice is a by-produce of righteousness.

I have said this before in sermons but it bears repeating, this was the intention for Israel. They were first and foremost, living by the law of God, to be a righteous society and when they failed at that, simply turned to traditions and practices, God became displeased with them. Not that I am trying to say that MacArthur has brought upon himself the displeasure of God by rejecting Social Justice, but that his theology has always seemed to be a bit too focused on fundamentalist traditions to the exclusion of all else. Preferring Christians be in the World but not really in the world so we can avoid at all times anything that might make us look of the world. MacArthur has written many great works in his lifetime some of high quality, it is unfortunate that he has maligned himself with comments like this and with the “Strange Fire” controversy over Charismatics.

If Jesus is correct and we are the light of the world, as in, the Gospel lived out in this world meant to light and preserve the Earth then we must, if we are to be consistent with the whole council of scripture, seek to do Justice in the church and in the social sphere. That is not a Justice that rejects the Gospel as our secular counterparts understandably do, but a Justice because of the Gospel, the Gospel making us Just as it works through the Holy Spirit to make us righteous. So when we come across an unjust system we can stand up against it and even work to rework it to remove that injustice whether it be through corrective measures, if required, or through just changing the way the system works. Doing so with the reconciling mindset, that total restoration of person and relationship can be established. Remembering that unjust systems are dehumanizing to both the oppressed and the perpetuator. Acknowledging too that sometimes the goal of restoration of relationship is impossible because of the nature of the oppression and the extent of the damage done. (Note: I would apply this to an abusive relationship or rape, not to ethnic reconciliation though I have heard two stories recently about abusers and the abused reconciling).

So, MacArthur is partly right, Jesus is the Light of the World and we become such when The Spirit dwell within us. The Church is not just a mere collection of humans untouched by the divine, but a great family bound together as the continued incarnation of Christ through the indwelling of Christ to be made into a reconciled Holy Temple (Ephesians 2). If the Gospel is to have such a great effect on us then we are, out of gratitude, obligated to participate in the healing work of Reconciliation and Social Justice is a tool we once wielded for that work.

Now, I know some of you think I am trying to synchronize or justify, but the more I read scripture, really read scripture, the more I see God’s heart beats for everyone from the poor to the rich for the reconciliation of us to himself and us to one another in every sphere of life. There may be some spheres where this is impossible right now because of how thoroughly secular they have become, but that should not stop us from striving. God has not given us a spirit of fear, as Paul tells Timothy, but the Holy Spirit which comes in power and grants us the ability to do what God tells Micah to tell Israel, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

A “Troubled History” Should Not Mean Total Rejection

Jonathan Faulkner

I have heard the phrase now so many times in conversation with liberal friends and centrist friends alike. I even came across it as the title of a major article on a historical figure. You may have heard it, if you are of my more left-wing readers you may have even said it. The conversation often goes like this:

 

“What are you reading”

“One of *Insert Historical Figure* sermons/texts/writings”

“Oh, I do not read them, they have a troubled history of racism.”

 

As I detailed in my last post concerning why the Great Awakenings did not bring about an end to slavery. It would be very difficult to find someone from that time period who did not have a troubled history when it came to racial and ethnic relations. Even the famous revivalist Charles G. Finney, an abolitionist, in fact one of the greatest abolitionists, could at times be as bigoted as his pro-slavery opponents. At the same time, and I learned this since releasing last week’s article, he believed that one of the mark’s of a revival of religion was that one turn against the institutional slavery and to the fight for abolition.

 

The problem is, we have 2-300 years of hindsight to look back and see the issues that our predecessors were, to us, blind too. Indeed, they may have been, since as I pointed out last time this was the great sin of their time, a system of thought that was received from the highest form of government concerning the lack of humanity, not just of blacks, but of the poor whites who were considered only slightly above the slave and later the free man. So, they came to a discriminatory system of thought through education and the educated. The fact that our culture ever came to reject slavery at all is nothing short of a work of the Spirit one that we see come to fruition in men like Finney and the Beecher’s.

I do agree with the notion that we should look closely at every aspect of a person. I believe that the Historian does a disservice to themselves when they whitewash history, be it events or people. Edwards, Whitefield, the founding fathers, all have been victims of this whitewashing by historians because history has the misfortune of being written by the winner. I think if you distill a man down to all that is deemed ‘good’ about him, you deny others the chance to have discussions such as the ones we are trying to have here.

That being said, I have long had an affinity for Jonathan Edwards, his life and theology, to the point of once calling myself an Edwardian Calvinist, as in, looking at reformed Calvinistic theology through an Edwardian lens. Now, I have since abandoned that manicure as I have grown and matured to embrace the broadness of the reformed tradition while seeking to learn how that dictates a social theology that embraces the imago dei and holds in tension the effects of depravity. Still, Edwards owned slaves, something I did not learn about when I was introduced to Edwards Theology in high school and then again through reading John Piper’s “God’s Passion for His Glory.” I did not learn this until I read Marsden’s “A Life” and even then I tried to justify it because by all accounts he treated his slaves with dignity and respect and even freed the first one he purchased. Again, I have come to believe that owning another human being in unjustifiable, but I still have been influenced by Edwards, especially in regards to the affections and fruit as a result of the work of the Spirit. I feel the same way about Whitefield, whose sermons I have even done historical reenactments of, but who, as was discussed in the last article, was part of the reason slavery became legal in Georgia.

For my own part, some would say that I myself have a “troubled history” with ethnic relationships because I thought for a long time that I should just be “Colorblind” without realizing (and it was in my case) I was using the term to excuse myself from having to engage my friends in their own context. In my mind since I was taught to treat everyone the same that meant I should expect everyone to be the same regardless of their skin color. What I failed to see then, was the interwoven and majestic beauty of the Body of Christ, which, happens to be made up of many ethnic groups, skin colors, cultures and languages. The sad thing is though that many who read this will think that I have become “liberalized” and have abandoned the Gospel. However, many scholars, Black and white have shown me that the gospel unites us while transforming them, not into a monoculture and thus destroy the unique expressions of worship God created, but, as the 19th century Historian Dr. Philip Schaff says: “Infuse it’s (Christianity) own transforming power into them into the best versions of themselves.”

Actually, if you have ever read Edmund Burke, which I recommend, you know that the truest form of conservativism works to conserve people and their environments which includes their cultures and ethnic backgrounds. It is also within the realm of true conservativism to maintain the world so that mankind can live on it. So the modern day conservativism, a conservatism of power, is actually not conservatism and not in line with Christian Ideology. (see also my thoughts on the current Pro-Life Movement and its lack of Pro-Life language).

Within the Third Great Awakening, during the time of D.L. Moody in the post-civil War America there was a divorce between Christianity and social conservativism. Moody himself believed that the poor were poor because they did not work hard enough. Just a little faith in God and some hard work and they too could share in the riches of their wealthier counterparts. This of course is an idea popular today within the prosperity gospel; “If you do not have enough faith, God will not make you rich.” (see anything by Kenneth Copeland). Until that time, and even for a time after that, the Church did the majority of social work and conservatism in America, even today the Church does a vast majority of the care for the Homeless in cities like Denver. Still, conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals moved away from social conservativism rejecting “the Social Gospel” that took their place. This led to disengagement in the Civil Rights Years as well as Evangelicals told Dr. King to “wait ten years and things will work out.”

While their motivations and systems of thought do not excuse the people of the past, it also needs to be understood that this is what was going on, this is what was inherited and understood. It is easy to look back on our historical figures and project on to them our own sensibilities, but if we went back in time and tried to bring judgement on them based on our modern understanding they would likely rise up and kill us. To understand an era you have to seek to understand how the era thought. As a nineteenth century Church Historian I have to learn to think like a person in the nineteenth century would think so I can share in an understanding of their time period I cannot have from my own time period. It would be dishonest of me to wonder why they had not come to where I was at 300 years later, I have the benefit of 300 more years of history.

But here is the thing, none of this makes these people irredeemable in the eyes of GOD. Let me say it again, none of these things make those of history irredeemable in the eyes of GOD. It also does not mean we should throw out everything someone said and condemn the people we study as totally inept because they did not the perspective we have. In other words, we cannot go too far to the other extreme where we completely reject a person outright in every way.

I think of the recent controversy over the novel To Kill A Mockingbird or the Little House on the Prairie books. To the point that these books are being dropped from curriculums and libraries because they contain blatantly bigoted and racist ideologies. I struggle with tossing these books out because it was through these books, To Kill A Mockingbird specifically as part of my high school English curriculum that I was first introduced to racism as a thinker. Previously my school had done The Underground Railroad night as part of its elementary curriculum but I was too young at the time to truly understand the implications. It was through engaging popular literature like TKAM that I began learning to engage the topic of racism. By the way, the same was true after reading Eli Weiseel’s Night, which detailed his time in the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. If we deny our kids a chance to engage dissenting viewpoints it seems to me we have a better chance of disassembling these dissenting and yes, evil, ideologies and thought systems. Simply banning it only pushes it further to the periphery and makes those who practice it even more angry and harmful because they begin to feel like a caged animal.

In the context of my last article, I can have an affinity for Edwards Theology while still acknowledging that those things which he did that were contradictory to the bible, such as own slaves, were sinful and inconsistent with a biblical worldview. I can also look at someone like Finney and say that while he was bigoted he was right to say that a natural end of revivals, one of them at least, was a strong desire to see slavery abolished and to fight for that end. I can talk about the negatives and sins of a person without throwing the person out completely.

In short, I can say: “Yes they do have a troubled history, and we can talk about that, and let’s talk about the things they did well should have informed their view here.” So that we have a more balanced view, and unwhitewashed and critical conversation about the person or event from history. Perhaps then we can work towards the abolition of racism in all spheres of life first in the Church and then in the world.

 

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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. 

Why Didn’t the Awakenings Bring About an End to Slavery?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

It seems like a harmless enough question, although I should know by now that there is no such thing when discussing reconciliation and American History. When Pastor Bryan Lorritts asked it I felt myself rouse for a fight. After all, I am a historian of that time period and though I have spent the better part of Seminary studying 19th Century Eucharistic Reformed theology (Mercersburg) I have read everything we have in print by Jonathan Edwards and wrote a major paper on the debate between Edwards and Charles Chauncy over the First Great Awakening and traced out how that particular controversy began a series of controversies, divisions and fights that culminated in the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy of the early 20th century. I am currently preparing to write my thesis on the controversy between Mercersburg and Princeton, the sectarians and the Revivalist in the 1840’s. So, when Pastor Bryan asked the question: “Were the Great Awakenings real revivals because they did not bring about an end to slavery?” I was more than ready to answer yes and bring the full authority of my historical knowledge with me, but then I thought about it and though my answer is still yes, it is a yes with a caveat.

Before I go on I have to establish some historical guidelines before talking about this subject. There is a tendency in the modern study of history to commit the fallacy of Present ism; present ism is reading our own cultural attitudes and actions back into history while making no effort to understand how the people of that time period thought or acted. The famous musical Hamilton would be a case of present ism, though because it is a creative art and not a major history paper I have no problem with their presentation. The other thing I want to do is acknowledge my bias, In school I learned a white-washed history of this time period, as I did in college and for years I brought that bias to my study of historical figures. The result was a one-sided view of historical figures, it was not until I read George Marsden’s book on Jonathan Edwards that I knew he owned slaves. So this question and seeking to answer it requires me to do what I claimed to do when I first presented my theory of method for studying Church History, examining every angle of a topic to answer the question.

Because the fact remains, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves, by every account he treated them well: “As part of the family”[1] as one historian puts it, but that does not and will never justify owning another human being, that is indefensible. Inconsistently though, had his family and the powers that were in the Massachusetts colony had listened to Edwards when he insisted on treating the Indians with respect and dignity we likely would have avoided the escalation of fighting in the French and Indian War. His contemporary and fellow Awakening Preaching George Whitefield also had a troubled history with slavery. He had preached and written an anti-slavery pamphlet in Virginia but was told that no one would come to hear him preach if he published it. Shortly after that he worked to convince the governor of Georgia to adopt slavery so he could build his orphanage, a task that he was successful at.

Anyone who is familiar with the story of the Hymn Amazing Grace knows that John Henry Newman was a slave trader who later repented and was the wise council behind the young parliamentarian William Wilberforce who fought for and succeeded at passing the abolition of the English slave trade. In the states the revivalist Charles G. Finney fought for abolition twenty years before the Civil War though he speaks in the same bigoted language of many of his 19th century contemporaries (the only place I have not found it is in the Mercersburg Theologians, one of whom was a German who had theological issues with slavery, the same kind we wish others would have formed).

 

The Awakenings were incredible things, especially if you read Edwards accounts of them or the accounts of the revivals led by Finney or the later tent revivals led by D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. In all three Awakenings men and women and children came to faith in droves, and those in first would sit for upwards of 3 hours to learn what they were getting themselves into. But even after slavery was abolished, during the Civil Rights years and the Graham Crusades left the late Billy Graham lamenting that he wished he had done more to advance the cause of Civil Rights.

The church during the Awakenings and Civil War grew divided on this issue, especially as the Abolitionists grew stronger and won the abolition of slavery in the North. As Lincoln moved forward to prevent the spread of Slavery into new territory succession began and the divide between the churches grew. On January 4th, 1861 Henry Ward Beecher stood in his pulpit in Plymouth New York and called Slavery: “The most alarming and most fertile cause of national sin.” Meanwhile, in the south James Henley Thornwell, a preacher in South Carolina asserted that slavery was a: “Good and merciful way of organizing labor which providence has given us.”

A revival may be defined as: A move of the Spirit of God, directed by God, working towards the outward and inward transformation of the individual or group through drawing them to God or through their own personal decision. Because this outward change is lost in the third Awakening (it was an awakening focused on the inward change) many, myself included, do not consider it a legitimate awakening. But since the other two still did not abolish slavery, was it a legitimate awakening?

As I said earlier, I do believe it was, in fact, I agree with Edwards that an Awakening is an Awakening if it produces outward fruit and in the case of the First and Second Awakenings it is hard to deny that there was some form of outward fruit. Even Charles Chauncey, who was hostile to the New Lights admitted in Seasonable Thoughts on the Sate of Religion in New England that fruits were evident in some who had been “so affected.” In Religious Affections Edwards asserts that the only true mark of an inward work of the Spirit was “the fruit of such a work.” As C.S. Lewis would say two hundred years later in his lectures on Christianity, the evidence was not that nice men became nicer, but that “new men become new.” One had to show they were truly transformed and redeemed. One of the issues that John Williamson Nevin would raise in the 19th century with Finney’s “Anxious Bench” is that it forced “disingenuous conversions.” Though Finney would be the flagbearer for revivalists for a century even to the point of a redaction of his social theology.

The trouble was that there was a concerted and conscious effort to oust any social theology that upset the “Status quo” or was “Outside Accepted Christian Doctrine.” That meant that those who redacted Finney’s works removed any mention of the abolition of Slavery. Thankfully Garth Rosel has restored these manuscripts for us and we can learn more about Finney’s social theology than ever before. At the time though, the accepted thought patterns of the day in America were bigoted and maintained an order of Racism. It would take something catastrophic to dismantle that system of thought.

I do however, think that God was working against the evil of slavery, working to dismantle that system and that is why we had two Awakenings and then a Civil War. The spirit was working to change the lives, inward and outward, of the people and that should have naturally brought about a hatred of and contempt for the institution of slavery. The issue is that those systems of thought were so ingrained that even when the Spirit turned Finney against Slavery, his bigotry remained.

David French made an interesting point in a national review article recently when he said that: “of all the worlds history of slavery, the west was the only part of the world to look at this institutional and call it the evil it was.” Even so, as the Spirit of God tried to move us in that direction through two Awakenings and then the terrors of the Civil War, instead of letting Him complete the work and bring reconciliation, which Grant and Lee wanted not just between North and South but between Whites and Blacks, the church, especially in the south, upheld and supported Jim Crow and segregation, some of whom were my own distance relatives. There are still those who call themselves Christians who continue to espouse bigoted thought and support racist systems. Men like Jerry Falwell Jr. fail to realize that the Church, the people in the pews on Sunday are, according to sociologist Peter Beinart is “Less likely to be racist, bigoted or misogynistic their unchurched counterparts.  The Church today is also integrating racially and socio-economically, the latter of which is not happening in communities that are racially integrating. But this is three-hundred years after Edwards wrote “On Revivals” and almost 200 years since the Civil War and is an extremely new development in Church History as we look to be entering an ecumenical age of the Church.

I think the Revivals were legitimate, I think they were genuine awakenings. The people living in their time largely considered them to be and it would be dishonest for us to tell them they were wrong because we have the perspective of three hundred plus years. However, I think they were incomplete and that the spirit was working against slavery but because people of that time were so enculturated to think in the terms of their time. The entire system of thought was corrupted and needed to be completely torn down. I think one of the reasons we ended in Civil War is because the Spirit was doing that work against Slavery and a war was the only thing that might tear down that system…and even that did not. In the church we are moving towards a total rejection of that system of thought, towards what I would consider a more biblical view with a definition of humanity rooted in the Imago Dei and a call to treat all with deference and love.

Part of the reason for this is that the institutional church, as a whole, has lost the position of power it enjoyed during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively in America (and since Constantine in Rome). Secularization has made it possible for people in some parts of the country to be ignorant of the location of church buildings. Church Leaders recently released a poll that found that 95% of unchurch people polled had never met a Christian. On top of that, the narrative pre and post-election of the current president has been extremely unfavorable to Christians as well as painted an extremely inaccurate picture of American Christianity. The lack of Churches added to the diversifying of neighborhoods and small towns means we are worshiping with brothers and sisters from many ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, though, if you ask the spokes people chosen by the Media to represent Christianity, or who serve on the president’s advisory board, they are unaware of the current trends in the Church. If they would talk to their people, they would find a very different Church then the one they think they are representing.

The problem has been that each event that has meant to be catalytic has only shaken the foundations of the system of thought. It has taken the election of our current president for many of us to realize just how divided we have become and had been. I know, I know, research tells us that people are more comfortable in homogenous groups. But we are moving well beyond a time when homogeneity will be the expected norm and likely will become the exception as communities and churches integrate. Therefore, we must be willing to listen and respond with compassion and, if need be, repentance, in the hopes of healing broken relationships between ethnic groups. After reconciling us to God, as I said in last week’s article, God works to reconcile us to one another, and we have been stubborn and even indignant in allowing God to do that.

I think the Spirit has been working at this reconciling work for a long time. First working to get rid of the institution of Slavery, then working to change the hearts and minds of the people during the Civil Rights Era and now through drawing us together in our communities and churches. I also think this has taken so long because man is despairingly depraved and has fought against such a change on nearly every front. Now, secular culture, though aimlessly so, is fighting for reconciliation, though it is an incomplete one without Christ. We should have been and can be, leading in this area and leading by example.

Maybe that’s what the spirit intends?

I hope we’re open to it…

I Am.

 

 

[1] This may have just been an attempt to paint Edwards in a favorable light, though Marsden makes this same point and even acknowledges that Edwards freed the first slave he bought and had many free men in his congregation at Northampton.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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. 

Life Update 2: CCCC Conference, this Crazy Life and a BIG announcement.

 

Wow, what a month July was…and beginning to August for that matter. We started our journey into pulpit supply on July 1 by preaching at a small church in Dunstable MA. Then spent a week with Rachel’s family, had two normal weeks and then this past week has been one of the busiest I have had since I left Sterling almost 4 years ago now.

 

In fact, this week alone I have put almost 60 miles on my bicycle riding the 6 miles back and forth between Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell as I have gone between the annual gathering and an intensive class on Preaching Reconciliation. On Tuesday we enjoyed the beauty of the opening worship service and a beautiful message on biblical peace from Conference Minister Ron Hamilton and on Wednesday Morning I was officially welcomed into the denomination two years after being approved to come under care.

 

God has been faithful in so many ways as we have gone through this year, showing us both his ever present care and love in the midst of the trials of a hard New England winter and hot (hottest since I moved here) summer. God has walked beside us through everything, allowing us to get away to Ogunquit in May for our 1 year anniversary and allowing us to get away again in the latter half of next week with some close friends down the hall. We have also had a brother who was deployed returned to us and have shared in the joy of welcoming him home.

 

We have also had the chance to share the blessing in private, and now to you, that in the midst of our crazy year we found out in June we are expecting again. Now that we have come through the 1st Trimester we can share our joy with you, our readers and supporters and friends as well!

 

DID YOU KNOW: the baby after a miscarriage is considered a Rainbow Baby, I did not, now I do. It’s a beautiful reality, that as Rachel and I have dreamed of being parents, to see God creating a little life inside Rachel. The ultrasounds we have had show that they definitely take after their father, jumping and moving and leaping and even doing head stands. They have a strong heartbeat and have reached every milestone Shalom did not after 8.5 weeks.

 

We are excited to announce this news to you and ask that you continue to pray for us as we move forward with our final year of seminary and preparing to welcome this precious little life into our small, one bedroom apartment.

 

God’s faithfulness abounds, we are so in Love with who He is and all He has done. He really is who He says He is.

 

God Bless You

Jonathan & Rachel Faulkner

Godsheartforthose.com

Horizontal & Vertical – The Ephesians 2 Paradigm

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Let me start by saying this idea did not originate with me, I have long advocated for it, especially here, but I have longed for good terminology for what I have come to believe scripture is teaching us concerning reconciliation and have struggled to find it until last week when I sat through Brian Lorritts class Preaching Reconciliation here at Gordon-Conwell. While attending that week long class I was also biking back and forth (through the heat-wave) to the CCCC Annual Gathering where we were talking about peacemaking and reconciliation and this same topic came up in the plenary sessions. So, I am bringing what I am learning to you, and knowing the diversity of my audience, I know this may upset some and energize others. So bear with me as we talk through what I believe we in the white church have been missing and even in some cases outright rejecting.

When I teach my class on First Timothy I always tell those gathered that there are times when the divisions in our English bibles work to our disadvantage. 1st Timothy 2, with a break between vs. 7-8 with a new heading, is one such case where the author is talking about one specific issue (prayer) throughout the entire structure and our modern translations make it into two separate sections (in the Greek there is no separation and the passages are grammatically and thematically linked). Ephesians 2 is another area where our modern dividing of the text becomes unhelpful. It is also another place where the Greek links the passages grammatically and thematically, something we lose in our modern English translations.

We all know Ephesians 2:1-9, it is a hallmark of western reformation theology that culminates in every white evangelicals favorite verse (those who know scripture at least) “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (8-9, translation mine). I can quote that passage in my sleep and even tell you the various debates among theologians about the language of the passage, such as, “Faith in Christ” i.e my individual faith or “Faith of Christ” i.e. Christ’s perfect faith in the father to go to the cross in the first place. However, until I started studying the Mercersburg Theology two years ago, I would have been hard pressed to tell you the specifics of Ephesians 2. Had I been conscious of it, my sermon on Colossians 3:1-17 (which is a mirror of Ephesians 2) would have pointed my own theological discrepancy out to me years ago, but as we will discuss in a later article on the Great Awakening and why it did not spur the end of slavery, I was brought up in such a way theologically and to that way I defaulted.

What I have come to learn is this: Ephesians 2:1-9 deals with Vertical Reconciliation, while Ephesians 2:10-22 deals with Horizontal Reconciliation.

Let me unpack that as Brian Lorritts did for us a last week. Through Christ’s victorious, atoning, liberating death on the cross we were reconciled to God. Through Christ we now have a vertical relationship with God, one where we have access to God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The natural result of that then should be Horizontal Reconciliation, or a reconciliation that goes out from ourselves and works to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ. That is, all our relationships with other believers should be reconciled and we should be working to live at peace with one another. This includes those who we generally consider the ethnically “other” the brother or sister who looks or thinks differently from you and I. We are, after all a family of people who are being conformed to the image of God, we are all being transformed in mind and heart into the mind of Christ, a mind that crosses every ethnic and cultural line we can think of.

The problem is, brothers and sisters, in America we have a long history of rebuilding the “dividing wall of hostility” that Christ tore down during his ministry and death on the cross. The Pharisees were gate keepers, working to keep others out, there was also a wall in the temple, the very wall Paul had in mind when he wrote those words above, that said: “Pass upon pain of death.” This wall was between the inner courts and the court of the Gentiles, the same Court of the Gentiles the moneylenders and store keepers had taken over before Jesus ran them out of the temple (and likely after he had gone as well). This does not just apply to ethnic lines, as in between Black and White, but even happens between groups of the same skin tone, wealthy whites have historically built separate churches from poor whites just as whites and blacks have built separate churches because a black man went to the ‘whites only” alter in a church in Philadelphia. That sign, the “whites only” sign, was the Jim Crow era dividing wall of Hostility, today, it is attitudes of the past coming in new forms, prejudice, discrimination, bigotry and yes, racism, that keep that dividing wall standing.

Yet, in Ephesians 2, Paul says that we were saved by grace through faith and now because of that work which God has done we can now be reconciled with one another and can enjoy the beauty of what Tony Evans calls the “oneness” of the body of Christ. That is, we can now look at our brothers and sisters and say to them: “I am one with you, you are my brother, you are my sister, you bring something unique to the table because of your ethnic background, and whatever that is God has redeemed it for His purposes. Therefore we can be one and perhaps I can even learn something from you so that we might better become that Holy Dwelling Place (v. 17) for the Lord. We do not become that Holy Temple based on our individual efforts, it is required that we turn to one another in love and grow towards each other.

The truth we have to consider in light of the entirety of Ephesians 2 is that in being vertically reconciled to God we are to be horizontally reconciled to one another. This reconciliation should start immediately, or we should hope it would. And is guided by the Spirit that dwells within each of us. Scripture is clear, we are to be reconciled to our neighbors even when our neighbor does not look like us, especially when our neighbor does not look like us. If we are reconciled to God, the natural result should be to be reconciled to one another. In short, I am not living out the Gospel in its totality unless I am actively seeking to be reconciled to my neighbor and to live at peace with them.

This was how it was supposed to be for Israel (which is evidenced throughout the Levitical code) and it is an imperative for the Church because we all have one spirit dwelling within us, something our Hebraic ancestors did not have.

Now, this is going to require repentance as a corporate group in many cases. This is hard for us as Whites because we tend to view ourselves as individuals not as a corporate group. If we can do that though, which is how our brothers and sisters from different ethnic backgrounds view themselves (as a group) then we can work towards breaking down the dividing wall of hostility. To some, it does not matter if your family did not own slaves or uphold Jim Crow or racist systems, it matters when you acknowledge and even apologize for what has been done by others in your group because you are recognizing that persons pain and suffering and helping with the healing process.

Now, I know the argument here is: “Well then we would be endlessly repenting and reconciling.” If you have studied History, you know there is a great deal to acknowledge, and yes, repent for and work for the redemption of.

I have ancestors who were southern slave owners, one was even a secessionist congressmen. During Jim Crow they stood on the doors of churches to block the doors so the freedom riders could not enter. Though I am not directly descended from them, it is still part of my family history and if I encounter someone who is descended from slaves owned by the Faulkner’s (which is not a totally illogical since we may have lived down the road from some at one point) then I have to be aware of that history and work to redeem that. In some cases, that may require repentance, in some it may not. It always will require humility on my part to acknowledge the evil of those actions. As for what actions are necessary, that is a place where the Holy Spirit can aid you and strengthen you both.

The Gospel though, demands that we do better, it demands that from my being vertically reconciled to God that I then be reconciled to my neighbor, all my neighbors, including the ethnically diverse. And before we try to justify who our neighbor is, read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 8. It does not matter what we think of another group of people, we have to be able to fellowship in the bond of peace brought by the Spirit if we are to see the vision scripture cast of a multi-ethnic global church. Which is, by the way, the state of the church whether we like it or not.

Again, this is hard for us, it is uncomfortable for us, it requires us to listen, really listen to the hurts and grievances of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but when we do, and reconciliation happens there is a beauty to it that we cannot really describe. This is a long road, it is a hard road, but we are better for walking it.

The hope is, that the secular world will see what God is doing among us and want to know why we are so united and why we are celebrating one another and caring for one another where once we were so divided. They will see in us what the world does not offer, a beautiful and diverse body of believers who love and support one another in all aspects of life and share in the joy of being and learning together as we walk in the spirit.

We are one, let us be reconciled to one another, as we are reconciled to God.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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.