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 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.