It no longer seems sufficient, given study of scripture, to advocate only for a segment of the Church, but of the entire Church, scripture demands I work for unity for the sake of the Gospel.
Rev. Jonathan Faulkner
This Sunday I preached on the sixth guiding value of my denominations Seven Guiding Values. Value #6: “A Culture of Peacemaking and Reconciliation” from Ephesians 2:11-22. I tell my congregation that these values are not scripture but are reflections of scripture and draw their light from scripture, that it is the scriptures behind them that are authoritative and not the values themselves. Just like the moon reflects the sun and has not light on its own, the values reflect the truth that God has laid out for us by his Holy Spirit through Scripture and He leads us to that truth by the same Holy Spirit (John 14-16, 1 Cor 2:6-18).
Every year for the last four years this website has used a catchphrase to describe the theological direction for the coming year. I usually change it in June. Last years was #FortheUnityoftheChurch, the year before was #EndDehumanization and before that it was: “The Widow, the Orphan, the Refugee and you.” This years catchphrase arises out of a conviction that arose in deep study of Ephesians 2:11-22 in preparation for this sermon. Therfore this year is: #FortheUnityoftheENTIREChurch. Now, I do not believe in #Activism, that is, I refuse to participate in a culture of staged outrage where words are never followed by actions. It is easy to sit here and write about the unity of the Church but if I am not actively working towards that unity then I am a hypocrite, especially if my actions go so far, the other way and cause a further breaking of fellowship.
For our understanding of what we are working for the unity of, the most basic definition is the Church as defined as the Body of Christ sharing in Organic Unity with Christ and with one another both and at the same time visible and spiritual carrying forward and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every sphere of life. I understand that this definition may seem exclusive because it limits the church to only those in Christ, but numerically, all over the world, that is actually quite a broad net spanning every nation, tribe, tongue and 6 of 7 continents. Anyone who has made the good confession that Jesus is the Christ the son of the Living God (Matt 16:17) and believed that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9) is counted among its ranks and that includes all who have died and passed into glory who the church also share organic unity with Christ. So, while this seems like an exclusive definition it is quite broad because it encompasses all who are in Christ.
Christ, after all, should not, cannot and is not divided, even though his people may act otherwise (1 Cor 1:11-15). Sectarianism is a lie, perpetrated by Satan for the sake of trying to conquer God’s people and brings into our time the spirit of Anti-Christ which destroys rather than builds up. Sectarianism has many forms, schism, splits caused by disagreements, sect, separate groups forming around a specific theological viewpoint and segregation, the idea that people of ethnic backgrounds cannot worship together and should therefore remain separate. These are sinful attitudes and events caused by the sins of man and they have the consequence of dividing Christ. They also deny the work of Christ on the cross, which is a blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. When we undo what Christ has done, or deny what Christ has done, we are in sin and the only course of action is to repent and turn from that sin and let God heal us, because He is faithful to and will do so. Would you rather throw yourselves on the mercy of God than his wrath? Following Jesus in words only is to have a baptism of the body, but not the heart. Our faith in Christ is dead, perhaps even a sham, if it is not followed by actions and those actions include doing what He has called us to do and not returning to the old dividing walls of hostility that He has torn down (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Racism is a dividing wall of hostility; it keeps the church from being unified. When we harbor racism in our hearts, the sin of racism, we rebuild the wall that Christ tore down and make a mockery of Christ. The entire Church cannot be the example of unity that it is meant to be if we are walking around rebuilding the dividing walls of hostility in their various forms. John Perkins points out in his book “One Blood:” “All the genetic differences that people see on the surface come from 1% of our DNA. We really are one blood, there is no such thing as different races.” This is why I hate using the term “racial reconciliation” preferring instead to talk about “ethnic reconciliation.” We are called to be a new humanity who is reconciled first to God and then to one another (Ephesians 2:1-22). The way we show we are reconciled to God, is by being reconciled to one another. If you say you are reconciled to God but hate your neighbor or brother, thus creating a wall of separation, and in Jesus words in Matthew 5, committing murder, you may not actually be reconciled to God.
I know this is a hard teaching, and I know it flies in the face of everything we have taught or been taught in our modern American Churches. It is hard because we have learned well Ephesians 2:1-10 but have neglected 11-22. We know full well that God has brought us near to himself, but we are not taught that God has brought us near to each other. We are missing a huge section in the Gospel and it is having disastrous and deadly affects on the Church and on society. We as Christians should not strive to be politically correct, but we need so desperately to be Biblically correct and that means living by its full council, as Eugene Peterson says: “the Jesus Life in the Jesus Way.” The Jews were meant to be a nation of God’s people who were a light and blessing to the world. America claimed that mantra for herself and has slid into the same sins as Israel both during the Monarchy and during the time of Jesus.
#FortheunityoftheENTIREChurch means we work towards the goal of reconciliation between Black and white, young, and old, rich and poor, ethnicity and ethnicity, male and female. It does not matter what your background, if you come into Christ, you are reconciled to everyone else in Christ. The Churches Organic Unity means that you and I are connected to each other by the Holy Spirit through the blood of Christ and when we deny that, we are actually hurting ourselves while we hurt the witness of Christ. The body of Christ is meant to be multi-ethnic, the early church is a prime example of that. Look at the names of the leaders at Antioch in Acts 11 and 13, look at the need that arises in Acts 6 and so on and so forth. Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Galatia, Corinth all multi-ethnic and multi-generational. This is what Christ has created and we should not let anyone tear it down and actively speak out when its members are denying what Christ has created.
The point of this post is not to shame and guilt anyone, but to show you that this is Christ’s vision for the Church, this is a biblical vision for the church and denying that will be to our detriment.
Let us live out what God has given us to live with joy, with gratitude and with peace, together in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding 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 and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.