Within the church of Jesus Christ, there have always been sinful thoughts and practices, and one consistent area of sin is that of ethnic prejudice and racism.
In the ancient world, Romans had the tendency to despise Jews, and those of Hebrew descent returned the favor. Consequently, when Christ rose from the grave, poured out his Holy Spirit, and established his New Covenant community, ethnic division did not simply disappear. Over and over again, racism raised its ugly head.
In the opening chapters of Acts, Hellenistic widows were already being sinfully overlooked. This was something that had to be addressed. Repentance and reconciliation were necessary that the church might continually enjoy revitalization.
Some years later, in the Galatian congregation, leaders and laypeople refused to enjoy table fellowship one with another. Even Peter and Barnabas were swept up in this transgression. Paul saw this, grieved, and rebuked them to their face. Then he penned a letter to the congregation letting them know the church of Jesus Christ was equally for all races, ethnicities, and people groups.
Ever since, in every generation, there have always been Christians struggling with racist desires, thoughts, words, and deeds. Some have committed sins of commission; actively they have discriminated and separated from their brothers in Christ. In addition, there have been great sins of omission where people have not loved one another properly, supported one another, and utilized their position to encourage liberty and justice for all.
Therefore, how ought we to respond in this day of ethnic struggle? I propose we all allow four verbs to govern our response.
In the area of racism, while all need to repent of sin, some need to repent of racism. There are some white, black, brown, and whatever other colors we chose to use, who need to talk with God and then speak to their neighbors. Some are found in the South, others abide in the North. Some are rich, and some are impoverished. On both side of the tracks, people have hated and despised one another. Personally, familially, and ecclesiastically, there are many who need to remember God’s Law, remember God’s Gospel, repent of their sin, run to their Savior, and recover. This is not our job to command the consciences of one another; we have a Holy Spirit who does that job quite well. However, we ought all to fall on our knees, with our noses in God’s Book, and ask him to reveal to us the nature of our sin and with whom we must seek reconciliation. This is good worship for us as individuals, as households, and as leaders in particular churches and denominations.
Secondly, in the area of racism, while all need to forgive those who trespass against us in various ways, some need to forgive their neighbors of the sin of racism. It is a glorious thing to have one’s sins cast into the sea of forgetfulness and have God remember them no more. It is fantastic that God has true love, and that his true love keeps no record of wrong. This is the response of the gracious God towards us who have hated him, and this is to be the response of Christians towards those who have hated them, confessed their sin, and asked for repentance. It is time for those in the body of Christ to make a big deal of repentance; it is also time for some to grant forgiveness and walk in unity. Reconciliation cannot take place unless one party seeks forgiveness and the other party grants such.
Some reading this article need to repent of racism, and some need to forgive those who have been racists, but all need to lament. Whether we are from South Carolina or South Dakota, whether we are from Palm Beach, Florida or Palm Springs, California, whether we are African, African American, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian, or White, we should all have broken hearts over the consequences of the Fall and generational sin. We should all mourn that some were subjected slaves while others were free. We should mourn that some are harmed by multi-generational sin and abuse while others were blessed with multi-generational covenantal blessings. A tear should come to our eye when we consider Jim Crow laws that harmed our brothers in the past. Tears should continue as we see the head-start some of us have in comparison with the hurdles put before others. Maybe all of us do not have to repent. However, all of us should look at the handiwork of Satan, the consequences of racial sin, and hate it with a godly passion. It will not be this way in paradise. It should not be this way on earth where the King reigns, rules, and has his way.
Some should see their racist sin and make restitution. This is indeed that which was done by Zacchaeus. He saw his sin, was moved from within, and made his own decision to do good to those he had harmed. The church did not tell him to do so. The government did not redistribute his funds. His heart was full of Gospel love. His eyes were fixed on Jesus. His heart was broken by how he had sinned, and he decided to give back to those he had defrauded. He repaired the damage he had done.
However, while some should make restitution, all should see the plight of our brothers, and respond as did the Good Samaritan. All should love their neighbors as did Jesus Christ. Red and yellow, black and white, all should voluntarily sacrifice, seek to help those who are hurting, and seek the peace and prosperity of the city. This is the Christian’s calling. It is to stem forth from his heart of love to Christ and love for his neighbor. We get to spend our reputation as did Christ when he ministered to Samaritans, Greeks, Tax Collectors, Demoniacs, and loose women. We get to spend our time and money as did the Good Samaritan. We get to sell houses and assets to distribute our wealth as did Barnabas the first century saints. We get to take up collections and send it elsewhere as we hear of needs here and there.
Friends, I think these four verbs could help us make progress in our hearts, our churches, our denomination, and our land.
You who have sinned, repent! You who lead churches and denominations who have sinned, repent!
You who have been offended and harmed, forgive! Do it like Christ forgave you. Do it like Christ still forgives you.
You who have the heart of Christ, lament over the consequences of sin. Racism is ugly, and it has greatly harmed this land we love.
Finally, all you who have the mind of Christ, work together for justice, equity, and opportunity. Use the higher ground you have to lift up your struggling brothers and sisters. Be gracious. Be merciful. Be merciful to those who deserve it not — for after all, is this not the definition of mercy? Serve your God by serving those made in his image. Seek to show them God’s common grace while you spread God’s special grace.
Such ought to be the practice of all those individuals, families, and churches who make much of Gospel repentance, reconciliation, and church revitalization.
If you would like us to send you a story of a church who repented of their former sin and made a difference in their city, please send us a note. It would be our delight to pass on the good news of what Christ did in one church who remembered, repented, and recovered.
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