Even though it is 2020 and the world has seemingly made amazing societal advances, ethnic tensions are alive and well. As far as the curse is found, racist tendencies abound. That’s a sad state of affairs and is something the world is right to talk about in an effort to bring men and women together. It is right and good to cross-cultural and racial boundaries in order to love each other as fellow human beings.
The larger world we live in speaks this way, doesn’t it? The need for men and women to get along and love each other is a common sentiment. Yet, I believe the one institution on this planet who has the ultimate answers to the social ills that we face, including the continued existence of racism, is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church, those blood-bought, Spirit-indwelt, spiritually alive men and women that are found around the world have the one ultimate answer that brings sinful people to God and to each other. That answer is, in a word, gospel.
Carl F. H. Henry noted this reality in the mid-20th century. In his little book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Henry called Christians to lean towards the culture instead of away. Fundamentalist tendencies had led many in the church to disengage, to tend towards separatism. The neo-evangelicalism of men like Henry went in the opposite direction. Instead of a bunker mentality, Henry and his compatriots engaged the world. Why? Because they believed the ultimate answer to the problems the world faced was found in the good news of Jesus Christ. Henry writes, “Historically, Christianity embraced a life view as well as a world view; it was socially as well as philosophically pertinent” (The Uneasy Conscience, 18). That is, the Christian faith had social implications that followers of Jesus should bring to bear on the culture in which they live. “A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity” (The Uneasy Conscience, 16).
I believe Henry was right. The gospel message of Jesus Christ not only saves sinners but creates gospel people. Those gospel people have had their eyes opened and are eager to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Therefore, because the church sees the world with Spirit-illumined eyes and through the spectacles of Scripture, they see (imperfectly as we still deal with remaining sin) what is right and what is wrong. And, they know that God has given us the ultimate answer to the problems we face in this present evil age.
Thus, because we love God and love our neighbors, we walk into the hard conversations with the gospel on our lips. Whether the issue is politics, or gender identity, sexual orientation, raising children, international war, the death penalty, or racism, Christians prayerfully and carefully show how the good news of Jesus addresses the issues of the day.
When we hone in on one social cancer that we face, that of racism, or ethnic (dis)harmony, what we find is this: Ethnic harmony is an undeniable effect of the gospel and proper pursuit of gospel people.
Ethnic Harmony and Undeniable Effect of the Gospel
The place to start in discussions of ethnic harmony is in the soil of a Garden in the Middle East. In Eden, that glorious place where it all began, we find the beginning of the human race. God unleashed his creative Word to bring the heavens and earth into existence. The pinnacle of that created order was not lions and tigers, or mountains and valleys, or lakes and oceans, or even the Sun, Moon, and stars. The creation of men and women in the image of God tops the creative chart. Of all the things that we could say, the fact that we can speak of human beings as made in the “image” and “likeness” of God is simply stunning.
Every single person that has ever been conceived has borne the imago dei. That image is not greater in one race or ethnic group than another. Everyone bears that image equally and therefore is of inestimable value in the sight of God. Ethnic Harmony, as we shall see, is a proper pursuit because it is fundamentally a pursuit of God’s original design.
In Genesis 3, however, things go wrong. You know the story. Sin enters the world and not only is there enmity between mankind and God, but between the various people who exist side by side. Men and women can’t get along. Cain rises up and kills Abel. Nations war against each other. Sin ravages the peoples of the world.
God, in his mercy, does not remove himself from the situation and decide to let the world go and destroy itself. He promises to fix that which is broken. He points towards a day when he crushes the head of the snake (Gen 3:15). Fast forward (yes, we are skipping a lot of the story, but I’m running out of room quickly) and we come to Jesus. Here is the promised seed of the woman (Gal 3:16, see Jason DeRouchie and Jason Meyer). Jesus comes to crush the head of the snake and restore God’s people to himself.
Amazingly, and pertinent to our present point, is that Jesus does not come to redeem one racial or ethnic slice of the world. He comes to purchase a people from every tribe and tongue. In John 12, Jesus says that when he is lifted up he “will draw all people to [himself]” (12:32). That “all people,” it seems to me, means all kinds of people. Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, American or Asian, black or white, Jesus comes to redeem an omni-ethnic people. This is confirmed for us when we read Revelation 5 and Jesus has purchased a people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). What Jesus has done through his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension is reconcile a people to God!
Yet, there is more, isn’t there? Yes, indeed! Through the life and death of Christ not only are sinners reconciled to God, but Jesus has paved the way for people to come together. The good news is that Jesus has paid the debt of sin and purchased the new covenant mercy of the new birth. One of the effects of having experienced the new birth, of being a new creation in Christ, is that men and women who are different from each other are now part of the same blood-bought family. This is Paul’s point in Ephesians 2 when Jews and Gentiles are told that in Christ, they are no longer divided but are united in “one new man” (Eph 2:15).
One of the undeniable effects of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that those who have different political allegiances, cultural differences, educational opinions, racial characteristics, are brought together. The most defining mark, their identity, is not bound up in earthly distinctions but located in who they are in Jesus Christ. Since we are one in Christ, we are free to celebrate our differences and live united in our common faith in Jesus.
Ethnic Harmony as Proper Pursuit of Gospel People
Despite these glorious truths, the sad reality is that ethnic disharmony and racism continue to mark this world. Sadly, the church is not immune to the problem. Christians are often guilty of failing to portray to the world the Spirit-wrought unity we have in Jesus. It ought to be true of Christians that we lead the way in the pursuit of ethnic harmony. This is the proper pursuit of gospel people.
When we see the division that exists in the world the right response that we repent and lament. If we are shown to have acted in ways that are racist, if we have sinfully failed to care for and love those who are ethnically different than ourselves, we should turn from our sins. Any time a follower of Jesus becomes aware of sinful actions, whether you knew something was sinful at the time or not, you should repent. We have a hatred of sin and wickedness that causes us to turn and run from it. Thankfully, we do not run to depression, we run to Jesus who has paid our debt.
At the same time, even though we may have not personally sinned in terms of racism or ethnocentrism, we should lament the present realities of such things. We lament the Jim Crow south; we lament the presence of systemic racism; we lament the wicked racist ideologies that continue to flourish in every corner of the globe. In seeing things through a biblical worldview, when we see those who are created in the image of God being treated as less than, as sub-human, as bearing less of the imago Dei than some other group, we lament it. We hate it.
Yet, we do more than simply sit in the corner and lament. We also speak. In the spirit of Carl Henry and other faithful evangelicals, we engage the culture. After all, we have something to say. We speak a word of condemnation towards racist actions. We speak of the coming judgment that will come upon the ethnocentrism of our age and every age. The Judge will come and justice will roll down (Amos 5:24).
As we lament the presence of racism, and as we speak prophetically against such things in our culture, we also pursue ethnic harmony. We make it our aim to love everyone who is different than we are. We want our churches, as much as they are able, to reflect this omni-ethnic blood-bought family. That means we constantly consider others as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3–4). We identity our sins and repent. We lament, weeping with those who weep. And we purposefully pursue harmony with those who are not like us.
Ethnic harmony, after all, is the proper pursuit of gospel people.