Sadly, it seems like no matter what you say about the current debate over social justice and racial reconciliation, you’re already wrong. Somehow it’s believed that unless you share the same perspective and a similar experience as the one you are speaking with, that’s proof enough of your ignorance, insensitivity or insanity. In so many words: “If you don’t agree, it’s only because you don’t understand.” Oddly, many of the same people who speak the loudest about prejudice have already sized you up, labeled you, and dismissed what you have to say before you’ve even had a chance to finish speaking (or writing)!
I understand why this is true in an unbelieving context, because unbelievers begin their discussions from so many diverse and contradictory points of origin. I have to confess that I struggle at times to understand why this confusion is true in the church. Aren’t we all reading from the same book?
Unfortunately, much of the debate around race and justice and reconciliation completely ignores biblical truth (which is objective) and rather centers its arguments around: experiences, feelings, assumptions, suspicions, perceptions, hurts and conjectures (which are all subjective). People are being encouraged to “share their story” rather than “proclaim God’s truth.” Instead of “understanding the biblical context,” they are celebrated for connecting with their “cultural context.”
Personally, I praise God that The Master’s Seminary and its president trained me to focus my attention on the central and eternal realities of Scripture and its theology, rather than attempting to offer some particular approach for reaching a certain ethnic group. I never expected my seminary training to focus on social reform, political activism or the civil rights movement. Why would I?
I recently came across a slanderous and unsubstantiated charge that somehow Dr. MacArthur is guilty of being “partial, inconsiderate and unbiblical” because he rejects the idea that social justice is an essential part of the gospel (https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180813). Surely this is evidence that he doesn’t consider the circumstances of anyone other than upper middle class, republican-leaning white men, isn’t it? But to impute those motives to him would be a violation of 1 Corinthians 4:5, which warns us against judging the motives of men’s hearts. It is also demonstrably false. MacArthur’s posts never mentioned anything about being white, upper middle class or Republican.
If I have gained nothing else from my time at The Master’s Seminary and from our President, I have gained an appreciation for the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God, which sits above ethnic, political and class distinctions. Frankly, that’s the reason I applied to Seminary in the first place. If my goal for attending seminary was to learn more about my cultural heritage, I had many other options for that. That’s not why I applied to seminary. My goal was to accurately handle “the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and the seminary training I received was committed to that. For some, that is perceived as a reason to criticize the training or even become sorrowful, frustrated, or angry about it.
I have personally experienced the pain of racial discrimination. I get it, and I am sincerely sorry for whatever your experience might have been. But I am saddened to learn that some of my brothers, who received the blessing of a curriculum that was designed to produce faithful expositors, would judge their books “by the color of their contributors, rather than the content of their pages.” There is the notion that unless you can find your ethnic group represented in the books you’ve been assigned to read, it is part of a conspiracy to convince people that your ethnic group made no significant contributions. Really?
Truth doesn’t have a color, or does it? Would I receive the truth of Scripture differently if it was written by Gentiles instead of Jews? Should my wife reject the writings of the New Testament because they were all written by male authors? Furthermore, can Paul or Peter or James really have anything relevant to share with me, if they didn’t share my personal experience as an African-American? Would I breathe a sigh of relief if my Greek-Grammar textbook was written by an Asian? Is the truth of Scripture universal for the entire church or does it have to be “shaded in” first to match my skin tone before I can receive it?
I have the privilege today of shepherding a multi-ethnic congregation in the city of Baltimore. Often people will ask me, “What did you do to a create such a diverse church?” I always tell them the same thing: “I didn’t do anything. God did the work, I simply preached the Word.” I didn’t come to the city of Baltimore with some kind of multi-ethnic strategy. My mandate as a pastor is clear, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). I don’t have a “plan B.”
With that in mind, I would like to briefly remind all of us of “Biblical Truths that no Blog Post can Change”.
1) Believers in Jesus Christ are part of a spiritual family.
Once a person is adopted into the family of God they have been accepted into a new family. How many times does the Scripture refer to believers simply as, “Brothers”? That is not to say that the Bible does not recognize that we come from a physical family or a particular heritage. Even Paul acknowledged his personal desire to see his “kinsmen according to the flesh” brought into the family of God (Romans 9:3). I share a similar desire for my family and my particular heritage. However, I also understand that as a believer I have been born of the Spirit (John 3:8), I have a Father who is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9) and my bond with believers is more permanent than the one I enjoy with my physical family members who are not believers.
Jesus highlighted the priority of our spiritual family with these words in Matthew 12:50, after His physical family attempted to interrupt Him in the middle of ministry.
Matthew 12:50: “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
It would have been assumed that Jesus would immediately drop what He was doing at the beck and call of His natural family. After all, “blood is thicker than water” but Jesus surprised those around Him by making the point that “spirit is thicker than blood.” My truest “soul brothers” are those who do the will of God and obey Him.
2) Believers in Jesus Christ are citizens of a heavenly country.
National heritage is not ignored in Scripture. After the flood (Genesis 10:5) and particularly after Babel (Genesis 11:9), mankind began to be divided into nations. As we continue to follow the biblical narrative, we discover that God has a plan for these nations and that men would be “purchased for God…from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” That is a monumental statement! According to one site there are over 1,652 languages spoken in India alone and over 6,000 ethnicities in India. What will unite the nations of the world together will not be their language or culture or their allegiance to their flag but rather their allegiance to Christ. Believers are “fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19) and “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
Again, I’m not arguing that national or cultural heritage is unimportant but it certainly does not have the power to unite men from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” If I spend my time and energy intently looking for people of my particular heritage and their contributions, rather than intently looking for Christ and His accomplishment, I won’t be moving closer towards unity but away from it.
3) Believers in Jesus Christ have been given a new identity.
How do you identify yourself as a believer? If people really want to know who you are and how you think and what makes you the person you are, what would you say? What would summarize you as a person above everything else? Would you identify yourself by your occupation, your hobbies, your family, your nationality, or your skin color or would you identify yourself by your relationship with Christ?
As believers, we have been given a new identity. My primary identification is no longer my ethnicity, nationality or heritage. My primary identification is with Christ. Colossians 3:4 puts it this way “Christ…is our life.”
Paul makes a similar point in Galatians 2:20 where he says:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
My primary identification is with Jesus not with myself. Even though we might have differences in our physical features, our primary identification is not a physical one. Christians have been made new!
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
4) Believers in Jesus Christ are members of the same body.
Regardless of what evolutionary theory might try to teach us, we are all part of the same race. Even without checking ancestry.com I could tell you who your first grandparents were. We can all trace our family tree back to Adam and Eve, which means that we are all related. The story of all people intersects, which means that learning about any group of people in history is learning about my history. Sadly, many African-Americans have been robbed of much of our immediate family history because of the horrific sins of the American slave trade but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know where we came from.
Far beyond our physical connection as mankind, we are also connected to each other spiritually as believers. How close are we? We are members of the same body! First Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
God places each member where He wants and the Spirit distributes to each member what He wills but we are all members of the same body. The church is considered a “new man” where distinctions between Jew and Gentile have been abolished and peace has been established (Ephesians 2:15). Can you even imagine Paul attempting to split the church into black and white congregations? We are one body! This means that the accomplishment of any member in Christ is the accomplishment of all of us! I don’t have to search the pages of Church History to find “one of my own” because all believers belong to me!
Paul addresses the division in the Corinthian church by reminding them: “For all things belong to you,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22).
Every significant figure in church history is one of my people, because we are all connected, whether they share my physical traits or not.
5) Believers in Jesus Christ are subjects of a heavenly kingdom.
There is one kingdom that will stand when all others have been crushed into powder. Daniel 2 describes a vision where the kingdoms of the earth are depicted as different materials like iron, clay and bronze but the kingdom of God is pictured as the stone that crushes them all. Listen to this awe-inspiring vision of the kingdom to come:
Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:35).
As believers we have become citizens of that kingdom. Our nation and its monuments will one day be crushed into powder. It won’t matter who the majority culture is or who the minority culture is. All that will matter is whether or not you have been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).
That’s why the preaching of the gospel has to remain central. The gospel may not change every issue in your life but for those who believe, it changes the most important issue. It places you into the Kingdom of Christ. These are the kinds of truths that I was taught during my time at The Master’s Seminary, for which I am extremely grateful. Those who advocate a different approach to ministry don’t represent me.
If you are faithful to preach the gospel, I rejoice! Paul rejoiced even over those who sought to cause him distress in his imprisonment (Philippians 1:17-18). I am grateful for the faithful proclamation of the gospel, even if we disagree.
Maybe I’ll be considered a “white sheep” because of this post but I’m most concerned that I’m considered one of “God’s sheep” and Christ tells us that there is only “one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16).
George Lawson is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and is the Pastor-Teacher of Baltimore Bible Church, a new church plant in Baltimore, MD (www.baltimorebiblechurch.org)