There are times when a good thing becomes so inflated in a person’s thinking that it actually knocks him off balance. I am afraid this very thing is taking place in the Presbyterian Church in America around the issue of racial reconciliation. It is good to consider whether there is on-going guilt for racial sin in our denomination, but I think this endeavor has become a controlling impulse, distracting the PCA from its primary mission: to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission. Before I go any further, let me grant a few points:
- There are cultural differences in the PCA. Even those, such as myself, attempting to operate as “color blind”, have to acknowledge diversity among the people of the PCA. We should also admit these differences benefit the church.
- Racism does exist in the church. I have seen it with my own eyes in the PCA. I would not characterize it as frequent, or common in my almost 10 years in the deep south, but it does exist. That reality should not be surprising. Sinners sin, even after they are regenerated by the Spirit. Any sin is to be repented of and addressed with discipline if needed.
- Scripture identifies the church as made up of people from all tongues, tribes, and nations. There is a “unity in diversity” in the church of Jesus Christ. There should be no dividing wall or favoritism based on any criteria. We are one people, the people of God.
However, granting these points does not permit the church to turn from what is central in Scripture. God’s message of redemption is not primarily concerned with man being reconciled to man. That can happen without any hint of regeneration. Instead, Christ assumed human flesh so he could reconcile all his people to God. But what is happening in the PCA is a change of focus, manifest in how certain passages of Scripture are interpreted.
The PCA’s Report on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation uses Ephesians 2:11-19 to prove racial reconciliation as a biblical idea. The point is not whether or not that concept is good. I think the vast majority of PCA members would say so. The question is whether Scripture is being used correctly. The report speaks of the dividing wall of hostility and the uniting of races of all color in God’s people (RRER 2409:8-23). In using this text for this purpose, the report changes the emphasis of that passage into something it is not. Paul is not focused on the reconciliation between races in Ephesians 2. That may be an implication that can be derived from what he is saying, but it is not his point. Rather he is speaking of man being reconciled to God. The “dividing wall of hostility” is not between two races, cultures or ethnicities, but God and man. This passage does not even speak of race, but uses covenantal terms to describe all the world: Jew and Gentile.
There are two groups into which God divides men. The first is the Jews who received special status as God’s people in the Old Testament. With the coming of Christ, the Gentiles, who are excluded in the OT are grafted into the olive tree (Rom. 11:17). Interestingly, the Gentiles make up all the other people of the world, with all the different colors of skin that God created. It is true these are all united to each other by faith, but that is not what Paul has in view. Ephesians 2 explains how the Gentiles as well as the Jews are reconciled to God, not to each other. They are saved because God himself tears down the “dividing wall of hostility” between them and himself. Man’s relationship with man is not in view.
The fact there are cultural differences in the PCA does not mean the ordinary means of grace are not sufficient to overcome them. The presence of the sin of racism does not justify an elevation of this sin beyond all the others committed in the church. The inclusion of all tribes, tongues and nations in the PCA should be expected, because God promises that it will happen. These statements are not meant to offend or minimize anyone’s experience when it comes to race. They are simply meant to restore a measure of balance which is currently lacking.
So what is an alternative way of moving forward?
- Pray that God would bless the ministry of the church, both to its members and the world (Phil. 4:4-6);
- Welcome all people into our churches without showing favoritism (James 2:8-9);
- Preach the word in season and out of season, administer the sacraments, and pray (Rom. 10:14-15);
- Disciple men and women in what it means to live thankful lives before the Lord. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort. Lead them to repent of the sins of which they are guilty (2 Tim. 4:2);
- When any man in the congregation proves himself qualified, and they are elected by the congregation as elders and deacons, submit to their leadership joyfully (Heb. 13:17);
- Serve the Lord together (Rom. 12:9-11).
It may seem overly simplistic, but that is my understanding of how God promises to gather all tribes, tongues and nations to himself. The church’s ministry should be pre-occupied with God’s reconciling work in our lives. The church is to be pre-occupied with worshiping the Lord. This focus is what the church must lead with. Always. Nothing should replace this emphasis. When something does, even when that something is good and right in its proper place, the church suffers in the end.