Christian Citizenship and the Crazy, No-Good, Terrible 2016 Elections

A talk (October 16, 2016) at Cherry Creek Community Church providing a biblical perspective on citizenship, and how that perspective ought to affect Christians’ thinking about the 2016 elections. I link to some other helpful 2016 election resources below.

http://www.cherrycreekcc.org/guest-speaker-messages/

Here is the handout with the message outline: christian-citizenship-and-the-2016-elections (pdf).


Here is the outline of the whole talk. Below the outline are some election resources for the 2016 elections.

This is the outline of my talk “Christian Citizenship and the Crazy, No-Good, Terrible 2016 Elections,” but these principles are the same principles I’ve been teaching for many years, and can be applied to any election, any candidate, any time. Because these are biblical principles, they apply over time.

1. Philippians 3:20: As Christians, our true citizenship and homeland is in heaven.

2. 1 Peter 2:9-10: Our identity as Christ-followers is that we are a special, distinct, and holy people.

3. 2:11: Therefore, wherever we live, we are aliens and sojourners. That is, we are temporary residents, living among the native population wherever we happen to find ourselves.

  • Recent research shows that only about 18% of Americans believe Christianity is the one true faith; only 36% of White Evangelicals and African American Protestants believe this.[i] That means if you believe our faith the one true faith, 82% of Americans disagree with you. America is not your true homeland, and Americans are not your true people-group!
  • Looking at Christianity worldwide, American Christians (broadly defined, that is Protestants + Catholics + Orthodox) are only 11.3% of all Christians.[ii] 89% of Christians do not live in the US. As American Christians, the USA (as much as I am grateful to live here) is NOT our homeland, these people are NOT our people. OUR people are mostly non-Caucasian and do not speak English.

4. 2:11-12: Because we are aliens and sojourners, our behavior is to be “excellent among the Gentiles”…

  • 2:12: So that our actions will not reflect badly on our King and on our people group (see also Matt 5:16; 1 Peter 3:16-17; Phil 2:15; Titus 2:6-8).
  • Do you think this command includes our political choices? I think so.

5. 1 Timothy 2: 1-4: Our people are supposed to pray for those in authority.

  • What is the ultimate purpose for these prayers (2:4)? So that all people can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is our people’s true mission: spreading the Gospel, making disciples. We shouldn’t ignore political goals, but political legislation is NOT the primary reason our King has us on this sojourn, living as aliens here.

6. God establishes institutions of authority for humanity to govern human behavior, including the civil authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14; Romans 13:1-7; John 19:10-11; Daniel 2:20-21; Daniel 4:17).

  • Do you think God already knows who will win the 2016 elections? I do.
  • Do you think God has already taken the result into account in his plan for human history? I do.

7. Scripture tells us quite clearly that God has a number of assigned tasks for the civil authorities …

Romans 13:3-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14: Encourage people to live righteously. Punish people for doing evil. Paul and Peter certainly have specific ideas in mind when they refer to good and evil here, not some vague, morally relative, culturally-shifting concept of right and wrong.

Psalm 72, Psalm 82, Exodus 23:1-8 (see also Deut 16:18-20; Deut 27:19; Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 7:5-7, Ezekiel 34, and many, many more)

  • 72:1-2: The ruler’s character is to be righteous and just. Again, scripture is quite clear about what that means.
  • 72:3-4, 12-14; 82:3-4: The righteous and just ruler protects and rescues people from affliction, oppression, and violence. Which people? The weakest in society. In the biblical concept this includes the truly needy, and those who cannot provide for themselves and have no provider (usually grouped under the categories of widows and the fatherless).
  • These are recurring themes throughout the Old Testament. The prophets repeatedly have the role of proclaiming God’s judgment on the civil authorities (ie, the kings and princes and elders of Judah and Israel) for failing to act righteously and justly, and for failing to protect and provide for these groups, and even for profiting off of their desperate state.

A Checklist for Evaluating Candidates Biblically in any election year, for any political office

This list is based on the points above.

  • Prayerfully ask God to prioritize the importance of these items for you. (This list is simply the order in which I presented the material above, and is not in order of the priorities God has laid on my heart.)
  • Prayerfully consider whether each candidate’s proposed policies correspond to the biblical principles.
  • In the checklist I use the phrase “seem likely” intentionally. We should carefully assess whether the candidate’s promises are credible, given what we know. For example, in the 1980 elections, Ronald Reagan promised Evangelicals that he would appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices. They thought he was credible. Then, when given the opportunity to appoint those judges he ended up nominating Sandra Day O’Connor (pro-choice), Robert Bork (pro-life, but withdrawn), and Anthony Kennedy (pro-choice).
  1. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to encourage people to live righteously?
  2. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to discourage people from doing evil deeds?
  3. Can the candidate’s character truthfully be described as righteous and just?
  4. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to aid the oppressed and the weakest in society?
  5. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to protect the innocent?
  6. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to promote treating all people justly and fairly?

 

[i] Source: 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, my own calculations.

[ii] Source: http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/


Here are some links to 2016 Election Resources for You

See your Michigan ballot: webapps.sos.state.mi.us/MVIC/VoterSearch.aspx

Here’s a Good Quiz for matching your opinions to presidential candidates: https://www.isidewith.com/

Here is a link to what prominent evangelicals have written about their evaluations of the candidates.


Presidential Candidates on the Michigan ballot (in the order they appear)

Democratic – Hillary Clinton & Tim Kaine        www.hillaryclinton.comRepublican – Donald Trump & Mike Pence    donaldjtrump.com
Libertarian – Gary Johnson & William Weld www.johnsonweld.com
Pro-choice, legalize marijuana, local education control and school choice, reduce federal spending and deficit, simplified tax reform, scale back US military commitments and spending.
U.S. Taxpayers/ Constitution – Darrell Castle & Scott Bradley www.castle2016.com
Very Conservative with focus on US Constitution’s specific division of powers (limit federal government involvement in the economy and areas such as health insurance, education, replacing with state government power). Pro-life, withdraw from UN, lower taxes.
Green – Jill Stein & Ajamu Baraka www.jill2016.com
Democratic Socialist. Very Liberal (extensive government planning in the economy, little regulation on moral issues, strong social welfare safety net), abortion on demand, Complete government-funded health care system, , legalize marijuana, focus on environmental issues, create publicly owned utilities and banks, full gay rights.
Natural Law – Emidio Soltysik & Angela Walker www.rev16.us/
Socialist Workers Party. All corporations, banks, insurance companies, and natural resources to be publicly and worker owned. Abortion on demand, full gay rights, full social welfare safety net, legalize marijuana. Complete government-funded health care system, steeply graded tax brackets. Full citizenship after 6 months residence, abolition of borders.
Michigan 6th Congressional District Candidates Republican Fred Upton: www.fredupton.com/
Democrat Paul Clements: www.clementsforcongress.com/Libertarian Lorence Wenke: http://votewenke.com

 

Michigan Family Forum Voter Guides: michiganfamily.org/index.php/michigan-online-voter-guide/

  • Currently only President (Dem, Rep, Green, Libertarian), MI Supreme Court, MI State Board of Education; Website says Congressional guide is coming soon (as of 10/15)

 

Sermon: Race, Ethnicity, and Racial Healing: A Biblical Worldview

Race, Ethnicity, and Racial Healing

Dr. Peter W. Wielhouwer

Message delivered on October 4, 2015, Cherry Creek Community Church, Portage, Michigan.

The text for this message was Acts 11:1-18; the first portion (about 17 minutes or so) is given by Cherry Creek Senior Pastor Ryan Doyle.

PDF of the PowerPoint presentation accompanying my remarks: Race, Ethnicity, and Racial Healing

MP3 File:

 



 

Toward a Biblical Worldview of Race (Part 1)

Bible and Race Title 1Peter W. Wielhouwer, Ph.D. (June, 2015)

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col 3:14)

In this essay I articulate core principles of a Bible-based worldview of the concepts of humanity and race.

[Because this essay is long, I divided it into four parts, and each part builds on the principles developed in the previous parts.]

GO TO FULL ESSAY / PART 2 / PART 3 / PART 4

 

Why? Current events reveal to us that American society, including Christians, continue to be divided over race and racial thinking, problems and solutions. For nearly twenty years I have been studying these questions systematically, both as a scholar and as a Christian. This is the latest in my efforts to contribute to an ongoing discussion about the origins and solutions to the United States’ race problems.

As a teacher of the Word of God, I believe it is important to lay out the truth about a topic before introducing alternatives and problems, just as the Secret Service trains agents how to spot counterfeit bills by first making them experts on real bills. My audience is mainly Christians, as I want to educate my faith family about what the Bible says about humanity and what we call race. Then I want to expose them to major ways in which the Bible has been twisted to support un-Christian and un-biblical thinking about race. I have been surprised and saddened to learn how pervasive non-biblical ideas continue to be used to contort and disfigure the biblical narrative of human history.

Let me preview my central line of thinking for the present essay. Based on the Bible, we know that

  1. God created two human beings in His image, from whom are descended all other humans that have ever existed.
  2. As God’s created “image bearers” each member of humanity is inherently equal in the eyes of God, and He judges people based on the state of their heart or spirit, or orientation toward Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. To the extent we evaluate others’ intrinsic character or assign them value on any other basis than God’s, we sin by dividing ourselves artificially; thus, showing favoritism on the basis of social class or physical appearance (including what we call “racism” nowadays) is a sin problem.
  4. Since racism is a sin problem masquerading as a “skin” problem, Christians are obligated to resolve race-based conflicts as fundamentally spiritual problems with social consequences, not as solely social problems with solely social causes. This must take place at both the individual and the corporate levels.

Some Definitions

The idea that different “races” of humans exist is unbiblical. Historically “race” has referred to a biological species with a common ancestor. For example, Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary primarily defines race as “The lineage of a family, or continued series of descendants from a parent who is called the stock. A race is the series of descendants indefinitely. Thus all mankind are called the race of Adam.”[1] Nowadays, however, the general way people use the word “race” is more like “Each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics.”

To distinguish ourselves on the basis of an idea called “race” is also inaccurate scientifically. For example, the U.S. National Institutes of Health acknowledges growing skepticism about the idea that there are different human “races,” based on analysis of the amount of genetic differences between different populations of the human species:

“research reveals that Homo sapiens is one continuously variable, interbreeding species. Ongoing investigation of human genetic variation has even led biologists and physical anthropologists to rethink traditional notions of human racial groups. The amount of genetic variation between these traditional classifications actually falls below the level that taxonomists use to designate subspecies, the taxonomic category for other species that corresponds to the designation of race in Homo sapiens. This finding has caused some biologists to call the validity of race as a biological construct into serious question.”[2]

And from a social science perspective, Professor Michael Jeffries suggests that the idea of different “races” is a mere social invention.

“Race” is rooted in false beliefs about the validity of observed physical differences as indicators of human capacity or behaviors. Human beings build categories and make distinctions naturally. But there is no biological basis for racial categories and no relationship between classification based on observed physical characteristics and patterns of thought or behavior. Humans do not have separate subspecies or races the way some animals do…The company line among academics is that “race is socially constructed,” meaning that it is an idea produced by human thought and interaction rather than something that exists as a material fact of life on earth.[3]

Therefore, I and many others tend to believe that there one single human race, which has historically been divided on the basis of geography, language, and culture. Instead, More specifically, I try to distinguish between race and other social divisions known as ethnicity, defined as “a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition,” which can include a common language, dialect, or religion.

Ethnicity, being a function of nation, culture and language, is also related to our ancestral regions of the world. Ethnic differences are often marked by differences in physical appearances, such as skin tone, hair texture, eye color, eye, nose, and mouth shape, because across humanity these differences tend to be geographically concentrated. Physical characteristics sometimes give us simple cues about another person’s culture and ethnicity. It is often difficult, however, to discern ethnicity based solely on external physical characteristics (such as telling the difference between Koreans and Japanese, or Iranians and Saudis). People really create problems when they assess character, morality, intelligence, and worth based on appearances. As I learned in fourth grade, this is the very definition of prejudice, pre-judging another based primarily on their appearance. When we use physical characteristics such as skin tone, hair texture, and so on to make such judgments, we encounter the problem of what our culture calls “racism.” Racism as used in our times is commonly defined (here by the Oxford English Dictionary) as:

1 Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior;

1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

It is important to see the difference between these two definitions; the first is a set of actions based on a belief, while the second is the belief itself. As Christians it is important for us to frame our understanding of race and racism based on biblical principles and concepts. These address first the notion that one of the so-called “racial” groups has value or is intrinsically superior or inferior compared with others; and second actions or behaviors that extend from those beliefs. You will note, therefore, that much of the discussion below addresses what race is and what it is not, and assumes the current social context, in which racism (as defined above) exists in our culture.

On to the four principles of a biblical worldview of race…

 

I. CREATION: WE’RE ALL RELATED

Our Creator-God purposively created the first two people, whose descendants are of “one blood” (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7; Acts 17:26). Thus, all diversity in the human race is genetically derived from the original two people.

This view of human origins has long been held by Jews and Christians, and historically provided a biblical basis for human equality. It was not until relatively recently (between the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment) that alternative theories of separate creations, multiple creations, or macro-evolution significantly impacted these worldviews, weakening the traditional biblical view of humanity’s unity in creation.[4]

What about differences in physical appearance, such as skin color? Biologically, there is nothing odd about the wide variation in skin color, which is mainly determined by genes that control the amount of melanin present in skin cells. Of course, evolutionists hold that this is due to natural selection,[5] but the explanation for these differences needs not rely on evolutionary thinking.

In Judaism and Christianity, the oldest explanation for geographic differences in skin tone is based on the redistribution of humanity by Noah’s sons after the flood (Genesis 9-10). Briefly, Genesis 10 describes the regions of the ancient world where Noah’s descendants settled; the first century (AD/CE) Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the second century Church Father Hippolytus largely reinforce these distributions.[6] (The Genesis passage also influenced Arabic Islamic thought.[7]) Additionally, the names of Noah’s sons have traditionally (sometimes apocryphally) been understood as descriptive of their appearance. Thus there is an ancient perceived connection between the sons and the regional distribution of people with different physical traits.

Based on Genesis 10 and Josephus, the tradition has been:

  • Shem means ‘son,’ ‘marked with a sign,’ or ‘dusky;’[8] his descendants settled Persia, Assyria, Chaldea, and Syria. They were known as Semites, and Shem’s descendants included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; thus the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews are Semitic in origin. Even today, persecutors of the Jews are known as Anti-Semites.
  • Japheth (Yepheth) means “fair, light,” “opened” or “spread out;” [9] his descendants settled Europe and western Asia.
  • Ham means “hot, dark, burnt” or “sunburnt;”[10] his descendants settled Africa (Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt) and southwest Asia; the descendants of his son Canaan settled what is now modern-day Israel, on the east coast of the Mediterranean.

That quite different skin tones could exist among three sons of the same parents is entirely plausible, and is occasionally observed in modern times. While I am not a genetics genius, here is a genetic Punnett Square presenting a simplified example of how a father and mother with medium skin tone genes can produce a wide variety of skin tones in their next generation.[11] All that is necessary for larger populations to exhibit predominantly darker or lighter skin is for them to “be fruitful and multiply” primarily with other group members with similar skin tones.Punnett Square Melanin 3The tradition of three sets of differently skin-toned descendants of Noah often produced maps like the one below, printed in 1878, which revealed the geographic distribution of predominantly light-toned people (of Japheth, in pink), medium-toned people (of Shem, in green), and dark-skinned people (of Ham, in tan).

 

Table of Nations Cases Bible Atlas (1878)

Favoritism based on skin tone

While some favoritism based on social class appears in early Christianity, the New Testament author James, the half-brother of Jesus, specifically warns against class-based favoritism (James 2:1-9); and Paul’s letters express the idea that that day’s social divisions were to be set aside within the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:11). Until the Middle Ages Christian expressions of skin-tone-based favoritism appear to be mainly due to a “somatic” preferences. This simply means people idealized their own people-group’s appearance, not that they believed in the natural superiority of their group. Thus, medium-toned people, dark-skinned people and light-skinned people all saw their own skin tones as the ideal and different skin tones as something less than ideal. In general there did not seem to be a value assigned to people based on their skin tone, however.[12]

Later, through the Late Middle Ages (until about the 1300s AD/CE) Christian, Jewish and Islamic explanations for humans’ different physical appearances also hinged on perceived environmental effects,[13] but again the explanations were extrabiblical. It was thought that the more southern peoples were more exposed to the sun and lived where it was hotter, and therefore were burned a darker color. The more northern peoples were less exposed, and therefore were lighter due to less sun exposure. (Some Islamic legends suggested that the heat in lower latitudes caused children to be overcooked in the womb, and where the climate was cold, babies were undercooked.[14]) Of course, the discovery of the New World in the 16th century and its medium-toned people at the same latitude as Old World dark-toned people profoundly undermined this idea.[15]

In short, the Bible clearly describes a purposive act by God to create human beings. In the early Christian traditions, variations in skin tone were not usually related to differences in people’s perceived value before the Lord or their social position.

GO ON TO PART 2

 

———————————-

This essay is the first of three parts in a series promoting racial healing. In this essay, I have articulated a Biblical Worldview of humanity and race. Next, I address the twisting of scripture that produced the so-called “Curse of Ham,” which has been used as brutal weapon in the cause of white supremacy against people of color and against the unity of the Body of Christ.

 

 

———————————–

[1] Although Webster’s 1828 also acknowledges that “race” may allude to descendants of a specific person, such as “the race of Abraham.” This meaning is secondary to the primary concept of the race of humans.

[2] National Institutes of Health (US); Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health (US); 2007-. Understanding Human Genetic Variation. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20363/

[3] Michael P. Jeffries, Paint the White House Black (Excerpt), accessed at http://genius.com/Michael-p-jeffries-paint-the-white-house-black-excerpt-annotated/ 26 June 2015.

[4] George Frederickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2002), 52

[5] http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/skin-color

[6] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapters 5-6; Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, Book X, Chapter XXVII.

[7] Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry (Oxford University Press, 1990), 44-45.

[8] Strong’s H8034 and H8035;; T.G. Pinches, “Shem,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (1939), accessed at <www.blueletterbible.org>

[9] Strong’s H3315, H6601; Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon; Pinches, “Japheth,” ISBE.

[10] Strong’s H1990, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon; Pinches, “Shem;” ISBE.

[11] I sent a more rudimentary version of this Punnett Square to a friend of mine with a Ph.D. in genetics just to be sure I was communicating this point accurately. He wrote, “The image you sent is a Punnett square which is helpful in understanding how certain gene combinations are inherited. Melanin is the most important gene for influencing skin color, but there are many more genes that interact to determine a person’s skin color. Therefore, the chart is an oversimplification, but could be useful for illustration purposes.” For a more complex Punnett Square example see http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-teachers-06.htm

[12] David M. Goldenberg, “The Curse of Ham: A Case of Rabbinic Racism?” In Struggles in the Promised Land, ed. Jack Salzman and Cornel West (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). Accessed via cached version through Google.

[13] For example, see Tony Evans, The Kingdom Agenda (Nashville: Word, 1999), 356-7.

[14] Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, 45-46. The American offshoot of Islam, the Nation of Islam, developed its own bizarre theory of how different skin-toned people groups were created, called “Yacub’s History” (Malcom X and Alex Haley, [1964] Autobiography of Malcom X (Ballentine Books, 1992), pp. 164-167.

[15] Goldenberg, “The Curse of Ham.”

 

Toward a Biblical Worldview of Race (Part 2)

Bible and Race Title 1Peter W. Wielhouwer, Ph.D. (June, 2015)

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col 3:14)

In this essay I articulate core principles of a Bible-based worldview of the concepts of humanity and race.

[Because this essay is long, I divided it into four parts, and each part builds on the principles developed in the previous parts]

GO TO FULL ESSAY / PART 1 / PART 3 / PART 4

 

II. CREATED EQUAL, BUT SINFUL

Because our two common ancestors were created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27-28), each person has inherent dignity. Biblical teaching on humanity’s unique creation from a single couple produced a strong tradition that God sees all of humanity as being in the same fundamental situation.

Though created in God’s image,[16] all of humanity falls short of God ideals and expectations, and we are all sinful, fallen, and separated from him (Romans 3:22-23). God, out of profound love for us, extends His redemptive plan to all people, via his only begotten Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17; Acts 4:10-12; Acts 17:30-31; 1 Tim 2:3-7; Titus 2:11).

There is extensive biblical support for the principle that Christianity and salvation are not constrained by ethnicity, nationality, sex, skin tone, or social status. To cite just a few examples…

  • God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to bless all nations through their descendants (Gen 12:1-3; Gen 22:15-18; 26:4-5; 28:13-14) are generally taken seriously in the New Testament as actually meaning all nations (Acts 3:25; Gal 3:8).
  • Among the Israelites, non-Semites were sometimes elevated to positions of equality with the Hebrews, such as
    • Manassah and Ephraim (Gen 41:50-52), sons of Joseph’s wife from On, a city in North Africa (the area settled by Ham’s son Mizraim). Jacob (Israel) declared them equal to his own sons (Gen 48:5).
    • Moses married a woman from Cush (Num 12:1), a region of Africa named for a son of Ham who settled in West Africa.
    • Solomon, whose mother was Bathsheba; Sheba was a tribe of Cush, son of Ham (Gen 10:7).
  • Jesus’ Davidic genealogy in the first verses if Matthew’s gospel includes four descendants of Canaan and Ham (Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Solomon);
  • Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22-28), while initially being an apparent reinforcement of the curse of Canaan (Gen 9:24-27), has long been interpreted actually as rescinding the curse.[17]
  • Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan (mixed “race”) woman (John 4:1-26) makes clear that God’s salvation comes through the Jews, but will eventually be based on whether people are “true worshippers,” not one’s heritage.
  • Jesus’ Great Commission commands the disciples to go to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:18-20).
  • The Apostle Philip baptized an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:25-40).
  • Peter received a vision from God that there are no people who are unclean, and therefore the gospel ought to be spread beyond the Jews (Acts 10).
  • A major theme in Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the extension of salvation beyond the Jews to the Gentiles.
  • Paul taught that in Christ the region’s major social divisions and classes of the day were to be set aside among Christians (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:11).
  • Revelation states that Jesus’ blood purchased salvation for all people (Rev. 5:9).
  • John’s vision of heaven included believers from all nations who had come through tribulation: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:9-10).

The Fundamental Equality of All People Before God

While God evaluates people based upon their heart and spirit and orientation toward himself and His Son (e.g., Romans 2:12-16; 3:21-26), people tend to judge others based on external factors, such as the way we look (2 Sam 16:7). Nonetheless, the view of historic Judaic and Christian thought is grounded in the essential equality of all people before God, regardless of their ethnicity, external appearance, sex, or social status (e.g., Gal 3:26-29).

While most Christian theology verifies this historic accessibility of salvation to all people, the point has long been evident even to secular observers, such as Stanford University professor George Frederickson, who observed,

“the orthodox Christian belief in the unity of mankind based on the Bible’s account of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all humans was a powerful obstacle to the development of a coherent and persuasive ideological racism.”[18]

Frederickson also observes the odd counterpoint of skin-tone based racism that emerged in the Middle Ages against the core message of Christianity and the Cross:

“What makes Western racism so…conspicuous in world history has been that it developed in a context that presumed human equality of some kind. First came the doctrine that the Crucifixion offered grace to all willing to receive it and made all Christian believers equal before God. Later came the more revolutionary concept that all ‘men’ are born free and equal and entitled to equal rights in society and government.”[19]

In short, though ideally humans are created equal and in God’s image, every human’s sinful state before a holy God means that every person needs salvation, and Christ’s death makes that salvation available to all people. The differences in human appearances or economic status are unrelated to one’s status before God. Divisions have appeared, of course, in spite of this principle of equality.

GO ON TO PART 3

 

———————————-

This essay is the first of three parts in a series promoting racial healing. In this essay, I have articulated a Biblical Worldview of humanity and race. Next, I address the twisting of scripture that produced the so-called “Curse of Ham,” which has been used as brutal weapon in the cause of white supremacy against people of color and against the unity of the Body of Christ.

———————————–

 

[16] By “in God’s image,” traditional historic Christianity does not mean God’s physical image, but that humans bear the imprint of God’s character on their soul and spirit.

[17] For example, see the Introductory Note to The Early Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3, Ed. A. Cleveland Coxe (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1885) (E-Sword STEP edition).

[18] Frederickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 52

[19] Frederickson, Racism, p. 11.

 

Toward a Biblical Worldview of Race (Part 3)

Bible and Race Title 1Peter W. Wielhouwer, Ph.D. (June, 2015)

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col 3:14)

In this essay I articulate core principles of a Bible-based worldview of the concepts of humanity and race.

[Because this essay is long, I divided it into four parts, and each part builds on the principles developed in the previous parts]

GO TO FULL ESSAY / PART 1 / PART 2PART 4

 

 III. WE DIVIDE OURSELVES FOR THE WRONG REASONS

Although God divided people supernaturally by giving different groups different languages at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11), and called Israel, and later, Christians, to be a separate and holy nation (Exodus 19:16, Deut 7:6; Hosea 1:10; 1 Peter 2:9-12), people also have a tendency to divide themselves, but on a sinful basis.

Sin is self-centeredness, ignoring God’s will, and missing the mark of God-ordained behavior and attitudes.[20] Thus, when people place themselves above others on the basis of some external characteristic, such as social class, we impose our own idolatrous self-will over and above God’s standards for judgment; we say that our standards are better than God’s (e.g., James 2:1-9).

The clear inference is that sinful attitudes include a belief in one’s own (or one’s group’s) superiority based on social, economic, appearance, ethnic, or “racial” categories. This is not the same thing as recognizing that important differences may exist within and between groups, or that cultures differ across ethnicities. But our heart and attitudes regarding those differences are the central issue. This is especially the case when we use physical characteristics to assign different levels of value or desirability or dignity to another person or group, whether we do this consciously or subconsciously.

As Dr. Tony Evans puts it,

“racism is not first and foremost a skin problem. It is a sin problem.”[21]

Individual sins have collective consequences

Now, the problem of sin is at first an individual problem, but sin usually has collective consequences. For example, a father may sin against his wife, but their children often experience the effects of that sin, though they have done nothing wrong. The Bible is full of examples of people bearing the consequences of another person’s sinful actions. In fact, it is the very nature of sin; from the beginning, Adam’s and Eve’s individual sins wrought consequences for all of their descendants (Rom 5:12-20).

Moreover, when individuals with a bent toward sin are given authority over others, they may be prone to manage that relationship unjustly. (This is why the Bible spends so much time limiting and constraining the power that can be exercised by fathers, elders, kings, employers, and slave-owners!) For example, God gives fathers authority over their households. But a father who establishes an unjust disciplinary system in his home violates the authority with which he has been legitimately entrusted. His family management system must be adjusted in order to realign it with God’s will and plan for the Christian home. The first step may be converting, educating or correcting the father. But if the father doesn’t change the old system, even his redeemed soul will continue to exact injustice in the household via the old rules. No, the rules and system must be changed in order for a just family order to prevail. Moreover, the damaged familial relationships must be restored and healed.

The analogy may be applied to race-based divisions. Those in authority may legislate unjust laws, even if the legislator is or claims to be Christian. The general concept of an unjust law was expressed by Martin Luther King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote,

“How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”[22]

Christians see the Bible as a revelation of God’s eternal moral law. So it provides, if rightly understood, general principles and guidelines for establishing just human laws. If the legislator who sets up an unjust law is shown the error of his or her ways and changes his or her behavior and attitudes, that is good! But it doesn’t change the fact that the earlier attitude was institutionalized into the community’s social norms and legal codes. These must be changed as well.

Source: CNN

Source: CNN

In the case of American racial and ethnic history, men with unbiblical views on race were often the ones writing the rules (such as constitutions, laws, and municipal codes), and they often incorporated those views into the systems with which they had been entrusted. Sadly, there are many examples of this, such as the nation’s toleration of slavery, northerners profiteering from the slave trade, California’s anti-Chinese laws, and so on. (The use of the Bible to justify and defend American slavery is an extremely complicated topic, beyond the scope of this essay, and much has already been written about that.) One of the most egregious and widespread examples was the notorious “Jim Crow” system of comprehensive race-based social and economic stratification included in the legal codes of most of the US southern states after the post-Civil War Reconstruction. These were perhaps the most damaging of all, because they were often specifically justified and defended, as slavery had been beforehand, through the misinterpretation and misapplication of God’s Word.

It becomes clear that laws that encoded racist values into society were unjust, for they did not align with God’s basis of dividing humanity, and instead were based on sinful attitudes of racial superiority and favoritism. It is important to identify laws that continue to implement racist thinking and undo them; there is, of course, great political disagreement about how to identify such laws and what the remedies are. Such an extensive discussion is beyond the scope of this essay.

But it is possible to identify the principles of a strategy for undoing unjust laws. Such a strategy takes two initial steps, for which there is no ideal order, followed by two secondary steps.

  • The heart of the legislator(s) must be realigned with God’s will.
  • The laws must be realigned with God’s eternal law. It is acceptable to realign the law regardless of whether the legislator’s heart has been realigned.
  • Reconciliation between groups must take place, both at the individual and collective level. For example, those who imposed the racist legislation must repent of their sin and reconcile with those whom they oppressed, and the oppressed must forgive the former racist. Collectively, this might look like the Southern Baptist Convention repenting and seeking forgiveness for its racist origins and history.
  • Finally, part of the reconciliation may include an evaluation of the extent to which principles of restorative justice ought to be implemented to address the long-term consequences of the unjust laws on individuals. The longer the unjust regime was in place, the more profound the effects may be, and thus the more expensive the restitution is likely to be.

GO ON TO PART 4

 

 

———————————-

This essay is the first of three parts in a series promoting racial healing. In this essay, I have articulated a Biblical Worldview of humanity and race. Next, I address the twisting of scripture that produced the so-called “Curse of Ham,” which has been used as brutal weapon in the cause of white supremacy against people of color and against the unity of the Body of Christ.

———————————–

[20] E.g., “Sin,” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

[21] Evans, Kingdom Agenda, p. 364.

[22] King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 16 April 1963. Accessed at www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

 

Toward a Biblical Worldview of Race (Part 4)

Bible and Race Title 1Peter W. Wielhouwer, Ph.D. (June, 2015)

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col 3:14)

In this essay I articulate core principles of a Bible-based worldview of the concepts of humanity and race.

[Because this essay is long, I divided it into four parts, and each part builds on the principles developed in the previous parts]

GO TO FULL ESSAY / PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 3

 

IV. PRACTICAL HEALING OF RACIAL SINS

Christians are obligated to resolve our conflicts. But to truly do so, our community’s race-based conflicts must be acknowledged as fundamentally spiritual problems with social consequences, not as solely social problems with solely social causes.

Dr. Tony Evans notes,

“But once you admit that racism is a sin problem, you are obligated as a believer to deal with it right away. As long as the issue of race is social and not spiritual, it will never be dealt with in any ultimate sense.”[23]

Recent events have revealed the deep faultlines that divide American society by race. The riots after Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson in 2014, Baltimore’s riots after Freddy Gray’s death in police custody, and the shooting of nine African-Americans in Charleston in 2015 make clear that we have a problem. Now, I am not claiming any easy solutions or trying to pile on white guilt-feelings per se, or absolve trouble makers from being held responsible for the trouble they have made. But…

Christians—especially white Christians—must be brutally honest about the role that racism and corrupted Christian teachings have played in excavating the racial faultlines in our long and complicated history.

While it is true that racism begins as one individual’s sin, the sin of racism was aggregated, legitimated, and institutionalized so that the sins of many “ones” multiplied. And the legal, social, and political consequences for our African-American brethren were profound. Social structures supporting racial injustice were created, and therefore those social structures had to be dismantled.

Scripture and churches were corrupted by sketchy theological interpretations designed to support the worldview of white supremacy and keep slaves and later, free black people, quiescent. Frederick Douglass observed in 1846,

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

It is from the pulpit that we have sermons on behalf of slavery…I have heard sermon after sermon, when a slave, intended to make me satisfied with my condition, telling me that it is the position God intended me to occupy; that if I offend against my master, I offend against God; that my happiness in time and eternity depends on my entire obedience to my master. Those are the doctrines taught among slaves, and the slave-holders themselves have become conscious about holding slaves in bondage, and their consciences have been lulled to sleep by the preaching and teaching of the Southern American pulpits. “There is no place,” said an Abolitionist in the United States, “where slavery finds a more secure abode than under the shadow of the sanctuary.”[24]

Those unbiblical scriptural interpretations and messages had to be undone and untaught, and some of that work still needs to be done. (I will have more to say on that that in the next couple of posts.)

We must also acknowledge that the damage to the family of God has been deep. Often the social and legal changes were imposed before the sinful attitudes that created and laid the foundation for Jim Crow were addressed, generating resentment and anger that remains. The work of restoration and healing is not finished, and cannot ultimately be finished by statute.

As I have written elsewhere, social science has established clearly that white Americans and African Americans view racism differently. White people tend to view racism as an individual attitude (I have argued that it is an individual sin), while black people tend to view racism as a characteristic of our political and social system (making it a collective sin). As should be clear, these are two edges of the same sword. White Christians are obligated to understand the perspective of their African-American Christian brethren. And Black Christians are obligated to understand the perspective of their White brethren. Many of us ignorantly push forward attitudes that do nothing to pursue and improve the unity of the Body of Christ. Instead, we steadfastly (or stubbornly) refuse to consider changing the way we think or our preferences for the sake of others and the sake of Christ’s Bride.

The broader problem, however, is that as America moves away from a common understanding of sin and humanity’s intrinsic sinfulness, the real basis for racial reconciliation becomes more elusive. If we don’t agree on the concept of sin, healing becomes difficult, because clear and truthful communication about the real problem will be hindered. It is thus the responsibility of members of the Body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to initiate and follow through on racial reconciliation and healing based on its real and actual causes. We must set aside our own preferences for the way we wish things were, or the way we have come to identify with our personal heritages.

Healing and Reconciliation is individual and group work

Scripturally there are clear processes for resolving interpersonal conflicts between Christians, and some of that work must be done. There is much written on this, and I don’t have the space to address it here, but it includes:

  • The sinner repenting and seeking forgiveness;
  • the victim forgiving the sinner;
  • the sinner pursuing the victim to seek reconciliation and forgiveness;
  • the victim pursuing the sinner to seek reconciliation and offer forgiveness; and
  • a spirit of mutual love and respect as co-equal children of God and followers of Christ.

It does not include, as one African-American brother in the Lord put it, browbeating others into submission.

As a side note, the non-Christian world will not understand this, they will marvel at it! This week I was watching The Rundown (MSNBC) host José Díaz-Balart interview Pastor Stephen Singleton from Charleston, South Carolina, where a few days earlier nine black churchgoers were murdered in church by a white man hoping to start a race war. Díaz-Balart seemed genuinely perplexed by Christian family members’ willingness to express forgiveness toward the shooter so soon:

“I was struck over and over again how they said ‘We forgive you.’ What kind of a person does that? How is one able to have so much forgiveness against evil?”[25]

Brothers and sisters—the government can’t do this. The NAACP can’t do this. The other church down the road can’t do this (alone). Islam can’t do this. Social do-gooders can’t do this. We, the followers of Jesus Christ, must do this. It is the right thing to do, to imitate Christ, to set aside our own self-interest and put others’ interests above our own (Phil 2:3-15), and work together for healing, pursuing the unity of the Body.

We must work together toward the common goal our Lord has set for His Church in human history, both setting aside our personal histories and leveraging those histories to strengthen the work of the Body. These histories include our ethnicities. As Tony Evans recently wrote,

The reason why we haven’t solved the racial divide in America after hundreds of years is because people apart from God are trying to invent unity, while people who belong to God are not living out the unity that we already possess….Unity can be defined in its most basic of terms as oneness of purpose. It means working together toward a common goal….God has a team. It’s made up of African-American, Anglo, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, and a variety of other people and cultures. He never wants you to make your distinction, your history or your background, so precious to you that it messes up His team. Nor does He want you to ignore or diminish your distinction, your history or your background, thus leaving little with which to contribute to His team.

At the individual level, if you know that what you do has a very negative effect on another person, STOP IT!

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

Seek forgiveness from your neighbor or co-worker or your kid’s teacher. Legally, do we have to change our hearts? No, we’re free to continue on, but as Russell Moore points out, “we should not prize our freedom to the point of destroying those for whom Christ died. We should instead ‘pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding’ (Rom. 14:19).” For example, New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson relates how a white friend, who, without asking, took down his Confederate battle flag, simply because he came to realize that Watson found it offensive and hurtful. No demands, no screaming, no protests, just friends learning to love one another in harmony. How good that is!

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

Conclusion

Once Christians acknowledge the foundational biblical principles of a human self-concept based on creation and equality before God; once we decide to leverage our already-existing unity, and apply principles of peace-seeking and reconciliation to damaged relationships; once we have really begun implementing spiritual chemotherapy against the cancer of racism; and once we operate from a position of biblical orthodoxy and not liberalism, broader social changes and healing are bound to follow.

 

GO TO FULL ESSAY

———————————-

This essay is the first of three parts in a series promoting racial healing. In this essay, I have articulated a Biblical Worldview of humanity and race. Next, I address the twisting of scripture that produced the so-called “Curse of Ham,” which has been used as brutal weapon in the cause of white supremacy against people of color and against the unity of the Body of Christ.

———————————–

 

[23] Kingdom Agenda, 364-5. See also Ron Miller, 2015, “Make Us One: Looking at race through the eyes of God,” PowerPoint presentation, personal copy.

[24] Frederick Douglass, “Slavery in the Pulpit of the Evangelical Alliance: An Address Delivered in London, England, on September 14, 1846.” London Inquirer, September 19, 1846 and London Patriot, September 17, 1846. www.yale.edu/glc/archive/1083.htm

[25] “Emanuel AME Church holds Bible study for first time since shooting,” MSNBC Broadcast June 25, 2015.

Toward a Biblical Worldview of Race

Bible and Race Title 1Peter W. Wielhouwer, Ph.D. (June, 2015)

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Col 3:14)

In this essay I articulate core principles of a Bible-based worldview of the concepts of humanity and race.

[Because this essay is long, I have a version in which I divide it into four parts. If you want to read it in shorter chunks, keep in mind that each later part builds on the ideas developed in the earlier parts. To read it part-by-part, start with PART 1]

Why? Current events reveal to us that American society, including Christians, continue to be divided over race and racial thinking, problems and solutions. For nearly twenty years I have been studying these questions systematically, both as a scholar and as a Christian. This is the latest in my efforts to contribute to an ongoing discussion about the origins and solutions to the United States’ race problems.

As a teacher of the Word of God, I believe it is important to lay out the truth about a topic before introducing alternatives and problems, just as the Secret Service trains agents how to spot counterfeit bills by first making them experts on real bills. My audience is mainly Christians, as I want to educate my faith family about what the Bible says about humanity and what we call race. Then I want to expose them to major ways in which the Bible has been twisted to support un-Christian and un-biblical thinking about race. I have been surprised and saddened to learn how pervasive non-biblical ideas continue to be used to contort and disfigure the biblical narrative of human history.

Let me preview my central line of thinking for the present essay. Based on the Bible, we know that

  1. God created two human beings in His image, from whom are descended all other humans that have ever existed.
  2. As God’s created “image bearers” each member of humanity is inherently equal in the eyes of God, and He judges people based on the state of their heart or spirit, or orientation toward Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. To the extent we evaluate others’ intrinsic character or assign them value on any other basis than God’s, we sin by dividing ourselves artificially; thus, showing favoritism on the basis of social class or physical appearance (including what we call “racism” nowadays) is a sin problem.
  4. Since racism is a sin problem masquerading as a “skin” problem, Christians are obligated to resolve race-based conflicts as fundamentally spiritual problems with social consequences, not as solely social problems with solely social causes. This must take place at both the individual and the corporate levels.

Some Definitions

The idea that different “races” of humans exist is unbiblical. Historically “race” has referred to a biological species with a common ancestor. For example, Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary primarily defines race as “The lineage of a family, or continued series of descendants from a parent who is called the stock. A race is the series of descendants indefinitely. Thus all mankind are called the race of Adam.”[1] Nowadays, however, the general way people use the word “race” is more like “Each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics.”

To distinguish ourselves on the basis of an idea called “race” is also inaccurate scientifically. For example, the U.S. National Institutes of Health acknowledges growing skepticism about the idea that there are different human “races,” based on analysis of the amount of genetic differences between different populations of the human species:

“research reveals that Homo sapiens is one continuously variable, interbreeding species. Ongoing investigation of human genetic variation has even led biologists and physical anthropologists to rethink traditional notions of human racial groups. The amount of genetic variation between these traditional classifications actually falls below the level that taxonomists use to designate subspecies, the taxonomic category for other species that corresponds to the designation of race in Homo sapiens. This finding has caused some biologists to call the validity of race as a biological construct into serious question.”[2]

And from a social science perspective, Professor Michael Jeffries suggests that the idea of different “races” is a mere social invention.

“Race” is rooted in false beliefs about the validity of observed physical differences as indicators of human capacity or behaviors. Human beings build categories and make distinctions naturally. But there is no biological basis for racial categories and no relationship between classification based on observed physical characteristics and patterns of thought or behavior. Humans do not have separate subspecies or races the way some animals do…The company line among academics is that “race is socially constructed,” meaning that it is an idea produced by human thought and interaction rather than something that exists as a material fact of life on earth.[3]

Therefore, I and many others tend to believe that there one single human race, which has historically been divided on the basis of geography, language, and culture. Instead, More specifically, I try to distinguish between race and other social divisions known as ethnicity, defined as “a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition,” which can include a common language, dialect, or religion.

Ethnicity, being a function of nation, culture and language, is also related to our ancestral regions of the world. Ethnic differences are often marked by differences in physical appearances, such as skin tone, hair texture, eye color, eye, nose, and mouth shape, because across humanity these differences tend to be geographically concentrated. Physical characteristics sometimes give us simple cues about another person’s culture and ethnicity. It is often difficult, however, to discern ethnicity based solely on external physical characteristics (such as telling the difference between Koreans and Japanese, or Iranians and Saudis). People really create problems when they assess character, morality, intelligence, and worth based on appearances. As I learned in fourth grade, this is the very definition of prejudice, pre-judging another based primarily on their appearance. When we use physical characteristics such as skin tone, hair texture, and so on to make such judgments, we encounter the problem of what our culture calls “racism.” Racism as used in our times is commonly defined (here by the Oxford English Dictionary) as:

1 Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior;

1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

It is important to see the difference between these two definitions; the first is a set of actions based on a belief, while the second is the belief itself. As Christians it is important for us to frame our understanding of race and racism based on biblical principles and concepts. These address first the notion that one of the so-called “racial” groups has value or is intrinsically superior or inferior compared with others; and second actions or behaviors that extend from those beliefs. You will note, therefore, that much of the discussion below addresses what race is and what it is not, and assumes the current social context, in which racism (as defined above) exists in our culture.

On to the four principles of a biblical worldview of race…

 

I. CREATION: WE’RE ALL RELATED

Our Creator-God purposively created the first two people, whose descendants are of “one blood” (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7; Acts 17:26). Thus, all diversity in the human race is genetically derived from the original two people.

This view of human origins has long been held by Jews and Christians, and historically provided a biblical basis for human equality. It was not until relatively recently (between the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment) that alternative theories of separate creations, multiple creations, or macro-evolution significantly impacted these worldviews, weakening the traditional biblical view of humanity’s unity in creation.[4]

What about differences in physical appearance, such as skin color? Biologically, there is nothing odd about the wide variation in skin color, which is mainly determined by genes that control the amount of melanin present in skin cells. Of course, evolutionists hold that this is due to natural selection,[5] but the explanation for these differences needs not rely on evolutionary thinking.

In Judaism and Christianity, the oldest explanation for geographic differences in skin tone is based on the redistribution of humanity by Noah’s sons after the flood (Genesis 9-10). Briefly, Genesis 10 describes the regions of the ancient world where Noah’s descendants settled; the first century (AD/CE) Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the second century Church Father Hippolytus largely reinforce these distributions.[6] (The Genesis passage also influenced Arabic Islamic thought.[7]) Additionally, the names of Noah’s sons have traditionally (sometimes apocryphally) been understood as descriptive of their appearance. Thus there is an ancient perceived connection between the sons and the regional distribution of people with different physical traits.

Based on Genesis 10 and Josephus, the tradition has been:

  • Shem means ‘son,’ ‘marked with a sign,’ or ‘dusky;’[8] his descendants settled Persia, Assyria, Chaldea, and Syria. They were known as Semites, and Shem’s descendants included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; thus the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews are Semitic in origin. Even today, persecutors of the Jews are known as Anti-Semites.
  • Japheth (Yepheth) means “fair, light,” “opened” or “spread out;” [9] his descendants settled Europe and western Asia.
  • Ham means “hot, dark, burnt” or “sunburnt;”[10] his descendants settled Africa (Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt) and southwest Asia; the descendants of his son Canaan settled what is now modern-day Israel, on the east coast of the Mediterranean.

That quite different skin tones could exist among three sons of the same parents is entirely plausible, and is occasionally observed in modern times. While I am not a genetics genius, here is a genetic Punnett Square presenting a simplified example of how a father and mother with medium skin tone genes can produce a wide variety of skin tones in their next generation.[11] All that is necessary for larger populations to exhibit predominantly darker or lighter skin is for them to “be fruitful and multiply” primarily with other group members with similar skin tones.Punnett Square Melanin 3The tradition of three sets of differently skin-toned descendants of Noah often produced maps like the one below, printed in 1878, which revealed the geographic distribution of predominantly light-toned people (of Japheth, in pink), medium-toned people (of Shem, in green), and dark-skinned people (of Ham, in tan).

 

Table of Nations Cases Bible Atlas (1878)

Favoritism based on skin tone

While some favoritism based on social class appears in early Christianity, the New Testament author James, the half-brother of Jesus, specifically warns against class-based favoritism (James 2:1-9); and Paul’s letters express the idea that that day’s social divisions were to be set aside within the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:11). Until the Middle Ages Christian expressions of skin-tone-based favoritism appear to be mainly due to a “somatic” preferences. This simply means people idealized their own people-group’s appearance, not that they believed in the natural superiority of their group. Thus, medium-toned people, dark-skinned people and light-skinned people all saw their own skin tones as the ideal and different skin tones as something less than ideal. In general there did not seem to be a value assigned to people based on their skin tone, however.[12]

Later, through the Late Middle Ages (until about the 1300s AD/CE) Christian, Jewish and Islamic explanations for humans’ different physical appearances also hinged on perceived environmental effects,[13] but again the explanations were extrabiblical. It was thought that the more southern peoples were more exposed to the sun and lived where it was hotter, and therefore were burned a darker color. The more northern peoples were less exposed, and therefore were lighter due to less sun exposure. (Some Islamic legends suggested that the heat in lower latitudes caused children to be overcooked in the womb, and where the climate was cold, babies were undercooked.[14]) Of course, the discovery of the New World in the 16th century and its medium-toned people at the same latitude as Old World dark-toned people profoundly undermined this idea.[15]

In short, the Bible clearly describes a purposive act by God to create human beings. In the early Christian traditions, variations in skin tone were not usually related to differences in people’s perceived value before the Lord or their social position.

 

II. CREATED EQUAL, BUT SINFUL

Because our two common ancestors were created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27-28), each person has inherent dignity. Biblical teaching on humanity’s unique creation from a single couple produced a strong tradition that God sees all of humanity as being in the same fundamental situation.

Though created in God’s image,[16] all of humanity falls short of God ideals and expectations, and we are all sinful, fallen, and separated from him (Romans 3:22-23). God, out of profound love for us, extends His redemptive plan to all people, via his only begotten Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17; Acts 4:10-12; Acts 17:30-31; 1 Tim 2:3-7; Titus 2:11).

There is extensive biblical support for the principle that Christianity and salvation are not constrained by ethnicity, nationality, sex, skin tone, or social status. To cite just a few examples…

  • God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to bless all nations through their descendants (Gen 12:1-3; Gen 22:15-18; 26:4-5; 28:13-14) are generally taken seriously in the New Testament as actually meaning all nations (Acts 3:25; Gal 3:8).
  • Among the Israelites, non-Semites were sometimes elevated to positions of equality with the Hebrews, such as
    • Manassah and Ephraim (Gen 41:50-52), sons of Joseph’s wife from On, a city in North Africa (the area settled by Ham’s son Mizraim). Jacob (Israel) declared them equal to his own sons (Gen 48:5).
    • Moses married a woman from Cush (Num 12:1), a region of Africa named for a son of Ham who settled in West Africa.
    • Solomon, whose mother was Bathsheba; Sheba was a tribe of Cush, son of Ham (Gen 10:7).
  • Jesus’ Davidic genealogy in the first verses if Matthew’s gospel includes four descendants of Canaan and Ham (Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Solomon);
  • Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22-28), while initially being an apparent reinforcement of the curse of Canaan (Gen 9:24-27), has long been interpreted actually as rescinding the curse.[17]
  • Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan (mixed “race”) woman (John 4:1-26) makes clear that God’s salvation comes through the Jews, but will eventually be based on whether people are “true worshippers,” not one’s heritage.
  • Jesus’ Great Commission commands the disciples to go to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:18-20).
  • The Apostle Philip baptized an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:25-40).
  • Peter received a vision from God that there are no people who are unclean, and therefore the gospel ought to be spread beyond the Jews (Acts 10).
  • A major theme in Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the extension of salvation beyond the Jews to the Gentiles.
  • Paul taught that in Christ the region’s major social divisions and classes of the day were to be set aside among Christians (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:11).
  • Revelation states that Jesus’ blood purchased salvation for all people (Rev. 5:9).
  • John’s vision of heaven included believers from all nations who had come through tribulation: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:9-10).

The Fundamental Equality of All People Before God

While God evaluates people based upon their heart and spirit and orientation toward himself and His Son (e.g., Romans 2:12-16; 3:21-26), people tend to judge others based on external factors, such as the way we look (2 Sam 16:7). Nonetheless, the view of historic Judaic and Christian thought is grounded in the essential equality of all people before God, regardless of their ethnicity, external appearance, sex, or social status (e.g., Gal 3:26-29).

While most Christian theology verifies this historic accessibility of salvation to all people, the point has long been evident even to secular observers, such as Stanford University professor George Frederickson, who observed,

“the orthodox Christian belief in the unity of mankind based on the Bible’s account of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all humans was a powerful obstacle to the development of a coherent and persuasive ideological racism.”[18]

Frederickson also observes the odd counterpoint of skin-tone based racism that emerged in the Middle Ages against the core message of Christianity and the Cross:

“What makes Western racism so…conspicuous in world history has been that it developed in a context that presumed human equality of some kind. First came the doctrine that the Crucifixion offered grace to all willing to receive it and made all Christian believers equal before God. Later came the more revolutionary concept that all ‘men’ are born free and equal and entitled to equal rights in society and government.”[19]

In short, though ideally humans are created equal and in God’s image, every human’s sinful state before a holy God means that every person needs salvation, and Christ’s death makes that salvation available to all people. The differences in human appearances or economic status are unrelated to one’s status before God. Divisions have appeared, of course, in spite of this principle of equality.

 

 III. WE DIVIDE OURSELVES FOR THE WRONG REASONS

Although God divided people supernaturally by giving different groups different languages at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11), and called Israel, and later, Christians, to be a separate and holy nation (Exodus 19:16, Deut 7:6; Hosea 1:10; 1 Peter 2:9-12), people also have a tendency to divide themselves, but on a sinful basis.

Sin is self-centeredness, ignoring God’s will, and missing the mark of God-ordained behavior and attitudes.[20] Thus, when people place themselves above others on the basis of some external characteristic, such as social class, we impose our own idolatrous self-will over and above God’s standards for judgment; we say that our standards are better than God’s (e.g., James 2:1-9).

The clear inference is that sinful attitudes include a belief in one’s own (or one’s group’s) superiority based on social, economic, appearance, ethnic, or “racial” categories. This is not the same thing as recognizing that important differences may exist within and between groups, or that cultures differ across ethnicities. But our heart and attitudes regarding those differences are the central issue. This is especially the case when we use physical characteristics to assign different levels of value or desirability or dignity to another person or group, whether we do this consciously or subconsciously.

As Dr. Tony Evans puts it,

“racism is not first and foremost a skin problem. It is a sin problem.”[21]

Individual sins have collective consequences

Now, the problem of sin is at first an individual problem, but sin usually has collective consequences. For example, a father may sin against his wife, but their children often experience the effects of that sin, though they have done nothing wrong. The Bible is full of examples of people bearing the consequences of another person’s sinful actions. In fact, it is the very nature of sin; from the beginning, Adam’s and Eve’s individual sins wrought consequences for all of their descendants (Rom 5:12-20).

Moreover, when individuals with a bent toward sin are given authority over others, they may be prone to manage that relationship unjustly. (This is why the Bible spends so much time limiting and constraining the power that can be exercised by fathers, elders, kings, employers, and slave-owners!) For example, God gives fathers authority over their households. But a father who establishes an unjust disciplinary system in his home violates the authority with which he has been legitimately entrusted. His family management system must be adjusted in order to realign it with God’s will and plan for the Christian home. The first step may be converting, educating or correcting the father. But if the father doesn’t change the old system, even his redeemed soul will continue to exact injustice in the household via the old rules. No, the rules and system must be changed in order for a just family order to prevail. Moreover, the damaged familial relationships must be restored and healed.

The analogy may be applied to race-based divisions. Those in authority may legislate unjust laws, even if the legislator is or claims to be Christian. The general concept of an unjust law was expressed by Martin Luther King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote,

“How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”[22]

Christians see the Bible as a revelation of God’s eternal moral law. So it provides, if rightly understood, general principles and guidelines for establishing just human laws. If the legislator who sets up an unjust law is shown the error of his or her ways and changes his or her behavior and attitudes, that is good! But it doesn’t change the fact that the earlier attitude was institutionalized into the community’s social norms and legal codes. These must be changed as well.

Source: CNN

Source: CNN

In the case of American racial and ethnic history, men with unbiblical views on race were often the ones writing the rules (such as constitutions, laws, and municipal codes), and they often incorporated those views into the systems with which they had been entrusted. Sadly, there are many examples of this, such as the nation’s toleration of slavery, northerners profiteering from the slave trade, California’s anti-Chinese laws, and so on. (The use of the Bible to justify and defend American slavery is an extremely complicated topic, beyond the scope of this essay, and much has already been written about that.) One of the most egregious and widespread examples was the notorious “Jim Crow” system of comprehensive race-based social and economic stratification included in the legal codes of most of the US southern states after the post-Civil War Reconstruction. These were perhaps the most damaging of all, because they were often specifically justified and defended, as slavery had been beforehand, through the misinterpretation and misapplication of God’s Word.

It becomes clear that laws that encoded racist values into society were unjust, for they did not align with God’s basis of dividing humanity, and instead were based on sinful attitudes of racial superiority and favoritism. It is important to identify laws that continue to implement racist thinking and undo them; there is, of course, great political disagreement about how to identify such laws and what the remedies are. Such an extensive discussion is beyond the scope of this essay.

But it is possible to identify the principles of a strategy for undoing unjust laws. Such a strategy takes two initial steps, for which there is no ideal order, followed by two secondary steps.

  • The heart of the legislator(s) must be realigned with God’s will.
  • The laws must be realigned with God’s eternal law. It is acceptable to realign the law regardless of whether the legislator’s heart has been realigned.
  • Reconciliation between groups must take place, both at the individual and collective level. For example, those who imposed the racist legislation must repent of their sin and reconcile with those whom they oppressed, and the oppressed must forgive the former racist. Collectively, this might look like the Southern Baptist Convention repenting and seeking forgiveness for its racist origins and history.
  • Finally, part of the reconciliation may include an evaluation of the extent to which principles of restorative justice ought to be implemented to address the long-term consequences of the unjust laws on individuals. The longer the unjust regime was in place, the more profound the effects may be, and thus the more expensive the restitution is likely to be.

 

IV. PRACTICAL HEALING OF RACIAL SINS

Christians are obligated to resolve our conflicts. But to truly do so, our community’s race-based conflicts must be acknowledged as fundamentally spiritual problems with social consequences, not as solely social problems with solely social causes.

Dr. Tony Evans notes,

“But once you admit that racism is a sin problem, you are obligated as a believer to deal with it right away. As long as the issue of race is social and not spiritual, it will never be dealt with in any ultimate sense.”[23]

Recent events have revealed the deep faultlines that divide American society by race. The riots after Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson in 2014, Baltimore’s riots after Freddy Gray’s death in police custody, and the shooting of nine African-Americans in Charleston in 2015 make clear that we have a problem. Now, I am not claiming any easy solutions or trying to pile on white guilt-feelings per se, or absolve trouble makers from being held responsible for the trouble they have made. But…

Christians—especially white Christians—must be brutally honest about the role that racism and corrupted Christian teachings have played in excavating the racial faultlines in our long and complicated history.

While it is true that racism begins as one individual’s sin, the sin of racism was aggregated, legitimated, and institutionalized so that the sins of many “ones” multiplied. And the legal, social, and political consequences for our African-American brethren were profound. Social structures supporting racial injustice were created, and therefore those social structures had to be dismantled.

Scripture and churches were corrupted by sketchy theological interpretations designed to support the worldview of white supremacy and keep slaves and later, free black people, quiescent. Frederick Douglass observed in 1846,

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

It is from the pulpit that we have sermons on behalf of slavery…I have heard sermon after sermon, when a slave, intended to make me satisfied with my condition, telling me that it is the position God intended me to occupy; that if I offend against my master, I offend against God; that my happiness in time and eternity depends on my entire obedience to my master. Those are the doctrines taught among slaves, and the slave-holders themselves have become conscious about holding slaves in bondage, and their consciences have been lulled to sleep by the preaching and teaching of the Southern American pulpits. “There is no place,” said an Abolitionist in the United States, “where slavery finds a more secure abode than under the shadow of the sanctuary.”[24]

Those unbiblical scriptural interpretations and messages had to be undone and untaught, and some of that work still needs to be done. (I will have more to say on that that in the next couple of posts.)

We must also acknowledge that the damage to the family of God has been deep. Often the social and legal changes were imposed before the sinful attitudes that created and laid the foundation for Jim Crow were addressed, generating resentment and anger that remains. The work of restoration and healing is not finished, and cannot ultimately be finished by statute.

As I have written elsewhere, social science has established clearly that white Americans and African Americans view racism differently. White people tend to view racism as an individual attitude (I have argued that it is an individual sin), while black people tend to view racism as a characteristic of our political and social system (making it a collective sin). As should be clear, these are two edges of the same sword. White Christians are obligated to understand the perspective of their African-American Christian brethren. And Black Christians are obligated to understand the perspective of their White brethren. Many of us ignorantly push forward attitudes that do nothing to pursue and improve the unity of the Body of Christ. Instead, we steadfastly (or stubbornly) refuse to consider changing the way we think or our preferences for the sake of others and the sake of Christ’s Bride.

The broader problem, however, is that as America moves away from a common understanding of sin and humanity’s intrinsic sinfulness, the real basis for racial reconciliation becomes more elusive. If we don’t agree on the concept of sin, healing becomes difficult, because clear and truthful communication about the real problem will be hindered. It is thus the responsibility of members of the Body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to initiate and follow through on racial reconciliation and healing based on its real and actual causes. We must set aside our own preferences for the way we wish things were, or the way we have come to identify with our personal heritages.

Healing and Reconciliation is individual and group work

Scripturally there are clear processes for resolving interpersonal conflicts between Christians, and some of that work must be done. There is much written on this, and I don’t have the space to address it here, but it includes:

  • The sinner repenting and seeking forgiveness;
  • the victim forgiving the sinner;
  • the sinner pursuing the victim to seek reconciliation and forgiveness;
  • the victim pursuing the sinner to seek reconciliation and offer forgiveness; and
  • a spirit of mutual love and respect as co-equal children of God and followers of Christ.

It does not include, as one African-American brother in the Lord put it, browbeating others into submission.

As a side note, the non-Christian world will not understand this, they will marvel at it! This week I was watching The Rundown (MSNBC) host José Díaz-Balart interview Pastor Stephen Singleton from Charleston, South Carolina, where a few days earlier nine black churchgoers were murdered in church by a white man hoping to start a race war. Díaz-Balart seemed genuinely perplexed by Christian family members’ willingness to express forgiveness toward the shooter so soon:

“I was struck over and over again how they said ‘We forgive you.’ What kind of a person does that? How is one able to have so much forgiveness against evil?”[25]

Brothers and sisters—the government can’t do this. The NAACP can’t do this. The other church down the road can’t do this (alone). Islam can’t do this. Social do-gooders can’t do this. We, the followers of Jesus Christ, must do this. It is the right thing to do, to imitate Christ, to set aside our own self-interest and put others’ interests above our own (Phil 2:3-15), and work together for healing, pursuing the unity of the Body.

We must work together toward the common goal our Lord has set for His Church in human history, both setting aside our personal histories and leveraging those histories to strengthen the work of the Body. These histories include our ethnicities. As Tony Evans recently wrote,

The reason why we haven’t solved the racial divide in America after hundreds of years is because people apart from God are trying to invent unity, while people who belong to God are not living out the unity that we already possess….Unity can be defined in its most basic of terms as oneness of purpose. It means working together toward a common goal….God has a team. It’s made up of African-American, Anglo, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, and a variety of other people and cultures. He never wants you to make your distinction, your history or your background, so precious to you that it messes up His team. Nor does He want you to ignore or diminish your distinction, your history or your background, thus leaving little with which to contribute to His team.

At the individual level, if you know that what you do has a very negative effect on another person, STOP IT!

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

Seek forgiveness from your neighbor or co-worker or your kid’s teacher. Legally, do we have to change our hearts? No, we’re free to continue on, but as Russell Moore points out, “we should not prize our freedom to the point of destroying those for whom Christ died. We should instead ‘pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding’ (Rom. 14:19).” For example, New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson relates how a white friend, who, without asking, took down his Confederate battle flag, simply because he came to realize that Watson found it offensive and hurtful. No demands, no screaming, no protests, just friends learning to love one another in harmony. How good that is!

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

Conclusion

Once Christians acknowledge the foundational biblical principles of a human self-concept based on creation and equality before God; once we decide to leverage our already-existing unity, and apply principles of peace-seeking and reconciliation to damaged relationships; once we have really begun implementing spiritual chemotherapy against the cancer of racism; and once we operate from a position of biblical orthodoxy and not liberalism, broader social changes and healing are bound to follow.

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This essay is the first of three parts in a series promoting racial healing. In this essay, I have articulated a Biblical Worldview of humanity and race. Next, I address the twisting of scripture that produced the so-called “Curse of Ham,” which has been used as brutal weapon in the cause of white supremacy against people of color and against the unity of the Body of Christ.

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[1] Although Webster’s 1828 also acknowledges that “race” may allude to descendants of a specific person, such as “the race of Abraham.” This meaning is secondary to the primary concept of the race of humans.

[2] National Institutes of Health (US); Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health (US); 2007-. Understanding Human Genetic Variation. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20363/

[3] Michael P. Jeffries, Paint the White House Black (Excerpt), accessed at http://genius.com/Michael-p-jeffries-paint-the-white-house-black-excerpt-annotated/ 26 June 2015.

[4] George Frederickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2002), 52

[5] http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/skin-color

[6] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapters 5-6; Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, Book X, Chapter XXVII.

[7] Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry (Oxford University Press, 1990), 44-45.

[8] Strong’s H8034 and H8035;; T.G. Pinches, “Shem,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (1939), accessed at <www.blueletterbible.org>

[9] Strong’s H3315, H6601; Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon; Pinches, “Japheth,” ISBE.

[10] Strong’s H1990, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon; Pinches, “Shem;” ISBE.

[11] I sent a more rudimentary version of this Punnett Square to a friend of mine with a Ph.D. in genetics just to be sure I was communicating this point accurately. He wrote, “The image you sent is a Punnett square which is helpful in understanding how certain gene combinations are inherited. Melanin is the most important gene for influencing skin color, but there are many more genes that interact to determine a person’s skin color. Therefore, the chart is an oversimplification, but could be useful for illustration purposes.” For a more complex Punnett Square example see http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-teachers-06.htm

[12] David M. Goldenberg, “The Curse of Ham: A Case of Rabbinic Racism?” In Struggles in the Promised Land, ed. Jack Salzman and Cornel West (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). Accessed via cached version through Google.

[13] For example, see Tony Evans, The Kingdom Agenda (Nashville: Word, 1999), 356-7.

[14] Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, 45-46. The American offshoot of Islam, the Nation of Islam, developed its own bizarre theory of how different skin-toned people groups were created, called “Yacub’s History” (Malcom X and Alex Haley, [1964] Autobiography of Malcom X (Ballentine Books, 1992), pp. 164-167.

[15] Goldenberg, “The Curse of Ham.”

[16] By “in God’s image,” traditional historic Christianity does not mean God’s physical image, but that humans bear the imprint of God’s character on their soul and spirit.

[17] For example, see the Introductory Note to The Early Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3, Ed. A. Cleveland Coxe (Christian Literature Company, Buffalo, NY 1885) (E-Sword STEP edition).

[18] Frederickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 52

[19] Frederickson, Racism, p. 11.

[20] E.g., “Sin,” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

[21] Evans, Kingdom Agenda, p. 364.

[22] King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 16 April 1963. Accessed at www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

[23] Kingdom Agenda, 364-5. See also Ron Miller, 2015, “Make Us One: Looking at race through the eyes of God,” PowerPoint presentation, personal copy.

[24] Frederick Douglass, “Slavery in the Pulpit of the Evangelical Alliance: An Address Delivered in London, England, on September 14, 1846.” London Inquirer, September 19, 1846 and London Patriot, September 17, 1846. www.yale.edu/glc/archive/1083.htm

[25] “Emanuel AME Church holds Bible study for first time since shooting,” MSNBC Broadcast June 25, 2015.

What does it mean to “be” The Church?

It seems that “being” The Church is cool these days–especially when people claiming to “be” The Church contrast it with “going” to church. But what does it actually mean to “be” The Church? Let’s look at what The Church is, and then what it means to “be” it.

First, what is “The Church”? The Church (in Christianity) is all those who believe in Jesus as the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God. This confession is the rock or foundation on which Jesus declared that he would build his church (Matt 16: 13-18). That means all believers in Jesus Christ as humanity’s Messiah are The Church, and each of them is a “living stone” built upon Christ’s pillars of truth (1 Peter 2:1-5).

So what does it mean to “be” The Church? Webster’s 1828 Dictionary suggests that the verb “be” means “to stand; remain or be fixed; hence to continue; … It forms, with the infinitive, a particular future tense, which often expresses duty, necessity, or purpose.” This suggests that “to be” The Church means to have an existence or presence that matches the purposes for which it was designed and intended.

So what are the purposes of The Church? The New Testament suggests several:

  1. To evangelize non-believers (Matt 28:19).
  2. To disciple believers (i.e, train them in such a way as to produce spiritual growth and maturity) so they can replicate themselves (Matt 28:19-20; Eph 4:11-16; Eph 6:4; 1 Cor 3:5-16; 2 Tim 1:5-14).
  3. To gather together for collective worship, prayer and mutual encouragement, acting in unity for the building of the kingdom of God even while exercising our individual gifts and talents (John 4:19-24; Eph 4:1-16; Heb 10:23-25; Rev 5:9-14; Luke 19:45-46; Matt 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17).
  4. To minister to and care for those in need within The Church (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim 5:3-16; Rom 12:3-13; Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39-40).
  5. To minister to and care for those in need outside The Church (Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39-40; Matt 25:31-46).
  6. To glorify God by prophesying to the surrounding community (i.e., speaking truth into the culture) through our words and deeds (e.g., 1 Peter 2:9-20).

The concerns I have about the way people (whom I love) telling me that they are “being” The Church is that they seem to have a narrow idea of what that means. Usually, friends tell me they’re headed off to “be” The Church when they are going down to serve the homeless or needy. This suggests that the people who are really “being” The Church are those whose focus or action is on #5 (and maybe #6) above.

This service is noble and is one aspect of being The Church, but it is an incomplete picture of what it means to be The Church. Without pursuing the other aspects of being The Church we can’t really achieve God’s stated purposes for The Bride of Christ, can we? Being The Church involves pursuing ALL of God’s purposes for The Church. Otherwise it’s like saying that my bride is only really “being” my wife when she feeds me and praises me on Facebook (thanks for that, though, honey!).

Paul foresaw this problem when he warned Christians to avoid thinking that there is only one really useful set of gifts or activities in The Church. He wrote (1 Cor 12:17-31),

“If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

“27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in The Church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts.” (NAS)

People who think that they are “being” The Church only when they’re only doing one or two of The Church’s purposes (such as what Paul calls “helps” in verse 28 above) risk developing a tunnel vision of The Church that weakens and dilutes The Church and The Gospel. Each congregation of believers ought to be pursuing all of what it means to “be” The Church—when this happens, we will have the LORD’s desired impact in our world.

Haggai’s First Prophecy (Part 1): What are your priorities?

For the introduction and historical context for this study, please go here.

One of the first questions that came up in our Bible study had to do with prophecies telling the future. While some prophecies do foretell the future (for example, Haggai 2:6-9), the purpose of most Bible prophesy is to speak the Lord’s truth to a person or the community, to praise righteous attitudes and behavior or to criticize unrighteousness in order to bring about a change. Haggai’s first prophecy is of this type.

This first set of verses reveals the central problems in the hearts of the Jewish remnant:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.”’” 3 Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” (Haggai 2:2-4 NAS)

In these verses we see three points that reveal problems with the Jewish remnant.

  1. Whatever they’ve been doing (or not doing), they have become separated from the Lord, because the Lord calls them “this people” instead of “my people.”
  2. The Lord critiques the way that they talk about the temple rebuilding project. Fourteen years earlier they enthusiastically rebuilt the altar and temple foundation, but then faced opposition and discouragement (Ezra 4). Now, they’ve rewritten their history in a way that justifies their lack of progress. “Oh, we would have been rebuilding the temple all this time if the Lord really wanted us to. But He must not want us to, because otherwise we would have been rebuilding it.”
  3. To make matters worse, God points out that they were improving their own houses (the reference to “paneled houses” suggests an element of luxury to the appearances of their homes) while the temple went neglected.

In order to justify their own disobedience, the people concluded that the time just wasn’t right for doing what the Lord asked them to do. They then replaced their work on the Lord’s house by building homes that would be impressive to visitors and comfortable for themselves. The Lord, however, points out that their hearts had wrong priorities. By giving in to the outside pressures from the Samaritans, justifying their own lack of progress, and focusing on themselves instead, they brought about their own separation from the Lord, so that He would not even claim possession of them.

As the people of God, we are to keep the Lord’s temple (the people of His Church) as a high priority in our lives; we’re to build up and edify each other instead of merely focusing our attention on our own immediate needs (Ephesians 4:11-16). We’re supposed to have an accurate understanding of our place in the big picture so that the Lord can use us where we are, and so that we don’t get trapped into what the culture tells us is important (Rom 12:2-3).

As a parent, part of my job is to help my children see how their actions and inaction demonstrate their priorities as children of God. The things that we do and the words we speak reflect God’s place in our hearts (Luke 6:45). While my children will always be mine, it’s more important that they be the Lord’s. Don’t be afraid to seek the Lord’s mind regarding your own and your children’s hearts so that you can get to the real problems. Haggai didn’t just criticize the lack of work on the temple; the Lord gave him the understanding of what the real heart problems were.

Shepherd your children’s hearts to love, obey, and serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Haggai’s Prophecies to Those Rebuilding the Temple

For the last several weeks I’ve been leading a study at my church of the book of Haggai. For a variety of reasons the Lord really laid on my heart that we should study this book carefully. Haggai gave his prophecies when the people of Israel were trying to rebuild their temple after it had been torn down years before, and after they came out of exile but still faced opposition and discouragement.The temple was important to the Israelites because in Old Testament times, God dwelled there (after first dwelling in the tabernacle). Beginning with the New Testament, however, Christians are the Lord’s temple, and the Lord dwells in us (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22), and Christians are the people of the Lord, His holy priesthood and nation (1 Peter 2:4-6, 9). So my application of the messages Haggai gave to Israel goes something like this: What was Haggai’ message? Why did the Israelites need to hear it? What was their response? What did God do? What do the answers to these questions mean for Christians today? And for me, what does Haggai have to say to those struggling to rebuild their own little corner of Christ’s Church?As a parent, one of the greatest struggles I’ve faced has been explaining to my children why difficult stuff happens. We’ve had our share of this over the last several months, and because some of these problems relate to church, my wife and I have had to shepherd our children’s hearts through these difficulties. Like the Israelites, the congregation to which we belong is in the process of rebuilding our “temple.” I’ve found Haggai to be very encouraging, because this little book is showing me facets of the Lord’s heart for His people that I didn’t understand fully until recently. Well, I still don’t understand it all fully, but I’m getting there. I hope you find these posts and lessons from Haggai encouraging, too, wherever you are.

Introduction

Haggai was a prophet in the time of King Darius of Persia. His prophecies were all given in the year 520 BC, shortly after the Israelite remnant returned to Israel from exile in Persia (they remained under Persian domination). The events of this period were…

Picture

Context: External opposition to the temple reconstructionAfter 70 years in captivity, Israelites are returning to the Promised Land, where they want to rebuild the temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. This begins around 536 BC, and we read in Ezra 3 that the initial rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem was going very well. Unfortunately, while Israel had been in captivity, Samaritans had settled the land around Jerusalem. When the Samaritans found out that the Israelites were rebuilding the temple, they offered to help, but the Jewish leaders refused because they had nothing common (in terms of their faith) with the Samaritans (Ezra 4:1-3). The Samaritans then sought to delay or stop the temple rebuilding entirely; they first discouraged and frightened them (Ezra 4:4-5), and then hired counselors (lawyers) that interfered with the Jews’ relations with the Persian kings for several years. Finally, in 534 BC Artaxerxes ordered work on the temple stopped by force of arms (Ezra 4:17-23).Fourteen years later, in 520 BC, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews, prompting Zerubbabel (the heir to Judah’s throne) and Jeshua (the high priest)  to begin rebuilding the temple with the Persian King Darius’ permission (Ezra 4:24 – 5:2). In that year Tattenai, governor of the region, wrote Darius, asking whether the Jews had permission to rebuild the temple. Darius confirmed this, and ordered Tattenai not to interfere with the rebuilding and in fact to fund the process with his region’s tax revenues (Ezra 5:3-6:13).Haggai and Zechariah receive and pass on their prophecies in 520-518, and by 515 the temple was completed (Ezra 5:1 and 6:14).

Haggai consists of four prophecies, precisely dated. Here they are with their general themes:

1.       1:1-1:18 (Sept. 1, 520 BC) Your lack of blessing is because you have focused on your own houses and not on the house of the Lord. “Consider your ways!”

2.       2:1-9 (Oct. 21, 520) The temple you are rebuilding may not look like the old glorious temple, but the glory of the new temple will be greater than the former.

3.       2:10-19 (Dec 24, 520) You have allowed unclean behavior to contaminate my people’s work. Set your heart on obedience from this day forward, and I will bless you.

4.       2:20-23 (Dec 24, 520) Zerubbabel will be like a signet ring to the nations.

Next time: Haggai’s first prophesy