14 Min Read
What is it that unites us? Is it a custom that we have accepted, a tradition passed down to us from our parents, or possibly habits that we create that help us understand each other better? What is it that unites the church?
One in Christ
“So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called ‘uncircumcised’ by Jews who are physically circumcised. At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.
When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:11-22
Pastor Rohan K. Samuels of Freedom Life Church led the body of believers through a cyber-service this morning, as the heavens froze over our province and fell onto it shortly after. As beautiful as snowfall can be to the admirer we must not omit the dangers of increased traffic when road conditions have worsened. (Yesterday I witnessed a van skate off the road and find itself suck in a snow-packed ditch. The driver had called a tow truck. All is well.) Because of this, and with the adaptability of the millennial generation, the FLC team had no issue transmitting their efficacious and educational service to an online platform which we watched from the comfort and warmth of our homes.
This adaptability, this ease of protean qualities might just be able to save or reimagine how we do church today. Unless we change, unless we better our methods and strategies we will miss out on too many opportunities to reach people in need and strengthen the faith of those who cannot make the drive to a building in such conditions. Snow and COVID-19 in mind.
But today’s sermon, Made in Christ Part II: Unity was as helpful a reminder to our modern church as it was revolutionary to the church in Ephesus two millennia ago. Paul tackles several topics in this epistle, from spiritual blessings in Christ to the believer being sealed with the Holy Spirit upon regeneration (salvation), continual thanksgiving, an explicit description of humanity’s depravity and subjugation to the ruler of evil, the devil, and finally, in chapter two, Paul reignites their hope in Christ as he informs them that salvation is only attainable by grace through faith alone.
Paul informs the church in Ephesus, a culturally diverse church that was constantly introduced to people traveling from Europe down to the Middle East, Africa, and beyond. So this diversity of ethnicity, race, language, and religious creeds was at an all-time high. Ephesian citizens had lived with continual schisms, divisions, in-fighting, separations based on just about every facet of society but now they had a common denominator to bring them together, Christianity.
The Jews would not associate with the gentiles, (gentile, meaning someone who was not a Jew. Quite broad.) You can imagine what happens when people divide themselves into factions, groups, parties, gangs, and such, the harassment and mistreatment from one side to the other was an everyday occurrence. One faith would not tolerate the other. One nationality would undermine the other. One citizen of the Roman empire would goad and gloat over those who could not be afforded citizenship. Those who worshipped caesar could not stand those who worshipped Yahweh, and those who worshipped sticks would not sit idly by as their neighbors bowed before stones.
The city, a hotbed of religious plurality, was also an epicenter for cross-class and cross-race hostility, and apostle Paul, seeing this embarrassing process in his culture and more so inside the Ephesian church community, set off to explain to them and possibly to those who did not believe like them that in Christ Jesus, these dividing walls would come crumbling down.
Pastor Rohan lists three poisons that flowed through the Ephesian church back then, and in all honesty, may still afflict many of our churches today.
- Racism – antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. (Oxford)
- Discrimination – the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. (Oxford)
- Segregation – the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment. (Oxford)
The Ephesian church, though new, was still plagued by this devilish trifecta that sooner or later destroys any church, blemishes the image of Christ, and discredits a believer’s witness of love, renewal, and sanctification.
These believers were constantly bombarded by a community of Jewish believers that considered them less than because of their nationality, their citizenry because they weren’t Jews. And above all, at one point, they were without God, without hope, and without a future outside of Christ.
But thanks be to Christ Jesus, this wall of legalism, of circumcision, of Judaizers, of implementation and dedication of standards, rules, regulations, and laws was done away with or better understood as completed in the person of Jesus Christ.
He lived the Jewish Law perfectly. And before there was a Jewish Law, Christ existed, and whatever law that preceded or proceeded Christ, He stood high and above them. He did this so that He could be the perfect archetype to pay for our sins, reunite our broken and fallen state with the Father, and stand before the Father in our stead.
Paul was reminding the Ephesian brethren that their schisms and divisions were obsolete.
Pastor Rohan reminds the listener that the Ephesian church struggled with its image. Were they gentiles that had been grafted into Judaism or Jews who had capitulated their Mosaic Laws and traditions, accepting all forms of pagan idolatry and mixing for the sake of an ecumenical utopianism? Were they to be led by Jews or led by gentiles? Were they allowing only Israelite citizens to hold positions of power and those born outside of the Promised Land prohibited from even speaking in the body of believers? Were the Jews to sit in the front of a gathering whilst gentiles sat in the back or possibly waited outside until the service was over?
This church struggled with the advent of Christianity into the Roman empire and the only thing that could merge them all was not dividing classes, economic structures, a free market, or a state-run system of health care.
What united this church, as other churches would learn with time, was Jesus.
Pastor Rohan goes on to explain how these embarrassing schisms of old followed the church into the 20th century through Jim Crow laws. Racism, discrimination, and segregation ran rampant in churches located in the United States South. From east Texas through Georgia and up to North Carolina through Florida’s Key West, Americans, and especially those who pledged their lives to Christian creeds would devalue their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ because of the color of their skin.
Pastor Rohan goes on to list a litany of America’s dirty laundry from Jim Crow Laws. These laws, policies, and socially accepted norms were put in place to separate white Americans from the recently freed black slaves and their progeny, so as to distinguish between those who were wealthy, educated, socially accepted, and righteous from those who were deemed dirty, uncouth, and savage-like.
Blacks would have to sit in different quarters of a locomotive, enter a business through a different entrance, drink water from a different fountain, swim in different pools, ride the bus and sit in the back, have assigned seating in restaurants, or possibly not allowed to dine in them at all. Interracial marriage was prohibited. The black vote was suppressed, the black voice was silenced, the black representation in the public square was shunned and nearly nonexistent, and dared a black man or woman confront these regulations or condemn them he or she would either be arrested for breaking the law of the land or publicly lynched at the hands of their fellow white brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pastor Rohan informs us that what applied to the Ephesian church then is just and possibly more applicable to our church today. Praise God that we have progressed from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, we have progressed from the antebellum south, progressed from the civil war that emancipated the black Americans, progressed from the reconstructionist era, progressed from Jim Crow’s systemic rule, progressed from the Civil Rights era that covered black Americans with the same rights as white Americans, but what we fail to understand is that the sin that caused all of these virulent ills to fester in the church then, in Ephesus of old and in the America of not too long ago, is a sin still present in our church today.
It is true that Jim Crow laws have all but been abolished and discrimination based on race criminalized but racism, discrimination, and segregation are evils that are very much present in our churches, nevertheless our communities, today.
The world progresses from one evil to the next but when the church adopts a particular kind of it and later waves its banner from its rooftop, it then shifts its focus from Christ and places it on a nation, a race, a culture, a people, a structure, an economic model and ends up in a ruined state.
And as Pastor Rohan informs, “Unity in Christ cannot be accomplished by works.” So any time we remove Jesus from the forefront of our unity within the diversity, whenever we extract Christ from our unified body of people, we are reliant on something other than the Divine. And the temporal can only sustain a system for so long before it crumbles.
Again, Pastor Rohan informs us that, “the church needs to be careful so as to not promote barriers of discrimination and segregation because of traditions.”
Lest we forget, Bob Jones University, founded by fundamentalist preacher Bob Jones Sr. in 1927, prohibited African-Americans from admitting into the school until 1971 and even once African-Americans were allowed to attend they were discouraged from interracial dating and marrying because of racist traditions. It wasn’t until 1976 that this discriminatory policy was dropped and only in 2005 did Bob Jones Sr.s’ great-grandson, Stephen Jones, apologize for the rhetoric and traditions of old that did not serve to honor Christ or His creation.
There are traditions that we create, then we deify these traditions, and make doctrines to protect them, and later force others to behave in accordance with them only to find that these edicts and patterns serve only to divide us. You can list them, women in pants, head-coverings for women, to speak or not to speak in tongues, tie or no tie, grooming, to drink or not to drink, to eat pork or not to eat pork, to listen to gospel music from the 70s and 80s or contemporary Christian music.
All of these modes and patterns are created to mold us into representations of a reflection of Christ-like conduct but they leave us unchanged within thus creating not a church of believers but a community of unregenerate segregationalists and discriminators.
This should not be.
We cannot substitute the glue that holds our salvation, our unity, our peace, our spiritual growth, and maturity together, which is Christ, with anything or anyone other than Christ for the moment we do, everything we have worked for disappears.
In shifting gears, Pastor Rohan goes onto condemn traditions that limit the unity we have in Christ. He exposes the frailty of “tradition centered” churches who cannot survive change, cannot adapt, are not protean, are not malleable entities who adjust with our changing culture, our changing environment, and natural disasters, COVID in particular. Churches that created an idol of in-person services, in-building gatherings, and the faulty church-service-in-a-building-onlyism mindset.
And this is not to discredit the gathering of the saints, for we are admonished and encouraged by scripture to not forsake this, but nor are we to idolize it as if attendance and presence in the church, in and of itself is an act of righteousness unto salvation. As Pastor Rohan expressed (I) is that “if bringing someone to the church is our evangelistic outreach goal but now that we can’t go to church (because of COVID) then our evangelistic outreach has reached its limit.”
How embarrassing of us, Church. Really. How sad.
And coming to the end of this segment, Pastor Rohan focuses not just on how skewed our understanding of evangelism has become in the 21st century, but he also points out that the motivation driving our evangelistic outreach is misplaced.
How many of us, as he resonated, will work a double shift, attend every church service of the week, sleep through prayer services, snore through Bible study, and still find the fervor to go out, in our exhausted and delicate state, to evangelize as if we’re finding greater merit from Christ from our sacrifice to Him.
Christ has already paid the full price for our salvation. He has paid the full fee, entry, bill, price, sentence, judgment, and more for not only our salvation but for that of the world.
What should catapult us into evangelistic outreach, and perhaps this understanding of evangelism is outdated for it we call it an “evangelistic outreach” which means that as Christians we are not always evangelizing and at times we aren’t always reaching, is a passion for God and people.
If our great commission is only great on the basis of a weekly or monthly send out and we’re only commissaries on the request of our local pastor then we aren’t fulfilling the call of our Great Shepherd. We’re appealing to and gratifying the needs of a local body of people, not the lifelong, day long, all-too great, and all-too satisfying life mission of living for Christ and speaking about Him to everyone that we know. If we do not embody Him and reflect Him in all that we do then we cannot say that we are evangelizing.
Nowhere in the Bible do we find the apostles setting off to evangelize, just for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon before service. No. They lived their faith and pursuit every day of their lives; so much so that twelve men spread their faith in Christ from Jerusalem to Samaria, Israel, Africa, Europe, and beyond. Two millennia later and we’re still hearing the fervency of this message because it is just that important and because those who set off to share it did so out of love for God and His creation.
Pastor Rohan asks the listener a set of questions that I’ll leave you with this night:
- Are our churches set up to unite only on the basis of dress, looks, and aesthetics?
- Is it preferences that unite us?
- Does our unity have limitations?
Please, brothers and sisters in the faith, take these words to heart. Understand that we are one body, one entity, one group, one blood in Christ Jesus. If your church is divided on any line, racial, cultural, ethnic, economic, class, or whatever, please consider revisiting this text from Ephesians 2:11-22 to understand that racism, discrimination, and segregation upsets the heart of Christ. And the only way to repair this gap, this chasm, this, what seems and truly is an irreconcilable tear, is through Jesus Christ.
Allow the Lord to also heal the ills, evils, hatred, and discriminatory behaviors that are present in your heart. If you are to be a place where God dwells, you cannot have these things in your heart.
“As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.”
Think about it. Pray on it. Deliver it onto God. Be free. Love. Unite. Progress, all under Christ and for Christ.
Made in Christ: Unity.