The way of the Lamb. Embracing listening, humility, repentance, & peacemaking during times of division.
Lately we’ve seen a toxic and potent cultural and political mix of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, disillusionment, racism, misogyny, division, and conflict.
Deep divisions are erupting.
These division are often shaped around ethnicity, gender, politics, and class warfare.
Many feel disillusioned and disenfranchised and unheard. They feel marginalized and forgotten. They feel abused and taken advantage of. They feel insecure and angry. They feel a deep and growing animosity toward the “other.”
How will these divisions be healed?
As Robert McAfee Brown says, “Who you listen to determines what you hear.”
It’s time to step away from caricatures, and listen deeply to each other’s fears, pains, hopes, and experiences.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians have an important role to play in healing these rifts. But we often contribute to these divisions and conflicts.
As Christians, we need to address our complicity in the marginalization of certain groups in society (of all classes and races). We need to own the role we’ve played in promoting racism, misogyny, fear, division, hate, and anger. We need to own our desire for cultural and political power, and how that has corrupted our witness and faith.
And we need to choose a different and distinct way of relating to power and these contemporary cultural conditions.
I think we’re in a violent cultural storm.
Take the recent US election, for example. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, this recent election must lead to a lot of soul searching. There’s a deep rift within American society and Christianity. I’m certain this rift is replicated in other Western contexts (albeit contextualized). This is a rift along generational and gender and racial and class lines.
It’s also a theological rift. It has to do with our understanding of the role of Christians in society, and of church-state relations.
I hope the divisions within Christianity and society will be replaced by empathy, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, peacemaking, open conversations, and so on. “Who you listen to determines what you hear.” But all that will take a lot of time, conversations, repentance, and prayer.The church must choose the way of listening, repentance, humility, & peacemaking. Click To Tweet
Christian identity is too often formed by partisan politics, racial identities, socio-political-economic status, tribal allegiances, and other such things, rather than discipleship to Jesus Christ. Christian identity should be formed by a vision of what it means to be an alternative polis. We need a messianic, kingdom-oriented view of the new creation and the new humanity in Jesus Christ.
We see divisions and strife everywhere today.
But, if the church embraces repentance and a new identity, we can offer life and hope into this situation. We can proclaim and embody an alternative way. A way of peace and forgiveness and reconciliation and love and hope. It’s the way of the new creation and the new humanity in Christ.
We need the way of the Lamb.
He challenges us to embrace listening, humility, repentance, and peacemaking, especially during times of division.
So What Can We Do?
Here are five things we can do, to join with Jesus as repentant, humble peacemakers.
1. Embrace Our New Identity
Too often, ethnic, tribal, national, political, and other “identities” take the place of our identity in Christ.
But we need to embrace a new identity. And we must bear witness to this new identity. We are not primarily Black or white, Hutu or Tutsi, German or French, British or Australian, Palestinian or Israeli, Chinese or Brazilian, Syrian or American. We are primarily one people, united as one body in Jesus Christ.
We are a new creation, a new humanity, “a people on pilgrimage together, a mixed group, bearing witness to a new identity made possible by the Gospel.” God calls us to show the world what reconciled, redeemed, restored humanity looks like.
We are a new humanity with a new identity in Jesus Christ.
We must not root Christian identity in nationalism, ethnicity, partisan politics, socio-political-economic status, gender, and other such things. Instead, we must root Christian identity in Christ.
Our identity must be shaped through discipleship to Jesus Christ.
Our identity must be formed through a vision of what it means to be an alternative polis (an alternative city and people, living out the values and ethics and life of the kingdom of God).
Our identity must be based in a commitment to being a new humanity, on pilgrimage together, made up of every tribe and people and ethnicity and language.
Our identity must be enriched in an eschatological (end-of-the-age) vision of God’s rule and reign and kingdom.
Our identity must be rooted in the story of biblical Israel and the historical Jewish Jesus.
God is forming for himself a people in the world. God is calling that people, his church, to show the world an alternative to ethnocentrism, violence, animosity, nationalism, racism, and so on. God is calling us to show a new humanity, that values difference and particularity, but which roots its story in Jesus.
We Americans, Australians, British, Asians, Latin Americans, Africans, etc. join the story of biblical Israel and of the Jewish Jesus.
Our particular histories (personal and group and ethnic) are still important. Some parts of those stories are given more meaning in the light of the story of Jesus, and other parts are revealed as destructive or divisive.
But, now, in Jesus Christ, all of our personal and corporate (including ethic) stories are now situated and framed within the story of biblical Israel and the Jewish Jesus.
In Jesus we come together—both genders, all ethnicities, and all classes—as a new humanity and a new creation. God calls us to witness in the way to Christ’s final rule and reign.
2. Recover a Vision of Christ’s Kingdom
Political engagement won’t change the world. Political action has a role. But political effort does not establish God’s kingdom.
We need Christian politicians, human rights lawyers, judges, teachers, doctors, filmmakers, presidents, carpenters, police officers, and public intellectuals. These engage in justice, education, human rights, health care, law making, policing, and trades and professions, and they seek to address injustice, poverty, inequality, discrimination, and more. They witness to Christ and his kingdom.
But we don’t assume that political activity establishes God’s kingdom. And we are careful not to be coopted into political and other agendas that are not rooted in Christ. We are careful not to be wooed by the power dynamics, political agendas, and alternative kingdoms at work in this world.
We get involved in politics, and we work for peace and justice and reconciliation.
But we place no hope in the politics of this world. Instead, we have an eschatological (end-of-the-age) vision of God’s work in human history. We are a redeemed people, who live out a redeemed ethic and politic and way of life in the world. We follow Jesus and look forward to his final rule and reign.
3. Be an Alternative People
God calls the church to be an alternative society. The church is a parallel and distinct community, subverting the present powers and age, providing a standard and vanguard for the world as a foretaste of the age to come.
As a redeemed people, embodying a distinct way of life that witnesses to Jesus and his kingdom, the church needs to cultivate its unique practices. This way its “body politic,” ethic, witness, and social forms are counter-cultural, missional, and Christ-glorifying.
We are called to be “alternative people” or an “another city”, who practice a distinct Christ-honoring life together, ethic, witness, and politic. The church is salt and light, a “city on a hill.”
The church of Jesus Christ is called to embrace a distinct social existence.
This means that we reject violence, relinquish power, pursue holiness, embrace kingdom-ethics, cultivate meaningful community, embrace missional presence, respect free association, and imitate the servant nature of Christ.
A faithful church abandons the reach for power, prestige, and effectiveness. It imitates the foolish weakness of the cross. As we look at history, we see God’s sovereign purposes unfolding, including the formation of a new, redeemed, eschatological community.
4. Refuse to be Silent
Having said these things, we must not be silent in the face of poverty, exploitation, injustice, sexism, racism, misogyny, torture, hate, division, conflict, authoritarianism, etc. We must choose to speak and act, even when we know we will suffer the consequences.The church must be an alternative to injustice, racism, misogyny & division. Click To Tweet
This means speaking out on foreign aid, arms trade and control, biodiversity, poverty, climate change and global warming, conflicts and war, consumption and consumerism, corporations and materialism, economics and trade, environmental issues, fair trade, free trade, geopolitics, marriage and sexuality, health issues, human population, human rights, nuclear weapons and energy, the Palestine/Israel conflict, white privilege, sustainable development, third world debt, globalization, the “war on drugs”, international terrorism, world hunger, torture, sexism and gender issues, racism, systemic and structural evils, and more.
Silence speaks volumes. When you choose not to act, you are, in fact, taking a form of action. We witness to Jesus and his kingdom, in our life together, and in our dangerous words and actions.
5. Choose to Be Attentive, Humble, Repentant Peacemakers
Blessed are the attentive, humble, repentant peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
During a period of deep division (political, racial, and other), the church must commit to being a servant people, who are committed to peacemaking and reconciliation, who offer a contrast to divisions and injustices, who seek to truly be the church, who embrace the peace and hope of the gospel, and who witness to Christ’s peaceable kingdom.
That’s our call. That’s the role we play in joining with God in bringing healing and reconciliation.
Now, more than ever, God’s people must choose to be a distinct people, with a distinct ethic, a distinct story, a distinct peace, a distinct reconciliation, a distinct community, a distinct diversity, and a distinct witness.
The church must choose this path—as an expression of Christ’s peaceable kingdom and unifying gospel. During a period of uncertainty, division, and animosity, the church must choose to be a gracious, empathetic, peaceable, hope-filled people. A contrast to prevailing divisions.
But, to do this, we have to face some hard truths.
And we need a renewed vision of what it means to be the church. We need a fresh passion for the wellbeing and good of those marginalised and disadvantaged in our societies. We need to be willing to embrace repentance and change and humility. And we need to listen deeply to the stories and anxieties and experiences of others.
Division can be replaced by empathy, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, peacemaking, and love. But we need to listen to each other. We need to respect each other. “Who you listen to determines what you hear.”
In the current political environment, Christians must embrace attentiveness to others, and repentance for our contribution to people’s pain. This is the way of faith and of prayer.
We must choose the way of listening, repentance, humility, & peacemaking, for the sake of Christ, and his mission, and his world.
In an age when divisions, nationalism, racism, misogyny, fear, and anxiety is on the increase, God’s people can embrace a new identity. We can witness to the new humanity in Jesus Christ. We can recover a vision of Christ’s final rule and reign. We can be an alternative people. And we can refuse to be complicit in the pain of others.
But first, we must stop. Listen. Pray. Repent. Change.
Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.
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