Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our Peace

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.

                        Ephesians 2.14 

Fitting In

During its first days, the church was an awkward spot for Gentile believers. They had a hard time fitting in with local congregations due to a widely held doctrine of exclusion. This was based on believing Christianity was a sect of Judaism when, in fact, Jesus came to fulfill the Law and usher in a New Order. Quickly, the apostles realized the church’s longevity depended on debunking this myth. Paul told the Ephesians to remember they once were “excluded from citizenship in Israel… without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2.12-13) Ergo, you belong.

These are stunning words, particularly from Paul. Formerly, as Saul of Tarsus, he devoted his life to excluding anyone who didn’t fit his religious views. He advocated ethnic cleansing, traveling extensively to oversee the stoning of Christians. Now, after his spiritual cleansing through Christ’s blood, he became a leading proponent of inclusion. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” he wrote, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3.28)

No Barriers

It’s interesting to note Paul invested much more time reassuring Gentiles that God accepted them than opposing unenlightened believers who restricted eligibility for God’s grace to circumcised Jews. Most likely, Paul realized arguing with closed minds would start battles he couldn’t win. He focused on persuading those longing to follow Jesus that walls of exclusion were merely imaginary—they didn’t exist.

“There are no barriers. There is no conflict,” Paul said, “because Jesus is our peace.” His presence brings us together. If we recognize it or not, if we like it or not, Christ destroyed all divisions that separate us. Any hostility that greets you isn’t worth consideration—and most certainly shouldn’t influence your confidence in God’s acceptance—because it’s an artifact of ancient theology. When Jesus leveled the wall of exclusion, hostility fell with it.

The New Reality

As formerly excluded believers reentering the halls of faith, it’s imperative that we take Paul’s teaching to heart. Our peace is real, established once and for all in the person and work of Jesus. Promoting hostility against us is a silly attempt to erect barriers of fear and prejudice in a world where they no longer apply and won’t last. We are all one in Christ. That's the new reality. Regardless of who refuses to accept it, it’s nonetheless so. Christ, our peace, saw to it.

Walls of hostility that divide God's people don't exist, because Jesus has already destroyed them.

(Tomorrow: Our Light)


Anonymous said...

Tim, so very lovely. I left the RCC recently over just this issue. There seems to be a concrete effort to assign 'sin' to so many people and groups, as a way of exclusion. I do not and can never see Jesus in this vein. It is terribly sad, but I have found the Episcopal church to be so different, even though it struggles internationally with differences in opinion. We must all work to erradicate this concept of 'other' when it comes to Christ and his teachings.

Missy said...

Galatians 3:28 is one of my favorites. There are so many parallels to be drawn between that time and our own. Between Paul's struggle to bring acceptance to Gentiles and the struggle GLBT people face in many Christian communities.

Jesus came here for everyone.

And He continues to do so today.

We remember.
We celebrate.
We believe.

Tim said...

I absolutely believe the reason why Paul emphasized the destruction of barriers through Christ's peace was for our edification, but more importantly, for the church's longevity. When we individually defy the existence of walls of hostility--by faith, ignoring what we see and experience in preference to the truth of Jesus's supreme sacrifice--the underpinnings of institutionalized prejudice start to crumble.

Sherry's comment got me thinking about how personally painful religious rejection can be--not only for those whom it targets, but those who feel helpless and disillusioned by watching it happen. For me, the disenfranchisement of non-orthodox believers in the Pentecostal realm is especially grievous, because it mars the beauty and refutes the confidence I was raised to admire in my church.

No longer willing (and by no means required) to endure its policies of rejection, I now worship with a "mainstream Protestant" denomination committed to welcoming all. Yet I do so as an "ex-pat"--and I pray that the leaders of the church I still cherish will soon recognize the walls of exclusion they uphold so vehemently were forever destroyed at Calvary.

Yet I'm also torn, because my not being there with them removes my ability to help them see that. At the same time, my own spiritual survival depends on distancing myself from unscriptural bigotry. What to do?

An infinitely wise church mother once told me, "Some people you have to love with a long-handled spoon." So I love them from afar, praying always for their enlightenment, and knowing God is moving in them. The changes we desire will happen in His time. But as He works, we must take care never to write them off as impossible or irredeemable.

Some of us, I believe, are called to remain--to prayerfully, lovingly oppose the walls. Others of us are called to stay vigilantly prayerful and compassionate from afar. It's not easy for any of us, within or without. Yet we must do as we feel led and together we can be God's instruments of change.

His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. And nothing's too hard for Him. That's what we have to know.