Building a theological foundation for unity
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Building a theological foundation for unity

ISSN 2767-4797
Walter R Strickland II, PhD
A

A trusted mentor told me, “Once you are tired of casting a vision, your listeners are just beginning to understand.” Amid a historical moment when America’s collective racial consciousness is piqued, Christians should be deeply burdened by the trauma of this world, not because of social or political pressure, but because believers are called to be the aroma of Christ in a sin-filled world (2 Cor. 2:15-16). While tragic events and secular methods of pursuing “racial justice” abound, they are neither the root cause of Christian engagement, nor the believer’s means of providing the balm of the gospel amid racial brokenness—Scripture is our foundation.

Believers are not guilted into this raging conversation but compelled by a biblical vision of peace and unity (Eph. 2:14-16). The treacherous terrain of the American racial dialogue stokes a variety of valid emotions ranging from some who are eager to begin an overdue conversation, others who are burdened but do not know where to start, and still others are worried that if they begin down this path, the conclusion is being forced to apologize for the sins of their forefathers and begrudge their ethnic heritage. Scripture transforms a guilt-laden motivation into elated obedience because Christians can rejoice in the spiritual blessings gained in the process of working toward unity.

Christian educators have a unique opportunity to engage this issue as they teach students about the joys and sorrows of this world while casting a compelling vision of how it should be. This Kingdom inspired vision motivates Christian schools to intentionally become a place where God’s children are prepared to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40)—an increasingly multicultural task.

It is my joy to briefly summarize a biblical and theological vision for pursuing a living witness of God’s unified people in all of its cultural diversity.

Biblical Motivation
The good news of the Gospel is God redeeming all things to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2, the Gospel unifies a diverse people in Christ. Paul’s words examine new life in Christ by exploring two implications of the Gospel. First, Paul address the redemption of individual people to God (vs. 1-10), and second, he examines the Gospel’s unifying implications in the redeemed community (vs. 11ff). Paul’s argument culminates with a unified, yet diverse, community begins with humanity’s common plight of being “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1). Fortunately, God, who is gracious and merciful made a way for salvation through faith in the resurrected Christ (v. 8).

After describing the means of humanity’s restoration to God, Paul transitions to the Gospel’s ability to mend broken relationships between brothers and sisters. Christ-centered unity addresses every stumbling block that divides the people of God. In Ephesus, a significant source of discord was the Jew/Gentile ethnic divide and Paul describes how Christ’s resurrection overcame that division (vs. 14-17). Paul’s reasoning in Ephesians 2 is instructive today as God’s people strive to value image bearers from all cultures within the family of God.

Personal Sanctification
The quest to be like God who knows all began and failed in the early chapters of Genesis. This ill-advised quest fractured humanity’s ability to know ourselves, others, and God rightly. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes the human condition by declaring that people “see through a mirror dimly.” These limitations are compounded by human particularity as each person is influenced by certain geographic regions, economic realities, upbringing, and cultural background. Each of these characteristics “dim our lenses” to some earthy realities and makes us keenly aware of others.

Limitation is essential to what it means to be human. As a result, the question is not, “Do I have blind spots?” rather, “What are they?” In an effort to overcome our blind spots, Proverbs 27:17 says that, “Iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another.” Scripture also testifies to the fact that iron sharpens iron most affectively across the lines of difference. This dynamic is evident in 2 Timothy 2:2 (older and younger men) and in Titus 2 (older and younger women) as they benefit from the age gap. Learning from older generations is held in relatively high regard compared to gleaning from those of a different culture. Unfortunately, believers rarely reap the benefits of this mutual sharpening because of the unconscious yet prideful assumption that those from different cultures have few insights to offer.

The slow pace of American Christians to pursue cultural and ethnic reconciliation constitutes an untapped avenue in pursuit of sanctification. A body of believers that worships across racial lines and expresses the “one another’s” of the New Testament paints a wonderful picture of the Gospel’s ability to tear down the walls that divide (Eph. 2:14). People in multiethnic environments have put on Christ in a way that overcomes historical baggage, heals grudges, and motivates them to think on behalf of the other. This requires the forgiveness and patience that have been exemplified in Christ.

Human effort will not realize John’s Revelation 5:9 vision on this side of the Kingdom—the Lord will do that when He returns. However, efforts to pursue biblical diversity are not about achieving Kingdom promises now, but about the work done on His people in the process. This process makes Christians more like Jesus, and this is why the quest for racial and cultural unity is essential to the Christian life—it makes us more like Jesus.

Christ’s followers live between His first coming and second coming and have experienced the fruit of the resurrection in salvation, but God’s people look forward to experiencing the fullness of God’s kingdom. Until then, God’s people are to live as those actively seeking to manifest the riches of Christ’s future Kingdom reign in the present. Christian schools have a unique opportunity to serve as a beacon of hope and a centrifugal force catalyzing agents of light into darkness (Matt. 5:14-16).

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