Sufficient Scripture For Social Issues

Our church belongs to the Ohio Association of Regular Baptist Churches, a group of churches from the state who agree to fellowship with one another. There are many benefits to belonging to an association, and God is continuing to use this association for His glory in the lives of both pastors and congregations. There is a newsletter put out by the association four times per year called “The Link”, and I get an emailed copy when it comes out. In May, I received a copy and read one particular article that left me uncomfortable, and it is that article I am going to address here. It can be found on page 9 of this link here. 

I want to preface this post, however, by saying a few things. First, I do not know the author, Bill Smallman, but I am more than willing to believe he is a man who loves the Lord, loves His word, and loves people. Second, on cultural issues, we all possess varying amounts of information leading us to varying views of the problem and therefore varying views of solutions to the problem. Third, I did contact the state representative who publishes “The Link” and asked about this, and the response was that I would get a response when he had more time. I will be happy to update this post if I hear back. Fourth, I write not to be critical, but out of a concern that we look to God’s Word for everything, for every solution, and that the Bible is sufficient for every social problem we face.

 

To this last point, I write in the spirit of Jude’s exhortation, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you exhorting that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3, Legacy Standard Bible). Jude makes clear here that “the faith” is more than just our “common salvation”, rather the faith is the sound doctrine that we have. The faith is the belief we have based on the Word of God, as Paul says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The word “contend” means to struggle, to fight, to put forward intense effort. In a world full of sensitivity and offense, unfortunately many in the church have thought it unkind to contend for the faith, but as Christians we must contend for sound doctrine. We need to remember that “we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the tearing down of strongholds, as we tear down speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3b-5). What I write here has nothing to do with anything other than seeking to take every thought captive to obey Jesus Christ.

 

Having attempted to make clear of the reason for this post, I want to state clearly that there is much about the article I disagree with when it comes to the terms and definitions, but I want to reiterate that some of that comes from having a variety of knowledge on the issues. There are things, no doubt, the author has studied that I have not, and things I am sure I have studied that he has not. We come to the issue with some varying viewpoints on the problems, but I do not wish to make a big deal of those differences. My desire instead is to speak to the issues that impact our faith, our sound doctrine.

We do not have to force oneness, that oneness is already present because we are one in Christ now.

When the author gets to the section on “racial prejudice”, he hits the nail on the head, that this is derived from our fallen nature. In the next paragraph beginning with “the most effective cure”, I begin to have disagreement, not with the conclusion, but with the lack of clarity. I believe the author is expressing something from Ephesians 2:11-22 which talks about the unity we have in Christ, and it is this “common faith in Christ” that outweighs “cultural differences”, but we must make much of the fact that Christ has already made us one, which is what Paul is saying in Ephesians 2. We do not have to force oneness, that oneness is already present because we are one in Christ now. Our role is not to create or produce the oneness, our role is to maintain or keep the unity already given to us in Christ in the church (Ephesians 4:3).

 

That may seem to be a difference without a distinction, but there is a big distinction here that may well be agreed upon by the author. It must be stated clearly that all those in Christ have been given unity, given oneness, and our role is not to create or manufacture unity, rather our role is to recognize the unity and the oneness Christ has given to us and then simply not mess up that oneness. We are to teach the unity we have, and expect everyone to live in humility, gentleness, and patience with each other (Ephesians 4:2). We have no need to jump through hoops or make up for past issues, rather all who are in Christ are to “let all bitterness and anger and wrath and shouting and slander be put away from [us], along with all malice. Instead be kind to one another, tender-hearted, graciously forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has graciously forgiven [us]” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Therefore, within the body of Christ, within the local church, there is nothing to “make-up” from the past...

Therefore, within the body of Christ, within the local church, there is nothing to “make-up” from the past, rather if someone came to Christ with ill feelings toward others, they are to place those aside, forgive them, and seek to love and care for all of their brothers and sisters in Christ without showing partiality to anyone. This difference which has a distinction plays out very differently when you go to the next paragraph, which states,

 

“A missiological principle is that churches should reflect the ethnic makeup of the communities they serve. As neighborhoods develop, the churches should purposely welcome those who represent the future of the community and integrate them into visible leadership as fully as possible. The fault for racial tensions comes from both sides.”

 

This is the main paragraph I find troublesome within the article when compared to the faith handed down to us in the Word of God. The principle stated is one that may be missiological, but my issue with that principle is it is not Biblical. Nowhere in Scripture does God say anything about the ethnic makeup of a local church other than to say that whatever the ethnic makeup is, they are to live in unity and oneness. If our missiological principles are not founded from Scripture, then from where are we getting our missiological principles?

 

The answer to that question, from as best as I can tell, is that it comes from worldly philosophies. I see this principle pushed in universities, in government, and in many godless, secular institutions. The push for affirmative action and diversity within institutions in our godless culture is to force these institutions to reflect more the community around them. We see quotas used to figure out if a secular institution is meeting the standard. My friends, if the culture is pushing this, a culture that is under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), then why are we adopting this view in the church, especially since the Word of God does not express this as a concern for the church?

Certainly that means that we must be unified with anyone who comes into Christ, whether they look like us or not, whether they come from a different culture than us...

We have godless institutions hiring diversity, equity, and inclusion officers, devoting entire departments to diversity, all to make sure their institutions reflect the culture, reflect the community, reflect the ethnic makeup of the people they serve. Church, we must not adopt this idea, not because we seek to not reflect the ethnic makeup of our community, but because we are not to be conformed to this world and we are not to be concerned about ethnicity at all in the church. Not one place in Scripture are we commanded or instructed to be concerned about ethnic makeup in the church, or diversity in the church, rather our concern is always to be toward unity in the church. Certainly that means that we must be unified with anyone who comes into Christ, whether they look like us or not, whether they come from a different culture than us, whether they eat the same foods as us, whether they dress like us, the goal is always, always, always unity around the common faith that we share, unity around the Holy Spirit, unity around the sound doctrine that we find in the Word of God. The problem in local church is not that there is not enough diversity, the problem in the local church from a Biblical point of view, the only true point of view, is that the church is not maintaining the unity Christ gives to them. All of this focus on diversity is causing more disunity and is disobedient to the command to maintain such unity as Christ gives.

 

The proof of what I am saying is found in the very next statement in the article, “As neighborhoods develop, the churches should purposely welcome those who represent the future of the community and integrate them into visible leadership as fully as possible.” There is a lot that is problematic with this suggestion for the church, and in fact, I will demonstrate that it is a call for the church to abandon sound doctrine.

James would not have had them make the rich man sit at their footstool either, rather he would have the church treat them both the same, with honor, to purposely welcome both.

James 2:1-13 teaches us clearly that we are to show no partiality. The example James uses is of a rich person who comes into a church versus a poor person. Note in his illustration that James does not say the church keeps out the poor person, the church even gives the poor person a place to stand or sit, it just is not a place of honor. To the rich man, however, the church gives him a place of honor. Both men are welcomed into the church, but the problem is that one man is purposely welcomed because of his riches. The issue is not that the rich man is honored, it is that he is treated differently than the poor man, and he is treated differently because the church feels there is more benefit to having the rich man with them. James would not have had them make the rich man sit at their footstool either, rather he would have the church treat them both the same, with honor, to purposely welcome both.

 

Translate that to the suggestion in the article. The person who has different ethnicity, they are given a place of honor, they are paid attention to, they are purposely welcomed, they are integrated into visible leadership as fully as possible. Special attention is being paid to those who are the future of the community, and why is that the case? It is because it fulfills the missiological principle. Perhaps one of the most troubling words, however, is the word “visible”. In light of the context, it is clear the word is used because if we have people visibly leading who represent the future of our community, others will come in and see we are practicing such and will want to be a part of what we are doing.

 

I fail to understand how integrating these people who look like the future of the community into visible leadership is not missing what Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of doing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” In light of Jesus’ warning here, the word “visible” is very troubling. One cannot help but think that the goal is to communicate that this is a diverse church as can be seen by who is in visible leadership. Since our culture places value on diversity, it is a work of righteousness in their sight.

The culture is the one bringing division, but God is calling us to unity.

But let me not only struggle against the error, allow me to quickly contend for the faith too. The church is made one in Christ, by His finished work on the cross. Jesus prayed that we would be one in John 17. The reconciliation we have with the Father in Christ gives us reconciliation with one another in the Spirit. We must bear in mind that it is Christ who builds His church (Matthew 16:18), it is the Holy Spirit who is putting every church together (Ephesians 2:19-22), and therefore it is He who will consider its makeup, not us. We are not to try to create anything, that is God’s work. We also ought not to resist God's work, but purposely welcome everyone. We are to show absolutely no partiality, not for the one who represents the future of the community and not against the one who represents the future of the community. Rather, we are to seek to help each one whom God grants us to minister to first be reconciled with the Father through Jesus and as a result be reconciled through the gospel to one another, and then to maintain that unity given to us, serving one another in love with the gifts we are given.

 

The culture is the one bringing division, but God is calling us to unity. For those who are angry about past sin, about slavery, about offenses they or others have experienced at the hands of someone who looks different than them, it is time to recognize the work of Christ through the gospel. You need to forgive, you need to cease bitterness, you need to give up your anger, and you need to put on gentleness, love, compassion, and kindness toward your brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they look like someone who brought grievous harm in the past.

 

This really is not all that complicated. The Word of God is sufficient for these things, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner these social issues will cease to be issues in the church. More importantly, we will, as Christ's church, be maintaining the unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace together to the glory of God the Father.