*Sorry in advance for the humble-bragging I’m about to do.*
It’s no secret that the United States is more divided today than it has been since any point in history since the Civil War. Unsurprisingly, this division is reflected in our church communities. It may, however, come as a surprise to some how central church unity is to Scripture.
Last week, I had the joy of sitting in on a class on Galatians taught by N.T. Wright. Wright argues that justification in Pauline writing—especially in Galatians—is primarily about inclusion (specifically ethnic inclusion), and less about salvation (a word that never appears in this particular letter). ‘Salvation’ as understood in the classically Reformed tradition certainly has something to do with how this inclusion is achieved, but it is not the issue at hand in Paul’s argument. Rather, Paul is responding to a teaching pervasive in the early church that God’s people—the “Messiah-family”—were limited to ethnic Jews and to those who chose to observe Torah.
Wright seldom repeats himself while teaching (he’s a bear for slow notetakers like myself), but one line he repeated over and over was that Galatians is Paul’s argument that “Jesus died to make one family” in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:2&3), a family comprising Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, men and women (Gal. 3:28). In Paul’s view, these differences are not obliterated (assimilated) in this new family, but transcended and re-imagined within the promised “new creation” which all believers eagerly await. Wright went on to say that Paul has in mind a “Messiah-family” characterized by God’s faithfulness—self-giving, self-sacrificial, loving—and righteousness/justice. By embodying these characteristics—Paul calls it “clothing yourselves with Christ” (3:27), God’s people fulfill their original purpose of projecting God’s image into the world (Gen. 1:27).
I found myself in an impassioned conversation with several other women after the class let out one day about the current divisions in our churches, and how lamentably few Christians actually wrestle with the theology we’re taught which underlies them. Certainly, many of these divisions fall along on ethnic lines, but also along the lines of
- gender (complementarian v. egalitarian)
- embracing vs. minimally accommodating those with disabilities
- generational differences
- single, married, and married-with-children
- political affiliation
- attitudes/practices/theology re. LGBTQ people
It occurred to me as we were talking that our apathy and unwillingness to reconsider and wrestle with our faulty theology boils down to one simple failure: the failure to recognize someone who doesn’t look/talk/think/live like us as “our own.” If we truly understand the invitation of the gospel—to become a part of “the Messiah-family” in which culturally defined differences are transcended—then we are called to recognize those different from us as “our own.” And if we recognize someone as “our own,” then we care about the theology that impacts them (and dare I say, creates divisions in today’s “Messiah-family”), and we engage with it accordingly.
I do not think that rigorous engagement on the above listed divisions (and associated theology) will result in agreement or uniform practice. As an egalitarian, I dearly wish that all of the apathetic complementarian men I know (and some women, too) would be persuaded to my view through thorough study of Scripture. However, I also believe that the act of openly engaging with the theology, even if it results in disagreement, is an act of self-giving love (i.e. the faithfulness of God), love which is meant to characterize our new “family.” Having the conversation and seeking to understand the other’s perspective is an acknowledgement that “the other” is “my own,” even in the absence of consensus.
So I’ll leave it at this: If you’re a person of color and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re a complementarian follower of Jesus, you are my family. If you have a disability and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re 8 or 80 and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re married, divorced, widowed, have small children, or you’re an empty-nester and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re a Democratic Socialist or a Republican and and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re an LGBTQ follower of Jesus, you’re my family. Let’s talk.