Today’s Tuesday Tea-ology: what is the church’s response to racism?
The many grim headlines that have met us in recent days point to a nation caught in the tug-of-war between chaos and control, and remind us that we are in this dilemma because we, as a culture, have rejected the Lordship of Christ. We encounter grievous injustice, and try to deal with it with all the resources of pagan or secular worldviews; the results are what we see unfolding.
There can be no doubt that self-consciously Christian societies have often failed to live up to their own principles. But what should be noticed is that these failures were a contradiction of their principles, not an accordance with them. That means that such a society would have within itself the resources to address its failures with repentance and reconciliation. There is a divine standard of justice, pure and glorious, to which all men stand accountable; there is an identifiable spiritual root to all injustice, sin in the human heart; there is a means of challenging wickedness with the gospel of Jesus Christ, of calling sinners to repentance and of seeing change, reconciliation, healing, and love that transcends boundaries.
But a secular or pagan society–and are these different things, or only different names?–does not contain within itself the resources to address injustice. That is why the efforts to address it turn towards chaos or control. The way of Christ has been excluded from the start, in pursuit of freedom from God. But freedom from the Righteous One will never mean righteousness, nor true freedom. A society that rejects the God who is the divine standard of justice cannot be expected to arrive at justice in its social dimensions.
The solution to our situation is neither revolution nor authoritarianism. It is conversion. The price of a just and peacefully society is repentance. Repentance of what? Many things. But, in the first place, of our secularism. If we will not have Christ, it is control or chaos. If we do not want chaos or control, we must turn to Christ.
“To whom, O Savior, shall we go?
The night of death draws near;
Its shadows must be passed alone,
No friend can with our souls go down
The untried way to cheer.
Thou hast the words of endless life;
Thou givest victory in the strife;
Thou only art the changeless Friend,
On whom for aye we may depend:
In life, in death, alike we flee,
O Savior of the world! to Thee.”
-Frances Ridley Havergal, final paragraph of “Faith’s Question”.
So many things are advanced under the banner of ‘love’ these days, and such a variety of things are condemned as hate. As a culture, we are deeply confused about love.
But there is a transcendent standard, if we will look to it: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Love is a self-giving for the other, and there has never been such a marvelous demonstration of love as when God the Father sent His Son to die in our place, the Savior of the world.
We were not good and worthy of saving. We were His enemies, not His friends. He wasn’t in our debt; we already owed Him everything, and had reneged on our obligations towards Him. Any attempt to see us as deserving of salvation cheapens God’s grace and undercuts the matchless mystery of His redeeming love.
Christ died for us because God is love. God is so consummately loving, that He gave His only beloved Son for our redemption. God’s love was demonstrated, enacted, incomparably displayed, upon the cross where Jesus died for us.
Love indescribable, wonderful and wild, extravagant and incomprehensible. This is the majesty of divine love. This is love that shakes the world.
In Romans 1, the apostle Paul speaks of mankind’s tendency to idolatry in our fallen state. “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25, NASB).
We are creatures–created beings. Our fundamental identity and purpose is found in worshiping and serving our Creator, blessed forever, God Almighty. This is where joy and meaning are found; and this is why sin is so deadening and unfulfilling, and why idolatry is so twisted.
The mystery of redemption is the great work of God to draw us back to Himself. He seeks lost creatures, fixes broken people, and enables us once again to worship and serve Him in grateful joy. To reject redemption, to run from God, is to shut oneself off from flourishing as a human being.
To embrace the gift of God is to discover life as it is meant to be, eternal life in the ever-living God, who is blessed forever. Amen.
When the apostle Paul was dragged before the Sanhedrin to give an account of his teaching, he expressed the core of the Christian faith with profound simplicity: “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6, NIV).
Now, in the context we are shown that this was a very savvy move given his situation. He observed that the assembly included both members of the party of the Pharisees (who affirmed the resurrection) and of the Sadducees (who did not) (v.6). Declaring that he was on trial over this contested doctrine was a cunning way to turn the united opposition against him into a body divided against itself–as immediately followed (vv.7-9).
Nonetheless, it was not only a rhetorical technique; it was also a fair statement of the Christian hope. When Paul was later brought before Governor Felix, he spoke of his faith in terms of the Scriptures, God, and “a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (24:15). Then, presenting his faith before King Agrippa, Paul quickly puts the resurrection at the center (26:6-8). Indeed, his faith is the story of his encounter with the risen Christ (vv.12-23). The centrality of the resurrection is further evident at various places in Paul’s letters, as well as other New Testament writings.
The Christian faith is a resurrection faith, a resurrection hope. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and in the coming resurrection to eternal life of all who belong to Him. Indeed, these two are inseparable: for salvation is union by faith with the Son of God, such that His death is our death to sin, and His resurrection our new life. The resurrection is inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ; death has been dealt a mortal blow; our sins were paid for on the cross, and we were declared justified in the resurrection. This is the faith of the Christian church.
And this means that watered-down Christianity can be no more acceptable to us than it would have been to the apostle Paul. “Faith” has no value unless it is faith in the risen Son. Vague theism offers no hope. Liberal theology that sees the resurrection as a poignant myth is utterly bankrupt. Only the boisterous supernaturalism, the potent scandal of orthodoxy, holds the secret of hope–resurrection hope.
And resurrection hope is stronger than all the tempests of life. The terror of death itself is overwhelmed in the mystery of resurrection life. The apostle’s confession is the perennial and world-shaking witness of the Christian faith: “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
“The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration. I am rather tired of hearing about our rights…The time has come to hear about responsibilities…America’s future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God’s government.”
Marshall was not, I think, the first to make this pointed and poetic differentiation: Christ or chaos. But he was prescient in his application of it to American society. With increasing secularization in American society over the last seventy years, the nation has done a lot of rejecting Christ, and has experienced a good amount of chaos in return.
Chaos is, I think, what we are presently experiencing culturally. It is fairly contained at the moment, and for that we can be thankful. But we are a divided people, and the moral and psychological consequences of secularization are all too obvious. Chaos is, at present, where America has gone.
But suggesting that we return to Christ–that we put the Bible and prayer back in schools, that we repent of the hideous wickedness of abortion, etc.–is, to many, a worse alternative to chaos. Some of them suggest an alternative solution, and that is control. Whose control? Well, the government’s, of course. Give the government ever more intrusive power over the lives of the citizenry, and they will bring about a just and safe society.
We had a choice between Christ and chaos. We chose chaos. It’s not going well. So, rather than choosing Christ, a sizeable portion of the American people would prefer to bring in a third factor–control. This is the sacrifice of freedom for security.
For there is another triad to bring into the discussion: virtue, freedom, and security. These three fit well together; or, more properly, virtue allows you to have both freedom and security. The virtuous man will use his freedom responsibly for the good of others. But the unvirtuous man will use his freedom to harm others; when a society has thrown out virtue, they must choose between freedom and security–they can’t have both. Or, to return to the first triad, when a society has rejected Christ, they must choose between chaos (loss of security) or control (loss of freedom). They must have one. And it is entirely possible that the attempt will fail and that they will have both chaos and control, neither freedom nor security.
This is the dynamic that a Christian must observe around us. People feel unsafe, so they ask for more intrusive government control; they also feel their desires inhibited, so they throw off restraint and embrace chaos. Neither chaos nor control will bring flourishing; but Christ will. What America needs is not primarily education or legislation, but conversion.
CNN posted a tragedy recently, as part of their effort to promote the sexual revolution. The story is as instructive as it is appalling.
The article’s headline read: “I was married with 2 kids when I realized I’m gay.” Immediately following came the editor’s note, which stated with tragic predictability that “Melisa Raney is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Atlanta with her two children.”
What happened to the husband? Between title and editor’s note lay the story of a marriage destroyed by the sexual revolution. The article itself confirmed this. But what justification could be offered for this betrayal of marital vows? What could be more important than loving the man to whom this woman had united herself? What could trump the importance of providing a stable home and family life for their two children?
Finding herself. Self-acceptance.
For here was the problem, in the young woman’s mind: “there I was, at 36 years old, realizing I didn’t know myself at all.”
What explains this sense of lostness? What was missing from her life, that she had this sense of alienation and incompleteness of identity? “I had everything I thought made my life perfect. I was married to my best friend and we had two beautiful, healthy and hilarious children, with successful careers and a beautiful home.”
If that’s the description of what she thought would make her life complete, the diagnosis seems fairly clear. There is someone missing from the picture, but it’s not herself. The tragedy unfolds from her misdiagnosis of the problem. She bought the lie that desire is identity, and accepted the prescription of self-acceptance for salvation. “A part of myself wasn’t living. And by not letting that part live, I was slowly dying.”
It’s easy, then, to see why others had to be sacrificed. The gospel of self-acceptance quite naturally demands sacrifices, and one’s children and covenant partner are likely candidates for the altar. “My family was being shattered and I couldn’t stop it. I constantly had to remind myself, ‘You get one life. This is your life and no one else’s’” (italics hers).
The sacrifices were made, but ineffective. “I was finally figuring out who I was. Now I was ashamed by that answer.” Shame, the need to hide ourselves—first consequence of the open eyes in the primordial fall. How do we deal with the shame of true self-realization? Adam and Eve tried to cover up with fig leaves, but God showed them that something must die to cover their sin.
Self-acceptance is a fig leaf. No amount of supportive community and group therapy will make it adequate. The goal is an illusion: “We were on a path that feels impossible to navigate until one day, you can live your truth and be perfectly fine shaping a new life.” Truth is not a matter of personal subjectivity. Shaping a life to suit your own desires will never work out to joy, because you were made to shape your life around God and His desires.
That’s who was missing from her picture of the perfect life; and joy was missing too, because joy is His gift. Sacrifices to self-acceptance and sinful desire cannot bring what God alone possesses. So she ends with a mistaken moral for this heartbreaking tale: “I want people reading my story to know that it’s OK to be the person you’re meant to be—no matter what your age is when you finally get to know yourself and love who you are in the process.”
The real moral, of course, is that only Christ brings true life and meaning. There is a price to believing the lies of the sexual revolution, the especially heavy price of what those children have and will continue to suffer. The mask falls, and we see clearly how little the LGBTQ+ movement has to do with love. Broken homes and broken lives are its results.
Having a private, personal ‘truth’—my truth—sounds very useful indeed. It legitimates my desires and makes them utterly immune to criticism. But it is only a cloud of smoke, poisonous smoke; for the supreme tragedy is that personal ‘truth’ keeps us from finding Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And He is the only adequate covering for our sin and shame. He is life, and He alone brings salvation.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Hebrews 4:14, NIV)
Easy as it is for Christians to overlook, the ascension is an important event in Christ’s saving work. It is easy for us to think that it would be better if the risen Lord had remained here on earth; then every doubting Thomas could have their fears assuaged, and the church would never have to wrestle through issues of biblical or theological interpretation.
Well, one day Christ will return and all strife and doubt will be ended. But for this present age, God in His wisdom has given us a greater gift than we would have designed for ourselves. The risen Lord ascended. He does not walk among us in the flesh; instead, He stands for us (in the flesh) in the true holy of holies as our great high priest.
The high priest is the mediator who helps the people to draw near to God. Our high priest is God Himself, who first drew near to us. He is the God-man, and after suffering for our sins He rose to bring us life and ascended to provide us with complete salvation. On the one hand, His deity marks His greatness and ability to reconcile us; on the other hand, His humanity marks the fact that He understands our weaknesses and is able to help (v.15).
What is the result? What is the wonderful privilege that Christians enjoy because of the ascension of Christ?
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v.16).
We come freely before the throne of God. The high priests of the Old Covenant could only enter the holy of holies once a year. Our high priest has entered and remains in the true heavenly holy of holies. Through Him, we approach God’s throne–and it is a throne of grace. Here stumbling saints may find not condemnation, but mercy.
Gracious and glorious is the salvation of our God.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem on that holy week, He went to the temple and cleared it of merchants who’d taken up business there. The gentle King who came riding on a donkey’s colt showed His authority and strength. With force He cleansed the temple of the greed that had taken root; His judgment was severe: “‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘ “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers”‘” (Matt. 21:13, NIV).
The picture is as simple as powerful; the religious leaders have gotten used to corruption, and Jesus shows the true heart of God–the place of prayer should not be a place of preying on the poor. The gentle King is also strong to drive out wickedness and protect the needy.
But the more we contemplate it, the more intriguing this episode becomes. For Jesus is the great high priest, and in His own way He is the greater temple–the meeting place of God and man. Indeed, He will in this same week replace the temple, by making Himself the true sacrifice to which all of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant pointed. He will render temple, priesthood, and sacrifices obsolete–for He is the fulfillment of all. He is the one by whom we pray and in whom we are reconciled to God.
In cleansing the temple, Jesus shows us the heart of God, who has provided a place of reconciliation for sinners.
Praise be to Christ, our temple, priest, and sacrifice.