Category Archives: Racial Reconciliation
In a few previous posts I have been posting bits and pieces that begin to explain the thinking and the history behind why we have founded a new “simple church” network. You can read something about why we feel the need for something new here. Or something about the back-story here. If you want to understand the name Four31 you can find that here. You can read the values that we hold as particular communities and as a network as a whole here.
Here is our vision for what we hope God will do in and through our communities and our network:
- To take discipleship as our first priority. To have our humanness restored in God’s image as we learn to follow Jesus and as we invite others to learn with us
- To reach those not being reached by contemporary church models by re-imagining the shape and style of church organised around mission. Questioning our inherited strategies for the sake of reaching a lost and dying world with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
- To litter the nooks, crannies, forgotten and neglected places of our city with scattered communities of light. Authentic communities of light living distinctive, shared lives that both demonstrate and proclaim the goodness of living under the reign of King Jesus
- To see the diversity of our cities and towns being brought together through the gospel into one new body, the church. New communities, where the racial, cultural and economic barriers are being broken down as an expression of our unity in Christ. To be communities shaped by the cross and where the patterns of our life together are a taste of God’s new kingdom.
It struck me once again this morning how idealistic much of our South African dialogue around transformation can be. On my way to a meeting I was listening to a radio debate (is that the sound of my street cred card being revoked?) around transformation of the judiciary.
The details of the debate were almost irrelevant; change the topic to another similar transformation issue, insert the appropriate terminology and you could have the same debate tomorrow.
Two particular responses stand out for me:
1. Force them to transform:
This is quite common among those who have been previously disadvantaged (to use the ridiculously convoluted politically correct term) who despite years of hard work and honest effort are still faced with the fact that white people control most of the wealth and economic opportunities in South Africa. If they will not change – then make them change! It is the government’s job to force them to share!
There are definitely days that I agree with this sentiment and there is much to commend it. But, besides the potential social fall-out of bitterness and division, this kind of transformation is shallow. It may transform the outward behaviour but it has not changed the heart. It may force a man to share but cannot make him want to share. It may, in fact, have the opposite effect resulting in deepened racial hatred and increased self-preservation. Compulsion may have the desired outward effect but even then rather than a spirit of giving and nation-building (to use another over-used phrase) it breeds as an unwanted side effect a focussing of energies, not on self-sacrifice and generosity, they rather on devising ways to “cheat the system” for “our” benefit.
2. It is the right thing to do:
This attitude goes something like this, people must change because it is the right thing to do. This might seem strange because I agree that it is the right thing to do. But why is it the right thing to do? Why in the world should a rich white man share his hard-earned (he did work hard for it albeit in a system that favoured him) material wealth or creative capital with a poor, ill-educated black woman who possibly does not even speak English? Why should he take from his children in order to give to another man’s children? Why would anyone disadvantage his own people in order to advantage another people?
Transformation only makes sense to me in the light of the gospel. The gospel story of Jesus, who though he is profoundly not like us, gives up all his heavenly privilege for us. Jesus who does not hoard his treasure but instead gives up his own body to rescue undeserving sinners. Jesus who lays down all the riches of heaven in order to bring all the riches of heaven to us. Jesus who not only lays down his rights but who takes up his enemies and adopts them into his family.
It is only as I follow this Jesus; as I stake my life on this gospel that I not only want to see change but I rejoice to share my resources with those not like me. The gospel transforms not just the outward behaviour but the heart. The gospel is far deeper and richer than much of what passes for transformation today. When the gospel is at work we no longer have to settle for only a superficial transformation but now a deep and beautiful transformation is at work. The gospel redefines “those like me” – it is not race or economics but together we may all stand as sons and daughters of the Most High God.
Gospel transformation is not glamorous or high-profile. It is less concerned with what the president or constitutional court are doing. They can only control the superficial acts of transformation but thousands of ordinary Christians following Jesus everyday in the simple, loving acts of brotherhood can slowly and in weakness begin to transform a community.
Mez has written a great post on gospel reconciliation. You can read the whole thing here.
“The aim of community reconciliation at this level is to break down these barriers of suspicion. I’ve lost count of the number of times a local has said about X in the church, ‘Actually, he/she is alright. I thought they’d be a stuck up ******* but they’re alright.’ Or, conversely, ‘I thought I wouldn’t know what to say to Y but he/she is actually really switched on and asks intelligent questions’. Why the change of mind? Because the individual(s) crossed the cultural divide and engaged in an activity outside of their norm. This kind of conciliatory behaviour, then, must be a two-way street if it is to have any lasting effect. There is huge power in the reconciliation brought to us through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The testimony of a life transformed by the ravages of sin is a powerful tool. That power is further intensified at the community level as they see reconciliation and barriers broken down through the community life of the church alongside other ministry outlets. Of course, this is a big topic with much to say.”
A significant problem with “friendship evangelism” is that we can end up only reaching “people like us” or even just people we like. And as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:46, if you only love those who love you- everyone does that. Even the tax-collectors.
In addition to our existing relationships we need to cross social and cultural divides. We need to move out of the ghetto.
Almost by definition, friendship evangelism leaves the socially marginalised untouched. And yet these were precisely the people Jesus went out of his way to include.
In Luke 14 we observe God- the Master of the great eternal party- has thrown open his banquet to
“the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (v21). Jesus urges us out of our ghetto in imitation of his gracious Father.
Jesus, himself left the splendour and security of heaven to live and die – among and for us. Us who are so radically different from him and undeserving of his love. And just as the Father has sent him so he now sends us (John 20:21).
(Based on the Porterbrook Network “Evangelism” module; Unit 3: Building Relationships)
Some Practical Considerations:
We must never make the mistake of imagining that bringing people together simply means, hanging out under the same roof or in the same space, interspersed with some pleasantries. To be a church that truly is good news to Cape Town, that brings people together in a manner that can be described as “one new man”, will involve more than people of different cultures gathering in the same building once or twice a week. Even unbelievers do that regularly in restaurants, workplaces, sports events, malls or coffee shops (Matthew 6:46-47).
It will require something of us – a laying down of our lives, our cultural idols, our preferences, our way of doing things, in order to truly understand, love and serve our brothers and sisters. It will require us to eat together, spend time together, be in each others homes, with each others families, to pray together, study the Word together, engage on mission together.To learn to celebrate and enjoy the things which the other enjoys or celebrates. We will have to learn grace, mercy, self-sacrifice and open, honest-discourse if this is to happen. We cannot simply expect it to happen we must be intentional about it!
This will require:
a) Our hearts must want it, work for it, pursue it. In many ways the external actions are incidental to a changed heart that desperately wants to see the gospel reality that the divided walls have been destroyed embodied in the community of God’s people. Discussions of the externals in this forum become irrelevant then, all that counts is that we love our neighbour as ourselves – and follow wherever that takes us.
b) Perseverance: We cannot give up easily – this task is not for the faint-hearted, we will hurt, offend and misunderstand one another, together we must seek grace and forgiveness
c) Time: We must not be fooled into thinking that a couple of meetings in a week and suddenly we are having community. We must be prepared to “waste time” just hanging out with each other, laughing with each other, telling our stories and being together. In order for real community to be fostered, for us to really begin talking to one another we have to be spending time with one another.
Somehow out of the melting pot of hours and days and quick coffees and lazy braais and long walks there begins to emerge a “oneness”, an understanding of one another that is built on relationship. So that when we hit the hard cultural and racial issues we are dealing with these in the context of relationship. That is very different to trying to work that out with people who are functional strangers.
d) Space: The context in which this reconciliation must happen must be mutual – we must both enter each others worlds and experience, question and learn, know where we live, grew up, what we eat. Too much of this kind of community has happened on “white turf”. We must move it into the townships, Cape Flats and rural areas if we are to truly be “one new humanity”
e) Prayer: Only God can do this – left to our own devices we will fail. But we must pray for this with the passion and perseverance of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-5). Lord we will not stop until you work in and among us and make us these people together!
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The apostle Paul writing about relationships between the Jews and Gentiles in Ephesians 2 has this to say:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (v14)
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (v14-16, 19-22 edited)
To believe the gospel is not simply to give mental assent to some rational truths that you agree with (it is certainly not less than this). To believe the gospel is to hear the word of declaration of the arrival of God’s King and his means of salvation and to join your life with His Story. It is the Great Story whose aim is the glory of God and whose plot is the restoration of true humanity.
When the gospel is at work among his people in South Africa we ought to see the church, in part and yet in significant ways, overcoming these issues. We ought to see churches bringing people of different races, cultures and socio-economic classes together in the gospel.
The desire of our nation, reflected in the talk of our politicians and thought leaders is for meaningful racial reconciliation. But for all that talk we have made little progress. We may work in the same buildings, ride the same trains or even attend the same churches but at the end of the day we go home to our own communities, by and large populated by “people like us”.
We may exchange small talk and pleasantries or even engage in rigorous professional or academic debate but what do we say when our guard is down and there are only people like us left? I am frequently shocked by other white people “taking me into their confidence” with the assumption that I too am like them and will concur with their frustrations and prejudices.
What of the church? If there is any place that racial reconciliation ought to be succeeding it is in the church. The gospel gives me reason to lay down my privilege, my grudges, my cultural distinctives, my personal preferences, my history and together stand at the foot of the cross amazed at the grace of Jesus. Jesus, who though he was so very different from us, became like us, in order to redeem us.
Jesus who died for us so that we might live, be forgiven and adopted into his family. Jesus whose resurrection life has broken out into the world breaking down the dividing wall of hostility (through his own body) and creating in himself one new man, thus bringing about the shalom (peace) of God. That would surely look and be good news to our divided and broken nation.
In Revelation 7:9-10 the Kingdom of God in it’s fullness is revealed as a heaving multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people. And this united, restored humanity is directly linked to the gospel (v10).
“I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
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In Mark 1:15 Jesus declares that “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming the good news or gospel that the Kingdom of God was near. God’s Kingdom was coming because God’s King was coming.
But how is the Kingdom of God good news? For most of us today the arrival of a King to rule over us does not sound like good news at all! We want to be free, no kind of rule sounds like good news.
And this was the lie of Satan way back in the Garden of Eden when the Serpent portrayed God as a tyrant, holding us back, keeping the best for himself. But God is not a tyrant – his rule is one of freedom, mercy, love, justice, life, blessing and peace.
King Jesus comes both to demonstrate to us the goodness of living under the reign of God and to set us free from our self-imposed exile from God and slavery to the tyrannical rule of sin. The church (the people of God) looks forward to a glorious future that God has promised us in Christ. But the story of the Bible is that this Kingdom has now broken in and is at work saving and restoring a people. Where the good and gracious reign of King Jesus can be seen. In the church we find a taste of what it means to be truly human… again.
It is the gospel which answers the deepest and most noble aspirations of our society. It is the gospel which satisfies the restless longing of our souls, the residual image of God in man, marred but not forever lost. The church as the foretaste of restored humanity demonstrates to the world (through the goodness of their lives together) that their good desires and aspirations are satisfied only in Jesus. The church declares to the world in word and deed that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.
What could it mean for the gospel to be “good news” to South Africa today?
Issues of race have been an even more contentious issue in South Africa over the last few months. From models tweeting, artists painting, students FaceBooking , bloggers blogging, politicians marching and presidents suing issues of race have been a hot topic in social media forums lately. Christians have not been exempt from these issues and sadly enough have mostly just been a PG-rated mirror of the attitudes emanating from their respective communities.
We live in a county that eighteen years into democracy remains heavily divided along racial and economic lines. How is it that the gospel can be seen as good news to South Africa? For make no mistake, if we have a gospel that has nothing to say to this issue in our time, in our country – then we have an impotent gospel!
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