[This past Sunday, guest speaker Joseph Stowell briefly spoke into issue of racism within the church and God being fiercely against it in light of the full dignity and equality of all human persons created in the image of God. I thought I would recycle a related blogpost from a few months ago that originally appeared on the College Park blog.]

I recently pulled up a chair and got to know Genesis 1-2 a bit more. I thought it would be interesting to see if the Core Values of College Park Church could add to the conversation.[1] As I listened to what the Word and these simple core values had to say I decided to pose a question. How do the church’s core values speak to the issue of race? Yes, I could have posed any number of issues but that was the one on my mind at the time. In what follows I’ll try to quickly convey a few thoughts that stuck with me. I welcome you to join me in the conversation because there’s definitely a lot more that could—and should—be said.

Biblical Unity in Diversity
Giving myself a little wiggle room with what Biblical Unity in Diversity means, I think it provides the best starting point. No surprise, but the idea finds its source in God. God is one in essence (unity) and yet three distinct persons (diversity). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share full equality as the eternally infinite God and yet they are different in their operations or activities. For instance, the Father sends the Son, the Son saves us through his work, and the Spirit sanctifies us.

When Genesis 1:27 informs us that God creates mankind “in his likeness”, it immediately adds the commentary, “male and female he created them.” Not only do human beings reflect God in the complementary but equal genders of male and female but they also image the Triune God through other differences, including skin colors and ethnic groups. Adam and Eve weren’t just the first male and female but they stand atop every single person’s family tree.

The obvious inference from this has been well argued in One Race One Blood by our former church elder, Dr. Charles Ware.[2] If race is defined as “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity,”[3] there really is only one race, the human race. The image of God in all mankind and the common father of Adam unite every ethnicity and people group as one race. And yet, we also embrace the diversity of those ethnicities, genders, colors, people groups, and cultures as a beautiful God intended design. We take great strides when we most past the nod of “yeah, okay we’re all equal” to actually embracing diversity as valuable and advantageous. More on that to come…

Pre-eminence of Jesus
Having seen our connection as humans through the first Adam, Christians have an even stronger bond through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul provides a theological rationale for why the wall dividing Jews and Gentiles has crumbled as Jesus unites all believers as one new man. This passage reminds us that an indissoluble union with Christ also includes an inseparable union with other believers. If the slogan “tear down that wall” ever applied to a situation it surely does so with the people of God.

Our church’s stated summary of this core value begins, “While many things vie for priority in life, we are committed to centering our lives on Jesus…” What this entails is that Jesus becomes the defining reality of our lives, including our truest identity (in Christ) and most significant community (the Church). All believers stand together with the fundamental identity of being a sinner redeemed and forgiven by the grace received through Jesus. All other ways we may self-identity prove secondary and fall under the umbrella of my identity in Christ. If there’s ample reason to value one another though a common relative—Adam—think how much more motivation is found in a common redeemer—Jesus.

Authority of the Word
The explanation of the Authority of the Word states, “The Bible is the foundation of who we are, what we believe and everything we do.” Hopefully, we’re already seeing from Genesis and Ephesians how the Bible determines our understanding of race. Where we get into trouble is when culture, tradition, assumptions, or bad ideas passed down become our authority for life rather than God’s Word. Much of the (ir)rationale I’ve heard from people on race comes from anywhere but the Bible. However, as we put ourselves under the authority of Scripture, we allow it to shape our thinking. As believers live together under the direction and authority of God’s Word, we will be defined not as people of a particular color but people of the book.

Redemptive Community
As believers belonging to one another because we belong to Jesus we’ve entered the tightest of communities. We’re a community of the redeemed living out life together as we push one another to press on. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:4-5).

Whatever our color or background, as one body in Christ we suffer under the same problem—sin—and find hope in the same solution—Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Blood here is most certainly thicker than water. We cling together as imperfect people who encourage one another with the Word, point one another back to grace, strengthen one another in prayer, and pour fuel on the flame of our affections for Jesus.

Extravagant Grace
When we move beyond outward appearance to the heart we see the basis on which God sees and accepts us. On our own, wherever we land on the spectrum of skin colors, we stand condemned and corrupted by sin. Anyone who has put their hope in Christ receives extravagant grace from God as he lavishes us with the double cure of salvation and cleansing.

Christians extend grace to one another not because of anything in us or about us but simply as an outflow of what we’ve received in Jesus. We may think, act, speak, or worship differently because of cultural or ethnic backgrounds but we demonstrate this core value—Extravagant Grace—by not making our way the right way. Within the unity of a common set of beliefs and practices we allow for diversity, and thus for grace as we joyfully accept the way these differences actually prove complementary. Just think what a gospel billboard our churches would be if Sunday mornings moved from the most segregated day of the week to a beautiful picture of every tribe, nation, and color united around the grace they received in Jesus.

The Call to Go!
One of the first songs I learned as a kid taught me these truths in the simplest of forms. “Red, brown, yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight.”[4] The call to go ripens from the reality that every person on planet Earth is precious in the sight of God but desperately in need of a savior. God fashions each human life in his likeness and stamps each person with an intrinsic worth that never gets a recall. For nearly two millennia this has catapulted missionaries into the whole world.

In fact, missions exists precisely for the purpose of seeing people from every group one day gathering around the glorified Jesus on a new earth where in a harmonious song they will worship him forever. Jesus is gathering to himself worshipers as we speak and when our eyes eventually see the racial rainbow of collective worshippers surrounding the throne we’ll glorify God even more because of the beauty of his community. I’ll give the apostle Jesus loved, John the revelator, the final word in hopes that our hearts would long for a day when race and color are seen not as walls but windows into the love and creativity of our great God.

“After this I looked, and behold a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10)

[1] College Park Church’s six core values can be found here.
[2] Charles Ware and Ken Ham, One Race One Blood (Master Books: Green Forest, 2010).
[3] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/race?s=t accessed on March 20, 2013.
[4] Words by C. Herbert Woolston, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” http://childbiblesongs.com/song-30-jesus-loves-the-little-children.shtml