Racial Empathy & Gospel Symphony

The Prayer of God for Racial Harmony in the Church

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5–7 ESV)

Notice “may.” May God grant you to live in harmony. This is a prayer. A wish. A longing. It’s rooted in the person and work of Jesus. In accord with Christ Jesus. Accord. It’s a thinking word. “Think the same thoughts together; be of one mind.” Is this a longing you have too? If not, why not? What implicit bias, known or unknown, keeps you from personally pursuing more harmony? Why would I want to hang out with those vegetable-loving Jewish folk? Why would I want to hang out with Gentile meat-eaters?

You ask, so we have to agree on everything? No. The early church didn’t either. Read Acts. Yet, there was harmony. How? The gospel overcomes the disagreements that would otherwise divide. Be of one mind about Jesus. Be of one mind about the gospel. He doesn’t say, everyone needs to agree on Rome’s politics or Rome’s foreign policy or who the emperor was at the time. No. If you are a Christian, that means that you and I have more in common in spite of our ethnic difference than I have in common with someone with the same skin as me, went to the same school as me, even in the same family as me.

Think of that a moment white Christian. You have more in common with a black or brown brother in Christ than you have with someone with your skin, from your tribe, and even from your own family. Therefore, the gospel is more important to a Christian than his skin color. The gospel is more important to a Christian than her politics. The gospel is more important to a Christian than anything that would otherwise divide us.

A simple illustration is found in the crucifixion itself. This is simple, but sometimes these are the best. A cross has a vertical and a horizontal. My understanding is that often they would set the vertical beam first. It was called the stipes. They would put a notch in it. The victim would first be nailed to the crossbeam, then slid up with poles until the crossbeam slid into the notch. Then the feet would be nailed and the victim crucified.

Intentional or not, it is a picture of how the gospel unites us. It starts with the vertical. Me and God. Sinner and Judge. Jesus’s death reconciles me with God by trusting in Jesus as my Savior. I now we have peace with God. Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

This is why all attempts down through history to unite the racial divides without God have ultimately failed. Israelis and Palestinians. Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. Serbs and Croats. Jacob and Esau. People try to fix the horizontal by itself and that is ripping our country apart right now. They want the horizontal, but they don’t start with vertical. Remember, which direction did the curtain in the temple tear when Jesus died? Vertically. Top to bottom. The gospel starts with vertical reconciliation.

But a cross also has a horizontal beam. The vertical beam supports the horizontal beam. No vertical, no horizontal. There on that horizontal beam stretched the arms and hands of the Son of God. His hands outstretched at both ends. His heart at the intersection of the vertical and the horizonal. The cross pictures the eternal reality. The vertical gospel creates a horizontal gospel uniting an ethnically redeemed humanity forever.

Paul doubles down with the next phrase, “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:6)

Together with one voice. What does that sound like? Many voices singing together. A choir. A choir sings with one voice. For a choir to be a choir it has to speak and sing the same song. No choir I have ever heard sings the same notes. What makes a choir sound awesome is when they are united in the same song even as they sing diverse notes. Some are on melody. Some are on harmony. Some are hitting soprano notes. Some are on the bass line. They hit different notes, but their unity of song and voice creates beauty.

Is that not the picture here? Is this not the purpose of Romans in the end? Think of it. The most doctrinally deep book in the Bible has as its goal a racially harmonious church. You theology types, I love you, but have you considered the end goal of your doctrine is love?

I remember being at a gathering in a particular denomination and the leader said from the front, “Our doctrine’s great; we just can’t get along with each other.” A friend leaned over and said to me, “Since when is love not a doctrine?”

Creedal churches like ours should be incredibly principled in our harmony. What does one faith, one voice, one song look like in a moment like this one? A moment when our minority brothers and sisters in particular are hurting so deeply? I reached out to my friend, Pastor Mark Vroegop. He has a book coming out soon on lament as a step toward racial healing. He sent it to me. In it, he describes five steps; five “L’s.” [1]

  • Love – It is a time to make sure as the majority culture Christians that our minority culture brothers and sisters know we love them.
  • Listen – We don’t typically do that well. Listen. Hear the stories. Don’t argue the point. Listen.
  • Lament – Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. Lament cries out in pain that things aren’t the way they should be. Lament grieves by turning to God and asking, How Long, O Lord? Take a moment right now for lament. In 2020, three deaths in the black community have been particularly painful. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Take a moment right now and lament in your hearts those lives lost. Amen.
  • Learn – Most of us, myself included, have room for much learning. Let’s learn together.
  • Leverage – This is the change and transformation stage. What can we do to better align with God’s purposes through the gospel for true gospel community?

My personality is all too quick to jump from love to leverage, from love to change and fix. Just ask my wife Jennifer. If she’s having a bad day or something’s bothering her, I will say, “Honey I love you, therefore, I’m going to fix it!” I too easily skip the listen, lament, and learn parts. And all the wives said, Amen!

We need to slow down here and do it right. If we don’t, we will have the same outcome as so many other outrageous racial moments. As a leadership, we want to do it right. What’s right? “…that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:6)

One song. Multiple voices. Different notes. All blending in a symphony of praise to God.

Together brings praise to God. Unity brings praise to God. NOT together dishonors God. NOT in unity blasphemes God.

How are you using your voice? Love? Listen? Lament? Learn? Does your voice and tone sound like Romans? Does it take your listener where Romans takes us? Are we using our voices to sing with the gospel melody and summon those who hear to sing along with us?

Our church needs to be such a place that when our society is burning, we can say, this is what harmony looks like. Hear our song? See our lives. See our church. This is the difference Jesus makes.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] Mark Vroegop, “One People: Weep Together,” www.yourchurch.com. March 17, 2019.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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