After all the upheaval of 2020, the world needs some reconciliation. Truth is, it always has.
Struggling and estranged marriages . . . damaged friendships and divided families . . . polarized political parties . . . racial strife . . . churches from the same movement disembodied over methodological preferences. Who can possibly break down the walls of hostility that divide us?
“[God] reconciled us to himself throughChrist.” That answers the question, but there’s more! “. . . and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). As crazy as it might sound, we, as reconciled sinners, join God’s team by partnering with Christ and representing him in this ministry of reconciliation.
The first century had its share of cultural separation and hostility, but none was more prevalent than that between Jews and Gentiles. They were divided by both figurative and literal walls, but Paul focused consistently on their commonalities and their mutual need for Christ’s forgiveness (cf. Romans 3:22-30; 9:23-25; 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).
In Ephesians 2, Paul said, “For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace” (vv. 14-15). This is still his purpose today for any groups of people who are divided.
This reconciliation ministry ought to be second nature for us: sinners who have received God’s grace experience (or should experience) profound transformation. (In the New Testament, reconciliation carries the meaning of “to change thoroughly.”) A new creation in Christ lets go of hostility toward others and seeks peace, unity, fellowship, serving others in love. We can do this, of course, only through Christ’s power that’s within us; with him there are no irreconcilable differences.
When I contrast God’s desire for his world and the reality around me, however, my heart breaks and my spirit is troubled. The same thing often happens as I read the Gospels and see Jesus’ passion to reconcile a fragmented world. He broke the rules to build relationships with those who others considered untouchable, unholy, or unreachable. He went out of his way to dismantle the barriers that existed in his day, and he sought to bring reconciliation and peace where there was separation and enmity.
Pursuing reconciliation is part of our identity as Christ followers and it’s ingrained in our mission as his church. Our Lord has committed to us the message of reconciliation, and we must lead the way.
But when we do, we’ll face opposition. All forms of division, segregation, and enmity are spiritual warfare strategies of an enemy who must double over in laughter as we fight with one another rather than take our stand against him (see Ephesians 6:10-12).
Sometimes I have to remind myself about one of the enemy’s most basic tactics: distraction. He’d love for me to spend inordinate time, energy, and words on inconsequential concerns from the perspective of eternity rather than carrying out my God-given mission. I hate getting distracted by those side issues and falling short in my personal ministry of reconciliation—I know Christ wants to make his appeal through me. And I mourn when I see the church missing the mark of being God’s messengers of reconciliation.
But I celebrate the countless Christ followers who shine as positive examples.
Thirty years ago, I was part of Clovernook Christian Church (now Lifespring) in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I was privileged to watch Dick Alexander lead the way in building relationships that bridged racial and denominational differences. There were several instances of this, but one that stands out to me was when Dick interviewed a panel of African American preachers from our area as part of our church’s leadership community. He wanted leaders in our church to listen and learn from their experiences. I did learn from them, but just as importantly, I learned from the example of Dick Alexander.
Ethan Magness, senior pastor at First Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, recently wrote an article in Christianity Today in which he discussed a relationship he built with an African American minister in his town and what he has learned from it. Magness encourages other White pastors to “find an African American pastor you trust and seek to be an ally.”
Alexander and Magness are just two of a growing number of pastors I know who have led the way in this regard.
In this month’s issue, we share the stories of people and churches that are seeking reconciliation of all kinds. I hope you will be inspired to respond boldly and lovingly. Build a relationship. Develop a partnership. Listen well. Speak the truth in love. Keep pointing to and speaking about Jesus, who reconciled us to God through the cross.
May Christ’s love compel us to pursue reconciliation. The world needs it.