Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Image Bearers

     One of the basic tenets of this ministry is that there really are no such thing as races, only ethnicities, nationalities, cultures. But there is one race, the human race. I was pleased to see that noted pastor and author David Platt agrees with me. In his newest book, which I am reading now, entitled, A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture, he addresses many current issues from a Christian perspective. One of those issues is ethnic diversity. (I confess, I jumped ahead some chapters to see what he had to say.)
     Platt suggests that in this day of so much conversation about race, so much of it divisive, the church needs to change the conversation itself by pointing out that the Bible does not make distinctions based on race. If it did, we would have to ask the question, "What race were Adam and Eve?" Platt responds, "The answer is both obvious and simple: the human race."
     Then we might ask, "No, we meant, what color were they?" Now we have two problems according to the author. First, we don't know because the Bible doesn't tell us. While we have pictured them traditionally as being white, we have no basis for that at all. For all we know, they were any one of a multitude of colors - or they may have been different colors. That first marriage in Eden may have been an intercultural one. The greater possibility is that they were dark. But the point is, we think and talk about them in terms the Bible does not use. Second, the Bible doesn't tell us what color they were because God does not equate membership in the human race with skin tone.
     We all have the same roots, we are all part of the same race.
     When we talk about "races," says Platt, we undercut our unity in the human race. This he calls a gospel-less starting point. It's far more helpful to see that the Bible grounds our understanding of human diversity in human ethnicity. As Platt puts it, "To use the language of Genesis 10, we comprise 'clans' in separate 'nations' that speak different 'languages' in diverse 'lands.' And with the globalization of the world and the migration of men and women across continents and into cities, these clans from separate nations and with different languages now often live in the same land."
     At least in the church, especially in the church, we need to change our categories to show a better way. One of our theme verses is Acts 17:26: "From one man He made all the nations..." Every one of us can trace his or her ancestry back to one family, the family of Noah, in Genesis 10-11, and beyond that, to one man and woman in the Garden.
     Several lessons can be gleaned from this. One is that if Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God, as they were, then every one of their descendants has that same image and likeness in them. At the very least, it means that we are to treat every other person with dignity  We are not all brothers and sisters in Christ (that requires faith in Him and repentance), but we are all brothers and sisters in the human race. So it is natural that Jesus would teach us to "do to others what you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7:12). We would all like to be treated with dignity and respect, even by those who may disagree with us. We have the best reason of all to do this, the theological one: every person we know, every person we pass on the street, every person we have contact with, is an image bearer.
     Second, the gospel announces the Good News that among the things the Cross accomplished is the breaking down of barriers between human beings (Ephesians 2:11-22). It is important to think about the vertical cross beam that points to heaven. Reconcilation to God is fundamental. We are ambassadors for Christ, pleading with others to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) But we cannot forget that horizontal cross beam. We work to bring persons into a new family made up of all peoples, tribes, nations, and languages. This is part of that new creation Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 5:17. It's not just each of us as individuals who are made new, but we are made new as a people. Paul would look at the church today and be shocked at how segregated we allow ourselves to be. And I am not only speaking to white churches. He would say, "If I could bring Jews and Gentiles together into one body, what are you waiting for?"
     Finally, though not exhaustively, if we are all image bearers, then we also share the sin of Adam in us, so we all have the same great need. Our biggest problem is not social injustice or poverty, bad as they are. These are symptoms. Sin is the disease we share in common, and there is only one cure. The cross of Jesus Christ, where He bore our sins and from where He offers us His righteousness so that we can have the hope of standing before a holy God and gaining entrance to eternal life. Whatever your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, your religion, your socio-economic status, you need Jesus. More than anything else, I pray that this ministry will lead more of you to Him. But if it doesn't, I will still treat you with the dignity you deserve - because you are an image bearer.

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