(Part 1 here)
(Part 2 here)
(Part 3 here)
(Part 4 here)
The Misunderstanding and Misuse of the Ethnic Conflict in Acts
Now and then I read support for the deliberate racial or ethnic pursuit of ministry in some form as an interpretive product resulting from the conflict between the Hebraic and Hellenized Jewish believers in Acts 6:1-6. Here is the text:
6 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.The false exposition of this passage, upon which the endeavors in or of the church toward human multiism relies, is as follows. They see the text as one which, in response to favoritism being show to Hebraic Jews to other Hebraic Jews, in particular the widows and to the neglect of the Hellenized or Greek Jews, the leadership then appointed Hellenized Deacons to help balance things so that the Hellenized Jewish believers would have someone like themselves who, apparently, would be inclined toward serving other Hellenized Jewish Christians, at least this is the assumption of the theological argument. In other words, ethnic and cultural diversity was allegedly recognized and supported as a way to construct a church and its government in order to meet the needs of people from non-identical cultures, by having leaders who shared the human heritage and culture of those they served.
This, of course, is a wholly negligent interpretation. Yes, there was a problem of cultural bias directing the ministry but it wasn’t solved by adding more bias on the other end of the equation. The Hebraic Jews were biased because they could not let go of their once special identity, which included many cultural elements, even though as Christians, their Jewishness had no special value. They still had a strong dislike and clear prejudice against Hellenized Jews whom they considered very tainted and apparently brought this view into their new Christianity, as we sometimes do in our conversion. The term for carrying such carnal ideas into your new faith and practice is called “baggage”.
The response, instead, was to find “brothers…full of the Spirit and of wisdom”. Notice the qualifications? It had nothing to do with finding racial, ethnic or cultural types but spiritual types! More importantly, to assert that the problem was addressed by affirming this prejudice and simply going around it, thus, letting it stand, is both shortsighted and blatantly the worst assumption one could make.
They found men who transcended, by the Spirit of God, such human or anthropological identification and had obeyed God in both understanding and acting on the basis of the new creative order. They found men, full of God’s Spirit, full of the church’s new identity, the spiritual identity.
True Diversity is the Body of Christ is Recognized and Expressed in Spiritual Gifts
The pursuit of the church, as Paul revealed in Ephesians which we referenced in Part 3, is not again flesh and blood rather, it is spiritual. The use of the church to conquer social conflicts, social injustices – real or perceived – and secure some sort of desired civil establishment is against God’s revelation regarding the function of the church. Our objectives and exercises, as the body of Christ, are spiritual. The use of the divine institution of the church in the quest of civil objectives must be recognized as a clear violation of what God has revealed.
Further, the identity of the people of the church is spiritual. We do not number, segregate nor integrate based on our human identities, rather, we fellowship based on a shared singular identity, our new creation in Christ. Our race is that of the saved, our ethnicity that of the holy, our culture that of Christ, our way of shared thinking, his Word and the empowerment of our unity, that of the Spirit. Identities which seek to express themselves contrary or in competition to this must be rejected by thoughtful men and women in the church. Such other identities are for the kingdom on the left, the social and civil kingdom.
But interestingly, in this unified spiritual kingdom, while we possesses equal spiritual privilege and equal access to all the spiritual blessings Christ provides, we are not the same. We are quite diverse, spiritually.
God has made it plain that our individual spiritual gifting will not be the same with one another. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:4 that there are “diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit”.
When Bible teachers, theologians and Pastors begin to talk about diversity in the body of Christ, it should be this and not human diversity which is merely anecdotal. This is our diversity, as the church. This is the basis of our different functions in the body of Christ.
Observations and Conclusions
I am convinced that this chase to bring attention to and elevate racial, ethnic and cultural differences, while well-meaning, is, in reality, gravely injuring the true design and mission of the body of Christ. This anthropological paradigm is competing against the true, spiritual construct, of the body of Christ and actually denying its proper expression.
When we identify as Peter described, with the genetics of Christ, our spiritual DNA, with a holy ethnicity and with an objective that is not some social agenda but koinonia in the gospel, and when our reconciliation is what it is supposed to be, not based on some human property but based on our shared reconciliation with Christ thus, sharing in a common fellowship - we are unified.
But when we manufacture a ministry based on or in the promotion of our human identities, we will never be unified and always will be fractured and we will forge, not a spiritual work of God but one of human enterprise and interest and ultimately a social institution, removed from the intention of God.
The church cannot resolve human incompatibility, it is not intended to do such a thing. Its accord and fellowship is spiritual, it has been arranged by God to exercise itself based on spiritual camaraderie, not human reconciliation where she, Christ’s bride, is being tasked with solving the antipathy between the Hatfields and McCoys. Such clashes are civil conflicts to be addressed in the context of the left kingdom, even if it is between two Christians, it is still a civil conflict.
I am sorry so many Christian do not know how to operate in or move from one kingdom to the other but apparently plenty are not able. While both kingdoms are ordained of God they do not operate on the same protocols nor can they impose themselves on to one another, they require people and distinctly, Christians, to understand the Biblical revelation of their separate realms and God’s differing plan and protocols for each, in their establishment and operation.
I read recently that the church should model to the world racial reconciliation. Let me say, even if it were appropriate for the church to do so (it isn’t) it still could not accomplish this. Why? It cannot do so for what I hope is the most obvious reasons, that the world and its people do not have God’s Spirit in them and do not and cannot share in the nature of our reconciliation. They cannot love their brothers and sisters in the Lord as we do, they have no such thing. But again, as I have said, repeatedly, the Bible bears out the truth that our fellowship, as the church, is based on our spiritual reconciliation which is with Christ thus, with one another. It is not based in the resolve of any human incompatibility. At best, we will only mislead and hurt the world with suggesting they follow a pattern for which they lack the divine instruments to achieve.
Do I want America to address its racial problems? Of course. Do I hope organizations of change arise in the kingdom on the left? Of course. But let me be clear, God’s Word makes it explicitly clear that the church is not the institution for that. The church is God’s spiritual empire existing for spiritual remedy.
I realize how easy it is to succumb to humanism because often it does involve some human good but human good is not the mission of the church. We are not about the brotherhood of man but the fellowship of the saints who are spiritual in their DNA, holy in ethnicity and a nation of priests whose culture and camaraderie is based in Christ and a shared doctrine.
May God bless this series and I invite as many as believe in what I have proposed to be true and representative of sound doctrine, not for my own reputation but for the sake of the church, make these thoughts your own and share them as extensively as possible. I do not even ask that you post any link or citation of this series because the truth is, it is God’s truth and he is the only one who is to be credited. As well, those who wish to rebut, I invite as robust as possible, any disagreement. This isn’t personal, it is not about me but about the truth.
(Qualifier - In this series I have maintained a distinction between the right and left kingdoms along with the basis of their identity and pursuits. Further, in my preservation of their boundaries I have repeatedly stated that the kingdom on the right is the spiritual kingdom, the church, with her identity and endeavors, she is spiritual. All of this is true.
I must, however, acknowledge that our Lord's church is necessitated, even commanded, to go into the left kingdom and preach the gospel as well as to honor Caesar in all that is his. Both of these are the two least disputed forms of right to left kingdom contacts taught in Scripture.
The third form is when the saint becomes part of Caesar's household, custodians of civil government. This is where the most disagreement lies.
I did not write this 5 part essay to deal, in any detail, with the nature of this third form of contact between the two kingdoms. But I do want to take time to make clear that it is this third type of involvement where we can and may and must bring devine ethic biblical principle into the left and civil kingdom.
It is often said that Americ's constitution reflects a Biblical principle which is separation of church and state but what it does not teach is separation from God. And herein lies the challenge for the Christian, theologically.
The kingdom on the left does have divine protocols but they are ones for civil regulation, they are not ecclesiastical or spiritual protocols and nor theocratic ones. Further, the protocols and principles for the church cannot be imposed on the kingdom on the left nor can the kingdom on the right, the church, exist as an example for the kingdom on the left. We possess the Spirit of God, we are a new dynamic, a new phenomenon, a spiritual one and the world cannot be us, so the Christian must understand what is taught in Scripture regarding the civil duties of government and the boundaries between that and ecclesiastical and spiritual operations.)