“We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).
Christian unity is a vital theme in the New Testament. Every hint of tribalism, sectarianism, partiality, and group rivalry in the church is emphatically condemned. Anyone who maliciously promotes schism in the church is to be rejected—excommunicated—if the divisive person persists after two warnings (Titus 3:10).
The New Testament never speaks of our unity in Christ as a far-off goal to be pursued or a provisional experiment to be trifled with. Our union with Christ (and therefore with one another) is an eternal spiritual reality that must be embraced, carefully maintained, and guarded against any possible threat.
That’s why I’m deeply troubled by the recent torrent of rhetoric about “social justice” in evangelical circles. The jargon is borrowed from secular culture, and it is being employed purposely, irresponsibly in order to segment the church into competing groups—the oppressed and disenfranchised vs. the powerful and privileged.
As evangelical thought leaders experiment with intersectional theory,* the number and nature of competing categories and class divisions we hear about will no doubt increase. But for now, the focus in the evangelical realm is mainly on ethnicity. “Race”—a thoroughly unbiblical notion to begin with (cf. Acts 17:26)—became the central talking point of the evangelical conference circuit earlier this year.
People supposedly belong to the oppressed group or the sinfully privileged group not because of their real-life experiences; not necessarily because of anything they have said or done; not because of the content of their character—but solely because of the color of their skin. Furthermore, the dividing lines are frequently drawn in a way that makes the harshest possible black-and-white contrast—literally. If your ancestors were neither white Europeans nor sub-Saharan Africans, you might be wondering where you fit in the discussion. (For example, the advantages Asian-American evangelicals enjoy and the disadvantages they face are hardly ever mentioned in the discussion, because frankly those subjects don’t fit neatly into the popular narrative.) One might get the impression that American evangelicals are all either the descendants of white plantation owners or the offspring of African slaves. There seems to be no middle ground—just a middle wall of partition.
White evangelicals are told they need to repent for sins committed by their ancestors. Black evangelicals are made to feel like hapless victims who have every right to resent any privilege enjoyed by others. Members of both groups are scolded if they don’t affirm and adopt the narrative. We’re all told that “racial reconciliation” cannot even really begin until everyone in the church affirms and embraces this particular notion of “social justice” as a matter of first importance—perhaps even a “gospel issue.”
What does this mean? That even though we are spiritually united in Christ, having confessed our personal guilt, there is still some lingering corporate guilt that keeps me from being truly reconciled with my black brother? Or is the real issue even more sinister—namely, that I’m an unconscious racist, subliminally guilty of a sin that I consciously and categorically deplore? And even though I would never hold any animus toward my black brother in my own heart, anyone who is truly “woke” knows full well that I’m guilty of it anyway?
There’s no escape from that verdict. Denying that you are a racist is commonly treated as one of the worst possible expressions of racism.
Instead of promoting any true and meaningful reconciliation, the bitter fruit of this movement has been anger, resentment, and vengeful separation. What happened? I thought we were together for the gospel. All the years of fellowship and brotherhood I have shared and enjoyed with brothers whose melanin count happens to be higher than mine have suddenly given way to estrangement, accusations, and demands for either repentance or separation. This did not arise out any personal strife that occurred between us. It seems very clear that the beliefs and attitudes that are fueling this movement are drawn from harmful identity politics and Critical Race Theory—not from the Word of God.
Indeed, this is all quite contrary to everything Scripture has to say about the unity of the body, the fruit of the Spirit, and the Christlike attitudes that should characterize every believer’s walk of faith. I’ll have more to say about the fruit of the Spirit vs. the works of the flesh in an upcoming blogpost at gty.org, but let me draw this post to a close with a reminder of what Scripture says about true unity and how it is to be maintained among Christians. These texts are just a sampling, but they teach principles of biblical unity that are impossible to reconcile with the contemporary social justice narrative:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11)
Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:1-21)
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:11-19)
* Intersectionality is the idea that victimhood and oppression occur on a variety of levels, and these may overlap or intersect. So a single individual may have multiple claims to victim status. Since victimhood is what is supposed to validate a personal opinion in these postmodern times, the more layers of oppression someone can claim, the more entitled that person is to speak about issues such as justice and racial discrimination, power and oppression, privilege and inequality. In other words, victimhood is now seen as empowerment, and the more privilege a person is thought to enjoy, the less authority that person has to render an opinion.