Tag Archives: Matthew 6.24

The Double- Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

27029_360054929042_83975054042_3430697_4705708_nThe conversation I entered into with the attendees of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks this week picks back up and concludes here:

I suppose that it is a matter of pride and it’s a mind game. James uses the descriptor “double- minded” when speaking of the doubter who prays[i] but this two-ness is found both in the Old and New Testaments. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah.[ii] Isaiah recorded the voice of the Lord saying, “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me.”[iii] Jesus spoke of Pharisees who were clean on the outside but inside were “full of greed and self- indulgence.”[iv] He asked them, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?[v]

Great question, Jesus. God made the outside as well as the inside, flesh and spirit.[vi] So, God knows the spirit and while we have a hand in our formation, our nature is a sight unseen by us. And the outside of us does not fool God. He sees everything.

In fact, God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb,[vii] before texture of hair or eye color, before shape of nose or size of lips, before the social coloring of skin. God beheld a form that we cannot see and that no label can attach itself to.

And Paul echoes this spiritual reality and ends the culture war by waving this white flag at the Galatians and Colossians, who are now in the Body of Christ, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek.”[viii] Consequently, race does not form us spiritually but socially and should not inform us spiritually but assist us in understanding our society. Therefore, we must retell the story of our spiritual formation, our Christian identity without it, beginning with God.

Race has nothing to do with it. It is our idolatrous belief in the social construct of race, our support of its prejudices, our use of its stereotypical lens that has made the Church unstable. We waver between two opinions behave as if there are two gospels, two sets of commandments, two segregated heavens and hells. But, we forget that we cannot serve two masters, God and race. [ix]

Therefore, Christian education must challenge social realities and subject them to the scrutiny of Scripture. Christian educators must keep race in its place— out of the pulpit and pews, out of our hymnals and Bibles, out of our fellowship and worship. Christians must serve the Lord with their minds, not merely repeating after society but examining ourselves, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”[x]

We must change our minds about race as it does not renew us.[xi] We must learn about race in order to unlearn it. We must see race for what it is so that we can see our selves and our neighbors as they are. We must speak up about race in order to take its voice and find our own.

Because our faith and race do not agree. Race is not a partner in our becoming. It says that God creates no one new, that God is a Copycat, that we are all members of a boxed cultural set.  Race teaches us that God stereotypes.

Race says that it is a part of God’s plan, that God makes some persons better than others, that God decides who is best according to the image that He made us in.  Race teaches us that God judges and prejudices our physical features.

Race also says that we can put God on our side— the side of the oppressed or privileged, that we can discern based on the outward appearance who God loves and hates, accepts and rejects, blesses and curses.  Race teaches us that God racially segregates us.

But, race is the false teacher, an instructor without credentials, made up as we go along.  We must stop singing and teaching about race as it is a learned behavior that neither edifies us nor glorifies God.

Believing in race changes our confession of faith, compromises our witness and confuses our allegiance, fighting for flesh instead of standing in the solidarity of God’s Spirit. The theology of race both deifies and demonizes our flesh. Calling us to worship whiteness, one color becomes our symbol of righteousness and the other of social condemnation.

Suggesting that we are saved by our skin, it becomes our social messiah. Race says that our standing with God and in society is determined by our epidermis. Race says that it knows who we are and that the inside of us, our inner being, our spirit cannot change that.

So, how did we come to believe this, support and endorse it? How did we, spiritual people, get stuck on the surface? How did the Church of the living God submit its mind and members to the power of the flesh? When did we change our minds about the God who loves us all and sent His Son to die for us all in order to support a divided and double- minded Church, a color- coded and dismembered Body? What were we thinking when we began to categorize God’s love, to divide the image of God—all for us and none for them? And what of our witness to the little children, to the next generation?

Do we really believe that Jesus loves us and that he can love us without race? What do you think now? Where do you stand?

________________________

[i] James 1.8

[ii] First Kings 18.21, NRSV

[iii] Isaiah 29.13, NRSV

Also, the writer of Proverbs speaks of a “double heart” (Proverb 25.26).

[iv] Matthew 23.25, NRSV

[v] Luke 11.40, NRSV

[vi] Job 33.4

[vii] Jeremiah 1.5

[viii] Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11

[ix] Matthew 6.24

[x] Second Corinthians 10.5

[xi] Romans 12.1-2

Filling in the cracks

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

~ Ephesians 3.14-19, NRSV

For all of persons’ disagreements with the apostle Paul, we cannot discount this very powerful prayer that is recorded in the letter to the church at Ephesus.  It is a conversation with God that should be shared with all believers as Paul repositions us, reminding us that no matter what we call ourselves or the names that others have given us, no matter our lineage or its legacy, we take our name from God who is our Creator.  No name is greater or lesser, more valuable or worthy of scorn because ultimately, we have the same name.  And it is a name that we did not create and thus, can take no credit for.

Paul prays for the reader and so he is praying for us more than two thousand years later.  It is a prayer that is based not on his strength or ours but is rendered because of the goodness of God.  He asks for this power in our inner being because we need it.  While it is true that we live in a pluralist society where all faiths attempt to dwell peaceably, we, as Christians, must submit our inner beings to one divine authority.

We must make a decision, choose each day whom we will serve and we cannot serve two masters (Joshua 24.15; Matthew 6.24).  We must not live as if we should apologize for the declarations of Christ.  He said, “I am the Way” and we don’t have to defend or prove it.  We need only believe it.  The problem lies in the fact that we really don’t.  Our inner beings and likewise, our witness as disciples of Jesus Christ has been weakened by compromise and hypocrisy.  We are doubleminded, no longer fully persuaded by the promises of God and this is why we need to be strengthened (James 1.8; Romans 4.21).

Paul prays that Christ live in our hearts, the place often associated with love and its symbol.  He says that we are being rooted in love and grounded in love. Paul says that we are being fixed in love, founded in love, built upon love.  Love will be the source of our stability and our foundation.

And we need the power to understand this love.  It is not enough to have this love or to know who the God of love is but we need to be able to comprehend its vastness in order to appreciate it.  Do we know the breadth and length and height and depth of this love?  It is oxymoronical in its existence in that it is a knowing that surpasses our own knowledge.  We cannot come to know this love on our own or a part from the revelation of Jesus Christ as it certainly not revealed to us through race, which attempts to limit God’s love to those we want to see and touch, to those who live in our community and country, to those who are on the same rung of the social and economic ladder.

So, if we have received Christ as our Lord and personal Savior, why are we not known by and for our love as his disciples?  Why is it so hard to love others, even believers, those who we believe to be in the family of God?  Why can’t we come together to express our love for God in worship and in service?  Perhaps, it is a matter of fullness.

It seems that after more than 2,000 years, the Church is not filled with the presence, power and agency of God.  We practice God’s presence when it best suits and benefits us.  We trust in God’s power when our own attempts have failed.  We serve only those that we choose though participating in the ministry of Christ.  These truths have cracked the vessel and has weakened the presence, power and agency of God within us.  Race and its progeny have broken our spiritual fellowship and created cracks.  But, it is my prayer that God will fill us in and fill us up.  Amen.