The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the EFCA, and Racism

Greg Strand – August 17, 2017 16 Comments

Most have heard the story of the rally-turned-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12-13. For those unfamiliar, officials in the city were planning to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. The Alt-Right scheduled a rally in opposition to these plans to move the statue. With protests and counter-protests, the rally turned into chaos and violence, with one person dead and 19 injured in its wake.

If people were unfamiliar with the Alt-Right before this rally, most now know. The Alt-Right consists of white nationalists, white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other racists. Over the course of the couple of days associated with the rally, marchers carried Tiki torches, a Nazi flag and some gave KKK hand gestures. It is critical to say: the Alt-Right is anti-God and anti-gospel.

After so much has been said and written, is it even necessary or worthwhile to add something more? I believe so, which is why I respond.

First, it is important for me to speak as part of our EFCA family. This is not a global or universal statement, even though I bear that in mind. Rather, it is a statement made by one family member to another. However, the EFCA did make an official statement and resolution against racism.

Second, I speak as a white majority in the EFCA. When we address issues from a biblical and theological perspective, any and all have something to say. We are all seeking to understand and apply the truth of the Scriptures. And yet, depending on the issue we are addressing, or to which we are responding, there are some who may need to initiate by speaking out first.

Over the past decade, Alejandro Mandes, executive director of All People Ministry at the EFCA, and I have learned this (and continue to learn!) and attempt to live it out in practice. Although we are in agreement on the biblical, theological and even pastoral responses to an issue, on most All People matters he needs to be the lead voice, and I need to affirm and support his voice, as he articulates that biblical response pastorally. It also works the other way. There are some things in which I may need to be the lead voice, and he affirms and supports my voice, as we together stand on God’s Word. Therefore, I also recommend you read his “Open Letter to Those Who are Struggling.”

This is one of those instances where I believe it is imperative that I, as a white believer, who is in the majority, needs to speak to this issue. The gospel creates “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:14-16), a family that manifests a new community, a community created by God that exists to bring glory to God. That is what we believe, that is what we proclaim, that is what we live.

Missteps and Must-Steps

As we think about this, I will contrast some Missteps with some Must-Steps.

Missteps

Often when addressing or responding to racial issues, the response, or lack of response, is marked by numerous Missteps:

  • We cannot say anything because we are not sure of all the details. We have to wait for all the facts before we say anything. (We end up being silent too long, and become silently complicit in the wrongdoing or sin.)
  • There is fault on both sides. The blame is shared equally. (There certainly is fault on both sides, but that does not necessarily mean blame is shared equally. I often distinguish between the precipitating sin and the responsive sin. Both are sin, but there is an important nuance. Furthermore, it flattens out responsibility.)
  • Certainly the Alt-Right generally is racist, but not all in the Alt-Right are racist. (This often is another tactic to avoid addressing the heart of the issue. It may be true that not all in the Alt-Right are racist, but it misses the heart of the hate and racial supremacist views expressed.)
  • There are actually racists on all sides. (This also is true. But it, once again, misses the point in calling sin, sin, and overlooks the history of racism and how differently this is viewed by the majority and minority voices.)
  • We affirm free speech. (This is affirmed, but often it is affirmed as long as my free speech is not hindered. Once it is, then it is seen and addressed in a different way. It often becomes a means of maintaining the status quo of the majority voice.)

Tragically, these Missteps avoid or side-step the main issue of hate, racism, and racial superiority, namely sin. At times they are perpetuated intentionally by the majority voice. At other times, they may be perpetuated unintentionally by virtue of being the majority voice, with limited eyes to see from the perspective of the minority voice. These statements are not to deny the minority voice has no sins. They, too, have sins. The statements are made with a specific focus on what transpired with the Alt-Right. Sin is a universal reality and problem (Rom. 3:23). The heart is desperately and deceptively wicked (Jer. 19:9). Sin and its effects are a majority and minority voice problem, but sin will manifest in different ways.

Must-Steps

For believers, there are also some Must-Steps:

  • We affirm all are created in the image of God, we are all image-bearers, and which means all have God-given dignity and worth (Gen. 1:26-28; Acts 17:26-27).
  • We affirm that Adam and Eve rebelled against God (Gen. 3), which resulted in sin against one another (Gen. 4). This sin of elevating self or identity over God’s creative design for humanity led to the sin of Babel (Gen. 11), of seeking to make a name for oneself, which is the work of the Devil (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8), and the foundation of racism. The sin of Babel has been reversed and transformed by Pentecost (Acts 2).
  • We affirm God’s work of propitiation (Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10) and redemption (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12) through his Son Jesus Christ and his shed blood on the cross (Mk. 10:45; Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:22; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 1:5; 5:9), and the work of the Holy Spirit in recreating (Jn, 3:3, 5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Tit. 3:5), by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-9), “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:14-16).
  • We affirm the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15-20), and that there is “not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).
  • We affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ and His finished and completed work, the good news, is the ground of our salvation, sanctification and glorification. As articulated in our Article 8 of our Statement of Faith, “God’s justifying grace must not be separated from his sanctifying power and purpose.” That ground bears fruit in good works (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 Tim. 6:18; Tit. 2:14; 3:8, 14; Heb. 10:24; Jms. 2:14). The good works are not the ground. The finished work of Jesus Christ is. But there are implications, entailments to the gospel and that is good works. This affirms both orthodoxy (right belief) that is the ground for and bears fruit in orthopraxy (right living). The rest of the Article affirms, “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.”
  • We affirm the mark of the new creation in Christ, the mark of the Christian is love for God and love for others (Jn. 13:34-35), and this love for God and others is because God first loved us (1 Jn. 4:10).
  • We affirm we have made some small progress in the realm of racial reconciliation, for which we are thankful, and we will not despise the day of small beginnings (Zech. 4:10). And yet, we also need to be eager to maintain, to make every effort, to be diligent to keep or maintain the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).
  • We affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ is the true and only hope for reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:18-21) and reconciliation with one another (Eph. 2:14-16), and to live out the truth of the gospel in life and relationships.
  • We affirm that “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1) and we have peace with others (Eph. 4:1-6), and this justification is an end-time verdict brought into the present such that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), which means we are an eschatological people, an end-time people “who have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem . . . and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24), manifesting an outpost of heaven in the here and now.
  • We affirm racial reconciliation among believers in the church of Jesus Christ is one of the greatest manifestations of the gospel today, one of the greatest apologetic arguments for (or against) the work of Jesus Christ and His gospel (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9; 22:3).

These ten must-steps means the EFCA stands firmly on the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirming both its centrality in doctrine, and also its centrality in function, i.e., the outworking of the gospel. We are committed to uphold the truth of the gospel, both in proclamation and life, and we are committed to speak and work against that which compromises or contradicts the gospel, or is another gospel.

It means we proclaim and live the gospel, and we renounce and condemn racism, in principle and in practice. As the new community created by God, and indwelt by his Spirit, living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we reflect an outpost of heaven: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

Finally, because our EFCA family is predominately a white denomination, it means it is incumbent for the white majority to reach out and initiate with the other, the soon-to-come majority minority – African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, Native American, and others. After we initiate, we then take a humble posture of listening. We initiate with a spirit of humility and we listen with a posture of love. This is a glorious way to live, to manifest the gospel in the EFCA, and to reflect the new heavens and new earth here and now.

Responses From Others

There are many who could be referenced and their statements included. I list a few, some whose names will be familiar. These statements are strong and with conviction. I have included the pertinent statement, some which are longer than a sound-bite. Please take the time to read all of them. This is a gospel issue.

Ed Stetzer, #Charlottesville, the Christian Response, and Your Church’s Call

This movement is antithetical to the gospel. It is an abomination to all that we stand for, and it must be condemned on every level of leadership in the Church. There is no room for waffling. We cannot sit in silence hoping this will pass. . . . Condemn bigotry, hate, and discrimination from the pulpit and through each ministry in the Church. Because as we pray, we speak up. Our voice is necessary to remind those under our care and those listening from outside that when there is wrong in the world, we fight for what is right. Call this what it is and then call it wrong. . . . RFor us, this is not about politics or free speech. It is about evil and the gospel that defeats it. The time to stand up—and speak up—is now.

Bruce Riley Ashford, White Christian conservatives should oppose protests by white supremacists

White conservatives – especially white Christian conservatives – should speak out openly against white nationalism and white supremacy. This is racism pure and simple, and it represents a frontal assault on the Christian gospel, a denial of human dignity and a subversion of our democracy.

The racist doctrine claiming that whites are superior to all others is diametrically opposed to biblical Christianity. The Bible teaches that God created the world as a dazzlingly beautiful unity-in-diversity (Genesis 1). God values that diversity and makes clear that every human being – regardless of race – is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27-28).

God sent his son – a brown Middle Eastern man – to save the whole world, including sinners of every race and ethnicity (John 3:16). Genuine Christianity overcomes social, ethnic, and gender barriers (Galatians 3:26, 28).

That is why we should fight white nationalism and other forms of racism tooth-and-nail, not only from the voting booth, but in our neighborhoods, at our churches, and on our social media. We should fight it when it takes the form of personal prejudice; when a person of one ethnic heritage intentionally denigrates or harms a person of another ethnic heritage.

And we should fight racism when it takes the form of corrupted cultural institutions; when our society’s racial sins coalesce to warp certain social and cultural institutions so that they give preference to one race or ethnicity over another.

Al Mohler, Letter from Berlin: The Lessons of History and the Heresy of Racial Superiority Mohler identifies racial superiority as a heresy, a term he uses intentionally, a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But Christians must see much more than the lessons of history, though we dare not miss them. We must see claims of racial superiority–and mainly that means claims of white superiority–as heresy.

That is not a word we use casually. Heresy leads to a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the eclipse of the living God as revealed in the Bible. A claim of white superiority is not merely wrong, and not merely deadly. It is a denial of the glory of God in creating humanity—every single human being–in his own image. It is a rejection of God’s glory in creating a humanity of different skin pigmentation. It is a misconstrual of God’s judgment and glory in creating different ethnicities.

Most urgently, it is a rejection of the gospel of Christ–the great good news of God’s saving purpose in the atonement accomplished by Christ. A claim of racial superiority denies our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common salvation through faith in Christ, and God’s purpose to create a common new humanity in Christ.

You cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and hold to any notion of racial superiority. It is impossible.

Mohler addresses our American history and the lessons we have been slow to learn, and even slower to implement the necessary changes, changes which the gospel of Jesus Christ makes in our own personal lives through new birth, which also has entailments in our lives and how we love and live with others.

America has yet to deal with the lessons of our own history. We have never been utterly conquered so that we had to. The lessons of slavery and Jim Crow segregation–all predicated on claims of white supremacy–have yet to be fully learned or even fully acknowledged. Our walls are not made of concrete and barbed wire, but they remain walls. Our churches have sometimes defended those walls, to our everlasting shame.

American Christians are fully accountable to the lessons of history, and we have our own hard reckoning to do. But we are far more accountable to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:13-15, Paul tells us: “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.”

Paul does not merely admit this to be true–that God is creating “one new man” as a new humanity in Christ–he celebrates this truth as central to Christ’s gospel. If we do not celebrate this truth, we have not tasted the salvation accomplished by Christ.

Seen from Berlin, the news from Charlottesville is alarming. Seen as a Christian, the images are heartbreaking. The ideology of racial superiority is an evil anti-gospel that leads to eternal death.

The lessons of history are warning enough. The lessons of heresy are even more pressing. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we dare not miss the lessons of history and heresy. God will judge us. This we know.

I also include Collin Hansen’s interview with Mika Edmondson (35 minutes), White Supremacy Is Spiritual Bondage. Edmondson responds to the following questions:

  1. What would you say to someone surprised by the public presence of these white demonstrators?
  2. Why is it so hard to shed the stain of racialized sin in the United States?
  3. I don’t know any churches that would openly endorse what’s happening in Charlottesville. But it’s entirely possible some or even many of these men had or have connections to the church. What can pastors do to lead with biblical conviction where such attitudes may hide just under the surface?
  4. History is the ostensible reason for these protests; specifically, Confederate history in the home state of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and American history at the university founded by slaveholder Thomas Jefferson. How does the gospel of Jesus Christ address our relationship with this history?
  5. Let’s speak to pastors watching Charlottesville from afar, outside the American South, leading predominantly white congregations. Should they say something about these events tomorrow morning? If so, what?

EFCA Resolution

In 1992, the EFCA Conference adopted a Resolution on “The New Racism.” The reference to the new racism served as a way to identify a “recent resurgence” in racial incidents in a number of settings, which “at the present time appears to have found renewed energy.” For some history, on March 3, 1991 after Rodney King, an African-American was pulled over after a high-speed chase, four white LAPD police officers beat him, which was videoed and made public. On April 29, 1992, three of the four officers were acquitted, and the fourth was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon, but the court could not reach a verdict on the use of excessive force. What followed in the aftermath were the LA riots.

I include excerpts of the Resolution, along with the exhortation to respond, both individually and corporately as the church. Read the EFCA’s official statement for the entire resolution. Although written and adopted prior to our 2008 Statement of Faith, this Resolution, like all we do, is tethered to the inerrant and authoritative text of Scripture and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is given expression in our Statement of Faith.

As Christians, we deplore racism as sin against fellow human beings who are created in the image of God. . .Even though our society benefits from progress made in the area of racial harmony during and following the Civil Rights movement, we believe that racism continues to exist and, at the present time, appears to have found renewed energy.

Racism is an irrational belief in the superiority of one’s ethnic or racial group causing the hatred of those of another group. . .In America, this unhealthy attitude of racial and ethnic superiority has resulted in discri­mination predominately by whites against people of color such as Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics. It also has provoked a racist response against the dominate culture and often heightened tensions between minority groups as well.  God’s ideal is that humans exist in harmonious relationships regardless of racial and ethnic differences (Acts 13:1, 1 Cor. 12:12-13, Gal. 3:28, Rev. 5:9-10), but racism militates against the formation of these harmonious relationships.

Realizing that even as Christians we are not immune to the sin of racism, we resolve first of all to search our own hearts and repent of any racist attitudes we may have no matter how subtle.  We further resolve to work toward eliminating racism in our local churches, educational institutions and throughout the EFCA family as a whole (particularly in light of our commitment to plant and nurture many new ethnic churches). Some ways in which we can work are:

  • Speaking out against racism in whatever setting we find ourselves.
  • Teaching in our homes and in our churches against racism and noting God’s desire for reconciliation between races (Eph. 2:14).
  • Developing relationships of mutual education and submission (Eph. 5:21) with people of different races on both an individual and congregational level.

Historically, when this Resolution was adopted by the Conference in 1992, the business session in which it was approved was preceded by a Sacred Assembly, led by President Paul Cedar. As he recounted this evening of prayer, one of his highlights addressed the presentation of the Resolution, with a time of repentance for the sin of racism. Cedar recounts the time of confession (The Evangelical Beacon 65/9 [August 1992], 2):

We then moved into confession of specific sins of the church – particularly those in our Evangelical Free Churches. Pastor Leroy Scheumann, chairman of our Committee on Social Concerns, led us in the reading of a resolution on repentance from racism (which was passed unanimously at our business session the next day). He then led us in a corporate prayer of confession of the sins of racism. That prayer was followed by person after person offering prayers of confession at microphones throughout the auditorium. The Lord moved as we humbled ourselves, prayed, repented, and sought His face. Prayer was followed by a time of offering personal prayers of confession. Some 2000 of us fell on our faces before God to confess any hidden or realized sins in our lives. The prayers of confession lasted for more than an hour as the Holy Spirit moved in our midst.

May the Lord, in His grace and mercy, and for His glory, do it again!

Prayer

Now is not the time to despair, or to become pessimistic. That is the response of the atheist.

As believers, we respond as believers.

Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to lament. Now is the time to recommit to the task of being ambassadors of reconciliation, vertically and horizontally. Now is the time to embrace and live out orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Now is the time to keep or maintain the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace. Now is the time to hope in God for new things. Now is the time to pray.

Dear God, we repent and turn back, that our sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from your presence (Acts 3:19-20). “We do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Dan. 9:18-19).

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

16 responses to The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the EFCA, and Racism

  1. Amen Brother, Well written.

    • Thank you, Isaac. I pray it was both faithful to Scripture, and edifying to God’s people. Might we, by God’s grace and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, live it. I am grateful for the privilege of seeking to live this out faithfully with you, such that the gospel of Jesus Christ we affirm, we live out and manifest in our lives.

  2. Well articulated Greg! As a Christian family member from north of the border, we watched with horror as these events transpired. We all have our prejudices to address. May the gospel message continue to remind us that our Lord has broken down the walls between all peoples and move us to build bridges accordingly.

    Bill Taylor, Evangelical Free Church of Canada

  3. Paul-Gerhard Knöppel August 19, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Dear Greg,
    a very nice, encouraging commentary. It shows, where we have to make our stand this days, on both sides of the Atlantic. I think Christians have to ponder anew , where Jesus Christ wanted to direct his disciples, his followers to: a life, showing the grace and mercy of the living God. (Matthew 5-7).
    Your brother in Jesus Christ
    Paul-Gerhard Knöppel

    • Thank you for your comment, Paul-Gerhard. It is good to hear from you. We stand firmly on the inerrant and authoritative Scriptures, and although we affirm and seek to live it all, we need wisdom from above to know those issues where we need to take a stand at the moment or we lose the gospel. There are some issues that are universal, though they may manifest differently in local settings. May we all, by God’s grace, remain faithful – you in Germany and we in the States, and other brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

  4. I am grateful for this, Greg, and will be sharing it today in our worship gathering!

    • I am grateful to the Lord you are able to use this in your local church setting, Jonathan. May the Lord use it among his people.

  5. Well said, Greg. Thank you for being thorough and Gospel-centered.

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Eddie. I am grateful you are one of those living this out faithfully on the front-lines of ministry. May we all be faithful, by God’s grace, so that the gospel we proclaim will be manifested as a true outpost of heaven.

  6. Thank you, Greg. Well stated.

    • Thank you for your kind and affirming words, Art. Might we, by God’s grace and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, live it. May the gospel of Jesus Christ we affirm with our lips be lived out in our lives as “one new humanity.”

  7. Thanks so much, Greg. Your enumeration of missteps and must-steps are well advised, and I pray they get the prayerful consideration they deserve.
    It strikes me that the missteps reflect the “cultural captivity of the Church” to which we are so easily susceptible… while the “musts” reflect our grounding in God’s gospel and a commitment to all its entailments.
    May we see this as an opportunity- to turn away from the sins which so easily entangle, and to recommit to boldly presenting the gospel in word and deed, to the glory of God and the building up of His Church in mission.

    • I appreciate your comment and perspective, Jim. Thank you for adding to our important discussion and humble prayer.

  8. Thanks for your thorough and biblical thoughts, as well as including words from others. I plan on giving a message on racism on September 3. Much helpful information here.

    • Thank you for your comment, Mike. I am greatly encouraged to hear you will say a word to the family of God, and I am humbly grateful you will be able to use some of what we wrote.

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