“The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved,” (The Baptist Confession, 1.10).
With some relief, I have observed as one-by-one, major voices in Reformed thought have begun to voice concern over the way that the issue of ethnicity is being treated of late in the name of Evangelical and even Reformed Christianity. Individuals like James White and Phil Johnson have weighed in on the matter. We should recognize, though, that much of the Evangelical and Reformed church is behind the curve on this issue, and there is precious little unity in the addressing of it. In fact, the concern of many seems to be their own reputations and the way they are individually being addressed on social media.
Entire denominations are ending up on the wrong side of the issue on this one, bloggers and podcasters are seeking to address the issue one biblical passage at a time, and no one seems to be willing to say outright what I will seek to demonstrate in this very series of articles: the fact that many in the name of racial reconciliation are adding to, and thus denying, the gospel once and for all delivered to the saints. It is high time that we brought Scripture to bear on the matter of ethnicity in the Western church in a very clear manner. What clear passages speak to this issue, though?
In the articles to come, we will examine a few key texts that are necessary for laying the groundwork for a proper biblical understanding of pan-ethnic fellowship within the church of God. Though by no means an exhaustive list, the following passages will be instrumental in helping us to understand the proper biblical understanding of this often volatile issue:
- Jeremiah 31:27-34
- Galatians 3:7, 26-39
- Ephesians 2:13-22
- James 2:1, 8-13
- Colossians 2-3
Critical Race Theory
Before we examine these key texts, it will be important for us to take a minute to briefly summarize the major teachings of Critical Race Theory (CRT), because it is well documented that this is the major view behind much of the narrative being pushed in Evangelical and Reformed churches today. “Christian” proponents of CRT have all but anathematized those who disagree with them and they have accused them of heinous sins. This series is not meant to be a responding in kind. However, there have been some recent statements that have made it clear that these men and women are seeking to fundamentally change the gospel as we know it.
What is CRT? CRT began in the 1960s and 70s as a political philosophy with roots in Critical Theory (from the 1910s) and its parent philosophy: Marxism. “Critical of both liberal incrementalism and conservative color-blind philosophies, critical race theorists carve out new ground that places central importance on power, economics, narrative, and social construction in coming to grips with America’s social problems,” (Critical Race Theory – Methodology – Law, Legal, University, and York – JRank Articles). There has been great push back against the notion that this approach to addressing ethnic disparity in the church is Marxist or, more appropriately, neo-Marxist in origin. However, there is no denying the paper trail that ties neo-Marxists like Derrick Bell, Saul Alinsky, and Richard Delgado to the formulation and propagation of Critical Race Theory.
First, the sins of fathers and grandfathers has recently been brought into the discussion. Insofar as we should not desire to repeat the sins of our fathers, we must recount our familial and national histories with realism, not romanticism, as our guide. We must allow our forefathers to own their sins as well as their virtues. The question is whether or not it is biblical for us to require men, women, and children of today and tomorrow to answer for the sins of those who preceded them. Jeremiah 31 makes clear that we should not.
“27‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. 28As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord.
29‘In those days they will not say again,
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge,” (Jer. 31:17-30; NASB).
The theological term often assigned to this area of study is the term hamartiology (doctrine of sin). What must be understood about the effects of sin in the Old Testament vs. its effects in the New Testament is the fact that there was a very real sense in which the covenant people of God were expected to repent of the sins of their fathers. Lack of such repentance would lead to great cultural consequences among the people. As such, we see corporate repentance when there is a clear, divinely established covenantal union made with a national people (i.e. Daniel and Ezra praying for the nation of Israel). To say that men are responsible for their forefathers’ sins or, as has been recently suggested, responsible for the sins of people who share their skin color assumes that they are covenantally united to them and share in their actual sins.
To his credit, Pastor Anyabwile (follow the hyperlink above) has not demonstrated an ignorance of the discrepancy between his hamartiology and that of his detractors. In fact, he specifically addresses it (however deficiently) in a recent article published on The Gospel Coalition’s website. He writes:
“Finally, and this is where our disagreement is sharpest, the New Testament does indeed sweepingly speak of ethnic, national or ‘racial’ groups and their shared guilt and need due to sin. Again, we’re keeping with the New Testament, which is good because the Old Testament examples are legion. Consider Titus 1,” (Anyabwile, “Four Ways the New Testament Identifies Ethnicity in the Church,” The Gospel Coalition).
At this point, Pastor Anyabwile quotes Titus 1:12-14: “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth” (NASB). What the honest reader will notice from this passage is the fact that missing from Paul’s description of the Cretans is any insistence that they must be rebuked for sins that are not individually their own. Also missing is any mention of skin color, facial features, hair texture, or any other marks that would be used by the modern Western politician or sociologist (you can apparently add pastor now) to distinguish between races.
What is being described here is a geographically unique collective, most likely with a multiplicity of ethnic backgrounds and genetic, visible differences, who share in certain culturally enshrined sinful tendencies away from which they need to be discipled through the ordained means of grace God has given the church. A modern application might be to tell a West Texas church planter today that he should prepare for an abundance of American Rugged Individualism in the thoughts and habits of many of the people (of all colors) coming out of the world and into his local assembly. He should be prepared to hold up the mirror of Scripture to the people so that they see this sinful tendency to forsake the assembly and disobey clear, biblical commands toward hospitality in their own hearts. Having demonstrated the biblical requirement, the pastor must be ready to lovingly admonish and rebuke those who willfully disobey it.
Those who have come into the fellowship of the saints in the New Covenant era are not bound together under an earthly, national covenant head like Moses. Rather, we come under the covenant Head of Christ Himself. There is no ethnic or national mandate here. I do not have a unique covenant with “white” Christians or American Christians that I do not share with Christians of other races and nationalities. The New Covenant demands that I admonish and rebuke particular sins that are clearly present in the lives of my “white” and American Christian brothers, but I do not share in their guilt merely by virtue of the fact that I too am “white” or American. At the same time, I have the liberty. . . no, the duty to admonish and rebuke my Christian brothers of all ethnicities in the same way for the same sins. I can and should do so, because the same law that binds me binds them, regardless of ethnicity. That is the nature of the New Covenant.
“31Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. 33‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more,’” (Jer. 31:31-34; NASB).
Any understanding of repentance and sin in the New Covenant must take this passage very seriously. The requirement for forgiveness from God and admittance into the New Covenant community is repentance of one’s own personal sins, not any committed by previous generations. Each man stands or falls in the New Covenant on the basis of his own sins. In fact, each man is fully forgiven his sins in the New Covenant and his sins are remembered no more.
Galatians 3:7, 26-29
To add to this requirement is to add to the gospel itself, just as the Judaizers Paul addressed in his letter to the Galatians added to the gospel a circumcision requirement. It is proper at this point to recall that Paul pronounces a curse upon those who add to the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). This circumcision was a requirement brought on by the Judaizers to address a real ethnic quandary in the early church. A great enmity existed between Roman-born and Roman-conquered Jews and Gentiles at this point in Jewish history (Eph. 2:11; Phil. 3:2-3). Prior to obtaining union with ethnically Jewish Christians through Christ, the Judaizers expected Gentile converts to become one with the Jews through circumcision. Paul makes clear that no such requirement can be placed upon the Christian except that which has already been required: repentance unto life and saving faith (two sides of the same coin).
“7Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. . . 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise,” (Gal. 3:7, 26-29; NASB).
Pastor Thabiti has not required anything new. His addition to the gospel requirement is an addition that has been pushed for years in other sectors of Western Evangelicalism. Yet, his addition is an addition and must be sharply condemned as such. At this point, let me clearly state what no one else seems to be willing. What is being preached in the name of racial reconciliation in many circles today is an addition to the gospel, which amounts to a fundamental denial of the true gospel. In other words, this is nothing less than heresy, which must be condemned in the strongest terms. Pastor Anyabwile and others are telling Christians that they must add to their repentance a continual, public, irremovable recognition of collective guilt and penance. It posits a sin for which Christ’s blood cannot atone, a dividing wall defiantly indestructible even in the face of Christ and His gospel.
What we see in Christ, however, is that an abolition has taken place. As Christ did not come to this earth to identify with only one specific ethnicity—but rather with mankind in general, so that He might bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:9-11)—so too we are called to find our primary identity in Him not in our own particular ethnicities and, in so doing, we also find our primary identities as being intertwined with one another (regardless of ethnicity). As such, we identify with one another as Abraham’s descendants according to belief, not according to ethnicity.
The perpetuity of ethnic dividing walls within the church, it must be stated, is a fundamental denial of the gospel itself. To be united with Christ in communion with the saints is to accept His finished work of erasing the primary function of ethnic identity in the church. That is not to say that the sinfulness of man will not still bring about ethnic disparity even within the covenant community of God, but this occurs as a result of precisely what people like Pastor Anyabwile are pushing for: emphasizing the perpetuity of identifying in ethnicity beyond the point of union with Christ and His body.
“13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit,” (Eph. 2:13-22; NASB).
What we have, then, in Pastor Thabiti and those who agree with his narrative, is a fundamental denial of the great mystery of the gospel: the expansion of the gospel through Gentile inclusion. In their writings, it is agreed that the nations are included in the New Covenant, but the dividing walls remain. Rather than finding unity in the throne and the Lamb, the tribes, tongues, and nations worshiping God in heaven are treated as having perpetual dividing walls persisting into the eternal state. Thus, even Christ’s eschatological bride is fundamentally divided in the view of these preachers and their churches, and all in service of furthering an extra-biblical “narrative.”
James 2:1, 8-13
But it has been mentioned that Paul had a specific heart inclination toward those of his own ethnicity (Rom. 9:1-5), and that there will be a great multitude “of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” in the eternal kingdom (Rev. 7:9; NKJV). By making mention of these passages, what is being justified is a certain sense of virtue in showing partiality toward one’s own ethnicity over another in kingdom work.
Yet we are told very clearly in James’ letter that partiality is most certainly a sin (Jas. 2:1, 8-13). Clearly, Paul could not have meant in Romans 9 that he loved the ethnic Israelites more than Gentile Christians. How then could he rightly refer to himself as the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13)? Likewise Peter, though called an apostle to the circumcised (Gal. 2:8), was rebuked by Paul for showing favor to the exclusivistic Jews (Judaizers) in corporate fellowship (Gal. 2:11-12). There is no special dispensation granted any one ethnicity or another for ethnic partiality within the body of Christ. It is to be rejected wherever it is found.
So it is improper to point to Paul’s love for and desire to see the Israelites saved as an instance of acceptable ethnic favoritism within the body of Christ. Nor could the ethnic groups mentioned in John’s vision in Revelation 7 have been engaging in any such partiality in the very presence of God. Such partiality would is a clear violation of the law of God. The overtly clear passage of James must be used as a governing factor in our interpretation of these passages. Whatever they mean, they cannot be meant to contradict the clear teaching of James. Partiality in the body of Christ is always a sin.
Instead, Romans 9, it is clear that Paul means to demonstrate that his consolation is found in understanding that ethnicity is not his primary identification. Rather, as Gentiles come to faith in Christ, a great multitude of those outside of ethnic Israel is added to true Israel, which is cause for rejoicing (Rom. 9:6ff), because that means the expansion of true Israel and the eternal family of Paul. In the same way, it is more appropriate to see as primary the unifying nature of the throne and the Lamb in bringing together people out of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues over against the notion that these are disparate people standing in separate ranks still divided from one another and showing ethnic partiality to one another in the presence of a holy God for all of eternity. The very notion is borderline blasphemous.
Perhaps partiality is not the driving factor, though. Assuming that there is no desire to foster a sense of ethnic favoritism among ethnic groups within the church, what is the stated motivation? The stated motivation is that a collective of voices is needed in order to break the power of systemic racism and overcome the tide of white privilege that pervades our culture, including even the churches in the West. Ethnic minorities are called upon the rise up with one collective voice, and to shout down the voice of any “white” man (or minority detractor) who does not join in supporting the accepted narrative.
What is the accepted narrative, though? The accepted narrative is that there are intangible, unquantifiable sins (e.g. white privilege and systemic racism) that naturally offset the balance of power within societies, institutions and, yes, even churches, and white Christians (those in power) must all own it, confess it, and enter into a perpetual life of public penance, or we are contributing to it. It must be observed, and outright stated that the definition of these sins are worldly. There is no such notion of sins in the Bible from which the Christian cannot even potentially repent (Jas. 1:13-15; 1 Cor. 10:13). Yet, it is impossible for any ethnicity, institution, society, or church to repent of such sins as are currently being defined and redefined under the aforementioned terms.
If these terms and definitions seem foreign to the biblical texts, it is because they are. Whence do they come, though? They have been smuggled into the church from the aforementioned worldly philosophy known as Critical Race Theory developed by neo-Marxists in the 1960s and 70s.
“As an outgrowth of the critical legal studies movement—an area of legal scholarship popularized in the 1970s that privileges economic and neo-Marxist understandings of structural barriers to equality—these early CRT scholars recognized that social, legal, and juridical apparatuses work in the interest of the dominant class and, therefore, serve to maintain existing social relations along racial and class lines,” (Lopez and Warren, “Introduction,” Critical Race Theory).
Behind these terms and embedded in many even Evangelical and “Reformed” articles on ethnicity today is the idea of power struggle. Marxism has always been about power struggles, and this new movement is no different. The main difference is terminology. Instead of power, the term privilege is used. In short, what we are seeing is a smuggling in of worldly philosophies in the name of combating sin.
What has been discovered and exploited by neo-Marxists, that had not quite been as well-defined in the early days with Marx and Engels, is the fact that there is power in the promulgation of the notion of perpetual, irreconcilable victimhood. Where there are victims, there is penance. Ironically, in the name of breaking down power structures, political and societal Marxism has always only accomplished the reinforcement and enhancement of them. Here, we arrive at our final text for consideration, and I will post it in full:
“6Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. . .
18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory,” (Col. 2:6-8, 18-23; 3:1-4; NASB).
Paul’s argumentation throughout the book of Colossians is masterful. He begins in Chapter 1 by setting before the eyes of his readers a high view of Christ and His gospel. In Chapter 2, he addresses what commentators have entitled the Colossian heresy, a strange morph of Greek and Jewish thought that resembled both the Gnosticism that would arise later in the first and second century and the Judaizer (or “circumcision party”) movement already present by Paul’s penning of Galatians. These heretics were seeking to address some very valid sin issues within the church culture of Colossae, and other “sins” that were really only violations of their manmade laws and philosophies.
Paul does not agree with the narrative of the Colossian heretics. He sees that they have used their special-knowledge religion to push forth a narrative that was binding the hearts and the minds of the Colossian church to laws that God had never given. He rightly roots the error in worldly philosophies and the traditions of men. He then offers the only real solution to sin within the body of Christ. He points to the throne and to the Lamb, not to the tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations. Having instructed them not to allow themselves to be taken captive by worldly philosophies and the traditions of men, he tells them in chapter three to set their minds of the things above where Christ is.
Do we still battle residual sin in our members? Certainly. However, we are not to be bound by the decrees of men in our definition of that sin. Nor are we to subsequently seek to adopt their extra-biblical solutions to sin, be they real or artificial sins. Paul gives us the final answer in Colossians 2-3: look to Christ! When men seek to define sin for us, we must require them to take us to the Bible and show it to us there. When men seek to show us the solution to sin, let them take us to Christ and to His cross. Everything else, everything we have been seeing from this heretical movement, is an adding to the cross. It must be recognized as the false gospel it is. It must be decried, rejected, rebuked, and declared accursed. Otherwise, it will continue to bring destruction upon the household of God in our day. I recognize that such a stand will not be easy for those who hold communion together with people and churches who preach this false gospel, but it is the stand that is demanded of us in God’s word. If we are to guard the sheep against the wolves, we must be willing to call out the wolves in our midst.