Reconciliation is Not Optional for Christians

After Jesus was resurrected, he had several interactions with his followers. At the very last interaction, Luke records Jesus telling his followers what they are supposed to do after his departure (in a physical sense) from the Earth:

"And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Elsewhere, Matthew records other instructions Jesus provided which go along with this:

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I want to highlight a major concept which exists within these instructions: the fact that cultural reconciliation is a prerequisite for these actions.

At the time of Jesus' instructions, Jews had been living under the directive (of God) to have as little to do as possible with non-Jews, also called Gentiles.

Jews avoided eating with Gentiles, marrying Gentiles and especially undertaking religious practices which reflected various Gentile beliefs.

But Jesus then flips the script. Instead of remaining separate from Gentiles to protect God's people from external corrupting influence, he wanted them to go and influence the rest of the world. The reversal is because God will now provide supernatural power which cannot be corrupted by exposure to other concepts and ideals: the filling of the Holy Spirit in the life of those who believe in Jesus.

Instead of living in a separate society any longer, God's chosen people are now to transform all societies, so that they may live with the blessings God wants them to have.

The initial reaction of this community of Holy Spirit filled believers was pretty simply: "Nah, Bro."

Here's how we know that: It isn't until numerous events recorded in the book of Acts that we see anyone disperse away from Jerusalem. And it takes the violent murder of a Holy Spirit-filled believer by a religious council (and the threat of the same fate befalling other believers) to make it happen.

A couple chapters later, apparently indicating it happens later than this particular persecution, Peter is told by God to go meet a Gentile man. Peter indicates he would have balked at this request had God not specifically spoken to him about it:

“You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” (Acts 10:28-29)

This Gentile, a man named Cornelius, essentially tells Peter that he wants to learn how to worship and live according to God's truths, which Peter teaches him.

The headquarters of the church in Jerusalem not long afterwards is embroiled in a debate as to whether Gentiles should be accepted into the faith, and if so, what rules and regulations must be followed by these new believers. Eventually, they make it as easy as possible for them to convert. 

Here's the point I'm driving at: Reconciliation is a major foundation of the church.

Jesus' final order to his followers was to go make disciples. In order to make disciples, you have to have relationships. It's like me telling you to hit the ball with a tennis racket, you need to first be holding a tennis racket. It's inherent.

To make disciples, Jesus instructed them to leave their local area. They'd need to make new relationships, because as I mentioned, those relationships had been broken long before.

This is our primary charge from Jesus - to make relationships and to let our faith in Jesus show across those relationships. It wasn't easy for the first generation of Christians. It's not any easier for us today. But if we are to impact the world with the Gospel, we have to make relationships with those who are not like us.

We need to learn to care about those who are not like us. Those who, like Peter, we'd normally want to avoid at all costs.

For American Christians, particularly my fellow white American Christians, we can quickly and easily recognize that interactions between white American culture and all other Americans (Black, Latino, Asian, Native American, etc) have been strained.

This doesn't mean every white American hates every non-white American. It does mean that we've frequently had less-than-stellar relationships. Often due to various forms of oppression to all other groups in the past.

I'm not a bigot. I don't value other people simply based on the color of their skin. I thank my parents for raising me that way, and for the opportunity to live in a multicultural area.

But I have benefitted from social systems designed to favor white people. For me, reconciliation requires that I recognize that truth, admit that truth, and look for opportunities to build relationships with people who are not given those same advantages.

I'm learned about this by reading materials like The New Jim Crow and Let Justice Roll Down. I've then had conversations, particularly with my black American Christian brothers and sisters, to learn more about the challenges which exist in their everyday lives. 

From learning this, I've been able to seek ways and opportunities to show respect to black Americans who are not part of my faith group - because my challenge is to share the Gospel with those who are not aware of God's love and generosity towards them.

I can't make disciples, I can't effectively point people toward Jesus without relationship.

When I see black football players kneeling during the National Anthem, speaking of inherent injustices their community faces, I need to be willing to listen and learn, not to label them as unpatriotic and ignorant and thuggish.

When I learn of situations of civil unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore, I can ask how I can help bring God's peace to such turmoil, not ask "what's wrong with those people?"

When marches, like the one in Charlottesville, seek to establish the superiority of one group of people rather than calling for and celebrating unity in the midst of diversity, I can look for opportunities to speak out in support of the equal value of each and every human being on Earth.

And beyond these reactionary steps, I can proactively learn about the challenges that face people who are not white in America rather than insisting "anyone can be successful in America if they just try hard enough."

Listening, rather than telling.

Empathising rather than accusing.

Building relationships, not divisions.

This is a non-negotiable part of the primary function of every follower of Jesus - to share the good news of Jesus Christ. If you're going to be a sincere, genuine follower of Jesus, you have to be willing to make connections with people who are different than you are. To build bridges where few or none currently exist across cultural gaps.

And if we were to start taking this part of our mission seriously, we could make an impact - the likes of which hasn't been seen in the Christian faith since the beginning of our nation. It's an opportunity staring us right in the face, and we are filled with a Holy Spirit ready to empower us to live it out. 

Let's have the courage to reject the status quo and seek the regnum dei - The Kingdom of God.