We just recently celebrated the life and work of the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no doubt that King will forever stand as a symbol of civil and social justice against the menacing tide of racism. He yearned for equality in the United States, and around the world as well.
At the end of last year we remembered the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who helped end apartheid. Two men. Two countries. One passion. It amazes me what God can do through broken people!
I see much of Christ in these men, and celebrate their accomplishments, but I think it is important to remember Christ himself as the purest symbol of diversity and equality. And not just as a symbol, but as a LIVING Spirit at work in the world to draw all men into divine community—which is far different from a world community apart from him. That much is clear today.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized in his time the need for authentic community, with Christ at the center.
“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” Life Together, p.21
Bonhoeffer went on to say that Christian community is governed by the Spirit, in human community it is psychological techniques and methods (p.32).
There is a difference between the community of sinners and the community of saints. The spiritual love of Christ fuels authentic human community. This is absent in the pop-cultural expressions of love and acceptance.
While I do believe that a world which doesn’t know Christ can share in the abundant overflow of God’s love and grace permeating throughout creation, in sincere pursuit of human community, there will always be a missing Center.
Only community with Christ at its center is restorative, redemptive, LIFE-giving, and everlasting.
This has been recognized throughout church history, beginning with Christ himself. You can’t have community without love, and you can’t truly know love without first knowing the God revealed in Jesus (1 Jn 4:7-9).
Therefore, community for the Christian ultimately comes through separation from the world. In the world, yes. But certainly not of the world (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:12). A truth that we are hearing less and less these days.
The postmodern idea of diversity and equality is not the same as that of the divine Christian community established by Christ. The rhetoric is often the same, but they stand in stark contrast to each other. Think about it.
The former doesn’t recognize sin as a spiritual sickness and therefore denies the need for a savior, for repentance, renewal, and transformation.
In today’s world, this sort of human “community” ultimately explains sin away as merely a genetic problem, external cultural forces, or simply says there was/is NO problem in the first place.
The gospel of Christ, and the whole of Scripture, testifies that human beings have a sin problem. Even as someone who personally believes in theistic evolution, I affirm Christ and the Scriptures about the broken state of human beings and their futile attempts at global solidarity (Gen 3; 11:1-9; Rom 3:23).
When Peter recognizes he is in the presence of a holy Jesus, he falls down and cries, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). Jesus doesn’t reply with, “No, you’re just a product of evolution… your daddy beat you… you just need to accept who you are… the power of positive thinking can help!”
To be clear, I’m confident that Jesus would recognize that modern scientific discoveries can help us understand ourselves better today than in the first century, and that he would suggest some counseling for troubled folks, but it is post-enlightenment arrogance to assign Jesus’ language and teaching to “pre-scientific” ignorance about the human psyche. The spiritual component is no less real than that which can be charted by a neurologist or your therapist. In fact, Jesus saw the spirit, mind, and body as a whole.
So, let’s call selfish, destructive behavior what it is: sin. We all experience sin at work in us everyday. It wars against us (Rom 7). And there is only one remedy.
Jesus was clear that he came, “not to call the righteous, but to save sinners” (Mk 2:17). He actually seeks out sinners (Matt 9:9-13). He tells us to repent of our sins and come into the Kingdom he is preparing for those who are willing to be transformed into his glorious image (Mk 1:15; Lk 13:2-6; 2 Cor 3:18). There is no salvation apart from repentance.
This Kingdom is about the here and the now. This salvation is for today.
God calls us, as broken sinners, into a community of saints who practice repentance and have foresworn all sinful behavior.
This divine Christian community discovers diversity and equality through the salvific work of Christ to transform sinners into saints, not by overlooking our deep human brokenness for the sake of secular tolerance.
The call is for people of every tribe and tongue to repent of their sin and come into the Kingdom of God. This diversity does not allow for a moral licentiousness and a tolerance of all human behaviors (Eph 4:17-32; Col 3:1-17).
Remember, it is a community of Christ. Christ, who shows us what it means to be fully human, must be the Center of community.
There is grace for the journey, even in the church. But the reality of sin and the need for repentance must be acknowledged if divine community is to be experienced. Only then can we know what is part of our God-given humanness, and what is to be repented of for individual wholeness, as well as for the forming of Christ’s Body on the earth.
Let’s agree on that, brothers and sisters.
This is what the communion table represents—a community of sinners-made-saints who are daily repenting of sin, being fashioned and formed into Christ, and celebrate together the past, present, and future of this new reality.
Eat and drink in remembrance of him.
D.D. Flowers, 2014.