In part 1 of this series I discussed our doubly historic moment. “But Doug,” you might ask, “why are you bringing this up? Why does all this history matter?”
It matters because we’re on a cliff’s edge, and the ground is shifting under us. Our actions can help or hinder our witness to the world, and how we move forward as a church-planting organization is vital for the next generation of planters.
How do we move carefully away from this precipice? Will we continue with the wrong presuppositions and be shaped by history and culture? Or will our local churches be formed by God’s Word, and so shape the culture around us?
Everything depends on the radical unity we have with one another in Christ. Remember, we’re already positionally united to Christ and one another at conversion. We must strive to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). In Paul’s mind, unity isn’t simply a steady-state reality. Without time and attention and action, unity will erode, creating a gulf between believers. I’m calling for us to give time, attention, and action to our unity. As we walk out the gospel by faith in this life, we must pursue practical unity.
Time: Our Creedal Moment
Historically, the American church has failed at racial unity.
As John Perkins stated in his book One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love,
Perhaps the strongest indictment against us as the Church is that we have settled for an Americanized version of the Church that mirrors whatever culture says, and there is no collective sense of loss, no sense of remorse. We have sinned deeply. The problem is that we haven’t got a taste of the sinfulness of racism. . . . We don’t see the wickedness of profiling God’s people that He has created to be one and that He has created in His image. (p. 75)
It now becomes incumbent on us to reach a biblically-founded understanding of race, and to lead our people in that understanding.
When I said that we need a family meeting, I wasn’t just being friendly. In times of dispute, church leaders throughout history have called a council; they’ve gathered, prayed, fasted, argued, discussed, and emerged with a position. Coming together to decide the church’s creedal stand on race is no small matter. Family meetings can be hard work.
Pastors, opening this conversation will bring opposition and antagonism. We’ll have to decide: will we disciple our people over race, the image of God, justice, and loving our neighbor? Our Lord taught on all four issues. Will we get smeared, attacked, and accused? Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
We need a renewal around sola scriptura. What does God’s Word say to us about race, justice, and unity (cf. Ps. 133:1, John 17:21-23, Isa. 1:17, Ps. 89:14, Gen. 1:27, Gal. 3:28, James 2:1, Rev. 7:9-10)? When you have church members threatening to leave because you’re discussing race, you can truthfully turn their eyes to the Bible. You can tell them, “Look, we’re in pursuit of the same thing,” and encourage them to walk with you in the process and submit themselves to God’s Word, too. We all must submit to it, not the prevailing culture of our liberal or conservative tribe.
Pastors, in pursuit of this “creedal moment,” I encourage you to take the following action steps:
- Gather your elders. Pray and fast, read and study, invite counsel and help from others, and pursue your church’s biblical understanding of the gospel and race.
- Be prepared for questions and resistance, and figure out with your church leadership how you’ll respond.
- Meet with people who lead small groups and other church ministries to keep them involved, aware, and prepared for challenges they’re likely to face, too.
- Lead your church to deal with the false history about race and the American church (to deal with it, you have to know about it) and humbly commit to move forward with gospel clarity.
As we land on the right scriptural presuppositions, we trust that God will write a corrected narrative in and through his church. If we are truly shaped by the gospel, then everything we are and do is informed by the gospel.
Attention: We Need to Behave!
When I was a child, my mother, Hattie Logan, used to warn me, “When you’re out there playing on the street, you are a Logan! You represent us, so behave yourself. Don’t you embarrass the family name.”
Christians, we’re out there on the street in front of a watching world—how are we representing the name of Jesus? Are we acting like God’s children, or are we squabbling like rebels?
How Do We Behave Ourselves?
We remain in relationship with one another, paying attention to one another. We need to constantly stay in community with pastors, leaders, and brothers and sisters in Christ from all backgrounds and ethnicities to ensure that we consider all perspectives, and that any gaps in historical understanding are filled. Otherwise, we’ll continue to resent, mislabel, misrepresent, and misjudge each other before a watching world.
And here’s the thing that’s so beautiful and unique: when I was a kid, I only represented the Logans. But as believers, we’re surrounded by this “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1)—we represent Christ and our big, eternal family, the universal church!
Reject Cancel Culture
Cancel culture can create an undercurrent of disabling fear. At one level, the fear makes sense: it feels like if you say anything beyond “hello,” you risk being labeled a racist or a heretic. I desperately want to cancel cancel culture.
We are the church! We don’t give up on our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must give them the opportunity to explain themselves. This works both ways. Black brothers and sisters, don’t cancel those who are silent about justice. Silence does not always equal complicity. And white people, don’t cancel those who are angered by injustice; caring about biblical justice does not mean they’ve sold their souls to the social gospel.
Even when the hurt and anger is high, or zeal to protect the church from heresy is strong, Christians are called to brotherhood. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We’re already united to one another in Christ; now we live it out.
Practically Living Out Our Unity
Think about Simon the zealot and Matthew the tax collector. One had a MIGA (Make Israel Great Again) hat on, while one acquiesced and willfully surrendered to Roman rule and authority. Simon, in his MIGA hat, wanted to overthrow the oppressor, and Matthew worked for the oppressor. But the gospel overrode their polarized political views; the eternal politic took over their earthly politics. They had a higher work, a greater king, and a bigger kingdom in sight.
When God is rightly positioned on the throne, my political ideas are just a thing—important to some extent, but temporary. We must watch our behavior, our character, and we must watch the throne.
Below are a few ideas of ways to lead your church to unity in an otherwise divisive time:
- Preach God’s redemptive work throughout history.
- Lead your people to rejoice in the eschatological hope we have in Christ.
- As you tackle race and justice in America, keep praying for Sudan, Nigeria, North Korea, China, and more.
- Support church planting! We need big gospel vision, because if we don’t see through the lens of the gospel, things (political ideologies and opinions) will climb up onto our thrones and make enemies of the blood-bought family of God.
- When there is a disagreement on politics, race, and ideologies, encourage the flock to disagree like Christians who see God on the throne.
Cancel culture is impossible for Christ’s church. Jesus said “. . . on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). We can’t be canceled anyway—not in the real, eternal sense! This shatters our fear. So we can talk and think boldly, in love, as family. But remember, it’s less important to convince others that our opinions on race and politics are correct than it is to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). If you’re a Christian, you’re not encouraged to love me, you’re commanded to love me. I’m commanded to love you.
The Church’s One Foundation
As I’ve watched, listened, and prayed through the last several months, concerns have grown in my mind and heart. Yet I’m so encouraged and I have powerful hope.
My encouragement flows from the truth that the church’s foundation is King Jesus. Christ’s church in America may very well struggle to grow in practical unity on race, politics, and justice. Yet that human struggle won’t change the eternal and unshakable reality that nothing can stop Jesus’s purposes or get in the way of his victory. We will arrive home in glory not because of what we do or don’t do, but because of what Jesus has done.
But what we do now as God’s people matters. The heart of the church planter beats for the multi-generational impact of God’s word in the lives of saved sinners. It’s hard and we’ll face opposition, but pastors, the work we do today contributes to a future family of gospel-formed disciples who rightly understand gospel and race. With this growing family reproducing, we’re going to pray that God uses our network to walk in and lead the way in gospel-unity through these difficult and seemingly divided days in our country. God is writing a different and better story through his church—because that’s how he always does it.
I pray that as the family of God and as a church-planting network, we come together in beautiful, godly unity to proclaim the gospel, to live the gospel, and to be informed by the gospel. By God’s grace, we will not just be shaped by history but shaped by gospel unity until our last day or until Christ returns.