When God calls us into cross-cultural relationships for the sake of advancing his kingdom, there are times when our well-intentioned words and actions will be taken offensively. It feels like bumping into an invisible electric fence.
This happened early on in our ministry here in Orangeburg.
I was developing a relationship with a black businessman by frequenting his store and talking with him about the needs in the community. He was very positive about my desire to do ministry and even posted a flyer for our mens’ Bible study. But that same day, he overheard one of my white friends say something about “taking back the streets from the enemy.” The comment was about the spiritual battle a Bible study would wage against Satan. But my new friend did not take it that way. From his cultural perspective, these were code words for white colonialism and belied a hidden agenda to regain white position and power in the city. I tried to explain what was intended by the comment, but my relationship with this man was wounded.
The early church was rife with such cultural hostility. Jewish Christians did not accept Gentile Christians into their fellowship unless they promised to assimilate to Jewish cultural practices and beliefs (i.e. circumcision). The Holy Spirit through the Apostles had declared cultural dominance to be out of step with the truth of the Gospel (Acts 15), but the church continued to struggle. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul explained how the gospel should bring peace between Jewish and Gentile believers.
For [Jesus] 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, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph 2:14–16).
The cultural hostility we have erected and nurtured over 400 years in North America is not easily done away with. And we should be honest about the church’s role in aiding and abetting the enemy (Satan!). But even as we blunder our way through life and ministry, we should rest in the free grace of Jesus Christ for sinners. In doing so, we will see the walls of division broken down and our local churches begin to reflect the multicultural kingdom that God has redeemed.