Recently I have been repeatedly challenged by a rather penetrating question. At first the question seems elementary, but the more one allows it to probe not only the mind but the heart, the more meaningful and fundamental one finds it to be. The question is: What is it in my life that has the most influence in determining my attitudes and personal behaviors?
The question has a way of throwing itself down at the feet of Christian conscience like the proverbial gauntlet. It becomes particularly potent when we look to the insistent squeeze of what is customary in the collective thinking of the surrounding culture and realize how definitive the voices of that culture are in our lives. For me the question takes on the gauntlet's confrontational character when I realize that I have, in a given situation, bypassed not only the normative voice of Scripture, but also the call of the Christ of Scripture, to follow some politically correct form of thinking or acting.
For sincere Christians it is disconcerting to realize that much of the time we do this without realizing that we are doing it. There are so many voices these days. In our high-tech, communication-crazed culture these voices are so persuasive and heard so dominantly that we hardly listen to the voice of the living Christ. For example, it is difficult to assess how authoritative a particular attitude or behavior becomes simply because we have observed it repeatedly on television.
Consider another more subtle voice: the voice of religion, even our own religion. Is it possible for the church's own voice to become the one that decides questions of personal attitude and behavior rather than the voice of the living Christ of the Bible within the life of the church?
Or take the issues of nationality, race, tribe, culture, and ethnic heritage as they meet and mingle in the global (or local) churches of today. As we read the New Testament carefully, and take in the spirit of Jesus, the challenge of these issues to Christianity and to Adventism becomes clear. This, in itself, is no great revelation to us. But the question is How definitively do we allow the life and being of Christ to be in the way we handle our differences when it comes to these challenges?
I must confess that it seems to me that we have not allowed the unique principles of the New Testament to inform us in many of the ways we have chosen to deal with the divisions that face us nationally, racially, and ethnically. Instead, to a significant extent we have embraced the prevailing political correctnesses and many of the attitudes of our cultures, some of which only exacerbate our prides, prejudices, and divisions. The incredibly potent principles of Christian fellowship are left largely unrecognized, unvalued, and unused.
One such New Testament principle consists of only two words. Yet those two words form the New Testament Magna Carta of human relationships. They have the power to transform a community of faith. The two words are the ones Paul used so much in facing uncannily similar challenges to ours: "In Christ."
The Magna Carta of Christian fellowship
Well known, but not well utilized, are the community-forming attitude and outlook inherent in the concept behind these two words. It is an utterly inspiring concept or principle that cries out to condition our behavior and action.
In more complete terms Paul expressed it this way: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ" (Gal. 3:26-28, NIV). Too bad these words may fall on our ears with a certain triteness, because we know they are absolutely revolutionary when they get through to the heart. They possess the power to bring release from the dead-end attitudes and methodologies that are so much a part of the stock-in-trade philosophies and attitudes of our cultures.
It is illuminating to notice what drove Paul into these arenas. On one side of his culture was what might be described as the "liberal" outlook and attitudes of the Romans toward the Jews. On the other were the classically cramped conservative attitudes depicted in the outlook of the Jewish pharisee toward Gentiles in general.
Roundly rejecting traditionally prized aspects of his Jewish pharisaism, Paul said, "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.... I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (Phil. 3:4-9, NIV).
Here is a completely unique and distinctive way of defining interpersonal relationships and the value I place upon my fellow human beings. Here the usual divisive definers of human distinctiveness and behavior are all unceremoniously ditched by Paul. Religiosity, orthodoxy, nationality, race, tribe, and behavioral circumspection are all dumped as the supernal wonder of Christ becomes for Paul the ultimate definer.