In the annals of history there have been times when nations have formed an axis of evil in which their own people or other nations have suffered. Borrowing this analogy, the church faces a massive threat to the very core of our spirituality— a massive threat that relishes prejudicial differences of race, class, gender, or heritage.
As we boast that we are rich and increased with goods, having need of nothing, this spiritual axis of evil exults in our racial divisions, in our social distinctions, and in our gender discrimination of worship, fellowship, polity, and deployment of laborers. With such an intolerable status, Jesus threatens to spew us out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16).
Surely Jesus longs for His church to have progressed, after two millennia, beyond the fever of compromise, the fervor of rationalization, the histrionics of boasting, or the hysterical separations that plagued the early church.
Along with His dismay, however, God also provides the solution for victory over this evil axis. The secret of transformation for the church today has not changed—it lies in becoming God’s children. This means putting on Jesus in our daily lives as much as putting Him on in our profession.
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29, KJV).
Cause-effect relationship. Did you note the process? Being baptized into Christ means putting on Christ with the consequence that we are all one. If we are in Christ, we no longer experience racial division. If we are in Christ, we no longer experience social distinction. If we are in Christ, we no longer experience gender discrimination. Paul’s theology is clear. If we still exhibit such unconverted, unsanctifi ed characteristics, then we must ponder whether we are really “in Christ.” Moreover, Paul’s theology demands more than lip-service acknowledgment. It demands implementation in our practice equal to affirmation in our theology.
The evil of racial division. If we are “in Christ,” then racism, tribalism, pride of nation of origin, or segregation remains sinful as much today as it was when Paul admonished the churches of Galatia. Yet, in many parts of the globe, the “righteousness” of the children of darkness exceeds the righteousness—or at least the right behavior—of the children of light. In some countries, we are mandated by law not to segregate with respect to schooling, housing, employment, or citizenship rights. But when we exercise nonmandated free choice, we choose to segregate ourselves, and the hour of divine worship remains the most self-segregated hour of the entire week.
The evil of social distinction. In his article “Living by the Word: God’s Choice,” Stephen Fowl states regarding the apostle James’s admonitions about pandering to the wealthy and powerful, “We are much more comfortable operating in the realm of power and wealth because it seems like something we can manage for our own benefi t and even for the benefi t of others. “The most charitable account one can offer of the actions of the characters addressed in James is that they were seeking to cultivate the favor of the rich and powerful to benefi t the church and its mission” (Christian Century, September 5, 2006, page 20). Yet, it is sobering to survey the socioeconomic status of those who populate our church boards, governance committees, and policy-creating commissions. Fowl says, “This is a bit of a puzzle. On the one hand, James is uncompromising in his assertion that making distinctions between people based on their wealth is a violation of the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Such distinctions work in opposition to God’s plan of choosing ‘the poorer of the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.’ ” (Ibid.)
The evil of gender discrimination. Like the other evils, preventing deployment in ministry on the basis of gender hampers the proclamation of the gospel and denies the biblical message of the priesthood of all believers. In March’s article, I will study this issue more fully, along with Jesus’ own example and antidote for victory over this spiritual axis of evil.