Breaking down the different walls of partition

Breaking down the different walls of partition: Our urgent twenty-first-century challenge

A church leader shares five ways to bring about unity in the church today.

 

Emmanuel Mwale, MTh, serves as president of the East Zambia Field of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Chipata, Zambia, Africa.

of the East Zambia Field of the Seventh-dayAdventist Church, Chipata, Zambia, Africa.

The world is divided on racial, regional, cultural, tribal, and social status issues. Unfortunately, these divisions are found in the Christian church as well. This sad fact should not surprise us because the enemy of souls specializes in dividing people.

No doubt, the mission of our Lord suffers when those He has called to represent Him fail to demonstrate the unity for which He prayed. Sin has divided us on different lines, but the Cross was planted between heaven and earth, to unite us first to our Creator and then to one another. We are divided in Adam because of sin but united in Christ by His Cross. “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” (Gal. 3:28). We can join Paul and say, in Christ, that we Christians are one.

Oneness is a biblical idea, but what we see in reality differs—division along tribal and ethnic lines. How, then, can we break the walls that divide us? How can we experience the unity that Christ envisioned for His church?

The Unity of the Cross

Though Christ objectively broke down the wall of partition among us, we are still divided because many have not truly believed what God did through Christ: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Eph. 2:14). The Cross, by which Christ broke down the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, is the same Cross by which He broke down the wall of partition between the people groups of today. 

For the different ethnic groups in our church to live, worship, and work together, individuals must experience the power of Christ at a personal level by believing that Christ died as their Substitute. The Cross is God’s power to salvation to those who believe (1 Cor. 1:18), and salvation is a package that contains everything needed to unite different people groups. Through Christ we are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18–20).

There is no way we can claim to be saved and, at the same time, see our brothers or sisters from other tribal or ethnic groupings as inferior. The Bible tells us that we have one parentage in Adam (Acts 17: 26). Adam ruined us. But we can go beyond Adam and say that we have one parentage in God (Gen. 1:26–28). Going beyond Adam helps us appreciate what God did through Christ. The same God who created us by Christ (John 1:1–3) is the same God who has saved us (Eph. 2: 4–9) through Christ. We are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10). If we are new creatures in Christ, then we are all equal in Him, regardless of which culture or tribe we come from.

Christ makes the difference in the lives of people. Unity based on political compromise has failed in the world today because it is of human origin. And any attempt on unity that originates with humankind will fail, to which the tower of Babel testifies (Gen. 11:1–9). But the unity that Christ envisioned has to work because Christ is the Truth (John 14:6), and that which He says is true. He made a claim that, by being lifted up from the earth, He would draw all peoples to Himself (John 12:32). Those who, with the eye of faith, behold Christ dying on the cross are drawn to Him. They experience a change of heart. They learn to love the way Christ loves (John 13:34, 35), and this includes loving

enemies too (Matt. 5:43–48).

 

If all this is true, which we know it is, where have we failed? Why are there still different walls of partition in our church today? Could it be because ministers of the gospel have not done much to help the different people groups experience Christ personally? Most of the people comprising the different people groups in our church have not yet received an experiential knowledge of the good news of salvation through Christ. Perhaps many of us have not yet had a personal relational experi­ence with God, which Christ said is the foundation of true unity (John 17:3, 17)?

 

Ministers of the gospel are agents of reconciliation and unity. This task should be our priority. The following points can help us to bring about unity in the church of God today.

 

Preach Christ. If the different walls of partition that divide us are to be bro­ken down, God’s ministers must preach Christ, and Him crucified. Preaching Christ is not optional for ministers, but an imperative. Ellen G. White wrote: “The exaltation of Christ is the great truth that all who labor in word and doctrine are to reveal.”1 Christ saves us. Christ unites us. Sister White notes that “the secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ. The reason for all division, discord, and difference is found in separation from Christ.”2

 

Preach forgiveness. Ministers, as agents of reconciliation, must preach about the power of forgiveness. They should preach that those who experience Christ experience God’s forgiveness of sin. And those who experience God’s forgiveness learn to forgive the people who have done them wrong. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

Many bad things have happened to different people groups that have caused deep rifts in relationships. It is hard to forgive people who have treated us badly. Christ, nevertheless, forgave the people who gave Him the worst treatment. He prayed: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Having saved us, Christ becomes our Example. We can forgive those who have given us the worst treatment. Christ can do it through us.

Help parishioners understand cultural differences. Before we canthink about being God’s agents in the great assignment of dismantling the walls that divide people, we need to understand the differences in our cultures. Paul was raised in the Jewish culture, but he understood Roman culture also, being a Roman by citizenship. No doubt Paul understood Greek culture also. This made the great apostle relevant to different people groups. Leslie Pollard argues, “We must come to terms with our own personal identity and history, and learn to speak the cultural ‘language’ of our people of origin.”3 We need to know what is good as well as what is bad in our own culture.

A person who does not understand his or her own culture cannot appreci­ate the other person’s culture. That person will see diversity as being evil. And yet the unity that Christ prayed for does not suggest the elimination of diversity.

At the same time, both Jesus and Paul understood the people’s culture for whose salvation they labored. We need to help parishioners understand the cultures of the other people in order that they may interact with them. Understanding why different people groups do things the way they do will help us appreciate and minister to them. In the end, we will grow to appreciate one another as God’s children.

Follow Christ’s approach in mov­ing beyond man-made barriers. Jews and Samaritans did not accept each other. Christ was a Jew. However, His being Jewish did not prevent Him from ministering to Samaritans (John 4:1–42). At the same time, He did not deny His Jewish identity, but He taught that there was something greaterthan being Jewish or Samaritan (John 4:21–24). His approach should be our approach.

The story of the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21–28) teaches a lot about prejudice. Christ demonstrated that He was a Savior of all people and not just of the Jews.

We should not tolerate hypocrisy in the church today. Those of us who hold responsible positions should preach against the different walls that divide us and come up with deliberate plans to eradicate those divisions. Perhaps a seminary class on how to understand people of all cultures, and Christ’s way of reaching them, would do. Consistent implementation of policies and fairness in training and hiring would go a long way in bringing about the much-desired unity. We need to identify potential leaders in the different people groups that comprise our church and train them to ably minister across cultural diversities.

Teach and preach about the power of prayer. We cannot overemphasizethe power of prayer. Ministers shouldteach and preach about it. The power ofprayer should not just be an appendixof what we teach and preach about.Sermons preached about Christ withoutprayer will be devoid of power. As we pray for the outpouring of the HolySpirit, we need to particularly ask Godto break the different walls of partition.The Holy Spirit will not be poured out infull measure if we do not take deliberate steps to ask God to deal with our pridemanifested in the walls that divide us.When we pray, revival will result. There will be healing of our wounds. Ourideas, habits, and way of looking atthings will change.

Conclusion

The walls that divide us are condemned by those who understand the common origin of the human race. Christians should lead in the fight against these walls because we preach the everlasting gospel—Christ and Him crucified. The everlasting gospel goes to different people groups (Rev. 14:6, 7). And the different people groups who learn to coexist as one will stand before the Lamb in heaven (Rev. 7:9–17). Christ was the unifying factor among the twelve disciples. He wants to unite us today (John 17:17–23)

1 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, bk. 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn, 1958), 155.

2. Ibid., 259.

3. Leslie N. Pollard, ed., Embracing Diversity: How to Understand and Reach People of All Cultures (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,2000), 20, 21.

 

2.

 

Ibid., 259.

3. Leslie N. Pollard, ed., Embracing Diversity: How to Understand and Reach People of All Cultures (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,2000), 20, 21.n G. White, Selected Messages, bk. 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn, 1958), 155.

2. Ibid., 259.

3. Leslie N. Pollard, ed., Embracing Diversity: How to Understand and Reach People of All Cultures (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,2000), 20, 21.

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Emmanuel Mwale, MTh, serves as president of the East Zambia Field of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Chipata, Zambia, Africa.

of the East Zambia Field of the Seventh-dayAdventist Church, Chipata, Zambia, Africa.

January 2016

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