Dealing with partiality and lording it over others

Dr. Gary Deddo offers a biblically-grounded theological framework to assist churches in understanding and dealing with two sins at the root of racism: partiality and lording it over others.   

One story, one purpose   

The Bible gives us an overall story inclusive of all history. It's a meta-narrative that tells of the relationship God has with all humanity. In the unfolding of the story's four scenes (Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation), we learn that the Creator, Redeemer God has made us one humanity, one race -- the human race. All persons, we learn, are of one blood

Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, Consummation

This four-scene story forms a Christian worldview by which those who follow Jesus view reality and critique all other worldviews. This story is God’s first and final word. It alone provides direction for living out the faith, hope and love we have as Christians for the Triune God who we worship. It alone upholds the true cosmic Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The story tells us that humans have been created according to one purpose, and in order to conform to one fundamental pattern -- to be and become persons who reflect or image in their very being and by their acts the character of their Maker and Redeemer -- a character that is personally revealed in the incarnate humanity of Jesus Christ. Conformity to the person of Jesus Christ on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ realized by the ongoing ministry of the Word and Spirit of God is the intention of the Triune God so that we may fully share in the Son’s union and communion with God the Father in the Holy Spirit. This purpose is summed up in the two great commandments as Jesus indicated: First, foremost and fundamentally, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And the second, which is “like” or comparable to or reflective of the first, to love all neighbors as you yourself have first been loved by God through Jesus Christ.

It's about right-relating

This purpose for humanity is about right-relating, which begins with a right relationship with God -- a worship relationship with the transcendent God that is then reflected out in relationship towards all others. This relationship towards others, though one of love, it is not one of worship. We do not worship our neighbors. Love towards neighbor is defined and ordered by our worship relationship with God through Jesus. In that way, what we do towards others gives glory to God.

Obstacles to right-relating with God and neighbor have at their root the fall of humanity. The disbelief, distrust and so disobedience of the first human beings (represented by Adam and Eve) polluted the shared humanity that is the very being of every human. We all inherit this broken human nature -- a nature that needs God’s redemption, restoration, healing and perfection. As a result, all relationships are broken by what is not of God’s will or purpose -- broken by disbelief in God and by the disobedience towards God and others that results. All relationships are to a greater or smaller degree damaged, harmed, distorted, twisted and heading towards total dissolution/death.

Thankfully, in Jesus, God has re-headed up all humanity. Through our Lord's incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, our diseased human nature has been healed, bringing to perfection our human response of repentance, faith, hope and love. Jesus fulfilled and continues to fulfill the two great commandments in their perfect order and relationship. He is the new Adam, the new Head of the human race. Because of who Jesus is (the God-man) and what he has done and is doing, we may now actively share in the renewed humanity that is completed in him. We share in that new humanity by submission to Jesus and to the ministry of the Holy Spirit who incorporates us into Christ as members of his Body so that we may grow up into him and eventually share in all he has accomplished for us in his humanity.

The nature and witness of the church

Those who are submitting to the ministry of the Holy Spirit according to the Word of God constitute the Body of Christ, the one Body that gathers in myriad places as local congregations, and who also may be organized into larger social configurations such as denominations or other forms of affiliation. Jesus' one church thus becomes manifest in time and space, flesh and blood, as it gathers to partake of the visible elements of baptism and the Lord’s Table (Communion or Eucharist), and as its members are sent out on mission to the world.

Within these gatherings, first of all for times of worship, the church as a living community is to be a living witness to the renewed humanity that Christ now shares with us by his Word and Spirit. This one new humanity demonstrates the transformation, healing and reconciliation of all persons across all that sinfully divides human from humans; all that obscures the one new humanity Christ brought about.

It is in and through the Body of Christ, gathered in community, that God intends to provide a witness to the world of this new humanity reconciled in Christ. It is a witness that, in Christ, the sinful, alienating divisions between persons are healed -- divisions between Jew and Gentile (all ethnicities), male and female (both sexes), young and old (all generations), and between bondsmen and free (all social, economic, political distinctions). 

On guard against the root of racism

For this witness of the church to the healing of divisions in Christ to be made clear, the church must guard against the sins of showing partiality and lording it over others. These sins involve taking advantage of the weak, manipulating others to do what they would not in good conscience do, demeaning others, showing favoritism, giving respect to some yet shunning or disrespecting others, etc. These sins, which form the root of what most people mean when they think of racism, though prevalent throughout the world, should be rare within the church. Sadly, however, these sins do exist within the church, and so they need to be addressed by wise and mature church leaders whenever they are found. Doing so requires that these leaders be continually diligent, since evil temptation along these lines will always be present. 

Yet, dealing with reality

In dealing with the sin present in both the world and the church, we must be aware that we live out our faith, hope and love in what Scripture calls the “present evil age.” It is a time of “present darkness” with Jesus Christ now ascended, and so in a way absent, yet present by the ministry of the Word by the Holy Spirit. Though evil's head has been defeated by Jesus, there are evil "principalities and powers" still at work in the world. We thus understand that other persons (“flesh and blood”) are not the enemy. Evil is. This insight ought to inform all our interactions with those who fall under evil's temptations, including people within the church.

We understand from Scripture that all evil will be vanquished from this world only upon the personal and so bodily return of Jesus Christ. That return will bring an end to this present evil age, and thus an end to fallen history. Only at that point will the completed rule and reign of God through Jesus Christ be fully manifested, totally realized. Consequently, the church and all its members are not to expect or even hope to realize an ideal church, an ideal village, town, city, government or nation in this present evil age. As Christians, we do not put our ultimate faith, hope and love in any human gatherings, including those that are designated the church. 

The point here is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a form of human idealism, and any gathering of the church in local or larger associations will not be ideal. All such gatherings will face temptation and regularly need to die to self, repent and be renewed in faith. In all such gatherings, there will be those who are at the beginning of their walk with the Lord. Such people will be immature in their faith and perhaps have many temptations to wrestle with as they find their way more and more into the freedom that is theirs in Christ. There will always be those who, although joining in the local gathering of the Body of Christ, are not yet incorporated into the Body. There may even be some gathering with the church who are opposed to Christ. In other words, any local gathering of human association, including local congregations, will be mixed to some extent. Because this is so, we are warned and instructed in Scripture not to try to absolutely rid our local fellowships of everyone who might be suspected of not being a true member of the Body of Christ. Doing so would harm the Body, as Jesus notes in his parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30, NKJV). Most often, all that can be done is for mature and wise church leaders to exercise patient, biblically appropriate church discipline. 

The church's calling to share in Christ's ministry

The Body of Christ, gathered as churches, has been given a vocation by Jesus Christ. The church is to live in such a way as to share in the ongoing ministry of Christ. And that ministry is to bear witness to all, both within the church and outside it, to who the God is who is revealed in Christ Jesus so that others may receive their reconciliation and so be reconciled to God. 

The church is to give this witness in both word and deeds -- first among those gathering, then to those outside the bounds of the local congregation. This ministry to those who are not members is a distinct one. The members are to embody in word and deeds signs of Christ and his coming Kingdom. The church does not build the kingdom on earth. It is not commissioned to change the surrounding society. It is meant to be light and salt. The actual degree of change in the surrounding society is not, strictly speaking, up to the church as the church. Its central vocation is to lead people to faith, hope and love for God as revealed in Jesus Christ so that others become actual worshipers of God.

Many, even most, who are members of the Body of Christ will be engaged in the surrounding society. Their calling is to use their vocations as avenues of bearing partial, provisional and oftentimes temporary witness in word and deed within or through their secular vocations. This is done by making the most of the authority and responsibility given them within their vocations. How extensive their influence may be, affecting the organizations and institutions in which they work, will finally be up to the movement of the Spirit and the receptivity of those serving with them. The purpose of this influence will not be to create an ideal organization, institution, nation, world, but to give glory to God in such a way that others are drawn to put their trust in the Triune God and so become incorporated into the Body of Christ. 

The persistent and ultimate aim of members of the Church will be that others become those who worship God in Spirit and in Truth, and so become those who witness to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. They too, become those who resist the temptation to partiality and lording it over others and so demonstrate the fruit of their being reconciled to God in their living out that reconciliation towards all others, first in the church and then out towards others.

Beware wrong tactics

When the sins of showing partiality and lording it over others arise within the church, they should be addressed and eliminated to as great an extent as possible. Note, however, that the tactics we use in doing so must be directed toward bringing about reconciliation. This means that such tactics as seeking revenge, overcoming evil with evil, dividing and conquering, making forgiveness conditional upon a sufficient “level” of repentance, are all ruled out in the church. 

Not all means are good and right for the elimination of wrongs, especially within the Body of Christ. Evil is not overcome by evil. Evil is not overcome by hating our enemies and regarding them as the ultimate source of evil. The evils of partiality and lording it over others must be addressed by those who recognize each other as brothers and sisters united in the new humanity forged in Jesus Christ. 

May our Lord and Savior by his Word and Spirit grant his Church grace to be witnesses to our reconciliation with our Triune God and to our ultimate hope in the reconciliation of all people in Jesus Christ, the True Head of All Humanity.

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For a related letter from Grace Communion International President Dr. Greg Williams, go to https://mailchi.mp/gci.org/together-in-christ.

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