Over the past several weeks at Bluff Park Community Church, we have been walking through Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. This past week we came to the end of chapter 3 where Paul makes the following statement.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The passage was longer than this. There is more text both before and after. But I got a bit hung up here. It wasn’t so much what was being said to the Galatians that caused my pause, but rather what was potentially being said to us as a community of faith in our particular corner of the world, our city, our neighborhood. So there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. What was Paul saying to us in our own setting here in 2014 in Hoover Alabama?
I thought a bit. I prayed a lot. I dug. F.F. Bruce was insightful, as were the study notes in the ESV Study Bible. Keller, as always, was particularly helpful in highlighting three different relational categories being impacted by the truth of the gospel in this passage.
The first being that the gospel intends to bring a Unity of Culture.
So just what does Paul mean when he says that there is neither Jew nor Greek? The Galatians and the Jews were different cultures, different ethnicities. They had different customs, different foods, different histories, different music, different traditions. They were very different people groups. And Paul is saying here that, because of the gospel all of those things that have separated them are now secondary to the one thing that unifies them. The gospel is so earth-shattering, that it trumps everything else. Their cultural practices and traditions are secondary to the unifying nature of the gospel.
As for us, we too live in a culturally and ethnically diverse (and divided) place. Yes…. in Hoover, Alabama.
According to U.S. Census data, our city of Hoover has a mixed population that is roughly 72% white. The remaining 28% is a mix of African American, Hispanic and Asian ethnicities. We look around and think for example that African Americans make up 15% of our total cities population. If we are going to have a church that looks like the neighborhood it is planted in, then that means that we should look around our worship gathering, our Community Groups and see roughly 15% of our gathered worshippers that are African American.
But as we look around, we must confess that this is not the reality that we see. Why? Because in some way, shape or form, we have not allowed the gospel to mold us fully into the image that God lays out for us. Our gathered times of worship are likely not divided racially or ethnically because of outright racism or bigotry. No, we are a divided people because we do not believe the gospel to the degree that Paul is implying here. There is neither Jew nor Greek, black nor white, Asian nor Hispanic. You are one in Christ Jesus.
This has enormous implications for the future of our church, and our community. I just quoted the statistic that African Americans currently make up 15% of Hoover’s total population. If we look at the 10 year span from 2000 – 2010 do you know what the total growth rate is for minority communities in our immediate neighborhood? In the 10 year span from 2000 – 2010…..
- The African American population in Hoover population has increased 185%.
- The Hispanic population in Hoover has increased 107%.
- The Asian population in Hoover has increased 128%.
- The white population in Hoover over that same time span has increased 11%.
So I ask, what will our city look like 10 years from now? 20 years from now? 50 years from now? In a very real sense, if we are not today, right now allowing the gospel to impact the way that we build relationships with neighbors, the way that we do life, the way that we engage as a worshipping community, the church that we plant in Hoover today will not be able to reach the Hoover that exists 10, 15, 20 years from now.
Because of the gospel, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither black nor Hispanic nor white. Paul’s assumption is that the gospel he is preaching brings with it a unity of culture.
So how do we build a church where white, black, brown, all gather under the same roof and worship the same God in Spirit and truth?
I find it interesting that Paul does not list out a prescription for what detailed steps to take in order to accomplish this goal. Actually having a stated goal of an ethnically and culturally diverse congregation is not even the main point he is making here. Paul’s primary concern, the way that divisions between Jew and Greek, white and black are erased is by simply believing the gospel and living life according to it’s implications. An overly-simplistic solution? Maybe. Or perhaps we simply have an inadequate view of the power of the gospel.
We believe and live out the gospel. We preach Christ crucified, risen and coming again. We lift high the banner that says “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You are all one in Christ.” We preach the gospel and rely upon the Holy Spirit to build into reality the community which Paul clearly expected the gospel to produce. May God grow His kingdom among us, to His ultimate glory.