On Saturday, January 20, at First Baptist Church of Covington, Georgia, a small church plant in suburban Atlanta will be hosting a community-wide conference on racial unity called “No Longer Strangers.” To many, such an endeavor might sound a bit risky or bold; however, the concept of racial unity is actually quite unoriginal. In fact, the name of the conference simply comes from Ephesians 2:19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” In the American South, the issue of race can often feel like the elephant in the room, but it’s a topic that appears rather frequently in the Bible. And that’s precisely why The Church at Haynes Creek is hosting a conference on such a sensitive subject. Ultimately, the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us everything we need to know about showing love and empathy toward our neighbors of different skin color. And on January 20, black and white believers from around Atlanta will rally around the lordship of a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. In the past several weeks, believers and unbelievers alike have approached us with questions about why we would host such a conference. The following are just 3 of the many reasons we feel God will bless our efforts to proclaim the good news of Ephesians 2.
- The Gospel is our Narrative.
In today’s politically polarized climate, every Christian is increasingly pulled into one of two narratives. Either you’re a “conservative” fighting for “conservative” values or you’re a “liberal” standing up for “liberal” beliefs. Can there be any middle ground? Many Christians today can feel like they’re stranded on a social and political island. For instance, on Saturday, our church will celebrate the fact that every human being has been uniquely made in the image of God and has equal dignity and worth before God. The following morning we’ll then celebrate “Sanctity of Life” Sunday and the truth that each unborn child is wonderfully made in that same image. In one weekend, we’ll decry the evils of racism and abortion. To some, it might appear like we’re jumping narratives, from social progressive to social conservative, from one party platform to another. However, in reality, we’re just celebrating the same Gospel story. Jesus transcends man-made narratives. The God who calls His church from every tribe, tongue, and nation is the same God who foreknew His people and knitted them together in the womb. Ultimately, the church can’t avoid the issue of race. In fact, as Gentiles standing in the light of the new covenant, God’s multi-ethnic plan for salvation is a glorious reality that evokes our worship. That’s our primary narrative, not the one we watch on CNN or Fox News.
- The Gospel is our Hope.
When our church first announced that we were hosting a conference on racial unity in our community, we encountered questions like: “Is this about the statue of the confederate soldier in the center of town?” Or “Is this about the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem?” Or “Do you really think this is the best time for something like this?” Again, there are dozens and dozens of narratives at play. And after each question, I answered in the same way: “It’s a conference on Ephesians 2:19. About being one people of God in Christ.” The incredulous looks I often received said we were a bit naïve. That our message was perhaps too simple. Thankfully, when Scripture presents the message of God saving both Jews and Gentiles in Christ, it presents a fairly simple Gospel. And if the message of Jesus reconciling sinners to a holy God is enough to bring reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, it’s enough to do the same with blacks and whites in the American South. Regrettably, in countless American churches, the the issue of race is only raised after a march or a massacre leaves our country shaken. At The Church at Haynes Creek, we believe it’s always a good time to preach the life-shaping Gospel. We don’t have to wait for another tragedy to preach the good news that Jesus has purchased a chosen race and a holy nation. (1 Pet. 2:9) We have a hope. Many of the political and social challenges in our country are complex, but the solution begins with a very simple message of unconditional love – too simple to be silenced.
- The Gospel is our Message.
When it comes to racial tensions in America, words matter. Whether they come from the oval office or a pulpit in Georgia, words carry weight. They can build up or tear down. That’s why it’s incumbent for churches to speak on race and the Gospel: in a world of bad news, there’s also really good news. How can the best news in the universe return void? (Isa. 55:11) It’s time for churches to be bold in their Gospel proclamation. In the words of Pastor Steve Lawson, “a shallow pulpit will produce a shallow church, but a strong pulpit, a strong church.” At The Church at Haynes Creek, we believe we’re called to be strong in the Lord. To be bold and to declare hard truths in love. To stand apart from the world and pronounce the oracles of God. The Gospel is a message that should shape the way we live. In Ephesians 2:1-10, the Apostle Paul pens one of the most profound passages in the Bible on the nature of sin and grace. But he doesn’t stop there. Immediately after establishing that we “have been saved by faith,” he then demonstrates how the Gospel shapes Jew-Gentile relations in 2:11-22. Yes it’s as simple as preaching the Gospel, but the Gospel also takes us places. It did for Paul. It does for us. And if we can trust Jesus with our souls, we can trust him with the deepest wounds in our community