5.12 2 Corinthians -- Reconciliation

The foregoing sections, on the Spirit and human frailty, are the precursor to his teaching about "the ministry of reconciliation."   This part of 2 Corinthians is central to the Christian understanding of race.

            So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16-19).

One of the keys in overcoming racism in oneself is Paul's insight on regarding "no one from a worldly point of view."  What is the worldly point of view?  It is based on:

           -- appearances, a shallow or surface acquaintance
           -- human reason:  "Greeks seek wisdom" (1 Cor 1:22).  
           -- self-centeredness, living life purely for self-advantage
           -- rivalry, domination, competition, criticism, cynicism  

 

           This applies first of all to how we think of Jesus.  Paul, of course, originally thought of him as a false prophet and messianic pretender.  But he was converted in his thinking, and this conversion extended to his attitude to all men:

           "It was now his custom to view men, not primarily in terms of nationality but in terms of spiritual status.  The Jew-Gentile division was less important for him than the Christian-unbeliever distinction" (2 Corinthians, Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 353).

The ministry of reconciliation depends on looking at people from the standpoint of the Spirit of God, and not of traditions, backgrounds and prejudices.  This is a deliberate decision of the believer -- he can let go of the world's opinions, or import them into the fellowship (thereby poisoning it).  Too often, of course, churches have compromised: while regarding Jesus with eyes of faith, they have turned bleak and judgmental eyes on their traditional rivals and foes.

This is not just a fault of the majority population in a society, though we tend to think that way:  the bigotry of supremacists and colonizers.  Just as frequently, this kind of hostile outlook can be found among minority groups who feel threatened by the dominant population.  The ethnic church has often played the role of a community association for racial minorities, who can find a comfortable refuge in its walls.  In this case, the church acts to solidify racial stereotypes rather than to counteract them.  But with the new birth comes a new set of eyes -- if we choose to use them.  "The old has gone, the new has come!"

          

The real evil of racism in the church is not the denial of civil rights, which modern civilization treats as the unforgiveable sin, but the fact that it divides the body of Christ into factions, and prevents the Holy Spirit from allocating His gifts as He determines (1 Cor 12:11).  It violates the "one loaf, one body" sacrament of Communion, the symbol of Christ's death.  Upon his ascension, Jesus bequeathed to us his Spirit, his Word...and the ministry of reconciliation.  In this passage, Paul speaks exclusively of peace with God, but that is only half the job.  Reconciliation with God has to overflow into our relations with people, especially those of other nationalities and races.  This is the work of the Spirit in the world today, as He builds up the body of Christ.  Reconciliation in this sense does not mean tolerance of the "dark side" of other cultures.  Paul had no patience with Greek idolatry or sexuality, nor for that matter with Jewish legalism.  He was not advocating reconciliation across those boundaries.  Rather, it is to see the potential of each man or woman for their future in Christ, and to assist in the realization of those possibilities, while removing any obstacles in the way.