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Racial Reconciliation and the Glory of Humanity

One of the great privileges I have as a pastor is to be a part of ordination councils. An ordination council is a group of other ordained ministers who are responsible for interviewing a candidate for gospel ministry with respect to his character and competencies consistent with biblical texts like 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:1-9.

At the church where I serve we recently conducted an ordination council. With great joy over the candidate for ordination, we engaged in an approximately 90 minute oral examination. Here’s one of the questions I prepared:

What, according to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, determines that “every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love?” 1Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Article III.

Our current cultural moment makes this a particularly important question for any potential pastor. The issue of racial reconciliation is threatening to divide much of evangelicalism as well-meaning Christians are finding themselves at odds with each other when the gospel gives us ample reason to be united. To overcome the threat of division, pastors must have biblical and theological reasons for the value of human beings that transcend mere worldly arguments. Thankfully, the church has both in God’s Word. In fact, the Bible presents a picture of mankind that is nothing less than glorious—and a picture that puts certain requirements on God’s people. And pastors need to lead their churches into these great realities.

While there is certainly more to say on this issue, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M) is a helpful guide to pastors when it states,

The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love. 2Article III.

The BF&M grounds the dignity and worth of every human being in two great theological truths: 1) the creation of people in the image of God; 2) the fact that Christ died for people.

THE IMAGE OF GOD

We are introduced to the idea of the image of God in Genesis 1:26-27,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

What does it mean to be created “in the image of God”? It means that we are like God and represent God. Of all that God created, only human beings were endowed with God’s image. This sets human beings apart as the pinnacle of God’s creative work. This is why the psalmist sings,

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 3Psalm 8:3-5.

Human beings have the astounding privilege of serving as God’s kingly representatives in the world. Endowed with the image of God, we are called to represent him as we act like him.

Of course, the fall of mankind into sin has corrupted his image in us almost beyond the point of recognition. But the faint hint of the image is still seen in sinners. Every human being retains the image of God. As theologians over the course of church history have observed in one way or another, we are “glorious ruins.” Glorious, because we are made in the image of God; ruins, because of our fall into sin through our association with Adam (cf., Genesis 3 and Romans 5). That the image of God in human beings is not totally lost is why James grounds his exhortation to speak well of other people in the still resident image of God,

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 4James 3:5-10.

Christians cannot praise God on Sunday and curse people on Monday (or as early as Sunday afternoon). And pastors know this because of this great theological truth the BF&M affirms: human beings are created in the image of God.

CHRIST DIED FOR PEOPLE

A second reason the confession gives for the sacredness of human beings is the fact that Christ died for people. Consider what John saw in Revelation 5:8–10,

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

We see that Jesus died for people from every conceivable ethnic background. Jesus’ blood was shed for Jew and Gentile alike. The church in glory will be as diverse as the world. And the confession affirms that this reality is further confirmation that “every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”

The BF&M is not a perfect document. But it is beautifully right, if not exhaustive, on this point. And we need pastors who not only see humanity like this but seek to embed this kind of theological thinking in the hearts of their church members. When this happens, our churches will have great value to add to the cultural conversation taking place today regarding racial reconciliation and what true neighbor love should look like.

References   [ + ]

1. Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Article III.
2. Article III.
3. Psalm 8:3-5.
4. James 3:5-10.

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