Wineskins Archive

December 5, 2013

The Ministry of Reconciliation Still Matters (Sept 2012)

Filed under: — @ 3:31 pm and

Rex Butts

The world is a divided place. Nations are at odds with other nations just as gangs fight other gangs. In America, it seems as though we are faced with a growing hostility between political ideologies, such as Democrats vs. Republicans. Beyond that, an even bigger problem is growing with the tension between Western Culture and the Middle-East, or Americans and Islam.

Who’s right and who’s wrong?

Here’s a newsflash: We are all sinners!

On the other hand, God has called the church to make known the wisdom of God. It is this wisdom, the gospel, which is the mystery that destroys the hostility and reconciles all people through the death of Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 3:11-12). The goal is simple: God is reconciling the world through the death of Jesus so that all people may be one community belonging to God and each other. This is the task for which the church has been elected.

Tribalism or Reconciliation?

Yet I must ask, are Christians in America really interested in this missional calling? Or has tribalism so captivated the Christian heart that the ministry of reconciliation no longer matters that much? That’s a very probative and blunt question to ask, but it must be asked. The reason is that when Christians become more known for being Democrats and Republicans, championing one over the other, as though we belong to either party and not Christ, it begins to smell like tribalism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ that offers reconciliation.

We only need to look into history to see why tribalism is such a concern and how it has obliterated the portrait of reconciliation to which God has called the church to bear witness. Rwanda always comes to mind as a recent example. There, Christians were divided into two tribal camps – Hutus and Tutsis – setting aside loyalty to God and his mission for the sake of their tribes. The result was a massacre in which Christians began killing Christians rather than loving one another as reconciled believers ought. Another example is the American Civil War. Here, Christians aligned themselves as people of the Union and Confederate States rather than people belonging to each other by the grace of God. Consequently, Christians were divided against Christians and killed each other rather bearing witness to God’s work of redemption, reconciliation.

History is replete with examples of such tribalism creating hostility and destroying what God has created. Even today when American Christians become more concerned with American citizenship and the goals and aims of nation than with participation in the mission God, tribalism is the result – albeit, a national tribe. However, when the results of tribalism become manifest – such as a pastor burning another person’s sacred book or someone posting a tribalistic comment on Facebook – it diminishes the ministry of reconciliation that Christians are called to participate in.

From Tribalism to Reconciliation
So it becomes necessary to hear the apostle Paul again as someone who fully embraced this calling to the ministry of reconciliation. According to Paul, he refused to see people from a “worldly point of view,” having received from God this ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16,18). This is coming from the same man who once persecuted the church, with the theopolitical zeal of a radical terrorist. So why the fanatical change? I believe it all stems back to Paul’s encounter of the risen Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1-31; 22:1-22; 26:9-24).

When Jesus confronted Paul (then Saul), Paul realized how much of a sinner he was. He also realized how much of a sinner both Jews and Gentiles were, with both totally dependent on the grace of God for salvation. So Paul came to regard his old way of life as “garbage” (Philippians 3:8), realizing that the cross of Jesus Christ was the only way for the wounds to be healed, for the hostility to be destroyed, and for peace with God and each other to be established. So Paul went about proclaiming this peace offering, otherwise known as the ministry of reconciliation … and letters like Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Romans deal a lot with this very issue.<br><br>This is what happens when people truly encounter the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ who is sits at the right hand of God as Lord. This makes me wonder: when tribalism is placed above participation in the ministry of reconciliation, have Christians lost sight of the risen Jesus Christ?

The Fundamental Difference
The solution to the problem is not a series of new strategies or programs, though our real enemy would love for us to go there. The solution is a recalibration of our vision so that we can see with 20/20 vision what God has done in Christ, who God has made us, and for what God has elected us to be.

>As the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he began by offering a theological vision. He told the church who they were in Christ, which was all about what God had accomplished in Christ and what God had called these Christians to be in Christ. Paul was recalibrating their vision by proclaiming their new identity in Christ, in hopes that they would lean into that identity and learn to live it out as a reality.

At the age of thirteen, I began working during the summer with my dad, who owned a small excavating company. I was hardly a fully grown man, but my father told me that this was a man’s world of hard work. He needed to say nothing further. It was a vision of who I was supposed to be and what he was asking me to be on the construction site. I wanted to be a man and live like a man among other men on the job and especially in my dad’s eyes, so I worked hard without any complaints.

This is what Paul is after. He is writing to a people who have been made new in Jesus Christ by the grace of God. They have bee reconciled to God as one people elected for the ministry of reconciliation among the world. So Paul told them who they were in expectation that they would live like it. However, Paul understood well that his sermon-like teaching was not sufficient in itself to bring about change. So Paul twice prays for the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about revelation and conviction regarding their new identity in Christ (Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21).

By proclaiming this redemptive vision of being made completely anew in Christ and prayerfully expecting the Holy Spirit to be at work bringing it about in the church, there is hope for the church living out her calling as witnesses of God’s reconciliation. There was hope then and there is hope now because when the church understands and embraces her identity, she knows that she is beautiful within this world. She, the church, is the body of Christ, his bride, a people created to be like God; a people whose beauty draws people to God in Christ, where reconciliation becomes reality.

And all because the ministry of reconciliation still matters!

(Another version of this article first appeared at

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