Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the word you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
1 John 2:7–11, CSB
The Apostle John wrote these words to a church in the years following the ascension of the Lord Jesus. Church members were struggling to love each other as worldly divisions, non-biblical philosophies, and wrong ideas about Jesus caused divisions in the church. If only Scripture was relevant to our moment. This short article proposes some Ordinary Solutions for Racism.
There are two poles of Christian thought on how to fix the problem of racism in our midst. One extreme insists that simply preaching the gospel which unites us is sufficient to cure all our ills, racism included. The other pole seeks answers from philosophers and social scientists who have devoted their academic careers to the study of race and race relations in our society. While I see truly commendable instincts in both approaches, I propose another way.
My middle way (which is hardly unique to me) is that Christians should apply normal Christian categories of confrontation of sin, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love of neighbor to the particular sin of ethnic partiality (1). While Christians should learn from those outside our theological tribe, we do not need a new Bible.
Summarizing biblical teaching on repentance, a historic confession of faith claims, “As repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives, upon the account of the body of death, and the motions thereof, so it is every man’s duty to repent of his particular known sins particularly” (1689 London Baptist Confession, 15.4). So while we must preach the gospel, Christians have long understood that the preaching of the gospel must lead to repenting of our particular sins particularly.
John notes how his exhortations for church members to love each other are at once an old command and a new one. Old in the sense that they are consistent with Old Testament teaching to love one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:9). New in the sense that a new community was being built around the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and faced new challenges as all nations are united in the household of God.
James explores a similar dynamic in his epistle. He presents the hypothetical scenario of a desperately poor person seeking aid from the church. This poor person is met with a church member who provides a spiritual-sounding but unhelpful answer of, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed” (James 3:16). James points out how hypocritical this response would be. But rather than provide a new ethic, James points to the consistent Biblical command to care for the poor as an expression of faith. In this way works show the life that arises out of the faith (James 3:17).
In cases of ethnic partiality in the church, I have a hard time thinking either James or John would be satisfied with a vague application of the gospel which does not address the specific sin. But neither would they abandon the rich well of biblical teaching on love and fellowship. We should do what faithful Christians have always done and apply Scripture’s specific teachings to our specific situations. There is no shortage of wisdom in the Bible. It will help us in every situation, provided we are humble to repent of particular sins particularly. Hope you enjoyed and learned with us from these Ordinary Solutions for Racism.
(1) For a more detailed exploration of this line of thought, see Shai Linne’s forthcoming book The New Reformation (Moody Publishers, Chicago IL, 2021).
- Pray that Christians have fresh confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture.
- Pray that we not have an unbiblical approach to sin and repentance.
- Pray for God so sanctify his people and help us love Him and each other more fully.