A White Evangelical Responds to “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”

a WHITE EVANGELICAL RESPONDS TO

(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)

Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.

Historical Overview

Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.

In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:

Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)

In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”

The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.

The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.

If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)

Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.

In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!

In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.

The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)

The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.

Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.

To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)

Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.

The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.

I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.

Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)

Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today

Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.

When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.

As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.

Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.

My Reflections

I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.

I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.

In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)

On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.

I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.

What is a White Evangelical to Do?

Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.

Resources

Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.

Two of my favorite African American pastors are:

  • Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
  • Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.

The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.

  • The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
  • Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
  • Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
  • Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Hannah

Check out some of of my other articles:

John’s Love Letter’s, Part 6: Little Children

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – [1 John 2:1-6 ESV] 

Okay, so I’m not going to lie, in our last installment of the ‘John’s Love Letters’ I guess I was feeling angry at Cessationists decided that it would be a good chance to bash them (which it was) and we ended up getting off track a little, so we’re going to go over the passage again and get down to business about what John is trying to tell us.

In verse 1, he calls us “Little Children.” This isn’t to smack us around about our spiritual immaturity, this is just John’s style. He’s an old man. That’s what old people do. They call us, “Kid,” “Sport,” “Son,” and in John’s case, “Little children.” It is said that as John was dying his final words were, “Little Children, love one another.” To know everything that I know about John and then to read his letters, I think if we listen hard enough we can still hear him call us, “Little Children” and we should feel honored that such a saint refers to us as his children. It means he loves us because the Father has loved us, and for that reason he wants to lead us closer to the Father.

Next, he tells that he’s writing to us so that we may not sin, “Little Children, I am writing these things that you may not sin.” I read that and I thought, “umm… I hate to tell you this, but it’s a little late John.” I’ve messed up big time. I’ve blown it. I’m not talking about once or twice since I got saved, but I’m talking about today. But John didn’t finish there, and I’m glad he didn’t, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word, “advocate” is legal term that says basically means that Jesus is our defense attorney. The Book of Revelation tells us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. What that means is that Satan tries to stand before God and tell Him everything wrong we’ve done and try to give Him every reason in the book why we shouldn’t be redeemed.

That in mind, I can see Satan telling God, “Logan’s blown it! He really dropped the ball today!” And God in a condescending manner, looks at with sarcastically raised eyebrow and asks, “Well, what did he do?” Satan replies, “He lost his temper and flipped off an old lady in traffic.” God, already knowing the answer to the question, looks to Jesus, His son and my defense attorney, and asks, “Well, did he do it?” Jesus replies, “Nope.” Satan says, “But I saw him do it!” Jesus says, “I didn’t. All I saw was my perfect work accomplished, and my blood poured out over all his sins.” God dismisses the case, and that’s the end of the story. One day, Satan and his angels will be thrown into the lake of fire, and they’ll pay for all the harm that they’ve caused God’s children all the way down through history, and most of all, they’ll pay for offending Almighty God Himself.

I’ll deal with verses 3-6 again from a different angle in the next post. I’m tired. I’m going to get Chinese food, go home, and watch the first season of House. Good night, God bless, and thanks for reading.

John’s Love Letters, Part 3: Fellowship

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:6-10 ESV

At first glance, it seems that there is almost a contradiction. John is telling us that we shouldn’t walk in the darkness and say that we are in the light because if we do, we make ourselves liars and the truth is not in us. However, if we say we’ve not sinned, we make God a liar and His Word isn’t in us. Most of our modern interpretations of this passage imply that when we ‘walk in the light’ we never sin, but for those of us that are realistic, we know sometimes we slip and fall.

Walking in the light is our sanctification. It is a continual process of repentance and growing in love and grace as the Holy Spirit empowers are lives for service in the Lord’s work.

This is why John tells us that He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Jesus knows that imperfect human beings are incapable of being perfect. William Barclay offers some insight into what John means here.

“John is laying down the blunt truth that the man who says one thing with his lips and another thing with his life is a liar. He is not thinking of the man who tries his hardest and yet often fails. “A man,” said H. G. Wells, “may be a very bad musician, and may yet be passionately in love with music”; and a man may be very conscious of his failures and yet be passionately in love with Christ and the way of Christ. John is thinking of the man who makes the highest possible claims to knowledge, to intellectual eminence and to spirituality, and who yet allows himself things which he well knows are forbidden. The man who professes to love Christ and deliberately disobeys him, is guilty of a lie.” – William Barclay

As we have fellowship with Him, it strengthens and empowers our fellowship with others. Sin is antisocial. It separates us from God and as a result, separates us from others. Let’s walk in repentance and fellowship and be ever fighting in the war against sin in our lives.

Joy To The World: A Christmas Homily

This post was inspired by a Christmas post I read from John Piper entitled, “World, Get With the Program: Joy! Joy! Joy!”

Issac Watts was a theologian, a logician, and a writer. On his headstone it will read “July 17, 1674 – November 25, 1748”. Within the dash between his birthdate and his death date, he penned a book about logic and over 750 hymns, many of which we still use today.

“That’s my kind of person! Lucid logic for seeing truth, and a living soul for feeling it and singing it. This is what we were created to be.” – John Piper’s Description of Issac Watts

One of the hymns that Watts wrote was “Joy To The World”. It was based off of his own personal meditation of Psalm 98 and most agree that the psalm and the hymn are vivid descriptions of Christ’s Second Coming. Pay attention to the very last verse.

“O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. 2The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
– [Psalm 98:1-9 NRSV]

This psalm gives us two clear reasons for us to have joy this Christmas season: Christ loves the world (verse 3) and Christ will judge the world (verse 9).

CHRIST LOVES THE WORLD

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. – [John 3:16-17 KJV]

“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands”
― Martin Luther

Satan wants to make us blind to any evidence of God’s love toward us. If he can convince us that we’re not loved by Almighty God then we’ll believe that God left us with no way out of our sin and no where to turn in times of temptation, but that’s not the truth. God has provided a way of escape from our sin.

A little over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born into this world that would forever shake history, and change the course of humanity. That baby’s name was Jesus. He was the Son of God. He grew up like you and I did, had to eat, drink, and breathe just like the rest of us, but He was entirely sinless. He lived a perfect life that couldn’t have lived and died the death that we deserved to die, but the story doesn’t end there, he rose again to proclaim victory over sin.

Now that sounds like a happy ending, right?
It gets even better…

CHRIST WILL JUDGE THE WORLD

“Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy 9at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” – [Psalm 98:8-9 NRSV]

One day Jesus will come back to judge the world. Everyone that has received the grace and forgiveness of the Lord will be taken to live with Him for eternity. All those that rejected the love of the savior will be thrown into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. In judgement all things will be made right. Things will once again be complete peace and rest, just as they were before the Fall.

As you celebrate your Christmas with your friends and loved ones this holiday season, be thankful for every moment you have and keep in mind that it’s only a foreshadow of the wonderful fellowship we’ll experience in Heaven together.

Sacred: Part 2: Fellowship

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” – 1 Corinthians 1:9-10 (ESV)

In this series, I’m going to use 1 Corinthians to cover some basic things that we can’t afford to forget as Christians.. In the first two posts I made in the series, I discussed who Jesus is and why it’s important to know and believe His deity and humanity.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at Fellowship. The word for “fellowship”, in the Greek is koinōnia it literally means to be “in intimate community and participation”. This would be like a tightly knit group of people that have a strong common bond. When Paul talks about the importance of fellowship and unity, he makes it clear that you can’t have true fellowship with each other unless you first have fellowship with Christ.

Fellowship With Christ
In verse 9, he says that we are called into the fellowship of God’s son. What does this mean for us? It means simply that we have intimacy with Jesus. We are to walk so closely to Him that our hearts break over what makes His heart break. If you truly love someone, you’re torn to pieces when you see them suffer. Our hearts should be broken over the injustice in the world. Our hearts should be broken over those that reject the love of God. That’s only a tiny fragment of what it means to have intimacy with Christ.

Let’s take a look at the writings of John for a minute:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” – 1 John 1:1-3 (ESV)

John is writing to three people groups, Believers, Judaizers that claim to be believers, and Gnostics who claim to be believers. The big issue with the Gnostics is that they believed that Jesus could not have been fully a human being. What the Judaizers couldn’t understand is how God could be human. The Judaizers also believed that the resurrection was a hoax created by the apostles.  John is immediately starting off His letter addressing the issue by tell them that we have touched Him, we have heard Him, and we have seen Him. There is no way this could be an illusion. If it was, then it was an illusion shared by over 500 men (1 Corinthians 15:5). 

If we want to go deep, we’ll break this down, Lots of people saw Jesus without ever hearing what He had to say. Still, there’s a great number of people who heard what He had to say, but never got to touch Him. There are very few instances where people got to touch Him while He was on Earth, but now that He’s at the right hand of the Father anybody can come before the throne of grace and touch Him. In the words of a pastor friend of mine, “That’ll preach.”

In John 20, Mary can’t touch Him because He hadn’t ascended (John 20:17). Yet, when Thomas sees Him, Jesus tells Thomas to do more than touch Him. He tells Thomas to thrust his hands through the scars (John 20:27). The difference is that Mary didn’t need to touch Him to believe, Thomas did. A touch from Jesus is always available when we need it.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

We touch Him because we have fellowship with Him. We have fellowship with Him because Jesus tore down the veil of separation between God and man with His blood.

Because God made a way of fellowship with Him, we can have fellowship with each other.

Fellowship With One Another

 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)

Throughout the rest of chapter 1 and then on up into chapter 3, Paul addresses the issue of divisions. In verses 11-17, Paul talks about how people were dividing over who they were baptized by or by what teachings they followed. Christians were picking and choosing their favorite theologian and dividing over it. Then you had this fourth group of people that said, “We don’t care about theology, we just cared about Jesus”, hence the “I of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 1:12. These are the same arrogant people that think being “non-denominational” makes them special because they’re not actually apart of a denomination. Regardless, that’s a different rant for a different time.

Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun, we have the same problems today that the Corinthians were having then. We start allowing ourselves to be students of Calvin, Wesley, Luther, or others and we allow trivial theological differences to divide us.

In the words of Mark Driscoll, “It’s okay to disagree, it’s sin to divide.”

As a matter of fact in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul implies that dividing over trivial things like that is a sign of spiritual immaturity. So, here’s what I want your big take away to be from this post: Jesus died to make a way for you to have fellowship with Him and with others. It’s stupid to divide over trivial things when Jesus is so much bigger than your differences and He is the best common denominator you can have with someone.

Be blessed today!

Christ Died to Save Sinners

“This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.”
– 1 Timothy 1:15 (NLT)

Karl Barth was one of the greatest theological minds of our times. The depth of truth in his writing still carries weight to this day in many Bible colleges and seminaries. One day, shortly before Barth went to be with the Lord, a young man asked him, “What is the most profound theological thought you’ve ever had?” Without missing a beat Barth replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Sometimes I think we miss the simplicity of the gospel. Paul explains gospel very clear to Timothy when he says that Christ died to save sinners, then he goes a step farther and acknowledges the fact that himself is the worst of all sinners.

Paul is not saying that he was the worst of all sinners, but that he is the worst of all sinners. He recognizes the sin nature within himself. As a result of acknowledging the sin within himself, he also acknowledges his need for a savior.

We all need a savior and Jesus came to die so he could be that savior. He rose again to show us victory over that sin nature, and He will return as a righteous and reigning King who execute judgment on those who reject the gospel and bring those who received the gospel home with Him to rule and reign forever as kings and priests.

Do you know Jesus as your personal savior? Is He your righteous King? If not, then I pray that you repent and come to know the beauty of having a relationship with Him today.

The High Priest of Hebrews

“But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” – [Hebrews 9:11-12 KJV]

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” – [Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV]

“But.” this three letter word can the tone of any sentence and, if used correctly, can bring good news out of bad news. The ox ford says that this three letter word is used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned. In this passage of Scripture, found in the letter to the Hebrews, the writer starts describing the setup of the temple and in verse 11 he gives us the reason that we don’t have live under works and the law any more. He begins teaching us about the hope of eternal redemption through Christ’s blood. The Old Covenant system wasn’t personal enough. The Old Covenant system never dealt with the issue of your sin it only rolled it back. It didn’t have the power to give you victory over sin and relieve your conscious.

“By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”- [Hebrews 9:8-10 ESV]
“They related mainly to outward and ceremonial rites, and even when offerings were made for sin the conscience was not relieved. They could not expiate guilt; they could not make the soul pure; they could not of themselves impart peace to the soul by reconciling it to God. They could not fully accomplish what the conscience needed to have done in order to give it peace. Nothing will do this but the blood of the Redeemer…The idea here is, that those ordinances were only temporary in their nature, and were designed to endure until a more perfect system should be introduced. They were of value “to introduce” that better system; they were not adapted to purify the conscience and remove the stains of guilt from the soul.” – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament

When Christ came He made a way for us to personally go before the throne of grace and ask of Him exactly what we need. What a thought! We, a people that deserve death and Hell, have the privilege of coming before our Heavenly Father and asking for anything that we might need.

“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” – [Hebrews 4:14-16 KJV]

Out of this passage of Scripture I noticed three ‘T’ words that stood out to me:

1.) Touched

2.) Tempted

3.) Throne

I’ll probably post more about this later but the thought occurred to me: Jesus, our High Priest, was TEMPTED so He could be TOUCHED at the THRONE of grace.

Thank you so much for reading this. I hope you were encouraged or blessed in some way. Remember that you are loved today by the King of Kings!