How an Ethnic Identity Shapes and Conforms to the Scriptures
A few weeks ago in this space we began to talk about the need of the Church to take seriously the religious aspects of modern Paganism. One of the ways Satan has deceived the contemporary world is by moving the mind of the biblical person to live as if spirituality is itself a personal act. In other words we have bought into the individualistic scheme of self-identity. Giving people the authority to define themselves is to hoodwink sensitive folks into thinking they have a power they do not, which leaves them helpless when reality smacks them in the face. Contemporary smart people are blind to the way they are setting young and old up for special failure. Solomon in his proverbs says:
“A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment. A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.” — Prov. 18:1-2
The Bible never provides a definition for human beings as free agents unconnected either to the wider world or to one another. To be a blank slate born neither of tribe nor tongue is antithetical to the way God has designed His creation. It is to deny the effect of generational life as witnessed to in the long genealogies which are found in the book of 1 Chronicles and the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Science itself teaches and observable common sense shows that we are where we are born and the family we are born into. How many of us recognize similar mannerisms from grandparents that were never met in this life in their grandchildren? Likes, dislikes, and ways of thinking are very much inheritable. These things are witnessed to in ways that are impossible to refute. There is nothing wrong with recognizing ethnicity as a thing.
To try and ignore this concept is a very modern, Western idea. Hearing about warfare between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac based on millennia-old land claims is difficult for many to grasp because they have bought into the idea that each person is a god unto themselves. In some sense the return of ancient pagan concepts of community are actually a help to those of us in the Christian faith who teach a more covenantal way of thinking about the Church, the State, and the world in general.
When the New Testament speaks of gentiles, Cretans, Samaritans, Romans, etc… there is an understanding that each are of their own kind. The way you present the gospel to each must take into account their diversified ways of seeing the world. While it is true that outward, familial distinctions are not taken into account in regards to either what the saving blood of the Lamb does for the sinner or to the nature and place of their belonging to the adopted family of God in the coming of Christ, the particularities do remain. We do not cease to be ourselves in the act of justification. This is important to the question of how to handle the growth of paganism and its effects on culture. To believe, as some do, that there is a fundamental change required, that to be Christian is to join some ambiguous new amalgam which neuters ethnicity is to commit the very Galatian heresy of thinking one needs to become Jewish to be a true believer, to leave who you are by heritage (unless of course that heritage is antichrist) in order to actually gain all the benefits of salvation. The attempt to add to the free offer of the gospel by destructing nature is not what our Lord had in mind in Galatians 3:28.
To be sure there is a molding and conforming action necessary to the new life in Christ. God in His gracious gift in and through the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work will be taking those blessings provided by nature and be seeing that they are made to witness in their own way the wisdom and love of the Creator to His creation. Ancient Israel was commanded by Moses to image Jehovah’s power and unaccompanied authority by testifying to the nations that their God was not just wiser, but provided a way of living that actually works for the benefit of all mankind.
Romans 12:1-2 says:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
It is in that conforming to a biblical worldview that everything comes to completion. The nations of the world become the nations of the Lord Jesus Christ. In understanding the insight of national established churches you see that in every land things are going to look a little different. There is beauty in the fact Dutch churches and Scottish churches may have different emphasis on different syllables. Their harmony comes not in their robotic univocal existence, but in the way they express their common biblical foundation mediated in light of who they are. A distinct difference between Islam and Christianity is in the manner of our book. It is not a requirement of gospel faith that everyone speak and read Greek and Hebrew, unlike the Muslim reliance on Arabic to be a true devotee of Muhammad. In the Presbyterian confessional tradition we see this laid out in the Westminster standards chapter on Holy Scripture. The divines write:
The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
In closing, as the church of our common Savior grows and expands, as we should expect it to, the challenges facing the people of God will grow and expand as well. However, if we attempt to pigeonhole Christianity in a cultural form than it will no longer be able to flex it’s sanctifying muscle to deal with the unique challenges faced by paganism in all its forms. The beauty of the faith we have received from the Apostles is that the commonality we share is our spiritual union with the risen Jesus. It is in His grace we move and have our being. The Bible is our norming norm and it will, if followed in wisdom, provide a universal hope which is true in every nation and tongue under Heaven. We will worship similarly and preach the same gospel, yet with the flavor of our cultural tradition shaping the means our Lord uses to bring all nations to Him.
Here’s a word more:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church