We are living in a day of ever-increased divisions, and the Christian community has not been immune. In the U.S., the division between those who vote Democrat and those who vote Republican has become pronounced. But, apart from the ever-increasing political divide are ever increasing racial divides. In Canada, historic grievances of first nations groups are never fully addressed. As well, the differences between those of European descent and those of other cultural groups are often highlighted. Furthermore, with the advent of sexual politics, issues of gender equality and those of sexual identity further seek to highlight those who are marginalized, as opposed to those who are deemed to be privileged.
There’s the ever-increasing trend to identify those who are victims and those who are victimizers. Identifying people by their divisions is now considered standard fare.
I am often reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, in which he dreamed of a day in which a man would be judged by the content of his character, and not the colour of his skin. But in our world, it is the colour of skin much more than the content of character that forms the basis of so much contemporary thinking and comment.
Regardless of what we think of today’s increasing emphasis on identity politics, there is a very serious side of all of this for Christians. One of the greatest challenges the early church faced was over the historic differences between Jews and Gentiles. These differences were not so easily transcended. For one, Jewish culture included not just an adherence to the law of God, but also included diet, clothing, circumcision and other items that marked the uniqueness of the Jewish experience. Furthermore, the suffering of the Jews at the hands of many Gentile groups was not so easily overlooked.
It is this fact that makes Paul’s proclamation in Ephesians 2:14-16 so shocking: “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
One can only imagine this scenario of the early church. Joseph and his wife Sarah have come to faith in Christ. Having been baptized into Christ, they are now told that Aristobulus and his wife Julia are now a part of their spiritual family. One day, they are invited over. They have with them, their daughter Rebekah, and they are ill at ease. They notice that their Gentile brother and sister have a son about Rebekah’s age, and wonder what should happen if the two young people should fall in love. Would they welcome an uncircumcised son-in-law? Would they eat with people who have plates that may have held pork the day before?
I have no doubt this scenario played out numerous times in the formation of the Christian church. And from this, we must assume that the early church thought they were Christians first. Identity politics would never compete with loyalty to Jesus.
The implications of this truth are of enormous consequences to contemporary Christians. Whenever we allow identity politics to identify us rather than allegiance to Jesus, we already testify that Christ is not our primary concern. Clearly, Christians in the present milieu must be clear. We are always Christians first. We will always choose loyalty to each other before we choose loyalty to any other group. It is this commitment that makes us uniquely Christian.