The Doctrine of Equality?April 15, 2013
I’m not one to hide in the corner on social issues in the Church; I think social issues are important, I do however practice what I call “spiritual tact,” which can be applied when I simply discern that speaking the truth can sometimes divide and invite the spirit of offense to a conversation with someone that can’t handle it (meaning they would be tempted to argue, bicker, or take offense). So because many times I don’t’ feel such conversations are productive, I choose not to start them or add to them. (“If a wise person goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace” Proverbs 29:9) With that said, I did want to share some thoughts on a cultural phenomenon that I see as problem, if we’re not careful.
Truth is truth, and truth is the person of Jesus. This truth doesn’t evolve alongside cultural trends or social ‘progression.’ Like a hero in the faith, Philip Mantofa, puts it, “I don’t want to be politically correct, the line has been drawn in the sand, Jesus is the only way, I’m willing to die for this statement, but how do you convey the way but through love.”
This is not a treatise on gay marriage, so don’t be tempted to harden your heart if the words seem inclined to draw up a spirit of offense in you. Besides, the way that seems right to a man/woman is surely the way to his/her destruction.
I’m not high on doctrine. I think we (the Church) are in trouble when we reduce the gospel to a methodology or a set of principles. Like my spiritual father says often, “we’re not Christians to pray a prayer to go to Heaven, we’re Christians to look more like Him.” Manifesting Him is the name of the game, it’s very clearly NOT a list of do’s and dont’s a mile long, that was the system of the Pharisees. So don’t let the title confuse you, but try to see the ‘doctrinal’ theories that I’m attempting to shed some light upon.
Equality is certainly a common theme in American social agenda, conversations, politics, and the Body of Christ recently. With this in mind, I felt compelled to explore the scriptures for this “doctrine of equality” that is spoken of in so many circuits. What did I find? Very little. Make no mistake, I do believe that if we love God with all we have, and then in turn, love our neighbor as ourselves, the idea of ‘equality,’ so to speak, comes naturally to the follower of Christ. But I was in search of tangible and clear examples of the early church advocating for social equality, and I didn’t find it. Sure, the gentiles were regarded as second-class people, not worthy of the faith, and Paul indeed evangelized the gentiles, but is that equality or the first fruits of the Church removing the veil from their eyes?
Walking in the Spirit as Paul instructs all believers to do in Romans 8 means we’re operating as Children of God, having been adopted. The conclusion of 8:17 offers a gem for the reader to understand: (we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ) “…if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Being glorified with him by sharing in his suffering. Dying to oneself (picking up one’s cross) and following the very person of Jesus. So if we’ve died to ourselves and we’re walking in the light as he is in the light, why are we concerned with being treated equally? Was Jesus treated equally? Thomas? John the Baptist? Yet, according to Paul’s words, these have been glorified with him in their suffering. I’m inclined to believe that Jesus, Thomas and John were not concerned about how equal the social forecast around them was; because they didn’t love their own lives, they counted persecution as joy. Love wasn’t tirelessly detecting social inequalities, it was too busy loving!
Don’t misunderstand me, seeking justice and advocating for others is a crucial cog in our high call as Christians; we’re to stand against injustice and plead for the widow and the oppressed, (borrowing from Isaiah 1) but the craze for social equality, which has unfortunately been divulged through political correctness in our culture, is not seeking justice. The spirit of offense, which I believe is very active in the mindset of vehement social “equalites,” seeks to nail any and all infractions, whether personal or wide spread, to anything but the cross at Calvary. It’s a well-crafted lie! It risks persecuting others at the expense of a perceived inequality! Overseeing and managing blame, which is central to this movement in my opinion, is not a characteristic of a forgiving Christian. What role should forgiveness play anyway? If we’re seeking vengeance, we’re assuming a role reserved for God according to the scriptures.
Consider two case studies from Paul’s writings. In one of my favorite verses from the book of Romans, Paul lists characteristics that followers of Christ should exemplify, two of them being “loving one another with mutual affection,” and “outdoing one another in showing honor.” Here is my point. What are we advocating for with social equality? Status? Rights? To what end? It’s way bigger than that Church! Loving with mutual affection and outdoing one another in showing honor has to do with selflessness and presenting yourselves as a living sacrifice for other people. Paul provides a perfect example of this in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Stonings, beatings, sleepless nights, shipwrecks, and hunger pangs pepper his time as an apostle in 2nd Cor. 11. But after Paul’s list of hardships, strangely, his ‘anxiety’ isn’t directed toward himself. He states : “…I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”(2nd Cor. 11:28) What an unbelievable glimpse of living an outward life! In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul equates his sufferings with the Church’s glory. (I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory- Ephesians 3:13) This is eternal perspective at its finest and should encourage us to work to implement this example in our lives. Too often we squander this perspective which Paul lived in the face of hardship. Honestly, if we’re living lives postured outwardly, we’re not concerning or comparing ourselves with what’s equal and what’s not.
The greatness spectrum
Matthew 18 gives us a great picture of how the doctrine of equality is somewhat amiss in the Kingdom. The sons of thunder (John and James) come to Jesus and ask the question “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom?” We can presume that John and James may have been dealing with some pride issues here, but Jesus’ response is very interesting. He doesn’t reply with a socially-charged, cogent oratory on social equality, he answered their question. Whoever makes themselves low is the greatest in the kingdom. He even claims that if we don’t change and become like little children, we’ll never enter the Kingdom. So there is measured greatness in the Kingdom, and your level of greatness can be determined by how low you make yourself. We’re certainly all born equal, because the Bible says we’ve been predestined as Sons and Daughters of the Living God, according to his purpose. But are we all equally walking out our call? This isn’t a condemning thought, it should be encouraging! Would we regard the actions of Peter and Paul, or any other hero in the early church as equal to the persecutors or tyrant kings who put them to death? One party was choosing life and the other death, and they aren’t congruent. We would never say the the protagonist and antagonist are equal in this narrative, at least Kingdom-wise. I guess the question is: Are we living in the Kingdom or the world? I know that I choose the Kingdom, because according to the Bible, it resides in me. On a daily basis, I would prefer to side with justice over offense, forgiveness over vengeance. I don’t want to ask myself the question: Am I and those around me being treated equally by others? I’d rather ask myself: Am I manifesting Christ today, living outwardly, and forgiving every offense?
by Joe D’Orsie – Live With Purpose Coaching