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Winter 2009 | Volume 32, Number 1 | Features

Biblical Reconciliation

What the Scriptures say about loving “the Other”

The Word of God

Photos by Daniel Sheehan and Luke Rutan

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Following Christ, the Great Reconciler

Early in my walk with Christ, I was discipled to believe that the meaning and purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ were to reconcile people to God and to each other. A gospel that does not reconcile us to God and to each other is not at all good news.

John 13:35 says, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” This and other biblical texts teach us that loving “the other” is at the center of Christian discipleship. Our love for each other gives credibility to our witness.

As I have traveled the world, I continue to see church growth as the “proof” of success in ministry. Many churches are comfortable with a homogenous congregation and the growth that can happen in these settings. Yet, in a world deeply divided by race, religion, economics, politics, culture, gender, physical abilities, and so many special interests, how can homogenous congregations communicate the power of the gospel?

And though we have seen more churches become diverse congregations and many leaders pursue a biblical approach to restoring at-risk urban communities through groups such as the Christian Community Development Association, there are still Christian people, churches, organizations, schools, and universities that try to justify not working to break down racial, economic, and other barriers.

An understanding of the biblical mandate for reconciliation should begin with Jesus Christ. Without his suffering and subsequent victory over pain and death, there would be no reconciliation of God to humanity. Christ’s agony was far beyond our comprehension, and yet without it we would still be separated from God. We are called to enter into Christ’s pain by taking up our own cross and following the Great Reconciler.

In this journey with Christ, we must not avoid entering into his suffering. Anyone who works to reconcile blacks and whites, browns and blacks, poor and rich, men and women, conservative and liberal, will suffer. Maybe not in the particular way we did back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but in other ways equally painful.

Those seeking to bring about reconciliation will experience hostility. Accepting that fact while working to bring together people in conflict is what we must be about. Because that is what Christ did on our behalf. Reconciliation is truly Christ-centered.

For many Christians, reconciliation appears to be extra- biblical. Is racial reconciliation, for example, truly all that important? The answer may surprise some.

Jesus was asked how it is that we inherit eternal life. He answered: “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” and he answered the question with the story of the Good Samaritan, a tale of racial and ethnic reconciliation. In the story, Jesus tells us that it is the other, the outcast, the marginalized, the person with whom we don’t associate, and the person from whom we separate, who is our neighbor. This is the person to whom we are to be reconciled, and we do so with the hope of relieving the pain and hostility of this divided world.

Isn’t that the point of the Good Samaritan story? Recall that the original question was about eternal life. How we treat our neighbor is not extra-biblical or irrelevant to the primary message of the Scriptures. Instead, how we treat our neighbor is central to the gospel, and it has eternal significance. This is why it is so important that we understand the biblical mandate for reconciliation. It is essential for the Church — for today and for eternity.

I have spent my life building bridges and tearing down walls. Today, Seattle Pacific University’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development is helping to bring the work of reconciliation into a new arena, truly into a new era. My dream is that the Center continues to be the means by which students are equipped to follow the Great Reconciler — and carry a holistic gospel that saves, reconciles, and empowers the poor and oppressed of the world.

John PerkinsJohn Perkins is president of the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development of Jackson, Mississippi, and one of the leading evangelical voices to come out of the American Civil Rights Movement. He is an internationally known author, speaker, teacher, and advocate on issues of reconciliation, local leadership development, and community development. In 2004, he and Seattle Pacific University President Philip W. Eaton co-founded SPU’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development.

More on Biblical Reconciliation:

Professor Nienhuis What’s Christian About Reconciliation?
By David Nienhuis
The Bible The Christian Story in a Divided World
By Brenda Salter McNeil, Miroslav Volf, John Dawson

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