On some of the occasions when you have heard me speak about my childhood, you will surely recall how I have mentioned growing up on a golf course. My home was not exactly “on” the course but was rather on a higher ground across a country road from the first fairway, though I don’t think there was another house anywhere around the country club so well-positioned to get such a beautiful view of the entire layout. This consisted of a sloping valley with a creek running through the bottom, with more of the course rising beyond and stretched out on the side of a mountain. Totally gorgeous countryside.
The country club was a private membership operation that accepted only the wealthiest and professional elements of our area. It was rather quite exclusive. Everything about it said, “Stay away!” Of course, I didn’t always pay attention to that. Some of the other local fellows and I would find ways to sneak on the course at various spots, always on the lookout for this guy called “Statts” … who would see us from the clubhouse and come roaring across the fairways in a service vehicle to catch us. He never did. We would run into the woods and escape every time. A humorous eventuality is that one of my neighborhood friends grew up to be a golf professional – not on the tour, but as a “club professional” … even landing the job later at this course.
As a member of the high school golf team, I actually got to occasionally play at the country club (our home course) legally for the first time ever. But even then, I always had an uneasy feeling. I knew I didn’t measure up and was not of the class of people who were TRUE members. I was an alien, an outsider, a foreigner, a stranger. I was NOT a part of the club. True membership remained forbidden and beyond my ability to obtain.
And that is how it was for Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ. The truth as to how to be connected rightly to God was resident in membership and citizenship in Israel. There, one could be a part of the covenants of promise from God as to how sin could be sufficiently dealt with through the vast sacrificial system.
This is the essence of a wonderfully rich passage in Ephesians chapter 2. There are three sections …
- The Way Things Used to Be …
Eph. 2:11 — Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
- The Way Things Changed …
Eph. 13 – But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
- The Way Things are Moving Forward …
Eph. 2:19 – Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
It would have been great as a kid where I grew up to have someone come along who paid the membership fee for me and anyone else to be a part of the country club. All I had to do was accept the payment, the result being that I could have access with those who had been there all along – they too now having their dues paid by the same sponsor. And because we were now both members, not because of what we had done or contributed but because of the same gracious benefactor, there was no need for us to be separated or have any sort of class division.
The essence of our “Other Side of the Tracks” series is to call the church to a new initiative to truly be a diverse and cross-cultural community (as the tri-state area is increasingly becoming), seeing the message of the cross of Christ as the crossroads of reconciliation between not only God and man, but man and man.
Paul pictures the idea of a living building, a spiritual house or temple with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. And just as Jews and Gentiles came together into a new and beautiful organism called the church, so also can the church in our culture and generation be the model of reconciliation of all the diversities of peoples and backgrounds that increasingly make up the fabric of American society.
This is not natural or easy. The quickest and most efficient way to build a big church is to have everyone be rather homogeneous by markers of age, race, or social strata. Church growth experts over the years have taught us that the wise church will maximize these natural affinities and thereby be the most efficient in reaching masses of people with the Gospel. Their central phrase was, “You can’t be everything to everybody” … with the inference then being to just accept that you can only reach people who are just like you already are.
But I’m weary of that mere American pragmatism. I want us to increasingly look like the church in heaven, comprised of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. The gospel of Christ is most vividly seen when outsiders observe the CROSS-shaped and cross-cultural love and unity that believers from varying backgrounds share with one another. A pragmatic desire for rapid and strategic church growth of a single affinity group will never have the beauty and health of a diverse congregation.
So let us work with all of the diversities of people who God will send through our doors to be His fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Light – not just of the future in eternity, but today also in our era and culture.