An Inclusive Community

mmfAH3QThis week, I’m (briefly) emerging my the DMiss cave in order to visit the InterVarsity ministry at UNLV, and tonight I’ll be preaching. Can’t wait.

Last Spring, I had the joy of speaking here, on the topic of what the Bible teaches about women and men in leadership. For tonight’s talk, the topic is different yet similar. Tonight I’ll be helping the students understand the Bible’s call to be racially reconciled in the context of mission.

This means that, once again, I’ll be sharing Paul’s revolutionary and inclusive words to the church in Galatia from 3:26-29:

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

This text has also made my literature review, as I’m working on tracing a theology of inter-gender partnership in mission. And, in the literature, the crucial issue with this passage is whether Paul is intending the text to have social implications in addition to salvific ones. In other words, in the work of Jesus on the cross, are we only equal before the Lord, and/or are we equal in our relationships with one another?

Those who see limitations on women’s roles in the church see only “vertical,” or salvific, implications. (Looking at you Tertullian). Others, like me, see both.

Here’s how Philip B. Payne sees it, writing in his excellent book Man and Woman, One in Christ:

“It is clear that Gal 3:28 carries important social and practical implications. Ethnic-religious, socioeconomic and gender barriers are overcome in Christ. Paul’s repeated insistence on the practical implications of spirituality throughout Galatians necessitates that the equal standing that Christ has opened up to Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female not be divorced from a corresponding equality of social standing in the practical life of the church.”

In concert, here’s how Gordon Fee sees it, from the book Discovering Biblical Equality:

Paul asserts that in the fellowship of Christ Jesus significance and status no longer lie with being Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. The all-embracing nature of this affirmation, its countercultural significance, the fact that it equally disadvantages all by equally advantaging all—these stab at the very heart of a culture sustained by people’s maintaining the right position and status. But in Christ Jesus, the One whose death and resurrection inaugurated the new creation, all things become new; the new era has dawned.

Thank God that in Christ Jesus a new era has indeed dawned, one marked by freedom and equality, for women and men and with race and ethnicity as well.

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