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Consider these recent critical developments:

  • 2016 was a year of great political upheaval in several countries which has resulted in an even increased polarization between people in those countries and between countries. Narrowly defined nationalism is rising up against the globalization that is seen to be the cause of so many problems.[1] Hate speech and xenophobia are on the rise. Added to this is the concern about the rejection of facts, evidence, analysis, and reason by so many as preference is given to conspiracy theories, false and distorted news, and simplistic ideologies. Liquefaction is replacing the common ground for reasoning together.
  • Migration: people are on the move, lots of them. Migration numbers are huge, the highest the world has ever seen. Very large numbers of asylum seekers from life-threatening brutality are crossing borders. Others are just seeking to escape from hopeless poverty. This is not going to change; most of the promises of politicians to control it are simply naïve. The social space between peoples, nations, and cultures is lessening year by year. Migration, and the multinational nature of most cities, is pushing the boundaries. Most places are increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. People are bumping into one another more and more. And often the people we bump into are from the other side: a different country or ethnicity or religion or culture or sexuality or socio-economic group or political ideology. Our cities are rich with multiple differences, tense suspicions, or with problematic relationships between government and church. Within our churches are people who would rather not associate with one another.
  • Reconciliation, broadly understood, is an increasing interest in Christian conferences. Included here were the World Mission and Evangelism Conference in Athens in 2005,[2] Lausanne Congress in Cape Townin 2010,[3] MICN Bangkok in 2015.[4] These reflect a growing awareness that in our shrinking world, everyone loses if we cannot learn to live together harmoniously even as we hold a diversity of views and live by a diversity of cultures. These also demonstrate an increased awareness that our God of the whole world has a passion for the Kingdom’s justice and peace. Kingdom fulfillment necessitates reconciliation and the people of God are God’s agents in His work.
  • Reaction is growing. Many are responding strongly in xenophobic ways, with longing for a monochrome world, with some increasingly violent in their advocacy. The bullish approach of conservatives of all persuasions for their world to be only as they desire is clearly not working. We know of these as the media is keen to focus on them. For example, various nationalism movements, jihadism, anti-immigration and anti-asylum seekers rhetoric and stances, religious hatred, denial of evidence for inconvenient and uncomfortable truths, disregard of human rights, fundamentalist physical and emotional violence, grasping onto political and economic ideologies, and preferences for people with differences to go elsewhere.
  • International Church (IC). In international churches, we find ourselves where many of the conflicts and tensions of the world meet on our doorsteps. We may be located in a country where religious or political dominance and intolerance creates problems for the church and others. Most are uncomfortably close to much injustice and corruption in which the poor and marginalized repeatedly lose out. We may be caught in the middle of inter-denominational conflict, ethnic tension, or political party conflict. Perhaps as a church we are not in conflict but in a position to facilitate reconciliation between others. International churches have great potential to act as a mediator between government and the national church, or between nationals and migrant communities, or between business and NGOs. We long for all to be reconciled to God and we know of those in our churches who need to be reconciled to one another. And then there is that sub-conscious awareness that in our own hearts there is prejudice: perhaps based on race, memories, those who believe differently, hurt, betrayal, gender, and those of a culture that we find we just do not like.

For IC preachers, is our message of reconciliation as comprehensive as the global realities that dominate the hearts and minds of people everywhere? Or have we abandoned all this for the sake of the all-important reconciliation of persons through faith in Christ? Remember, silence is a value statement. Silence on the broad spectrum of conflicts simply says that God is not interested. Are we either/or presenters or both/and presenters?

Of course, each of these brief points is worth at least a book’s worth to unpack well. But what becomes clear is that we live in an interconnected world, a system of systems or a network of networks. The created order is multi-faceted and omni-directional, so that true reconciliation must address “the multi-dimensionality of evil, suffering and healing”.[5] The well-being of each is partly dependent on the well-being of every other part. In Christ “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17) though for now disharmony fractures much of the created order. Peace is coming because through the cross God is bringing the reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1:19-20).

We find various expressions of this interconnectability in Scripture. There is harmonious wholeness in Genesis 1-2 followed by an omni-directional relational breakdown that even affects the earth itself (Genesis 3:14-19). The rest of the Old Testament describes the consequences for persons, communities, nations, and the earth. And then Jesus breaks into the global scene with Kingdom promises of a renewed earth and transformed people and nations.

Reconciliation of the vertical kind

Rightly do we want to give due emphasis to the vertical dimension of reconciliation. Ultimately, all reconciliation depends on peace with God. Paul’s message of reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21) overlaps with other ways of describing the effectiveness of the cross of atonement – justification, redemption, salvation, propitiation. By grace through faith, through the effectiveness of the cross, God reconciles persons to Himself. And we are the messengers of such good news.

But note the flow of Paul’s thinking in Colossians 1. Having stated the global and comprehensive nature of reconciliation in 1:15-20 (all things, everything in the created order), he then applies this new order of peace to the Colossians themselves (1:21-23). This is a both/and message. Hope for individuals in Christ as part of hope for the whole created order. To be participants in the new heaven and earth to come, persons must be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation of the omni-directional kind

We have just briefly noted the breadth and depth of the reconciliation of all things in Colossians 1:19-20.
But this is not the only statement of such a comprehensive vision. Consider the following…

Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Such passages as Psalm 2, Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-9, 61:1-11, Daniel 7:13-14 and many others, make it abundantly clear that this authority comes with an agenda; an agenda that includes justice and peace for all peoples, within each nation and between the nations. Reconciliation is fundamental to all facets of this integrated Kingdom vision.

Ephesians 1:9-10. God’s will is for “all things in heaven and earth” to be to gathered up (summed up or united) in Christ. All creation rightly related to Him and all things integrated together in Him. He has the power and authority to make it so (Ephesians 1:18-23). This vision, God’s will revealed to us, requires a most comprehensive reconciliation for the whole created order. Like Matthew 28:18, Paul is building his theology on a vast range of Old Testament expectations for the Messiah’s rule. Christ rules this Kingdom so that ultimately for all things “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28, cf. Ephesians 1:23, 4:6).

Revelation 21:1ff. This is a vision of the unification of heaven and earth in the renewal of all things, a vision of a reconciled created order, into which the nations come with all that glorifies God: reconciled to God and reconciled across the spectrum of relationships between all things.

What is clear in these passages, and the multiple passages that feed into them, is that the issues across the globe dominating our media, and the anxieties of so many, are the same issues that Christ is working on as Lord of heaven and earth. Through the cross, reconciliation across our fractured world is one of the many signs and wonders of the coming Kingdom. The whole creation longs for the completion of this work and the day of liberation to come (Romans 8:18-23).

Reconciliation of the horizontal kind

Jesus leaves us in no doubt that reconciliation with others is an obligatory outcome of reconciliation with God. Reconciliation has priority over offerings at the altar (Matthew 5:23-24). We are to love enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and neighbours (Luke 10:25-37) and without a spirit of reconciliation both are impossible. Reconciliation is at the heart of Jesus’ instructions on addressing grievances and forgiving one another (Matthew 18:15-35).

Many of the practical consequences of Paul’s theology involve relationships within the body of Christ. And all these relationships require reconciliation as a way of life. Every letter from Paul addresses reconciliation.[6] See for example, all the material in his letters on the high priority he has for unity in Christ.[7] Unity is vital to the effectiveness of the cross and the Spirit’s work (Ephesians 2:11-22) and cannot be practiced without reconciliation, nor can the implementation of the truths of Galatians 3:28.

But the reconciling work of Christ is far more comprehensive than its impact on the body of Christ. Isaiah’s vision for the Messiah’s rule includes peace between nations (Isaiah 2:4), peace across all relationships (Isaiah 11:1-9), and peace across all communities (Isaiah 32:15-20). Reconciliation is a process that addresses all relationship breakdowns between all groupings of humankind. Ultimately only those in Christ reap the full benefit, many will miss out. When the work of Christ is finalized at His return, peace will fill the earth. Reconciliation will be complete, individually and collectively, across the mix of ethnicity, gender, class, culture, nationality, politics, world views, generations, churches, and wherever injustice can be found as Christ brings justice to all the earth. Engaging now in this spectrum of reconciliation brings the privilege of working in partnership with Christ, hastening the fulfillment of His kingdom agenda and purposes.

Miroslav Volf, who has written extensively on reconciliation, notes that reconciliation always involves process and this will be no different when in the new heaven/earth we encounter those with whom we have unresolved tensions. Life in the perfected new creation will include appropriating the reconciling work of Christ with one another. Waiting for the Parousia will not work as an attempt to avoid the angst of facing those we would rather avoid![8]

Reconciliation in practice.

Reconciliation practiced begins with each one of us, sometimes in the smallest and simplest ways. Contrary to the language of condemnation and hate and fear that we too often hear from many church leaders, Paul’s summation provides us with basic instructions for being people of reconciliation:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).

Obviously, church leaders must facilitate reconciliation as needed within their churches and between their churches and others. A passion for reconciliation is a right consequence of valuing and understanding the reconciliation we already have in Christ.  Learning how to be such a catalyst for reconciliation is basic training for church leadership.

But there is more. The church proclamation of reconciliation with God has great power when within the context of the church engaging as agents of reconciliation in the world. Relationships of grace and kindness are fundamental; reconciliation does not happen from a distance. ICs are strategically located with a variety of possibilities for engagement. Some examples:

  • Sponsoring unity and harmony between all the ICs in a city or country.
  • Facilitating good relationships between the government and the national church, especially in contexts of repression of the church.
  • Promoting better understanding and mutual respect between different ethnic groups in the city, especially when there has been an animosity that has impacted the whole city.
  • Being agents of reconciliation between secular NGOs and churches.
  • Advocating policies of reconciliation rather than conflict when governments overreact and oppress.
  • Advocating for justice because injustice is so often the root cause of much antagonism.

There are many possibilities but each IC needs to identify what is needed and do-able in their own context. Remember, to be true to Jesus and His Kingdom, the message of reconciliation should never be divorced from all other aspects of the work and mission of reconciliation. As is argued in several of the essays in Schreiter and Jørgensen,[9] true reconciliation demands a multi-faceted approach that addresses the full range of factors that fracture relationships. History, justice, healing, repentance, forgiveness, and much more are essential components in any reconciliation process. Or as Cyuma notes when reviewing the South African and Rwanda experiences, reconciliation can never be real or complete if there is ever “an evasion of truth”.[10]

But we also need this sober reminder …
“…. a recognition of the inevitable“in-between” within which a vision of reconciliation is lived: between the already and not yet; between the new creation and the stubborn realities of old creation; between the church’s own call and mission to be a sign and sacrament of a world reconciled and the church’s own often disappointing witness; between the now and the final realization of a “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:3). The observation means that reconciliation will never totally fit; it will constantly be resisted; its vision will seem naïve; its efforts will remain fragile and never be completely fulfilled. It is this realization that shapes reconciliation as a form of ongoing advocacy grounded in lament, working within the limits of the present, but always pressing the limits of current political and ecclesial systems towards an expanding social horizon of God’s new creation. …. Reconciliation ferments a revolution of love within the sluggish in-between – a revolution grounded in and carried forth through lament and a life of ongoing conversion.[11]

Reconciliation as witness

A spirit of reconciliation will mark out those of the future from those fearfully withdrawing into the ghettos of an imaginary past. Those with capacities in reconciliation, and who give it the passion and hope that it already has in the heart of God, will be the cadres who will win the future. Reconciliation between competing interests, between factions of all kinds with long histories of conflict, between broken persons who have hurt each other, between humankind and the earth God has given us; these are just some of the substantial challenges that are accumulating and human society will only be able to live in peace if collectively we can reconcile with one another across this range.

The litmus test of credibility in the world of tomorrow will be in the art of negotiating through the maze of conflicting world views, passionate enmities and deep prejudices. The message of reconciliation with God will stand or fall for our hearers on whether or not we practice a reconciling spirit in our engagements with people. Just as the love of the cross is given credibility by our love for the least and the unlovable, so the reconciling work of God in Christ is proclaimed in our practices across the spectrum of fractured relationships with which we come into contact. Just as forgiving one another gives substance and evidence of forgiveness of God in Christ, so the integrity of the Gospel in the eyes of the world is evidenced through a consistent passion for reconciliation.

The people of the future will be those who can navigate through the labyrinth that includes cultures of every colour, multiple socio-political perspectives, religious/spiritual diversity, and rich and poor living as neighbours. All this on a planet at risk and in which fear-driven, reactionary extremists promote nationalism or religious purity or xenophobia rather than face the challenge of learning to live alongside of those who are different.

We have some back-log to face in our collective witness. Too often we have proclaimed “The Prince of Peace” and yet sound like war-mongers in our support of militarism and dubious military adventures. Many have left the church rather than be identified with what seems violent, ignorant, brutal and murderous in the churches’ disregard for the value of human life.Credibility for the Gospel which reconciles will be expressed in a refusal to pick-and chose when it matters and when it does not.

Furthermore, the church is well known as a world of hate-speak and Christians eating one another. We proclaim love but too frequently we contradict ourselves with enmity and strife, and very little interest in reconciliation. When we do not speak into the disharmonies around us with the message of engagement, reconciliation and hope, we become an anachronism that many simple bypass.The church must be a witness to the character, love, and work of God in reconciling all things to Himself. If it doesn’t witness to this, then it is witnessing to a god that God Himself does not recognize!

Before much longer most churches will be international or multicultural. Churches in many countries will be doing what we have been doing for a long time in the international church: learning to be reconciled with those with whom we have issues. The international church with its multicultural and multinational character, and with its location in the cross-road cities of the world, is already on the front line. And we have a role to play in modelling to the world the work of God in reconciling “all things” to Himself (Colossians 1:19-20).

Reconciliation as vision

The vision of a reconciled humanity,within the reconciliation of all creation, will encourage, will enable us to live in the present with hope. As we take hold of what God has done, is doing and will do and if we commit to partner with Him in this then our vision will be His vision and this vision will motivate. Picture the church you lead as people working toward reconciliation with one another and engaged in the world as agents for reconciliation. Picture reconciliation beginning to have impact in the community – what does the community look like? God’s agenda of reconciliation impacts life for the better. The poor are listened to, those who live with injustice have advocates, the marginalized feel valued, the creation is considered and honoured, love has impact. God is seen.

Reconciliation preached

This vision for God’s Kingdom fulfilled in new heaven/earth, the reconciliation of all things that brings peace, must feature in all our preaching. IC preachers are called to take their churches on this journey towards the reconciling presence of God in and through His people. Mission, to be true to all that the Kingdom brings, must embrace reconciliation in all its breadth and depth. The best of preaching routinely embraces the whole created order and God’s vision for new creation.

Too readily Christians are discouraged from missional engagement because they have no vision for what the Kingdom offers to every society for the transformation of all things. Too many just don’t see how the Kingdom addresses the heart issues dominating the people of today’s world. These heart issues are deeper than personal salvation – they address what it is to be human and the impact of humanity on the environment, on what can be trusted, and what it is to live a fully human life. There seems to be so little connection between the world of the church and the world that people live in outside of the church. Christian mission has been presented as if it has little to do with the everyday realities of work and relationships and politics. Such a disconnect simply disheartens most from missional engagement and vision. Preaching must enable people to see the all-embracing vision of the Kingdom. Preaching in the IC must equip God’s people for a missional reconciling engagement within the cities in which they live.

Let us be people who represent and demonstrate the future that God is bringing. And let us ensure our preaching is part of the solution.

And may be never forget, or cease to live by, but always to be known by the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the Peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).

 

Graham Chipps

January 2017

 

[1]Globalization has been happening for millennia. It has brought huge benefits to humankind as well as huge problems. Much of the popular blaming of globalization is inappropriate. The inept, narrow, and ideological-driven self-interest of politicians is the primary cause of the inadequate management of the advantages and disadvantages of globalization.

[2] See Matthey, Jacques, 2013. “Athens 2005: Reconciliation and Healing as an Imperative for Mission” in Schreiter, Robert, &Jørgensen, Knud (Eds), Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation, Oxford: Regnum. pp. 37-51.

[3] See Rice, Chris, 2013. “Cape Town 2010: Reconciliation and Discipleship” in Schreiter, Robert, &Jørgensen, Knud (Eds), Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation, Oxford: Regnum. pp. 52-65.

[4]The main speaker at MICN 2015 was Joseph Nyamutera, Regional Director of Mercy Ministries International, addressing the work of healing and reconciliation out of his own experience of the Rwanda massacre. For an understanding of the healing dimension of his ministry see Lloyd, Rhiannon, 2011.Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict:The Role of the Church in Healing, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Geneva: Mercy Ministries International.

[5]Matthey, Jacques, 2013. “Athens 2005: Reconciliation and Healing as an Imperative for Mission” in Schreiter, Robert, &Jørgensen, Knud (Eds), Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation, Oxford: Regnum. p. 50.

[6] See for example Constantineanu, Corneliu, 2010. The Social Significance of Reconciliation in Paul’s Theology: Narrative Readings in Romans, London: T&T Clark International.

[7] See Chipps, Graham, 2015. “An International Church Vision For The Practice Of Unity:A Missional Imperative.” On the MICN website.

[8] Volf, Miroslav, 2001.“The Final Reconciliation: Reflections of a Social Dimension of the Eschatological Transition.” Buckley, James & Jones, L Gregory (Eds),Theology and Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium, Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 89-111.

[9]Schreiter, Robert, &Jørgensen, Knud (Eds), Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation, Oxford: Regnum.

[10]Cyuma, Samuel, 2012. Picking up the Pieces: The Church and Conflict Resolution in South Africa and Rwanda, Oxford: Regnum.

[11]Katongole, Emmanuel M, 2013. “Apostolic Exhortation, Africae Munus:The Church In Africa In Service To Reconciliation, Justice And Peace in Schreiter, Robert, &Jørgensen, Knud (Eds), Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation, Oxford: Regnum. p. 73.

 

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