My studies of Acts 18 and 19, along with a conversation this past Sunday evening, have reminded me of the great tragedy often happens in the church because of our failure to proclaim the "full gospel". No, I don't mean speaking in tongues; I mean the earth shattering power and priority of Jesus power to reconcile us, not only with God but with each other. Miss the human reconciliation and the gospel is hardly the gospel at all. Here's what I'm talking about...
Rwanda's been in my world a fair bit this past year. This past week, and old friend was in town who has travelled to Rwanda and been the Genocide Memorials. When I spoke near Boston last winter, I had the privilege of meeting some Rwandan Christians and hearing, first hand, about the genocide that occurred in the mid-nineties. You can read about those thoughts here
, or skip straight to this article that explains some of the situation. But if you're in a hurry, just consider this quote from the article:
Of course, the mystery question is this: Why would the most intense genocide in recorded African history occur in the most "Christianized" nation in Africa? The answer to the question seems to hinge on the meaning of this verb, "Christianized". When I was in seminary, back in the 80's, there was a big debate about what it meant to be Christianized.
At the time, the prevailing definition indicated that someone was "Christianized" if they'd received Christ as their personal savior. "No", the missions professionals were telling us back then, "that's not enough. They need to not only know Christ as their savior, they need to share Christ, and be following in the footsteps of Jesus guiding other people to become followers of Christ. Until that happens, people are "Christianized."
No, I don't like the word Christianized either (it sounds like people have had some sort of chemical treatment or medical procedure, like sanitized, or sterilized), but don't miss the point because you don't like the word. The missions pros said that replication of one's faith was the determinant of faith's reality.
By that definition Rwanda was a smashing success story - until all the Christians started slaughtering each other. The genocide memorial in Rwanda includes this church building. If you want the straight truth, pictorially, you can find that here. The fact is, families fled into the church thinking that there they'd find safety, but the reality of tribal hatred and loyalties ran deeper than the blood of Christ.
And therein lies the problem. When the gospel we preach declares our hope for reconciliation with God, but ignores the explosive truth that God invites, even requires, our testimony of reconciliation with one another, we emasculate the message, stripping it of it's life changing power in the here and now. It was, many believe, this truncated 1/2 gospel, that explains the "Christian genocide", an oxymoron if ever there was one.
Let me make this clearer. It's not enough to get people to accept Christ as their personal savior. It's not enough to teach them how to get others to accept Christ as their personal savior. Ultimately, the gospel as about far more - it's about granting us, by virtue of our own transformation, the power to live differently, as instruments of reconciliation rather antagonism; peace rather than war. This was, and IS, the offense of the gospel, because it demands of us a laying down of human loyalties, and an appropriation of Christ's love, enabling us to love those who we wouldn't otherwise. Thus are the walls broken down between black and white, slave and free, rich and poor, Tutsi and Hutu - or that's as it should be.
But when all I have is a 'personal savior', I can keep my nationalism, my lust for power, my resentments, as long as I've prayed the prayer to accept Jesus. We'd never say it that way, but look at our own history of slavery and racism, look at Germany, look at Rwanda. What we say doesn't matter. It's how we live.
Did you know that if you go to Rwanda today and ask a person which tribe they belong to, Rwandans are forbidden, by law, to answer the question? "I'm Rwandan" is the answer you'll get. Yes, what Jesus said is true, "the world puts us to shame sometimes". (That's my paraphrase of what he said here)
O Lord of Reconciliation...
Forgive us for reducing the gospel to nothing more than appropriation of your death, while failing to allow the realities of your resurrection life affect our politics, relationships, sexuality, buying habits, and so much more. Shepherd us, that we might increasingly represent, in all these areas, the fulness of what you came to bring. And may our understanding of the scope of your salvation continue to grow until the end of our days.