Race and the Gospel in Mississippi

 by Russell Moore

“As a Mississippian and as a Baptist Christian, I cringed the other day when I heard that the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs had moved a couple’s wedding ceremony to another venue, to keep a controversy from erupting in the church. The controversy was that the couple is black. My first thought was the scandal this brought to my state. But, more importantly, the issue is the gospel itself.

The pastor of the church isn’t a racist. He moved the wedding, he says, to preserve peace in the congregation, since a small but apparently powerful minority were working behind the scenes to prevent this. The pastor, it is said, probably would have been fired over all of this and, he said, he didn’t want to ruin the couple’s wedding. By moving the wedding, he said, he wanted a “win-win situation.”

That’s the problem, in my view. The only answer to the ongoing struggle between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow is a lose-lose situation.

Back in the darkest days of the white backlash against the civil rights movement, author Walker Percy (who grew up in Greenville, Mississippi) asked what could be done to bring about peace in Mississippi. He answered that his first thought was to say the Christian ethic, but “the trouble is that Christendom of a sort has already won in Mississippi.” This kind of Christendom though, Percy argued, was a Stoic religion rather than a Christian one. Stoicism, after all, prized order and honor and stability and saving face.

Christianity is quite different from all that. It’s not just about moral rules. It’s not about simply maintaining order. And it’s sure not about saving face. The reason the Greek world found Christianity so scandalous is because it tore down everything the world saw as prize-worthy, including one’s racial identity or supremacy. You must not only crucify your desires and your ambitions, Jesus said, you must crucify your entire life, and find a new one in him.

That tends to upend things. And that’s what’s at stake here.

I don’t doubt that this Mississippi pastor has, what they kindly call back home, “a pastor’s heart.” He doesn’t want to stir up division and pit people against one another. And there are many, many situations in which that’s precisely what’s called for. In this case, though, the division is the gospel itself.

The early church thought they could put down controversy and solve division by keeping Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in separate places. The Apostle Peter thought he could appease Jewish opposition by not eating with Gentiles. The Holy Spirit disagreed. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul said that the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in one Body is precisely the sign of God’s manifold wisdom that the Father is presenting to the rulers and authorities over this present darkness.

A church that prized carnal divisions over color of skin or cultural background is a church that isn’t finding its identity outside of the flesh and in a Jewish Messiah seated at the right hand of God. The church is made up of people who have lost everything. We are dead. We prize nothing about what we used to take such pride in, and we instead see ourselves as executed and raised in Christ. When we receive one another, and go around whatever obstacles the satanic order puts up, we’re confessing that what we have in common isn’t what we were born with, but what we were born again into: the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

So what’s to be done? It seems to me that the majority of the church is horrified by this. I think they can deal with it by doing exactly what the Apostle Paul did with Peter: to confront on the basis of the gospel, and to seek repentance and reconciliation. That’s what I think they should do, and will do. If not, the larger Body of Christ, particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention, should deal with this as an issue of defining importance for the gospel.

But, again, I think this church will take a different stand. And they’ll have to do this without a win-win situation. They’ll have to do it with a lose-win situation. They will lose some face and some reputation by saying, “We’re sinners and we’re wrong, and we repent.” Isn’t that what every one of us must do every day, as repentant sinners?

Mississippi Christians know, perhaps better than the rest of the country, just how satanic and violent racial supremacy can be. We have danced with the devil and we ought to recognize him when he returns. But that’s precisely why Mississippians ought to be the ones to lead the way in showing the church what biblical reconciliation and revival looks like.

But that means a lose-win situation. We lose face, we lose ourselves. We seek mercy and a new start. We repent, and don’t just rebrand.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/07/30/race-and-the-gospel-in-mississippi/

Salvation: A Work of the Trinity

“God the Father gave his Son to save rebellious, God-hating people, knowing that he would be despised and rejected by those he had made, that he would be a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. He spared sinful people from condemnation, death and punishment, but he did not spare his own beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased.

God the Son gave himself, willingly undertaking the task appointed for him by his Father. He veiled his glory in a human body, experienced every temptation we face without succumbing to any, and lived a perfect human life. Yet he took out sin and guilt upon himself and died a cursed death, suffering in his human nature the infinite torment of the wrath and fury of his Father. After three days he was vindicated in his resurrection before being exalted to his heavenly throne. From there he rules his kingdom, awaiting the day of his glorious appearing when every eye shall see him, every knee bow before him, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God the Holy Spirit, having been sent by the Father and the Son, now works in our hearts through the proclamation of the gospel to convict us of sin, righteousness and judgment, to draw us to Christ in repentance and faith, and so to unite us to Christ that we may share in every blessing he has won for us.

God the Holy Trinity thus turned aside his own righteous wrath against sinful humanity; endured and exhausted the curse of the law that stood against us; cleansed us of our sin and clothed us in Christ’s righteousness; ransomed us from our slavery to sin, the world and the devil by paying our debt, canceling the devil’s power of accusation against us, and liberating us to live new lives empowered by the Spirit; triumphed over all evil powers by punishing evil in the person of the Son; and reconciled us with himself by removing the barrier of sin and enmity between us; in order that we may stand blameless and forgiven in his glorious presence, credited with the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, as adopted Children of God, gazing upon his face for all eternity.

God vindicated his truthfulness by remaining faithful to his promise that sin will be punished; he manifested his justice by punishing sin and acquitting the righteous; he glorified his name by exalting his Son and placing all things under his feet; and he demonstrated his love by dying for sinners and reconciling to himself those who were once his enemies.”

-Jeffery, Steve, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007, 104.