Pastoral Commitment to the Ministry of Social Reconciliation

For the last 19 years Sue and I have been honored to serve as lead pastors of New Harvest Church of God in Knoxville, Tennessee.

By Tony Richie

This past Sunday morning, right after the racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia that received national attention, I felt led to read Presiding Bishop Tim Hill’s wonderful pastoral response to the situation (see The congregation spontaneously responded with strong affirmations of “Amen!” When I read 1 John 4:8 and spoke of God’s love, and our stand against racism everywhere, including here in Knoxville, they broke out in applause. As we all stood to pray, you could sense the Holy Spirit moving. Our congregation is majority white, but we also have several dear and long-standing precious black families. We are all one in Christ!

However, as a Christian I am convinced that any response to social upheaval that is primarily occasional or episodic is insufficient. Rather, we must speak and act consistently out of our biblical and theological commitments. Undeniably, this nation and world need to hear the message of Christ and see Christian faith in action. The outline of Christian thought on social reconciliation is straightforward. For the present purpose, two points can sum it up.

First, Christian salvation has not only eternal and spiritual dimensions but also temporal and social dimensions. According to the Book of Acts, salvation includes personal (2:38; 9:17-18), familial (11:14; 16:14-15, 31-33), ecclesial (8:12-36-38; 10:47-48), material (6:1-6), cosmic (2:19-20), eschatological (3:19-21), and social dimensions. The social dimensions of Christian salvation include racial reconciliation (2:9-11), class reconciliation (2:40-47), and gender reconciliation (2:17-18). In a word, Christian salvation is multidimensional.

Second, Scripture teaches that reconciliation is founded on reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ (Rom 5:10-11). Apostle Paul insists that receiving God’s gracious gift of reconciliation entails commitment for the ministry of reconciliation toward others (2 Co 5:18-19). Thus reconciliation with God and between human beings is firmly rooted in the results of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is not peripheral to the gospel. It is an essential. God is the Author of Reconciliation, Christ is the Agent of Reconciliation, and Christians are the Ambassadors of Reconciliation.

The word reconciliation (Greek katallage/katallasso, Hebrew shalom) signifies harmony, peace, wholeness (Proverbs 3:17). It signifies not only the cessation of strife but the enjoyment of universal flourishing. Therefore it is not limited to individual participation but has a marked relational component. Harmony, peace, wholeness is God’s dream for all creation and its creatures. It must be our dream too. As a pastor, it’s a dream I am committed to making come true.

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