Afew weeks ago I attended the induction service for the new Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was a grand but delightfully homely occasion in which the new Dean preached powerfully of the way in which the Gospel of Christ tears down the walls of “Them and Us” that human beings love to build. This was a poignant message in the context of a Cathedral that has been the ultimate symbol of division between the City and the Occupy Camp; between rich and poor; between the have lots and the have nots.
Every society and organization is tempted to divide itself with walls of Them and Us. It is what human beings do most naturally. St Paul lived in a society that had very high walls and he often referred to three of them – between men and women; slaves and non-slaves; and Jews and non-Jews. The divisions defined the whole shape of society – its laws, institutions and ways of life. So Paul’s observation that, in Christ, the walls are torn down, was completely revolutionary. He didn’t suggest that, in Christ, the distinctions no longer existed. Indeed he gave clear instructions to guide the relationships between men and women, and slaves and masters. The point he makes is that in Christ all relationships are totally redefined through the unity that everyone experiences in Christ. In Christ we are a new creation with new eyes, new ways of thinking and completely new ways of behaving.
I am in Santiago, Chile as I write this. I am attending the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. There are more than 300 people here, and we are drawn from scores of different countries and every continent. We are divided by culture, language and temperament, and we span a wide range of theological and ecclesiological convictions. On the face of it we are separated by any number of walls. It ought to be impossible for the Baptist World Alliance to work at all. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ opens up a new way of being which enables us to see our differences through the perspective of our eternal identity in Christ. The result is that we are having a superb time together which both celebrates our unity in Christ, and graciously recognizes that we are very, very different from one another. My particular responsibility is to chair the Membership Committee which considers new applications to the BWA, and I have had long conversations in which we have sought to find a way through layers of cultural complexity. It isn’t easy to break down the walls of Them and Us – but it is breathtakingly exciting and rewarding.
The language of Them and Us springs up very easily. It happens everywhere. It may be between a work force and its management, a town and its Council, or between everyone and the Tax-man! ... but local churches don’t escape. Them and Us language can develop between the membership and the deacons; younger and older members; long established members and newcomers and so on, and so on. Them and Us language can develop between churches and associations, between associations and the wider Baptist Union to which we all belong. And since I am here in Chile I might as well add that it can spring up between national Baptist Unions and Conventions and their regional bodies, and between the regional bodies and the BWA. Enough said. At every level the diseased language of Them and Us can take root, and everywhere the language penetrates it destroys. It undermines relationships and destroys our ability to live out the Gospel of Christ. And so at every level we need to be vigilant, prayerful and determined to take the language of Us – all one in Christ Jesus.
Last month’s Special Baptist Union Council took important decisions that will enable us to create a balanced budget for the November Council. At this time of all times we need to be clear that we are celebrating the miraculous fact that the language of Them and Us has been torn down in Christ – it is just Us. All one in Christ. Let’s pray the language of Us – and then speak and live it together.