The church of Jesus Christ is the alternative kingdom to the kingdom of this age. She is the evidence that Jesus has begun reclaiming, restoring and resurrecting what is rightfully his: a people devoted to and pleased by God’s glory (Eph 5.26-27, 32). God shows us through the church he is repairing what has gone wrong with our world through, in and for Christ (Eph 3.8-11). And since we are what’s wrong with this world, his work is primarily the transformation of sinners into saints. The church is God’s testimony that his kingdom is one of changed people, not merely changed democracies, schools, economies or armies and where love is the rule of law (1 Jn 4.7-21).
The church is by no means perfect because those in her are not yet perfected. She is at all times dependent on the grace, mercy and power of Christ. But she is indeed the only reflection, even everso faint, of the world as it should be. As Israel lived in Babylonian exile, so the church of Jesus Christ lives as aliens, strangers in a foreign land (1 Pt 2.11). The citizens of Zion live among the Babylonians until the “great harlot” finally falls (Rev 18.1-3; 19.1-6). As an outpost of heaven the church sets God’s table in a wilderness for parched souls thirsting for lasting rest (Ps 78.19).
The church also reflects, even everso faintly, the world as it will be. Jesus will soon complete what he started. He will finally rid the world of sin, recreate a world of righteousness and forever establish love – his love – among his people. Indeed, the church is the hope of the world because she displays the Living Hope of her Risen Savior (1 Pt 1.3-5).
‘Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
While “she waits the consummation” the church exists as “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3.15). As such, the church brings heavenly wisdom and gospel hope to a world clamoring for truth and justice. This is no more true than in Ferguson, MO where a town is at war with itself. What should the church say to the souls of Ferguson?
The Church to the Police:
You have weighty responsibility to say the least. Whether or not any given police officer is a Christian, you have your authority by God’s common grace on all mankind (Rom 13.1-7). As part of our trusting God we trust you to steward this derivative authority soberly, patiently and equitably. For the most part we believe you do and should be grateful to God for his kindness to restrain and reward. We are sorry for complaining about speeding tickets and broken tail lights while you spend the majority of your time keeping our neighborhoods as safe as possible. For every officer-related shooting there are hundreds of officer-related gestures of peace.
You often hold the very power of life and death in your hands. The decision to wield that power happens in split seconds. You are not God and we cannot expect you to always make that decision in perfect wisdom and righteousness. But it is nevertheless a decision for which you will be accountable to the citizenry and ultimately to God. We hope you will take that extra second and if it be absolutely necessary, aim low.
The reason you have a job is because we became criminals in Genesis 3. We wanted a world where we could be our own gods. God has not ordained the police force to fix this sort of world. He has chosen to recreate this world through, and only through, Jesus Christ. You play an important role in this world, but not a permanent one. In this painful world of violence and brutality, God has woven his grace by giving us the good news that Jesus changes the hearts of sinners like us. Tear gas and batons will never end violence because they can never end anger. You can arrest a criminal but you cannot arrest the criminal’s heart. Jesus ends anger.
We pray each police officer fulfills his/her duty as a servant of the people and of Jesus himself. As the gospel might infiltrate your own hearts and communities you will need less riot gear.
The Church to Violent Protesters:
Looting and vandalizing the neighborhood store has nothing to do with justice. It has everything to do with exploiting Michael Brown’s death to serve your own selfishness. Engaging in such barbaric behavior in the name of justice actually trivializes the very justice you seek. In fact, you are punishing those who had nothing to do with what offended you. That is not righteous protesting. It’s cowardice. A young man, your friend, lies dead in the middle of a street and you break a store window to steal gadgets. You might as well have stolen Michael Brown’s shoes on the way.
You are behaving no differently than the police you allege abused the power afforded them. You are stealing from your unarmed, unprotected neighbor. How is that any different than what you say the police did to Michael Brown? Maybe your neighborhood could do with less trigger-happy officers. Maybe it could do with less of you, too.
We plead with you to submit to Christ and his life-giving authority. Jesus gives you a life of love, not looting. Service, not stealing. Giving, not taking. You may get away with rampant destruction in this life. But God will not be so lenient. He defends the helpless and vindicates injustice. You want a Ferguson police officer held accountable? Well and good. But you should also know you will be held accountable as well. Run to Christ before it’s too late. He will have you and you will know God’s mercy. Like Zaccheus (Lk 19.1-10), give back what you stole or plan to work it off at the store you looted.
The Church to Peaceful Protesters:
You are right to want truth and justice. God has wired that in us all especially when a life is taken. No life is insignificant even if that life is a difficult one.
And we are extremely sorry about the racism we tend to encourage. I hope we don’t want to do it, but often our churches know better than we do. Jesus never established a white church or a black church. Despite what our pews may show Jesus really did make “one new man” (Eph 2.15). Forgive us. Be patient with us. Help us.
But you must know that as much as we demand justice in this life we will never have enough. Our sin runs deep. No one is able to ultimately right what has gone wrong unless that One can change our hearts. You may get better police officers and remunerations, but they will be sad and temporary fixes. Only Jesus can change hearts of hate into hearts of love.
While we pray your neighborhoods enjoy a season of peace and unity, we know there will always be another Ferguson. In a few weeks, Ferguson will no longer be “breaking news.” You will be a byword and the news will be on to the next tragedy. But, that tragedy along with yours is all part of the same tragedy. We wanted a world where death reigns and police need guns and young men rob stores. As tragic as the events are in Ferguson, they are part of the same story. Our story. Our story of sin, shame, Godlessness and despair. We make war with each other because we first made war with God.
It was this tragedy Jesus assumed to himself. He immersed himself in our griefs and sorrows (Is 53.4), the very kinds of sorrows you suffer right now. Unlike Michael Brown, Jesus never robbed a store, smoked weed or tussled with a cop. Yet he chose to be treated like he had. He gave up his life so you would not have to lose yours. Jesus ensures justice will be served but may be different than you expect. But you don’t have to lose your soul to hatred in the meantime. He redeemed your grief so that as horrific as death is it will not win the day.
We hope you’ll not listen to money-hungry, attention-grabbing “preachers” who claim to speak in God’s name. As soon as the photo-op is over they will board their private jets and return to their gated mansions. Rather, listen to those local pastors who live and love among you. They walk those streets everyday and love you. Protest if you must, but then go pray with your churches.
Whatever truth, relief and justice you receive in the coming months, know that the problem still remains. It’s not ultimately a race problem. Racism is the symptom, not the cause. It’s a sin problem. It’s our problem. We all die because sin has already killed us (Rom 5.12). It’s the problem Jesus died to remedy in us. We need new hearts that share, love and live in Christ’s name. Ferguson doesn’t need any more band-aids or superficial peace. Like the rest of us, you need the unrivaled, unrestrained, undeterred love of God to sweep the streets.
We don’t just want a better Ferguson. We want “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” in a better country, a heavenly one (Heb 11.10, 16). Pax Christi.
From the Church, With Love