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The Barrier-free Church

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” Ephesians 2:14

Bob Deffinbaugh, a favorite Bible commentator of mine over at Bible.org, has a wonderful illustration for the cultural barriers which still existed in the New Testament church between the Jewish Christians and the gentile Christians. In this article, Deffinbaugh compares the Jewish response to the gentile influx into the church with Jacob’s response when he woke up to find that the marriage he had consummated was not to Rachel, but was to Leah, her sister. For Jacob, it was surely a “WHAT”S GOING ON!?” moment. Similarly, it had to have been a complete shock to the system of the traditional Jewish person that the very people God had told them not to intermarry with were now receiving a carte blanche invitation into God’s family. In short, the cultural barriers which existed between Jews and gentiles were enormous, but nonetheless came crumbling down in the name of Jesus.

Building barriers is nothing new to the human condition. We are, by nature, a “tribal” kind of being. I have a tribe, you have a tribe. We build barriers because it makes us feel safe or perhaps because it gives us an identity. My “tribe” may be my country, my family, my political persuasion, my vocation, my neighborhood, my church, etc. We retreat into our “tribe’s” boundaries and then erect barriers to protect us against unwanted elements.

But Jesus changed that. You have probably heard it said, “the ground at the foot of the cross is level.” In other words, none of our tribes will get us into the family of God. When it comes to things of eternal significance, none of our tribes matter at all. Wasn’t that Paul’s point to the Ephesian church in chapter 2?

Barriers were a problem for the New Testament church, and they are a problem to us today. We erect them within the church and we erect them around the church. Sometimes we erect them on purpose, and sometimes it is completely unintentional. In either case, however, we are working in contradiction to Christ’s work on the cross. It was Christ who tore down all our barriers, making salvation available to anyone who will accept it, irrespective of which tribe they come from.

It is the peace of Christ upon which both unity and evangelism depend. The peace of Christ is what makes it possible for both the barriers within the church and around the church to come down. Unity (i.e., tearing down the barriers within the church) requires that we learn to see the truth about ourselves. Evangelism (i.e., tearing down the barriers around the church) requires that we learn to see the truth about others. But seeing the truth in either case can happen only because of Christ. Rejoice! That work is done.

So what barriers still exist within your church? What barriers still exist around your church? What is God calling you to do about it?

© Blake Coffee

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