Jesus, The Church, And My Cultural Identity: Part IV

Our Cultural Identities Are Bound To A Group Identity

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I love the way the New Living Translation expresses Hebrews 13:1-3:

“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”

“Remember those in prison as if you were there yourself.” “Remember those being mistreated as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.” These are beautiful expressions of corporate identity. It paints a picture of shared experiences and a shared identity that transcends our personal, individual identities.

Ultimately, there’s no better way I can state it than this: we need each other.

When I look at Colossians, this is the picture I get. There is only one acceptable type of supremacy: Jesus’ supremacy. He’s the only one who is supreme. Look at how Colossians 1:1522 describes it:

He is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn over all creation.

For everything was created by him,

in heaven and on earth,

the visible and the invisible,

whether thrones or dominions

or rulers or authorities—

all things have been created through him and for him.

He is before all things,

and by him all things hold together.

He is also the head of the body, the church;

he is the beginning,

the firstborn from the dead,

so that he might come to have

first place in everything.

For God was pleased to have

all his fullness dwell in him,

and through him to reconcile

everything to himself,

whether things on earth or things in heaven,

by making peace

through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him…”

Paul makes no bones about it. Jesus is absolutely supreme. Nothing else is above Him. No cultural identity is to be exalted above Christ. Jesus reconciled both Jews (v. 26) and Gentiles (v. 27).

Jesus’ supremacy calls me to put Him in first place. My identity as follower, as priest, and as someone who is “in Christ” is most important. Any other identity that rivals the supremacy of my identity in Christ is unacceptable.

But, I still have a cultural identity. And so do you. So, what does that mean?

It means that I need you.

Look what else Paul says in Colossians 1:2223:

But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him—if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.

The gospel is for everyone. And I need you.

You see, I will not see the places where my cultural identity seeks to supplant Christ as supreme without your help. I swim in an ocean of white privilege. I’m the product of an intensely individualistic society. I need your help to see it.

We see this in Acts 6. The Aramaic-speaking Jews (the majority culture) were allowing the old sin of cultural supremacy to creep into the church and were oppressing Greek-speaking Jewish widows. The church addressed this head-on. This conflict created an opportunity to begin sanctifying the church. There would be no place for cultural supremacy in God’s family.

And that’s why you need me, too.

Just like me, your heart will be tempted to exalt your cultural identity above your corporate, Christian identity. And you will need me to help you see that. I see this process as an extension of the mutual responsibility model that George Yancey describes in his book, Beyond Racial Gridlock. We will get caught in a cycle of fear and blame-shifting without taking responsibility for one another.

Personally, I call this process cultural sanctification. As you and I lovingly encourage one another to pursue Christ over and against our unique cultural sins, we will begin to experience sanctified cultural identities. This is not the same as assimilation! This is pursuing the supremacy of Christ for the benefit of one another, so that we will experience the fullness of our gospel identity AND the fullness of our cultural identities.

And you know what else we need? Someone who is not yet among us.

That’s right. Someone else with an additional cultural identity can help us both see things we’re missing. We need one another to help us see our blind spots as we pursue our common identity in Christ. This is because the best context for our cultural identities is in the church of Jesus Christ, allowing one another’s identities to expose the terrible lies that deceive our own hearts. Why? So that we can truly express our redeemed cultural identities in worship and mission.

In other words, I will not see my specific cultural sins as clearly or repent of them as easily until they come into focus through life and conversations with brothers and sisters with other cultural lenses. And, without seeing my core identity as a follower of Jesus, I will see no need to discover, confess, and repent of these cultural sins. And neither will you or our brothers and sisters from all around the globe.

Multicultural worship is a big discussion right now. Musically, it’s difficult. It requires a lot of work and grace to pull off. But I want to suggest that we have to do something more vital before we can sing with each other or grow in appreciation of a particular musical (or even emotional) expression. We will truly begin the process of multicultural worship when we see ourselves for who God made us to be: His people for His purposes, born with cultural identities that provide a unique set of gifts to the church—gifts that both bless and challenge other brothers and sisters with different cultural identities. Why? Well, to paraphrase Ephesians 4:15, so that we can all grow more and more like Christ, who is the most important aspect of our personal and corporate identities.

I’d like to leave you with this: Perhaps the best way to redeem race and ethnicity is by putting Jesus in the foremost place as (1) the Divine Person who was born into an ethnic identity He cherished and enjoyed, yet who (2) seems to view His own Sonship in the Father as more important than His own ethnic identity in order to (3) sanctify His people from their cultural and personal sins.

Can we follow His example together?

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Wesley Price lives in East Atlanta with his amazing wife, Angey. Cullen and Lincoln are the little people that you see them with. Wesley was previously a worship pastor for 12 years, and now works in IT. Angey and Wesley are members of Blueprint Church and are a part of the Grant Park Missional Community.