One of the special experiences we have had in our lives was the opportunity to visit Israel and be on the land where Bible stories took place. One of my (Chuck’s) favorite memories happened in Bethlehem at a small chapel called Shepherds’ Field, where some suggest the angels visited the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus as chronicled in the Gospel of Luke.
As is true at many sites in Israel connected to Scripture, we were surrounded by Jesus followers from all walks of life and from all over the world. There we all were, on a hot day in the Middle East, converging on this sacred site. Dozens of different languages were being spoken simultaneously, all of us united in excitement, awe, and wonder to be in the “little town of Bethlehem.” Another common thing about the churches in Israel is that they have great acoustics! So, not surprisingly, when people are in the Shepherds’ Field chapel, they sing Christmas carols.
Most groups have enough people to fill the small chapel themselves, so each group waits patiently for their turn to go into the chapel and sing. However, when we arrived, the group ahead of us wasn’t large and the people were clearly from another nation and didn’t speak or sing in English. Their priest shared a brief reflection in their language, then invited them to sing a familiar tune, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” When they got to the chorus, the priest looked at me and gestured for us to join in. So there we were, in the middle of Israel, sharing a moment of common worship of a common God. And though we didn’t share the same language, we were able to share the same song.
This is a picture of God’s intent for the church. There’s something special about experiencing the multiethnic, multicultural, multihued church of Jesus together. The fact that our country is so racially divided and yet the church is designed to live undivided means there’s a God-sized opportunity. From Genesis to Revelation, we see that God is about the work of gathering to himself a new family made of people from every nation.
Early in the book of Acts, we read how God’s Spirit empowered the apostles to speak languages they had never learned so more people could become followers of Jesus. What began in the earliest days of Christianity as recorded in Acts 2 comes to full fruition in Revelation 7:9, when John had a vision that every language, every tongue, every nation, every tribe of people was gathered in unity and celebration at the throne of God.
These were people who had distinct ethnicities and languages but were united as one at the throne of God. They may not have shared the same language, but they shared the same song—one of joy and gratitude to the God who has, as it says in Colossians 1:20, reconciled “to himself all things.”
One New Humanity
This animating vision is also seen in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. We love Ephesians 2:1–10, where Paul describes how we are reconciled with God. He stresses that we are saved by grace and not by anything we can do for ourselves. We cannot boast. It’s not about us. It’s all about what Jesus did on our behalf. Then in Ephesians 2:14–15, Paul describes the miracle of unity made possible by Jesus:
For he [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.
Through Jesus, we become one new humanity. Paul is responding to a very real division in the early church: the split between Jew and gentile. This was a conflict along ethnic and cultural lines rooted in the political tensions of the day in the Roman Empire. Sound familiar? The new identity and community Jesus ushered in was not bound by partisan political divisions or ethnic and racial differences. The early church embraced becoming one new humanity because they believed in Jesus and experienced the richness of a diverse community united in him. The dividing walls of hostility melted away, and they aspired to live undivided.
Throughout the Bible, we see over and over again that the gospel brings people together who were once divided. We need this in our country, and it’s exactly what the church can embody.
Let’s be honest: racism has divided our society. Racism has divided the church. Where does this division come from? Race is a human construct, an elevation of distinctions in skin tone as a way to organize and separate people. It messes with our view of others, and of ourselves. Racism corrupts human societies and institutions. It also distorts the truth from Genesis that we are all image-bearers, created in the image of God.
The source of the problem runs deeper than this. Racism is also a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems require spiritual solutions. We aren’t banking on human ingenuity to solve this intractable issue. We see the solution for racism and all its effects in the person of Jesus and the new humanity he calls us to. When we pursue becoming one new humanity, Jesus empowers us to remember and embody who we really are.
A New Kind of “New”
In these verses from Ephesians, Paul uses a unique word for new. The Greek language can be very specific. Often there are multiple Greek words that we consolidate into one word in the English language. Here Paul uses a specific word for new, and he does so on purpose. He could have used the word neos, which means chronologically new—simply the next thing to happen. Instead, Paul writes kainos, a word that suggests a new thing that has never been seen before in human history. It’s a new kind of new.
Don’t miss this important point! God has worked a miracle that’s never been seen before! People who were ethnically diverse and therefore different and maybe even hostile toward one another are able to come together and be one new people. It’s a bond deeper than ethnicity, a bond deeper than race, a bond rooted in Jesus. You are invited to be part of this miracle. UNDIVIDED invites us all to live out that miracle for racial solidarity, healing, and justice (all words we will define shortly) in our world.
This one new humanity is the animating vision that undergirds this book and our organization. The gospel is the good news that empowers us to live undivided. This is not a burden. This is not something we have to do. This is something we get to do—and we get to do it together.
Excerpted from Living Undivided by Chuck Mingo, Troy Jackson and Holly Cranshaw. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2024. Used by permission. BakerPublishingGroup.com.