Last month many churches recognized Racial Reconciliation Sunday.
For my denomination, this emphasis Sunday has a long tradition, dating back to 1965. The messengers of the convention, every year, vote on this calendar.
And there are times when, if a leader is being faithful to the text of Scripture, the topic of race will come up, perhaps in Ephesians 2, Revelation 7, or the first part of Acts where Luke shares, with careful detail, the way the Holy Spirit brought people together at Pentecost from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
Inevitably, when I preach or write on this topic I get well-meaning questions from fellow believers. Here are three I frequently get asked:
1. Are you doing this as a part of some social movement?
Some wonder if I’m preaching on race because of cultural issues or because I’ve been influenced by some kind of activist movement.
But while certain flash points in the culture can warrant a pastor addressing a topic, most often I’m preaching on race because race is a topic that is addressed frequently in Scripture.
And just as we should be faithful to apply Scripture to other cultural issues like abortion, religious liberty, marriage, and a variety of other cultural topics people are wrestling with, so too should we apply Scriptures that address race to current issues of racial tension.
Leaders who fail to do this are in many ways shirking their duties if they refuse to find specific applications of Scripture that can help people grow. If God has spoken through His Word, we have a duty to preach it.
2. Do you have anyone in mind when you preach on race?
I’ve been asked the question this way: Do you think there are racists in the church? If so, why not just address them individually so they can repent?
This is a good question. When I preach on race—and, frankly, any other topic—I rarely have a name or a face in mind. But again, if we’re tasked with faithfully exegeting the Word of God, we have to preach what’s in God’s Word.
Last year I preached a message on marriage from Ephesians 5. I implored Christian couples to commit to their marriages for the sake of gospel witness. I rebuked men who indulged in porn. I begged couples to do what’s necessary to walk faithfully together in covenant love.
I didn’t have any couples in mind when I preached this sermon. I didn’t have any knowledge of adultery or unfaithfulness and yet I preached on this sin. Why? Because the duty of a pastor demands it.
We’re tasked with delivering the Word of God faithfully and to let the Holy Spirit use that Word to do the work of conviction. We should feel this way about Ephesians 5 and marriage and Ephesians 2 and race.
So when I preach on certain topics I don’t have anyone in mind, but the Holy Spirit probably has people in mind: you and me.
God uses the Word, like a sword, to pierce our hearts with truth, convict us of sin, and then washing us anew with the forgiveness purchased by Christ on Calvary.
3. Race is a controversial topic. Why bring it up?
Pastors should be doubly careful when we handle topics that are controversial in the culture. We shouldn’t be flippant. We should be humble and open-handed and Spirit-led.
The temptation is for us pastors to skip those hard passages and issues. But this is why I believe so strongly in expository preaching as the normative method of feeding our people. It keeps us from skipping the hard stuff that will get us emails and phone calls and letters.
We shouldn’t let the news cycle determine our ministry calendar. We must preach the Word of God to equip our people for the work of the ministry, to help them go into the world and live holy lives of obedience in a confusing culture.
It’s incumbent upon us as church leaders to courageously herald the hard truths of Scripture.
After all, race and abortion and marriage aren’t the most controversial things we find in the Bible. The cross is controversial—that ugly wooden cross and the shed blood of a resurrected rabbi named Jesus.
But the preaching of the cross is also what is used by God to bring people to a saving faith in His Son. And so we teach and preach faithfully.