When Paul tells us that there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, no slave or free person in Christ, it is natural to assume that this means that some sort of magical transformation overcomes us. The assumption I have always made is that the theory is that suddenly all of our differences disappear.
There are two problems with this assumption. The first problem is that it doesn’t line up with reality. The second problem is that it rejects the idea that there is much strength in our differences. Jesus didn’t call all of the disciples the Sons of Thunder. He didn’t promise all of them that they would be the rock upon which the church was built. The spirit didn’t lead all of the Christ-followers to evangelize to the Jews; nor did it lead all of them to witness to the gentiles.
These different designations, assignments, and promises, it seems like they must have been rooted in the differences between the people. I know that some people will tell me that I have been infected by the world. But it doesn’t seem to me that we should want to just come together and adopt some average, mundane, and beige middle ground between all of our differences. This is not to say that we ought to become cultural relativists and simply accept all of our differences out of hand. But when we seek to eliminate our differences we ought to have a reason for doing so.
Which leads me to something else Paul could have meant when he tells us that there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, etc… I would like to suggest that what he meant is that when we invite enough different kinds of people into the body of Christ, all of their limitations are transcended. All of their weaknesses are covered. A group of males banded together in Christ will embody all of the weaknesses and strengths of being male; and so it would be for a group of women. A group of suburbanites would possess certain strengths and weaknesses and this would define the whole group, if there are no rural or urban representatives. I think we need to do more than just engage in parallel mission with people who aren’t like us. I think we need to do more than worship with them once a week. I think we all need to take a step in faith toward people who are quite different from us. And I think people like myself who come from “advantaged” groups (white, middle class, male) need to be especially careful. We carry with us a legacy. That legacy is to believe that all the other groups have these inherent spiritual dangers. And we possess the solutions to these dangers. As a result, we view ourselves in a dangerous way… and so does the world around us.
This humble existence with very different people in real community, it can be a learning lab for us. As we do life with others we will begin to see what are the strengths and what are the weaknesses of our belonging to the various groups we do.
Once we have seen our short comings and our advantaged, we will be powerfully equipped to truly assess the aspects of our identities that we ought to work at changing. But until we do change those things, we will be surrounded by brothers and sisters whose strengths will complement our own… and that’s a pretty good way to live.