Sanctification, Rearview Mirrors, and Diversity in the Body of Christ: A guest post by Walter Strickland
When my father taught me how to drive my first instinct was to jump into the car and race down the street. Like any good instructor, my father stopped me before putting the key in the ignition and walked me through a pre-driving checklist that included checking my rearview and side mirrors; without them I could not see into my blind spots.
Over time, it was evident that my need for car mirrors was a ready-made lesson about my own limitations in my pursuit of God. My aim is to explore the usefulness of diversity in the process of sanctification and expand the concept of diversity beyond the context of race and ethnicity.
A blind spot is an area where our view is obstructed because of being uninformed or indifferent. My blind spots extend far beyond driving a car, they reach into every area of life and frustrate my pursuit of Christlikeness. Unfortunately, our blind spots lead us down a path of partiality and apathy to matters that are important to God. At its core, the call for believers to imitate God (Eph. 5:1) is a call to a life of balance. Part of Christ's beauty is that he skillfully balanced law and grace in perfect harmony, he effortlessly embodied justice and mercy and was the epitome of humility and boldness.
God is gracious and has not abandoned us in the awesome pursuit of imitating himself: God gave us the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ to illuminate our blind spots and encourage us toward balance. Although an exploration of the Holy Spirit's role in sanctification is worthy of our attention, I'm convinced that a helpful exploration of the role of God's diverse body in the Christian walk is needed.
When the words 'diverse' or 'diversity' enter a conversation the tendency for most is to shut down because these words emotionally and politically charged. To compound the anxiety, issues related to race have been handled poorly in the public square which puts us all on the defensive.
"Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17) is an iconic verse of scripture that optimizes the role of fellow believers pushing each other toward Christlikeness. The primary venues for this interaction are found in the church and in marriage. In both instances, God intentionally places people in close proximity which exposes one another's blind spots. These relationships ultimately become an opportunity for correction and sanctification. The experience of seeing into each other's blind spots is supercharged in diverse relationships.
When in a car, the driver's view is limited to the experience of the front seat, but the passengers have a different view that allows them to see into the driver's blind spots. As a group, the people in the car share a 360° view and are able to spot a hazard coming from any direction. The same is true in the Christian's pursuit of Christ.
As humans our view of the world is limited by our experience as male or female, affluent or impoverished, by our cultural context, or by our generational values, to name a few. Due to the unique field of vision our experiences afford us, each believer is prone to have clarity and blindness in different areas. As a result, part of the reason God called his followers into the church community and/or marriage relationship is that together we can have a more complete perception of life that has fewer blind spots and imbalances.
A middle school boy leading his peers is often joked about as the blind leading the blind. In contrast, an older woman teaching younger women is called discipleship in the pattern of Titus 2:3-5. The difference between the two groups is the inherent advantage of (age) diversity verses the homogeneous group where the experience of the individuals will likely result in generating shared blind spots and imbalances.
In the church, the fruit of age diversity is widely recognized and celebrated, but diversity along the lines of race, culture and socioeconomic status are more difficult to embrace because of the historical and political baggage that accompanies them. In addition, we are simply more comfortable people who are like us. The challenges that thwart meaningful relationships between diverse believers are real, but by God's grace and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God's people are enabled to display His redemptive power by simultaneously embracing and transcending the differences that enrich the tapestry of the Kingdom.