The church: God’s answer to tribalism

I don’t think it’s easy for us to understand the barrier that existed between Jew and Gentile in the first century. Not so much in terms of social interaction (although that definitely existed), but especially in terms of religion. It would have been extremely difficult for a Jew to look on a Gentile as an equal, spiritually speaking. This was still true even in the early church.

Because of this, it was a stunning message that Paul and others preached, a message of equality in the gospel: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-18) Christ had torn down the wall of division. He had brought Jew and Gentile into one body.

To Paul, this was one of the great truths of Christianity, a mystery that God had kept hidden in the past: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:6)

At the heart of all of this was the church, God’s masterpiece which he had to show off to all creation: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:8-11)

The rulers and authorities which would divide people, placing them in rival clans, tribes and nations, these powers would be shown God’s power to reconcile, to bring people together. Where is that power seen? In that church. Because of this, the Lord’s church must be an agent of reconciliation, a force for bringing all people together, regardless of nationality, language, race or other human division.

Tribalism is an enemy of the church, a tool of the powers and authorities that set themselves up against God’s authority. God’s truth is that all men are made in his image and all men can be brought into the body of Christ, the holy Christian nation. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

Because of this, Christians must work at bringing people together. We must learn to ignore nationalities and other aspects of tribalism that would separate us from others. We have to come to an awareness of the length, depth, width and height of our kingdom, spanning borders, time zones and continents. The church is God’s answer to man’s tribalism.

14 thoughts on “The church: God’s answer to tribalism

  1. Tim said “It would have been extremely difficult for a Jew to look on a Gentile as an equal, spiritually speaking. This was still true even in the early church.”

    I wonder WHY.

    Mt:15:24: But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
    Mt:15:26: But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

  2. This is a theology of the church that I believe has never really taken root in the Restoration Movement. By that I mean that even though we may have professed this truth at some surface level, it has never been grounded so deeply within us that we were able to resist for forces of tribalism. For example, I believe there is credible evidence to suggest that the split officially recognized in 1906 (which began forming after the Civil War) had as much, if not more, to do with social factors than it did doctrine (that is why the instrumentalist were mainly in Union states and the a-capella’s were mainly in Confederate states). Thus, social tribalism defeated our part of the church. And there are many other denominations/fellowship which experienced similar division rooted in social tribalism. And we still have churches divided because of racial/ethnic tribalism.

    Now I fear that some are willing to allow political tribalism to defeat the church. May we hear the message of Ephesians with fresh ears and fresh hearts.

    Grace and peace,


  3. Laymond,

    Perhaps for the same reason why in more recent history it was hard for Western-Caucasian Christians to look upon non-Western and minority class Christians as equals.

    Grace and peace,


  4. I think there’s no denying that the split had as much to do with social elements and regional differences as it did with anything else. Much had to do with how leaders (and missionary societies) taught about the proper Christian response to the war. The hypothetical scenario I posed last week played out in real life for them, and many Christians couldn’t get over the fact that their brothers had sought to kill them.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Hi Tim

    I agree with your article. I sometimes think of the church as a tribe. I guess that’s just another word for family. We are different from the world and at war with it, yet we are inclusive in that we want those in the world to leave it and join our tribe – obey the gospel and become members of the church of Christ. Abraham’s clan become the physical nation of Israel which (in a sense) became spiritual Israel, the church, our tribe.

  6. Love this series, Tim. Thanks!

    Just an interesting discussion starter (I hope), Laymond — I have heard it said that Jesus made that second statement for his apostles’ benefit, as a test. He wasn’t saying that because it was true, that they should view Gentiles as dogs, he was saying it because that was the common thought among the Jews and was still hanging in there with his followers. Granted, he came to give His message to the Jews first. But healing her daughter must have shown he didn’t really believe she was on a level with dogs.

  7. Lisa, when we go to reading the mind of Jesus and say he didn’t really mean what he said, that is not uncommon in the modern day churches, but it is a assumption that cannot be proven, but that is not uncommon either. (Comment edited)

  8. Laymond,

    I don’t mind you referring to outside links when they have something to do with the topic. However, my blog is not the place for you to promote your hobby. You have your own blog.

    Spammers try to post comments every day, pretending to join in the conversation when they are merely promoting another site. I don’t allow them to do it either.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  9. Tribalism prevents East Africans from moving out of poverty.

    As Americans, what do we make of Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State, Evangelical/Mainline, Urban/Rural? I think we have our own tribes that keep us from experiencing Paul’s vision of the Gospel.

  10. Tim, I apologize if I offended you, It certainly was not my intention. I simply wanted to make you aware of a study Dr Buzzard had made, if you were not aware already. I don’t know if it was your intention, but it did offend me calling my work for the one true God “a hobby” just because I don’t get paid like you do, to do what we think is the Lord’s work don’t mean one is serious and the other is not. once again I’m sorry.
    p s : the video is posted on my blog in case you are interested.

  11. Laymond, I’m sorry that you weren’t familiar with the old term “hobby.” When preachers would always work around to the same topic, no matter what, they were said to have a hobby, like a hobby horse. No offense was meant, and certainly no implication that I am “professional” and you are not. I will choose a more familiar term the next time. (I thought you were “old school” like me)

    I did see the posting on your blog. (I went to school with Danny Dixon and have read his materials.) You implied that my soul depends on a correct understanding of this topic, which sounds more like our friend A.W. than it does you. I’ve told you that if you would like to discuss the divinity of Christ, the posts are still up on this site, and I see every comment. I won’t allow you to turn every single discussion into a discussion of that topic.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  12. Tim, I am not trying to continue this discussion here, I am only answering a question you seem to have, Tim said “You implied that my soul depends on a correct understanding of this topic,”
    I am not implying anything, I am saying it straight out, Just as Paul stood on Mars’ hill and told the men of Athens, you have to know the God you worship, just any god won’t do. and worshiping the messenger is no substitute. only to answer your implied question. I won’t ever bring up the subject again with you, but if you want to discuss it farther I am always available may God The Father of Jesus bless you.

  13. I think many Christians are oblivious to the fact that CHRIST died not only to reconcile men to GOD but to also reconcile believers from different tribes to each other (Eph 2: 11-22). I also believe Pastors don’t touch enough on the importance of the unity in the body of CHRIST. If this fact were to be preached on a regular basis I am sure that most of the prejudice that exist in the church will be exposed and believers will see each other through the eyes of CHRIST.
    Churches sometimes tolerates tribalism by not speaking against those who are against intercultural marriages. I think intercultural marriages symbolizes the body of CHRIST.
    I’m always amazed at believers who are anti-intercultural marriages, I ask myself if GOD can make the body of CHRIST with its many members from different tribes serve HIM in harmony why would GOD fall short in a marriage that consists of only two believers.
    May the HOLY SPIRIT transform us through the bible for GODs glory

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