Christian Racial Reconciliation, “Calvinism,” and the Unbeliever : A Clarification


[The following is yet another clarification added to our series, “What Is & Isn’t Being Said.” And please note, “Calvinism” is in quotes; I believe everything that follows is consistent with a proper understanding of Reformed doctrine.]

One of the possible pitfalls of the Christian argument for racial and ethnic reconciliation (RR), especially among those of the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition (of which I am a member), is the potential implication that only believers, i.e., those in Christ, are included in the scope of sought social equity and justice. Of course, RR advocates acknowledge that all men are created in the very image and likeness of God; that is,

the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. (Herman Bavinck)

But when it comes to the idea of “reconciliation” itself, the argument usually moves from the reconciliation between God and man wrought by Christ on the Cross to reconciliation between man and man premised on the same. In the words of the Apostle,

[R]emember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph. 2:12-16)

That which had divided mankind—laws, ordinances, cultus, and whatever else may divide mankind—was removed by the Cross of Christ, making one new man of the twain, in Christ, where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). While truly the only path to abiding physical, spiritual, and eschatological unity, this argument nevertheless seems to imply either that (1) unbelievers are outside the scope of racial and ethnic unity, or that (2) the only true unity that can be achieved, or should even be sought, was already completed two thousand years ago. The former seems to be implied by some RR advocates, while the latter is often the basis for “color-blind” opposition.

It is my opinion that the often implied, and wholly unnecessary, limitation comes from a much too limited view of the person and work of Jesus Christ—again, especially among those of Calvinistic leanings. If the Son of God came into the world for only some, took up human nature for only some, was united in flesh with only some, was crucified for only some, and is even now only the Head of some, then it is natural to believe that the scope of these cosmic events only affects relations among some and remains exclusively within the metaphorical walls of the Church. But in both the Scripture and the Creedal tradition, we see something much different. We see Christ incarnate for all, bearing the nature of all, in natural union with all, and the Head of all mankind—even if not redemptively so.

Jesus Christ: True Man

To begin with, Jesus Christ came as true and complete man. He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), was “made in the likeness of men,” and was “found in appearance as a man” (Phil. 2:5-7). The incarnation of our Lord was a full sharing in the whole human nature of the whole of mankind, being the means necessary to bring salvation to a wayward people. The Letter to the Hebrews explains this well:

[S]ince the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:15-17)

The Son of God became true man, in every way the same as those He came to save—except sin.

Jesus Christ: Incarnate for all Mankind

Second, given that the Son of God was united in Person with true and complete human nature itself, we must therefore acknowledge that He was not just united by human nature to a set of individual humans, elect or otherwise; that is, Christ bore the substance of humanity, not a collection of individual subsistences. He did not bear the nature of Peter, James, and John to the exclusion of Judas and Pontius Pilot. The Creeds and Confessions of the Church have made this clear throughout the centuries. We read the following in the Formula of Chalcedon (A.D. 451):

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood.

Jesus Christ, according to His Manhood, is “consubstantial” with us; that is, he shares the substance itself of all mankind and not just the substance-plus-accidents of only certain individual sunbsistences (e.g., Peter, James, and John) or group of subsistences (e.g., Jews, Greeks, Africans, or Europeans). And Jesus is “perfect” in this manhood; the human nature which he bears is complete, with both human soul and human body. And as the 3rd Council of Constantinople makes clear, Jesus even bears our natural will and operations as well:

[B]ut we say that as the same our Lord Jesus Christ has two natures so also he has two natural wills and operations, to wit, the divine and the human: the divine will and operation he has in common with the coessential Father from all eternity: the human, he has received from us, taken with our nature in time. (A.D. 681)

Jesus Christ: Given for All Mankind

Next, if this is all true, we are fully warranted to conclude that God gave His only begotten Son for all mankind, for Christ the Lord has borne (and continues to bear) the self-same and complete human nature of all mankind—every single individual that has been, is now, or ever will be. As we have confessed for millennia, we believe in Jesus Christ, “Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.” For “us men” He “was made man.”

When God sent His Son, He sent Him as the Seed of Eve, the Mother of all the Living. He sent Him through the natural and human womb of the Virgin Mary. He was born and carried in the arms of His mother, bearing the nature of all babies. He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man,” bearing the nature of all youth (Lk. 2:52). And as He grew into manhood, He “suffered” and was “in all points tempted as are we,” bearing the self-same nature of all tempted and suffering men, women, and children of all tribes, nations, and tongues, being touched with the infirmities of all (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). And last, we see Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, “made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).

Jesus Christ: In Natural Union with All Mankind

And as necessary corollary, we can therefore justly conclude that every man, woman, and child of every tribe, nation, and tongue is now in natural union with Christ—that is, according to the human nature—even if not in saving or “mystical” union with Him.

Jesus Christ: the Head of All Mankind

Finally, given all of the above, we must recognize that Christ is not only the Head of the elect and Head of His Church, but He is likewise the Head of all mankind, believer or unbeliever. In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas considers the question, “Whether Christ is the Head of All Men?” His answer, while a bit complicated, is as follows:

It is written (1 Tim. 4:10): “Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful,” and (1 John 2:2): “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Now to save men and to be a propitiation for their sins belongs to Christ as Head. Therefore Christ is the Head of all men.

I answer that, This is the difference between the natural body of man and the Church’s mystical body, that the members of the natural body are all together, and the members of the mystical are not all together—neither as regards their natural being, since the body of the Church is made up of the men who have been from the beginning of the world until its end—nor as regards their supernatural being, since, of those who are at any one time, some there are who are without grace, yet will afterwards obtain it, and some have it already.

We must therefore consider the members of the mystical body not only as they are in act, but as they are in potentiality. Nevertheless, some are in potentiality who will never be reduced to act, and some are reduced at some time to act; and this according to the triple class, of which the first is by faith, the second by the charity of this life, the third by the fruition of the life to come.

Hence we must say that if we take the whole time of the world in general, Christ is the Head of all men, but diversely. For, first and principally, He is the Head of such as are united to Him by glory; secondly, of those who are actually united to Him by charity; thirdly, of those who are actually united to Him by faith; fourthly, of those who are united to Him merely in potentiality, which is not yet reduced to act, yet will be reduced to act according to Divine predestination; fifthly, of those who are united to Him in potentiality, which will never be reduced to act; such are those men existing in the world, who are not predestined, who, however, on their departure from this world, wholly cease to be members of Christ, as being no longer in potentiality to be united to Christ. (III, q. 8, a. 3)

As we have demonstrated, Christ is incarnate for all mankind. Assuming this premise, Thomas can rightly argue to Christ’s headship of all mankind. In sum, by bearing the substance of man, the human nature, Christ was made like all men—whether predestined to glory or not—in every respect, save sin. As such, all men in this life are potentially His brethren, being of like nature with Him. Just as we all have shared the like nature of the first Adam, so Christ has become the “Second Adam” and the “Last Adam” by assuming the same nature into His own person. As all men share in the self-same human nature that Christ even now bears, so all men are capable of union with Him and thus are all potentially so, should they only receive and believe His gospel. While only those predestined will ultimately be united to Christ by faith and love unto glory (reducing the natural potentiality to mystical actuality), the fact that Christ has borne the flesh of all mankind unites the whole of humanity around the new and perfect man, the Head of all creation, our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, What Does All This Mean with Regard to Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation?

It means that all mankind, whether in Christ mystically or not, are united with Christ and under His headship according to their very humanity—that is, according to the human nature that all men share with Jesus. As such, all men also share equally in the dignity of His human nature, fully displayed in His Incarnation, death, and resurrection. The Gospel does not destroy the unified image of God in man. Rather, the Gospel brings this image to its ultimate end, viz., our Lord Jesus Christ. And even as our incarnate God now bears the human nature itself, so He bears the nature of the Jew, the Greek, the African, the European, and any other category of Adam’s offspring we care to construct, whether in or out of the Church.

And finally, as Christians, we must therefore share the same ethic of our Savior toward all men, whether Christian or not. He who “loved the world” and therefore “gave His only begotten Son” to bear the nature of every tribe, nation, and tongue in turn explicitly requires the same self-sacrificial love of us:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:43-48)

To be sure, if we limit the scope of Christ’s person and work to the Church and the already redeemed, we are likely to limit the scope of His common grace to all mankind. As He has borne the flesh of all, He has thereby dignified the nature of all, making every member of the human race not only a fit object of His redemption, but also a fit object of every Christian’s reconciliatory affections and energies.

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