"But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (Eph. 2:13-14)
When these words were written, “those who were once far off" referred to Gentiles, i.e, non-Jews, whom pious Jews assiduously avoided, believing that close contact rendered them unclean—a condition which could only be resolved by specific acts of purification. In New Testament times, Jewish prayers included the doxology, “Praise be to God that He has not created me a Gentile." In the face of such intense alienation, Paul preached a gospel of reconciliation. The apostle insisted that in Christ the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile had been abolished and furthermore, that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
But as the apostle knew so well, it is one thing to declare the truth of the gospel and quite another thing to embody that truth. Even now, nearly two thousand years since the Christ event, Sunday morning worship may be the most segregated hour in contemporary life. Racial tension persists overtly and covertly in public and private arenas, affecting young and old alike. Supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan live on, promulgating their rhetoric of hatred, alienation, and violence. The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. appears in some ways as distant now as it was a generation ago.
For Texas Baptists to declare the whole gospel, we must embody the gospel truth that in Christ God has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. Doing so requires us to break out of our comfort zones of ethnic familiarity which partition and segregate the family of God.
As we engage the work of reconciliation, we do well to remember the saints who did this work before us. One of those saints was Acker C. Miller, then pastor of First Baptist Church, Belton, who in 1944 was invited to lead the newly formed Department of Interracial Cooperation of the BGCT. With a gentle but resolute spirit, Dr. Miller faced intense opposition to his efforts to heal deep wounds of racism and bigotry throughout the 1940's. Under his leadership nearly half of the 113 Texas Baptist associations appointed standing committees on race relations. In 1950, the work of racial reconciliation was expanded to include the application of the gospel to all of life and emerged as a new agency which came to be called the Christian Life Commission. Dr. Miller was appointed to serve as the first CLC director and remained in that capacity until 1953 when he became the first executive-secretary of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission. Dr. Miller's was one of the many voices who prepared the way for the civil rights movement as he anticipated Dr. King's message of persistent nonviolent fidelity to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of the third millennium, we need to celebrate the ministries of A.C. Miller, Foy Valentine, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others who pioneered the work of racial reconciliation. For each of these saints, talk was cheap and actions were costly. May God grant us the courage to emulate their faithful examples.