The New Dividing Walls – Dr Marty Folsom

I was listening to a J. B. Torrance sermon the other day and recalled with fondness and respect the way he went out to break down walls that were primarily racial and political. He traveled to Ireland, South Africa, and the United States to preach the Gospel of Grace that brings down the dividing walls.

Unfortunately, these walls, and others like them are not yet torn down. They have improved in some settings, but the world is still in strife over political polarization and racial sentiments. The Gospel that J. B. lived did not stop at theory; it was applied in pastoral care and political protest alike. The Gospel of Grace changes the world, always in the light of the One who comes to break down the walls and bring reconciliation.

Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, the issues are not as bold in the areas that J. B. addressed. I found myself asking what, in my context, are walls that need to be addressed. It came to me that our walls are between us. In a culture of individualism, we become rocks, and islands with walls to protect our private space and rights. We have lost the emphasis on responsibility as love for our neighbor that is a context for rights that takes down the walls. We have neglected the respect and consideration for our neighbor that curtails their need to put up walls for privacy. The Gospel is a paradigm shift that breaks down the walls of separation and initiates a radical hospitality that builds bridges, not fences.

We need to break down the walls between persons, even in the church. We ought not to come together as private citizens to improve our quality of life. We come as parts of a body needing to give and receive. If there is still a wall between the front of the church and the congregation, it must come down. The leadership is not to inform the flock, but to encourage, empower, and connect them to be servants and lovers of God, neighbor, and self-in-relation.

The wall of silence between God and the gathered community must also come down. We come to hear Jesus, not about Jesus. We must have preaching and conversation, prayers and worship that are structured so we walk away knowing we have heard the Voice of God. We cannot live by bread or sermons alone, but by every word THAT PROCEEDS from the mouth of God. That means removing the wall so that we hear God’s heart, not how we are to apply Christian principles to our lives.

Then, there is the wall between us. You may ask what wall I am referring to. I would ask you, when was the last time that you made it a practice of telling others you care about, or those who are part of your community how you feel about them? Do you tell them how you feel about yourself? The vulnerability of telling the other and revealing ourselves is stopped by the fear that unconsciously crosses our lips, “I am afraid of what they would think of me.” The wall of fear is present and active. It keeps us separate. It fractures relationships and keeps us at a “safe” distance. The Gospel of Grace calls us to be deeply connected to at least a few people, encouraging and encouraged, and interested in our neighbors enough to know them and care.

The most insidious wall is the wall that keeps us from loving ourselves. I am not calling for a psychological gloss-over that turns a blind eye to our faults. I am talking about not judging ourselves by our performance, accomplishments, and appearance. Rather, we are to be judged by the One who calls us His children. To accept that identity is to take down the wall of shame and guilt that has power in our lives. Because of it, we live under a law of expectations that we can never meet. But we are beloved ones. In allowing ourselves to be loved, and loving ourselves, we break down the walls to loving others.

While I greatly respect and admire those who take on the big issues of our time in the world, I feel that this issue—the walls between God, our neighbors, families, and ourselves—is a core issue that is yet to be addressed. It is my calling to share in God’s life of overcoming what divides us and to discover God’s flourishing. We must recognize a disease and an epidemic before we can address it.