Interview: Eric Mason on Dangers of a ‘Narrow Gospel’ and Knowing Church History

This is a difficult question. The Bible speaks pretty clearly that unrepentant, habitual sin that shows no signs of inner struggle and spiritual warfare may be a sign that saving faith is not present. At the same time, Christians should be extremely careful of making declarative statements about who is or is not saved. With that in mind, how should Christians think about the fact that many Christian pastors, leaders, theologians were active proponents of slavery, racialized theology, segregation, and other forms of racial injustice? More pointedly, is racism heresy, or is it heterodoxy, and does that impact the way the church today should treat this sin?

I think it’s a third-class condition. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe saved. Maybe not. I think it’s all of the above. I’m not going to say the person’s not saved because they are racist. I wouldn’t just rote say that. I would reverse the question. People would say that James Cone is not saved, but my question to them is, have you read any of James Cone’s works? This is the thing. I think that there is a possibility that a person who is walking in the unrepentant sin of racism could have a problem with their soteriology. What I mean by that is, the question is, are we all equally fallen or are Blacks more fallen than others in your theology?

“Racism is heresy. Why is it heresy? Racism is heresy because it’s partiality doctrine… As a matter of fact, most of Acts is about proving the Jews that Gentiles were savable, and that’s why the Jerusalem council happened in order to not say, ‘You need more than we need in order to be saved’ or, ‘You need what we need to be saved versus Christ.’ Christ plus anything is heresy. It’s not merely a variant doctrine, but it is an unorthodox, unbiblical sub-doctrine.”

I have so many resources. I know about a lawyer that wrote a book in the early 1900s on basically the dehumanization of Blacks as not imago dei. He basically trained Whites how to view Blacks. In the Museum of the Bible, they have a Bible there where they took out all of the passages on freedom and justice and the Exodus to keep slaves from knowing that the implications of the gospel mean manumission. So, when you start changing the Bible and you want to limit the Bible that you give to a person, I really, really struggle with that. I have to go to First John and talk about sins versus sin. Racism is heresy. Why is it heresy? Racism is heresy because it’s partiality doctrine, which the Bible teaches all the way through it—Proverbs, Galatians, Acts are deep on partiality. As a matter of fact, most of Acts is about proving [to] the Jews that Gentiles were savable, and that’s why the Jerusalem council happened in order to not say, “You need more than we need in order to be saved” or, “You need what we need to be saved versus Christ.” Christ plus anything is heresy. It’s not merely a variant doctrine, but it is an unorthodox, unbiblical sub-doctrine. So, I think that there are many deep ways that we can nuance and think through this, but it’s embedded into our sociological DNA. My kids already know that they’re Black and there’s a difference, and I’m trying to train them not to choose whiteness when they choose a toy because of self-hatred.

So, even going beyond whether or not they’re saved and all of those kinds of differences, I do think that if a person is racist they should be put under church discipline because church discipline is a mechanism that is utilized to tell whether or not someone is saved.

That’s what church discipline is for. That’s the purpose of it. My question—have we ever in American history ever seen a White church discipline a White person because of racism? Have you ever heard of anyone excommunicated because of their racism? Even if you look at, and I hate to bring this up, even if you look at the [Presbyterian Church in America] and you see guys who wrote documents with racist ideas and nobody put those guys under church discipline, it’s one thing to say we denounce his teachings. The question is, are you calling him to repentance by excommunication until he’s brought into restoration? If not, you are a co-conspirator of continuing to be partial in how you deal with sin. We’re just talking about basic Christianity. I mean, if Paul gets in the face of Peter and talks to him and challenges him just about not eating with the Gentiles… I mean, Peter didn’t write a treatise on the Gentiles! He just stopped eating with them and Barnabas was carried away by his hypocrisy, the “son of encouragement.” Paul rebukes him publicly and said he wasn’t walking in step with the gospel! To me, those are strong statements, brother.

That’s what church discipline is for. That’s the purpose of it. My question—have we ever in American history ever seen a White church discipline a White person because of racism? Have you ever heard of anyone excommunicated because of their racism? Even if you look at, and I hate to bring this up, even if you look at the [Presbyterian Church in America] and you see guys who wrote documents with racist ideas and nobody put those guys under church discipline, it’s one thing to say we denounce his teachings. The question is, are you calling him to repentance by excommunication until he’s brought into restoration? If not, you are a co-conspirator of continuing to be partial in how you deal with sin. We’re just talking about basic Christianity. I mean, if Paul gets in the face of Peter and talks to him and challenges him just about not eating with the Gentiles… I mean, Peter didn’t write a treatise on the Gentiles! He just stopped eating with them and Barnabas was carried away by his hypocrisy, the “son of encouragement.” Paul rebukes him publicly and said he wasn’t walking in step with the gospel! To me, those are strong statements, brother.

Eric Mason Podium
Eric Mason (Photo: Twitter/Eric Mason)

You mentioned that church discipline is an essential, that you can’t have a church without church discipline. How do we deal with that fact, that our American churches didn’t perform church discipline with clear racists? In a sense, would we have to say that our churches were not really true churches for all this time?

I would say that some of the churches were apostate. Because we’re not talking about we didn’t give him food. There were churches that changed the theology of baptism so that slaves who were baptized would remain as slaves. We’re talking about baptism. This is a core, 2000-year-old Christian essential. And you put him in the water and then say that his or her baptism doesn’t count because they’re not fully human? Where in God’s economy did He create a person that looks human but wasn’t human and they had a partial soul? That’s heterodoxy in and of itself, that a sentient human being is only 2/3 of a living soul. But, let’s just say that they are 2/3 of a soul. If they are, then why would you baptize them and say that their baptism doesn’t count because they’re not a human? Why baptize them? You’re not baptizing horses! You know? It’s how deeply the root of sin, the deceitfulness of sin based on Hebrews 3:13-14 that causes the heart to be hard. I think that there are churches that have let that sin become a part of the acceptable culture of their church. This is a central gospel sin. When you don’t affirm a person’s humanity, that’s what James chapter 1 and 2 is about—you don’t affirm a person’s humanity because of their social status. It’s unbelievable. And James was questioning your salvation based on that.

So, the goal is to save the soul of the Western church. I like the modern English translation of Revelation 2 when it says “the love you had at first.” When it says “the love you had at first,” it’s the intensity of the authenticity of Christian love for God and people fulfilling the law. And so, if you notice the things that the Ephesian church did well is it loved defending the faith and it suffered well. But it had nothing to do with loving people. So, losing your first love is not loving God and having that flow into how you love other human beings and other Christians. The church of America doesn’t realize that it’s lost its first love. When we look at that as a reality, I think that we better be careful because God is going to remove lampstands. That can exegetically mean either of two [things]. It could either mean moving you out of existence as an ecclesiastical entity that represents Jesus’ name on earth. Or, it can mean that the mantle of movement influence that the church theologically had would be removed.

So, if we’re saying that the latter is true, then for the American Western church, which has written more theological works and has had more global theological missiological influence than probably any nation of Christians in the world… Could God be saying, “I’m going to give your theological movement influence to South America, Africa, and Asia?” I don’t know which interpretation is right, but I know that we’re in a lot of trouble as it pertains to our commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and how people view us. I think we need to really work in our commitment to be a faithful church community. And I’m hopeful particularly with the younger generation of White Christians and African-American Christians who are not only understanding each other and wanting to move forward with understanding each other, but then are also trying to change the tide of the generations that come afterward. So, I’m encouraged by that.

Lastly, what are the specific changes that you hope and pray to see in the church in America in your lifetime?

Within my lifetime, I would like for us to equally agree that racial injustice is a problem. Equally. Like, not having to nuance, not having to prove we believe in justification by faith in order to affirm the spiritual reality and spiritual warfare that’s involved with the nature of how this whole thing is going about. And then, us being able to be a unified community where there’s a lot of repentance. I would like to see Christianity functionally divorcing itself, respectfully divorcing itself from Western politics and becoming a prophetic voice to it rather than a partner with it. That’s what I would love to see. I’m hopeful, yet grieved. That’s the nature of being a Christian. You come into the Areopagus and your spirit is vexed within you because you see God’s standard and you see the gap where the culture is pertaining to that, and the gospel is the bridge between the two. My prayer is that we would stop arguing about these things and begin working towards maximizing God’s glory and how we deal with these matters as a community of faith.

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    Contributor

    Written by Timothy I. Cho

    Timothy Isaiah Cho is Associate Editor at Faithfully Magazine. Timothy’s bylines have appeared in Religion News Service and Reformed Margins, and he has been interviewed for several podcasts including Truth’s Table and Gravity Leadership Podcast. He also runs a personal blog on Medium. He received a Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from U.C. Berkeley. Email: timothy.cho (at) faithfullymagazine.com

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