The Letter to the Christians in Washington
by Clarence Jordan, of Koinonia Ministries
The Cotton Patch Gospel recasts the stories of Jesus and the letters of Paul and Peter into the language and culture of the mid-20th century United States South. Born out of the Civil Rights struggle, these now classic translations of much of the New Testament bring the far-away places of Scripture closer to home: Gainesville, Selma, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. Purchase the book
1. From Paul, a “captive” of Christ Jesus, an appointed agent assigned to God’s great story. It’s the story about his Son which God began many years ago in the sacred writings of his spokesmen. This Son, on the human side, was a descendant of David. On the spiritual side he was designated as God’s Son by the explosion growing out of the resurrection of the dead. His name is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through him I got the favor of an appointment to approach, on his behalf, other races, including you all, about faithful obedience on all matters. So you, too, are Jesus Christ’s guests.
To everybody in Washington, God’s loved ones, his invited guests. Best wishes to you and peace from our Father-God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
8. Let me say first that through Jesus Christ I thank my God for every one of you, because your faithfulness is being reported all over everywhere. God will bear me out on this—the God whom I worship spiritually in the great story of his Son—that I‘m continually praying for you all. Every time I pray I ask if somehow it might be God’s will for me to have the pleasure of a visit with you folks. For I really am anxious to see you. Maybe I can share some spiritual gift with you that will perk you up. By this I mean that both you and I will be helped by one another’s experiences. Now it’s no secret, brothers, that many, many times I intended to visit you and still haven’t made it. I wanted to pick some of the ripe fruit in your midst as well as in other races. For I have a debt to pay to both Americans and foreigners, to both educated and uneducated. And that’s why I have a burning desire to tell the great story to you in Washington. For I am not bashful about the great story, since it is the power of God bringing new life to anyone who takes part in it, whether he be first a white man or a Negro. For in it the curtain is lifted on God’s way of goodness, which is lived out by one act of faith after another, just as the script says: “The good man shall live out his faith.”
18. It also draws back heaven’s curtain on God’s displeasure with every form of arrogance and cussedness on the part of men who choke the truth with evil. Knowledge of God is plainly in thorn, because God himself put it there. For the unseen things about God, such as his everlasting might and his godliness, are clear to anyone who considers all that he did in putting the world together from scratch. So they don’t have a leg to stand on. Having this knowledge of God, they neither gave him credit for being God nor thanked him. Rather, they became duds in their sermonizing, and the light of their silly minds went out. Parading themselves as educated, they became little morons and twisted the wonder of the undying God into something resembling a mortal man and flying things, and four-wheeled things and crawlers.
24. That’s why God turned them loose in the stink of their planned lusts and let them degrade their own bodies with them. These wise guys swapped God’s truth for an outright lie, and then bowed themselves down and worshiped creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed throughout all ages. May it ever be so. That’s why, I repeat, God turned them loose in their perverted sex. For their females swapped normal intercourse for abnormal expressions. The males, too, quit the normal intercourse with females and burned in their fever for one another—male with male—practicing the disgrace and having the inevitable results of their perversion show up in their personalities. And since they were not open to having God in their thinking, God turned them loose with a closed mind to act like asses. They are loaded to the gills with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and meanness. They are stuffed with jealousy, murder, fighting, double-crossing and spite. They are rumor-makers and rumor-circulators, enemies of religion, puffed-up braggarts, blowhards, slick operators, utterly contemptuous of their parents. They are harebrained and unreliable, cold and cruel. And worse, even though they clearly understand God’s rule that people who do such things will get the death penalty, they not only keep on doing these things themselves but they buddy up with others who are getting the habit.
1. Now listen here, man—and that includes every preacher—you have nothing to hide behind. For whenever you preach to somebody else, you’re laying it on yourself, because you, the preacher, are guilty of the very same things. Yet we are fully aware that God’s truth-packed sermon is aimed at those who do such things. Now let the man who preaches against others doing certain things when he himself is also doing them consider this: Do you really think that you’ll be excused from God’s sermon? And are you turning up your nose at his overflowing kindness and restraint and good humor, forgetting that God’s kindness is leading you toward a changed life? By your calloused and unchanged attitude you are piling up on yourself WRATH, which God will mete out to each on the basis of his deeds on the Day of Wrath, when God’s just laws will be clearly displayed. On the one hand he will give spiritual life to those who, by commitment to the good deed, seek nobility and honor and immortality. On the other hand he will let loose his furious wrath on those who out of self-interest disregard the truth and highly regard the wrong. Hellfire and brimstone upon every son of a gun who works for the wrong, whether he’s a “superior” white or a Negro. Nobility and honor and peace to every one who works for the right, whether he’s a “superior” white or a Negro. For a man’s face cuts no ice with God.
12. So then, those who sinned without the Bible Shall also perish without the Bible; and those who sinned with the Bible shall be judged by the Bible.1 For it is not those who listen to Scripture but those who act on Scripture that will be considered right with God. So when the people of the world who don’t have the Bible act instinctively on things in the Bible, this is the Bible for them, even though they don’t have one. They show the effect of the Bible written on their hearts. And all along, their conscience is helping them out, explaining and defending issues which arise among them and pointing toward the day when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge the inner lives of people — exactly as I tell the great story.
17. If then you are a white man and you lean back on the Bible and you go all out for God and you know his will and are able to make clear-cut decisions; if you are a good student of the Bible and have reason to believe that you yourself are a qualified leader of the blind, a light to those who are in the dark, an instructor of the unlearned, a teacher of the young; if you have the body of knowledge and truth contained in the Bible—all right, teacher of another, you are teaching yourself, aren’t you? You who place such emphasis on the Bible, are you disgracing God by your violations of the Scripture? For it is written, you know, that “it is because of you that Christianity is sneered at by non-Christians.”
25. Church membership2 is indeed fine if you live by the Bible; but if you go contrary to the Bible your church membership has turned into paganism. On the other hand, suppose a non-member lives by the ethical precepts of the Bible, will not his non-membership be considered just as good as membership? Then the non-member who instinctively lives up to the Bible will show up you who, with all your Scripture and membership, are a Bible-breaker. For a Christian3 is not one who makes a show of it, nor is his church membership for status purposes. He is a Christian who is one on the inside, whose membership is of the heart—something spiritual and not mechanical — and who seeks not the approval of society but of God.
1. What’s the advantage, then, of being a Christian? Or what’s the benefit of church membership? Well, there are all sorts of things. In the first place Christians are trustees of the word of God All right, so some of them are hypocrites; does their hypocrisy nullify God’s sincerity? Hell no.4 Let God remain true, even if it makes a liar out of every man. To quote the Scriptures:
… that you may prove right in all your sayings,
And have the final word on your day in court.
5. Now suppose that our badness surrenders to God’s goodness, then what? Would it then be wrong, humanly speaking, for God to punish us? Why, of course not! Otherwise, how could he judge the world?
7. And if, when I lie, God’s truth stands out all the more beautifully, why should I be condemned for lying? Isn’t this what others smear us with when they report that we advocate “Let’s practice the bad so it will call forth the good.” That accusation is utterly ridiculous.
9. So what’s the score? Are we church members ahead? Nope, not at all. For I previously pointed out that both church members and non-members alike are all classified under sin, just as the Scripture says,
There isn’t a pure man anywhere,
Nor one who is fully sensitive.
Nor one who really sets his heart on God.
All kicked over the traces and became worthless.
There isn’t a one worth his salt,
Not a single solitary one.
Their throat is a waiting grave,
Their tongues arc lie factories.
Behind their lips is the poison of a rattlesnake.
With their mouths they cuss a blue streak.
Their feet are spiked to draw blood;
They leave a trail of broken bones and busted heads,
And they don’t know what peace is.
Reverence for God is foreign to them.
19. Now we are aware that all the Bible says is directed to those who are committed to it, so as to put a stop to arguing and provide people all over with a standard for obedience to God. And yet no one is put right with God by his relation to the Bible, since the Bible brings only an awareness of sin.
21. At the present, then, a right relation with God quite apart from the Bible has become clear. It is spoken of by the Bible itself and by the men of God. I refer to a rightness with God that comes, through Christ’s faith, to all who put it into practice. It makes no difference who it is, since all sinned and flunked out on God’s glory. All, then, are gladly accepted by his kindness expressed through the emancipation granted in Christ Jesus. God accepted him as the full settlement of people’s sins when they have faith in his sacrifice. It is a demonstration of God’s goodness in showing restraint and overlooking sins done in the past; and it is also a demonstration of his goodness in handling the present situation, showing that he himself is good and that he also makes the person who bases his life on Jesus good.
27. Where, then, is “status” with God? It is locked out. On what grounds? Scriptural ones? No, but on the ground of faithfulness. For we consider a person to be made right by his faithfulness, quite apart from his Bible-quoting. Or is God the God of Christians only? Is he not also God of non-Christians? Yes, of non-Christians too, since there is only one God. And he will accept a church member who is faithful as well as a non-church-member who is faithful. Are we then going against the Bible by emphasizing faithfulness? Hell, no, we are establishing the Bible!
1. Well, then, what am I going to say about the position held by Abraham, the head of our race? For if Abraham was made right by attending services,5 then he has status, but not with God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham put his trust in God, and for him this was considered goodness.” Now a working man does not consider his paycheck a gift from his employer but the discharge of a debt. But for the man who doesn’t put in time and yet is loyal to his employer who makes it right with the idle, his loyalty is considered “time.” It just like David said when he called a man lucky when God considered him as “making time”6 without attending services. He said.
People are lucky whose charges are dropped and whose violations are scrubbed; Lucky indeed is the man whose boss keeps no account of his errors.
Does this “luckiness” apply to the church member or to the non-church-member? Now we just said that for Abraham loyalty was considered as “time.” When, then, was it credited to him? After he was baptized or before he was baptized?7 It was not as a baptized man but as an unbaptized one. And he accepted the symbol of baptism as an OK on the “time”; he got for loyalty before his baptism. Thus he became the daddy of all those whose loyalty before they were baptized was credited to them as “time”; and, the daddy of baptism to those who not only are baptized but who also copy the loyalty of our father Abraham while he was still unchurched.
13. Now the contract with Abraham or his heir that he would be a world figure was not based on church activity but on service which arises from faithfulness. For if only those engaged in church programs are in on the deal, then faithfulness amounts to nothing and the contract is only a scrap of paper. For the church “program”8 gets God pretty upset. Now where there is no program there is of course no failure to carry it out.
16. The reason that this springs from faithfulness is to establish God’s undeserved favor back of the contract with every descendant, not only the one in the church program but also the one who shares in Abraham’s faithfulness. He is the daddy of us all, just as it is written, “I have made you the daddy of many different groups?” In the light of this, he really did give his loyalty to the God who makes the dead to live and who tells nothing to be something. And he kept the faith even when the cards were stacked against him. That’s how he became “daddy of many other groups,” exactly as was said, “Your heir will be such a daddy.” Without batting an eye, he faced his own impotence — he was one hundred years old at the time — and the fact that Sarah, his wife, was well beyond her menopause. Still he never concluded that the contract with God had been canceled, but stoutly maintained his faithfulness, giving God credit for being able to carry out his end of the bargain. And that’s why Abraham “was counted in as being in the swim with God.” Now this verse — “he was counted in” — didn’t apply just to Abraham, but also to us who were yet to be counted in through our faithfulness to him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.9 To bear our sins he was killed; to put us in the swim he was made alive.
1. Since we have been put in the swim with God because of our faithfulness, we have a close relationship with him through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we also got an open door into this favored position we hold, and we get “status” from the confidence we receive from God’s greatness. Not only so, but we also get “status” for getting banged up, being fully aware that getting banged up makes us tough. Now toughness makes for reliability and reliability for confidence, and confidence doesn’t let you down. For God has given us a love transfusion by the Holy Spirit he provided for us. While we were real sick, in the nick of time Christ died for people who couldn’t care less for a loving God. Hardly anybody will die for an ordinary person, and it’s possible that someone might screw up enough courage to give his life for a truly good person. But God convinces us of his love, because while we were still sinful trash Christ gave his life for us. So now that we have been taken on board by his sacrifice, shall we not all the more be saved by him from “the life away from God.” For if, while we were rebels, we were won over to God through his Son’s death, how much more, having been won over, shall we be saved in his life. And on top of all this, we get “status” with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now been won over.
12. All right, now, it’s like this: Through one man (Adam) sin got a toehold in the world. Then through sin death got in. And that’s how death infected the whole human race and why “everybody sinned.” So sin was in the world even before the Bible, but it wasn’t chalked up as sin since there was no Bible. Even so, death was king from Adam until the Bible was written, even over those who committed no such sin as did Adam, who is a symbol of what I’m about to explain. Adam’s sin, for example, was no match at all for God’s generosity. For if many died as the result of the one man’s sin, countless thousands more were the beneficiaries of God’s kindness and thoughtful generosity bestowed through the one Man Jesus Christ. Nor is the result the same as that of the one who sinned. On the one hand, the result of a single sin was a sentence into exile, while the result of many sins was an unmerited acceptance into favor. If because of one man’s disobedient act death became king through that one man, how much more, then, will life, through the one Man Jesus Christ, be king over those who accept his bounty of grace and his gift of goodness.
18. Well, then, just as the result of one disobedient act was banishment for the whole human race, even so the result of one God-pleasing act was the restoration to life for the whole human race. For just as the multitudes were lined up as sinners by one man’s disobedience, even so will the multitudes be lined up as saints by one Man’s obedience. Now Scripture came on the scene to heighten the Fall; but wherever sin flowed, grace overflowed, in order that, as sin was king in the death realm, so might grace, through restoration to favor, be king in the spiritual life realm provided by Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. So what are we advocating? “Let’s wallow in sin, so more grace may pour forth”? Hell, no! How can we who died in sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were initiated into Christ Jesus’ fellowship were initiated into his death realm? Therefore, through our initiation into the death realm, we are entombed with him, in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been fellow plants in the garden of his death, we shall also be fellow plants in the garden of his risen life. We are convinced that the person we used to be has been strung up with him, so that the sinful nature may be wiped out, and we no longer need be addicted to sin. For in dying, one is released from sin’s claim on him. Yet, if we died with Christ, we believe that we also shall live with him. It is clear that Christ, who was raised from the dead, doesn’t die any more. Death no longer has a grip on him. As far as sin is concerned he died once and got it over with; but as far as God is concerned, he lives and lives. In the same way we think of ourselves as being dead in relation to sin but very much alive in relation to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, don’t let sin be king of your fragile group, so that it becomes obedient to sin’s desires. And don t hand over your members to sin as tools of wickedness, but hand over yourselves to God as people who were dead but are very much alive. Commit your members to God as instruments of justice. Sin shall not lord it over you all, for you are not under compulsion10 but under kindness.
15. So what about that? Shall we sin just because we’re not under compulsion but under kindness? Positively not! Don’t you realize that when you hire yourselves out as workers on a job you are duty-bound to carry out the orders of your boss? And this holds true whether you’re working for sin on a death job or for obedience on a harmony job. But thank God that while you used to be sin’s workers you later gave voluntary obedience to a type of teaching in which you got carried away. So, having been released from sin’s job, you have been employed by goodness. (I’m using a human figure of speech because it’s just naturally hard for you to catch on.) All right now, in the same way that you hired out your members as workers in filth and delinquency on the gangster job, so now hire out your members as workers in goodness on the clean-guy job. For when you were sin’s workers you owed nothing to goodness. But did you get anything worthwhile out of your job? Just stuff you re now ashamed of – stuff that ends in destruction. But now that you’ve been released from sin and hired by God, you get your pay for being dedicated, the result of which is spiritual life. For sin’s payoff is destruction, but God’s reward is spiritual life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1. You certainly agree, brothers, — and here I m speaking to those who know their Bibles — that the commandments 11 are binding on a man only during his lifetime. For example, a married woman is legally bound to her husband as long as he lives, hut when he dies she is released from her marital vows. If then she sleeps with another man while her husband is still alive, she will be guilty of adultery. But if her husband is dead, she is released from her marital vow and it is not adultery for her to sleep with another man. That’s the way it is with you, too, my brothers. Through your membership in Christ’s body you were, legally speaking, put to death. Then this freed you to “marry” another – the Risen One – in order that we might raise some chillun for God. For before we “died,” sin’s passions, stimulated by the commandments, made our members pregnant so as to bear children for the death realm. But now that we have “died,” we have been released from our marital vow to our former “husband” and are free to remarry in the newness of spiritual life rather than in the old way of legalism.
7. So what are we saying? That the commandments are wrong? Not for a moment. And yet, I would not be conscious of wrong if the commandments had not prohibited it. For example, I would not have been conscious of lusting for things if the commandments had not said, “You shall not lust for things.” Then sin, taking advantage of the commandment, worked up in me every conceivable lust for things. So without a prohibition, sin is inoperative.12 Now let’s suppose that I were living without any legal code. Then some prohibition came along and sin seized on it and killed me. Then, in a sense, the prohibition, which was supposed to help me live, became the occasion of my death. For sin took advantage of the prohibition, made an ass of me and then slew me with it. This was in spite of the fact that there’s nothing wrong with the law itself nor the specific commandment, which is just and fair.
13. Did something good, then, bring about my destruction? I should say not! Rather, it was sin – naked sin – working through a good thing, that destroyed me. So then sin, working through the commandment, became the biggest sinner of all. Now we all recognize that the commandments are spiritual, but I’m not. I’m human, bought off by sin. Half the time I don’t know which end is up. The things I really don’t want I make a habit of, and the things I just despise I go right on doing. But when I say that I go right on doing what I don’t want, then I’m agreeing with the Bible that it has a good point (in prohibiting it). Actually, then, it isn’t even I who commit the act but the sinful habit to which I’m addicted. I know full well that from a human standpoint the element of good is not at work in me. The desire to do right is there, yes, but the deed, no. I simply don’t carry through on my good intentions; worse, I fall into the habit of doing the bad things I don’t intend. If then I keep on doing things against my will, it really isn’t I, is it, who’s committing the act but the sinful habit that’s in my driver’s seat. I am discovering the principle that when I really want to do right, wrong embraces me. Way down deep inside of me I appreciate God s law, but I’m seeing a different “law” at work in my personality — a law which violently wars against my better judgment and takes me prisoner to the sinful addictions of my personality. What a scoundrel I am! Who can get me out of this rut of destruction? Thank God, it is done through Jesus Christ our Lord.
25. So now you see that intellectually I bind myself to the law of God, but down where I actually live, to the law of sin.
1. There is, then, no charge outstanding against those who are in (wedlock to) Jesus Christ. For the Spirit’s law of new life in Christ Jesus released you from the claims of the law of sin and destruction. For when it became clear that legalism was a failure, due to its weakness in dealing with humanity, God sent his own Son, in an exact replica of a man of sin and for sin, and dealt effectively with human sin. He did this in order that the just aims of the commandments might be realized in us who live not on the level of man but on the level of the Spirit. For they who are man-centered think along human lines, and they who are Spirit-centered think in terms of the Spirit. For man-centered reasoning deadends in destruction, but Spirit-centered reasoning leads to life and space. Man-centered reasoning is hostile to God, because it does not subordinate itself to God’s plan nor indeed can it do so. People who are man-centered just can’t get along with God. But you all, you are not man-centered but Spirit-centered – provided, of course, that God’s Spirit permeates you. If one doesn’t have Christ’s spirit, he isn’t Christ’s man. But if Christ is in you, the self, because of its sin, is stone dead; but the Spirit, because it is good, is throbbing with life. And if the Spirit of the God who made Jesus to live again permeates you, then this same God will also give life to your hellbent egos by means of his Spirit that permeates you.
12. It’s a fact, then, brothers, that we are under no obligation whatsoever to live a man-centered life. If you do live that way, you re gonna blow yourselves to smithereens. Yet if by the Spirit you utterly smash your selfishness, you will live. For God’s sons are they who are led by God’s Spirit.
15. Listen, you all didn’t get an old master-slave relationship based on fear; instead, you got a father-son relationship in which we are entitled to call God “Father.” The Spirit himself sings out with our spirit that “WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN.” And if we are his children, we are also his heirs. If, indeed, we are his heirs, then we are Christ’s fellow-heirs – provided, of course, that we identify with his suffering in order to join in his reward. For I figure that the sufferings we are enduring can’t hold a candle to the splendor that’s going to become evident in us. In fact, the fondest dream of the universe is to catch a glimpse of real live sons of God. For the universe is in the grip of futility – not voluntarily, but because someone got control of it – and it is hoping against hope that it will be emancipated from the slavery of corruptness into the marvelous freedom of being the children of God. For we know that the whole world is agonizing and hurting up to the very present. And not just it, but we ourselves as we anticipate sonship, which means the liberation of our group. In fact, it was our hope that got us by. Now hope isn’t expecting something you already see, because when one sees something, how can he hope for it? But if we hope for what we don’t see, then it takes patience to wait for it.
26. Similarly, the spirit also helps us out in our weakness. For example, we don’t know beans about praying, but the Spirit himself speaks up for our unexpressed concerns. And he who X-rays our hearts understands the Spirit’s approach, since the Spirit represents Christians before God.
28. We are convinced that God fully cooperates in a good cause with those who love him and who are chosen for his purpose. He has known such people before, and he set them forth, shaping them into the exact image of his Son, who thus became the first boy in a whole line of brothers. It’s these whom he set forth that he also invited, and the ones he invited he accepted into fellowship. And it’s these whom he accepted into fellowship that he equipped with credentials.
31. How, then, shall we respond to all this? If God is rootin’ for us, who can win over us? If he didn’t hold back his own Son, but put him in the game for us all, won’t he even more gladly, in addition to his Son, equip us with all we need to win the game?
33. Who shall reject us when God has elected us? God accepts us into fellowship; who banishes us? Does Christ Jesus, the Killed One, or rather, the Risen One, who is God’s “right-hand man” and speaks out for us? What shall drive a wedge between us and the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or drought or poverty or danger or war? It’s as the Scripture says:
For your sake we face death throughout the day;
We are thought of as slaughterhouse sheep.
And yet – and yet – we come out on top everytime through him who set his heart on us. For I am absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers nor the present nor the future nor force nor mountain nor valley nor anything else in the universe shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1. As a Christian who doesn’t lie and whose conscience is examined by the Holy Spirit, I’m telling you the honest truth: In my heart there is great grief and steady pain. For I would be willing to sacrifice even my own life in Christ for the sake of my native white American Protestant brethren.13 They are “good white folks”; they are “saved”; they have prestige; they have the Bible; they have a denominational program; they have worship services and Sunday schools; they have theological doctrines and are staunch supporters of Christ himself. And God, who is over them all, is unceasingly magnified. So be it. But it was not for the likes of this that the word of God has come raining down. For not all Protestants are Protestants, and not all “good white folks” are good white folks. Rather, “your line shall be perpetuated through Isaac.” 14 This means that God’s people are not the ones who give that appearance but whose lives are rooted in God’s promises. Now this is how the promise was stated: “I’ll come at the proper time and give Sarah a son.” Not only this, but when Rebecca was pregnant by our father Isaac, she was told, “The first shall serve the last.” This was said even before the twins had been born or had done anything either good or bad, which shows that God’s program of choice rests not on man’s deeds but on God himself. It’s just as the Scripture says, “I loved Isaac and I rejected Esau.”
14. Well then, what do we say about this? Does this make God unfair? Not at all. For he says in the Old Testament,
I’ll show mercy when I show mercy,
And I’ll show compassion when I show compassion.
So then, the mercy doesn’t come from the one who wants it, nor from the one who runs after it, but from God himself. Also, in the Scripture God says to Pharaoh, “The reason I brought you on the scene was to display my power through you and to use you to spread news of me throughout the whole world.” So then, he decides who gets mercy and who gets the works.
19. All right, you will say to me, “If he calls the signals, why does he still hold us responsible? Who ever really goes contrary to his plan when he does all the driving?” My dear fellow, you wouldn’t be giving God any sass, would you? Does the design say to the designer, “Why did you make me like this?” Or doesn’t the potter have the right to make his lump of clay into either an expensive vase or an everyday pot? Then what’s wrong if God wants to exercise his displeasure or assert his authority? Suppose he has a vase that’s already marked for the junkpile and he works it over very carefully just to show his marvelous skill to a favorite vase he made earlier for display. Isn’t that OK? Indeed, we are that junkpile vase, and he has assembled us not only from among church members but also from among the people in the street. It’s as it says in Hosea,
I will assemble a people who aren’t my people,
And the unloved into a Beloved Community;
And it shall be that on the spot where it was said to them,
“You folks, you’re not God’s people,”
Right there they shall be called sons of the Living God.
And Isaiah cries out regarding white American Protestants,15
Even though the WA P’s 16 outnumber the sand of the seas, it’s those that are left that shall be saved. For the Lord, pushing things to a conclusion and cutting off debate, will make a settlement on the earth.
Again, it’s as Isaiah foretold it:
If the Lord of peace had not left us a germ of life,
We would have wound up like Hiroshima, and would have been treated like Nagasaki.
30. So what are we saying? Simply this: that the unchurched people, who didn’t even try to get religion, did get religion – religion based on action.17 And yet the WAP’s, trying so hard at Bible religion, never quite caught on to the Bible. Why not? Because they were not people of faithful action but of religious activities. They ground themselves down on the grindstone, just as the Scripture says,
Look, I’m setting up in Protestantism a grindstone, a rock of danger,
And he who follows the instructions for it won t be ground down.
1. Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God is for their deliverance. For I can vouch for them that they do have enthusiasm for God, but it isn’t enlightened. Not understanding God’s program, and trying to set up one of their own, they didn’t yield to God’s program. For Christ puts the Bible in focus on a program for every one who lives his faith. Now the Old Testament says that the man who commits himself to the Bible program shall live by it. But the faith program puts it this way: “Don t say to yourself, ‘Who’ll climb the sky [that is, to bring down God’s Anointed One]?’ or, ‘Who’ll descend into the afterlife [that is, to bring back God’s anointed one from the realm of the departed]?’” But what does it say? “The word is already present with you” – in what you say and believe. By “the word” is meant the doctrine of faithfulness which we are spreading. Because if you come out in the open and say, “Jesus is Lord,”18 and if you believe deep down in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For by one’s heart one is activated into God’s program, and by one’s mouth one makes the public declaration into salvation. For the Scripture says: “Everyone who follows the instructions for it won’t be ground down.” There just isn’t any distinction made between the WAP and the man in the street. God himself is Lord over all and leans over backward toward all who join his movement. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who takes upon himself the Lord’s name 19 shall be saved.”
14. How, then, shall they join one’s movement without having confidence in him? And how shall they have confidence in someone they’ve never heard of? And how shall they hear about him without someone to spread the news? And how shall they spread the news unless they have the facts? As the Scripture says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news that’s sound.”
16. But, not all responded obediently to the great story. Isaiah says, “Lord, who put any stock in our report?” Now confidence arises from the report, and the report is based on Christ’s word. But I raise the question, “Was it that they just didn’t hear?” No, indeed.
The drumbeat of these things went out over the whole earth, and the newscasts of them into every corner of civilization.
So I ask, “Didn’t white American Protestants know?”
19. To begin with, the Old Testament says,
I’ll stir you to action with a nation that isn’t Christian; I’ll get you riled up with a nation that’s gone cuckoo.
And even Isaiah dared to say:
I was discovered by people who weren’t even looking for me; I became clear to those who didn’t argue about me.
Then he refers to the WAP’s:
Throughout the livelong day I tried to shake hands with a disobedient and impudent people.
1. I ask, therefore, “Has God walked out on his people?” Absolutely not. For I myself am also a WAP — a pure Anglo-Saxon and a Baptist. God has not walked out on his people whom he knew from way back. Don’t you remember the story of Elijah, how he made a case against the WAP’s before God? He said, “Lord, they’ve killed your preachers; they’ve desecrated your pulpits, and I’m the only one left – and they’re gunning for me!” But what does the divine correction say to him? “I still have left for my own use seven thousand men who haven’t compromised with the sex-and- money cult.” Similarly, then, there is at the present time a small minority which has been selected by God’s grace. Now if it is by God’s grace, then it isn’t the result of man’s activity; if so, grace wouldn’t be “grace” at all.
7. So now what? Precisely this: White American Protestantism hasn’t achieved its goal. However, the “selected fraction” got through, while all the rest were calloused. This Scripture describes them:
God gave them a sleepy spirit,
Eyes that don’t look, and ears that don’t listen,
Right up to the present day.
And David puts it this way:
May their communion table become for them a slick trick and a hoax,
An invitation to delusion and a frame-up.
May their eyes be blinded so they don’t see;
Arid forever break their backs!
11. So I ask, “Does the fact that they stumped their toe mean that they fell flat on their face?” Not at all. Rather, because of their failure the Christian faith went to the unchurched, so as to get the WAP’s on the ball. Now if their failure benefited the outside world, and their negligence benefited the unchurched, how much more would their success!
13. Now I have a few words for you “outsiders.” Since I myself am an agent of Christ to the outsiders, I take this responsibility very seriously, with the hope that I may stir my brothers to action and save some of them. For if their exclusion meant the inclusion of the outside world, what will their acceptance mean, if not life from death itself? Now if the sample is OK, so is the whole batch. And if the root is true, so are the branches. But if the tree is top-worked, and you, a bud from another tree, are grafted in with the other shoots and share the root and sap of the stock, don’t you turn up your nose at the other shoots. If you do turn up your nose, just remember that you don t nourish the stock; it nourishes you.
19. But you will say, “Yeah, but the branches were pruned off, so I could be grafted in.” All right, why were they pruned? Because they weren’t true. And why were you grafted in? Only because you stood the test. Don’t throw your head so high in the air; instead, tremble in your boots. For if God didn’t spare the shears on the natural branches, will he spare them on you? Consider, then, both the gentleness of God’s graft and the sharpness of his shears – sharpness on those who let God down, and gentleness on you, provided of course, you live within the framework of his gentleness. Otherwise, he’ll prune you off too. By the same token, if they stop living in their unfaithful position, they will be grafted into the stock, for God himself is able to do the regrafting. For if you, a bud growing naturally on another tree, were cut out and grafted, against nature, into this stock, how much more will the natural buds be grafted into their own parent stock?
25. I don’t want you, brothers, to be unaware of the deeper meaning lying hidden in all this, lest you jump to your own conclusions. It’s simply this: the callousness that has come over most of white American Protestantism will last only until the idea of the full equality of other groups is established. In this case, of course, the whole of white American Protestantism will be saved. As the Scripture says,
From the church will arise the Leader;
He’ll wean Christendom of its godlessness.
And this will be the contract I’ll make with them
When I scrub out their sins.
True, the gospel shows them up as “enemies” for your sakes, but God’s selective service act classifies them as “beloved sons” on account of their heritage. For God’s considerations and classifications are not subject to review. For just as you used to disobey God, and now, while they are still disobedient, you have been pardoned, even so they, though disobedient now during your time of mercy, may be pardoned later on. God just lumped the whole works together as disobedient, so that he might start with everybody on the basis of mercy.
33. Man, oh man, what a mine of wealth, wisdom and knowledge God has! And his decisions — beyond comprehension; his actions — unexplorable!
Who ever probed the Lord’s mind?
Or who became his psychiatrist?
Or who made him a loan
And it shall be fully repaid.
Everything comes from him, passes through him and goes to him. To him, then, be the credit into the ages. Please may it be so.
1. And so, my brothers, with God’s tenderness I am pleading with you to dedicate your whole selves to God as a proper, holy, living sacrifice, for this is your logical act of worship. And don’t let the present age keep you in its cocoon. Instead, metamorphose into the new mind, so as to be capable of discerning God’s design, which is good and right and mature.
3. As one who has himself been given undeserved favor, I advise every last one of you not to overestimate his importance. Rather, let each estimate wisely according to the portion of faith which God distributed to him. For although one body has many parts, not all the parts have the same function. And so it is with us Christians. Though many, we are one body, with each one a part of the others. We have talents which vary according to the undeserved favor bestowed upon us. If your talent is preaching, use it for the explanation of the faith; if it’s hopping tables, use it for hopping tables; if it’s teaching, use it for teaching; or if it’s counseling, use it for counseling. Let the treasurer perform with honesty, the superintendent with diligence, and the benevolence chairman with cheerfulness. Love has no false face. Shun evil, hang on to good. I mean:
- in brotherliness, showing genuine concern for one another;
- in courtesy, putting others above yourselves;
- in enthusiasm, never letting up;
- in morale, glowing;
- in the Lord’s work, slaving;
- in hope, bubbling over;
- in trouble, taking it;
- in prayer, keeping it up;
- in meeting needs of church members, sharing;
- in hospitality, going out of your way.
14. Bless those who do you in. Bless them, I say, and don’t cuss them. Join in the fun with those having fun; join in the tears with those shedding tears. Treat each other equally; pay no special attention to the upper crust, but mingle freely with the lower class people. And don’t scratch each other’s back. Never return evil for evil. Have respect for things which everybody else considers worthwhile. If it’s possible – that is, from your side – WAGE PEACE WITH ALL MANKIND. Don’t take vengeance into your own hands, my dear ones, but rather make room for another’s wrath. For the Bible says,
“Revenge is my job,” says the Lord,
“I will tend to it.”
But if your enemy hungers, bread him; if he thirsts, water him. In this way you’ll fill his noggin with lighted charcoal. Don’t be overwhelmed by evil, but overwhelm evil with good.
1. Let every human being submit himself to the Supreme Powers. For there is no power except from God, and the existing ones have been set up by God. The person who resists the power, then, is opposing God’s arrangement. And they who have resisted will get a sentence on themselves.
3. Rulers are no fear when the deed is good but when it is bad. You don’t want to be afraid of the law? Do good and you’ll have its praise, for it is, for you, God’s instrument to accomplish good. But if you do wrong, watch out, because he doesn’t pack that pistol for nothing. He is God’s agent, a warden responsible to society for the one engaging in crime. Therefore it is obligatory that you submit, not only for the sake of society 20 but conscience. For the same reason you are to pay your taxes. For even tax collectors are God’s servants, too, to carry on the same purposes. Pay up all your creditors; pay tax to the tax collector, toll to the toll collector, fear to the fear collector, honor to the honor collector! In fact, don’t owe anybody anything but love! For the man who loves his neighbor has more than kept the law. “Don’t sleep with someone you’re not married to, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lust for things,” and every other commandment are all summed up in this simple one: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love never does a neighbor harm. It gives flesh and blood to the law.
11. And remember that this is “The Day.” It’s time already for you to get out of bed, because the salvation we have is much nearer to acceptance than when we put our trust in it. The night is fading; the day is dawning. So let’s take off our pajamas and put on our work clothes. Let’s live as becomes the day — not in wild parties and drunkenness, not in jumping into beds and in sex orgies, not in bickering and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plan for using the body for lust.
1. Accept a brother whose faith is immature, but don’t get into a hassle with him over petty points. While one person believes it’s all right to eat anything, an immature person might eat only vegetables. Well, don t let the man who eats something look down his nose at someone who won’t, and don’t let the guy who doesn’t eat a thing damn the person who does. For God has accepted the man you reject. You, there, who are you to pass on another man’s worker? Whether he’s a success or failure is up to his own boss. (But he’ll be a success, because the Boss is able to make a success of him.)
5. Now here’s a fellow who decides that a certain day is more important than another, and there’s a man who decides they’re all alike. All right, let each one make up his own mind about it. For he who observes a certain day, observes it in the Lord’s presence and he who eats does so in the Lord’s presence, since he thanks God for it. Also, he who doesn’t eat refrains in the Lord’s presence and he too thanks God for this. For not a one of us lives all to himself. For if we live, we live in the Lord’s presence, and if we die, we die in the Lord’s presence. This is why Christ died and lived, that he might be Lord of both dead people and live ones. So you, now, why do you pass on your brother? And you over there, why are you so snooty towards your brother? For we all shall stand up before God’s bar, just as the Scripture says:
“As sure as I live,” says the Lord, “every soul will get down on his knees before me, and every man’s tongue will admit that I’m God?
So then, each of us will account for himself before God.
13. Then let’s quit rating each other. Rather, you test yourselves on this: “I do not put an obstacle or a trap in front of my brother.”
14. I know and am convinced beyond all doubt that from the Christian viewpoint no external thing is of itself wrong, except something which is considered wrong by another. From his standpoint it is wrong. So, if your brother is grieved by your food habits, you are no longer walking the way of love. Don’t destroy, with your food habits, a person for whom Christ died. Therefore, don’t let the good name of you all be ridiculed, for the God movement is not doughnuts and coffee, but justice and peace and joyfulness in the Holy Spirit. He who puts his Christian service on this basis is pleasing to God and trustworthy to men.
19. In the light of this, let’s go all out for the things of peace and the things that strengthen our life together. Do not tear up God’s work for the sake of a food habit. Everything external is quite all right; but the evil is through the obstacle set up by a person with this view. It is fine indeed not to eat ham or drink wine or do anything else for your brother to stump his toe on. You just hang onto the faith which you have between yourself and God. A man who doesn’t have to grade himself on the test is lucky. But he who straddles the fence on the issue of eating is in a bad way, since his position is not one of conviction. And it’s a sin when you have no conviction on anything.
1. We mature Christians ought to help the immature ones over their rough spots and not try to make an easy go of it just for ourselves. Let each of us make it easy for our neighbor to get along well in the church community. For Christ didn’t put his interests first, but he did as the Scripture says: “The spit of those spitting at you hit me.” (By the way, all these things that were written down a long time ago were actually written for our instruction too, that we might get inspiration through the endurance and encouragement pictured there.)
5. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant that you treat each other equally according to the Christian faith, so that as one body with one mouth you might praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7. Therefore, you all accept one another just as Christ also accepted us, to God’s glory. For I claim that Christ became a servant of the white religious establishment for the sake of God’s truth, so as to make good on his assurances to the church reformers. But for those outside the white establishment, he did it out of sheer joy, as the Scripture puts it:
That’s why I’ll testify with the outsiders and join them in hymns to your name.
And again it says:
Share the joy, you outsiders, with his people.
Praise the Lord, all you outsiders;
Let all people praise him together.
And again Isaiah says,
It shall be that a white Protestant will be raised up to lead the outsiders, and they’ll pin their hopes on him.
May the God of hope load you up with every kind of joy and peace in your life of faith, so that with the help of the Holy Spirit you may be running over with confidence.
14. As far as I myself am concerned, my brothers, I am fully convinced that you all are full of goodness, well rounded out with much knowledge, and that you are able to straighten out one another. On some matters, though, I’ve written quite strongly to you. So you must keep in mind the undeserved favor granted to me from God, that is, that I am Christ Jesus’ priest to those who are not WAP’s. I am organizing them along the lines of God’s great story, so that what they are setting up may be acceptable and that it may be approved by the Holy Spirit. So then, I do have status in the Christian faith for performing God’s work. I won’t dare mention anything except what Christ has done through me to convert the non-WAP’s. By word and deed, by power shown in signs and miracles, and by spiritual power I have put flesh on Christ’s great story from Charleston to Little Rock. Likewise, I consider it a special privilege to tell the story where people never saw a live Christian before, lest I get credit for someone’s else’s spadework. Instead, it’s as the verse which says:
They who didn’t get the word about him shall see,
And they who never really heard will get the point.
22. It is for this reason that I have often been prevented from visiting you. But now, since I can’t find any more virgin territory in these parts, and since I’ve had for several years a deep longing to visit you, I’ll try to make it when I go to Maine. I do hope to see you on my way through, and when I’ve been filled in on various details by you all, I’d appreciate some help from you on my travel expenses.
25. Right now, however, I’m heading for Charleston with some funds for the church members there. For the Mississippi and Louisiana churches voted to raise a certain sum for the hard-up members in Charleston. I said they voted; actually they owed it, because if the white Christians shared their spiritual things with the Negro Christians, the latter are morally obligated to share their material things with their white brothers. So when I’ve wound up this job and have a signed receipt from them for the full amount, I’ll set out for Maine via Washington. And I’m sure that as I travel to you I’ll come with Christ’s full blessing.
30. And now, my brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, I beg you please to agonize with me and for me in your prayers to God. Pray that I may not fall into the hands of un-Christian people in South Carolina and that my service in Charleston might meet with the approval of the Christians there. Then my journey to you will be a happy one, and with God’s permission I’ll relax a while with you. May the God of peace please be with you all.
1. I highly recommend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a minister of material things in the Memphis church. I ask that you receive her as a full member of the fellowship and that you lend her a hand in whatever way she may need you, for she herself has a reputation for helping others — including myself.
3. Say hello to Prissy and Adrian, my co-workers for Christ Jesus. They stuck their necks out to save my life, and for this not only am I thankful but all the Negro churches as well. Greetings also to the church that meets in their home. Hello to my dear Ellwood, who was the first real Christian in Alabama. And hello to Mary, who worked so hard for you. Warm regards to Andy and Junior, my kinfolks and fellow captives, who are highly respected in ministerial circles. Best wishes to Ansley, so dear to me in the Lord. Greetings to Howard, our Christian co-worker, and my dear Stocky. Regards to Everett, a true Christian. Say hello to the Harris Baker family. Hello, Cousin Helena. Hello to the faithful Nicholson family. Greetings to Truman and Trudy, the Lord’s workers. Say hello to dear Pearl, a hard worker for the Lord if ever there was one. Remember me to Rufus, a prince of a Christian, and to his mother — and mine. Give my love to Austin, Phil, Herb, Perry, Herman and the brothers with them. Much love to Frank and Julia, and to Maro and his sister, and to Ollie and all the other Christians with them. Give everybody a big hug. All of Christ’s churches greet you.
17. I warn you, brothers, keep your eye peeled for those who make sects and scandals by going against the training you received. Shun them like the plague, for such gentlemen are not committed to our Lord Christ but to their own welfare. With their smooth sermons and pious prayers they captivate the minds of the immature. For news of your unswerving obedience has spread all over, and so I’m quite happy over you all. Yet I want you to be geniuses at goodness but duds at deviltry. The God of peace will shortly squash the Devil under your feet. May the undeserved favor of our Lord Jesus be with you all.
21. My co-worker Timothy sends his regards, as do my cousins Lou, Jake and Daddy-boy. (I, Terry, the stenographer for this letter, greet you all in the Lord.) Garry, host to me and the whole fellowship, wants to be remembered to you. Hank, the city treasurer, and Brother Charles send their greetings.
25. And now, praise forevermore to him who has the power to shape you up according to my Great Story and the message of Jesus Christ, according to the unveiling of the secret which was locked up for ages but which now, by Eternal God’s order, has been opened up through prophetic writings and made known to all the races for their obedience to the faith! Praise forevermore, I say, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
1 The word translated “Bible” here is the Greek word for “law” and refers to the religious laws of the Jews contained in the Old Testament. It would therefore mean to them about the same as “Bible” for present-day Christians.
2 In the Greek the word here means “circumcision.” For the Jew it was the initiatory rite into the household of faith. Since it was the mark of membership in Judaism, its nearest modern counterpart for white Christians is “church membership,” or perhaps “baptism” into a white, segregated church.
3 The word is actually “Jew,” which, like the word “gentile,” seems at times to have purely racial overtones. When this is so we translate it, in the Southern context, “white man,” and the word “gentile” as “Negro.” At other times these words have primarily religious content, and so we translate the word “Jew” as “Christian” or “church member,” and the word “gentile” as “pagan,” “non-Christian” or “people of the World,” or “the rest of society.”
4 Just about the proper strength for the Greek phrase.
5 While the word here in the Greek is “works,” I take it to mean the kind of “works” or “services” we render God on Sunday morning.
6 The actual word is “righteousness,” or one’s loving service to God, one’s “divine employment.” Hence the figure of putting in “time” in God’s service, that is, being “on the job.”
7 See footnote to 2:25.
8 Here the word is actually “law” but the emphasis seems to be on “legal activity,” that is, the carrying out of the multitude of ecclesiastical rules and regulations, or the “program” of Judaism.
9 Just as the Jews were fleshly descendants of a man who, so far as begetting children was concerned, was “dead,” but who by God s grace was rejuvenated – brought back from the “dead” -even so are Christians spiritual descendants of one who was rejuvenated – “raised from the dead.” Thus, Jesus is the Christian’s Abraham a very important point throughout this letter.
10 The word “law” occurs again here, but this time the emphasis seems to be on the demand of the law, that is, its compulsion.
11 Once again the word is “law,” but this time the exposed facet is the Mosaic law, or more specifically, the commandments.
12 That is, in the absence of a prohibition there cannot be a violation.
13 There is no intent whatsoever on the part of the translator to single out Protestants above any other Christian group. Since Paul was an ex-Pharisee, and the Pharisees were the predominant sect of Judaism, we have brought him over into the modern times of “cotton patch” perspective as a white, American ex-Protestant, since this group predominates in the United States, particularly in the Southern region.
14 It is practically impossible to translate this passage into modern equivalents. What Paul is saying here is that there are two streams of Judaism, both stemming from Abraham. But one was in the covenant relationship and the other was not. Thus, while both lines claimed to be true Jews (white American Protestants), not all of them were.
15 See footnote, verse 3. The word here, as welL as in verse 3, is actually “Israel,” which refers to Judaism both racially and religiously.
16 While American Protestants.
17 While the word here is literally “faith,” it means to believe strongly enough in something to act on it.
18 This was the affirmation which Christians made to government authorities who demanded of them supreme loyalty to the state and to so indicate it by publicly declaring, “Caesar Is Lord.”
19 To call one’s self, or take, another’s name meant to identify with him and support his cause or ideas as a follower or disciple. Thus, one “takes Christ’s name” by joining the Christian movement.
20 The word which we translate “society” here is literally “the wrath.” As in other places in Paul’s letters it seems to refer to the whole human structure which God has allowed rebellious man to build in an effort to order his life quite apart from God. Though God is highly displeased with this godless, man-made order, or society, he still is interested in and concerned for it. So while God does not will this order, he does permit it, and therefore its officers and rulers may be considered his “agents.” His love still wishes no evil to this “child of wrath,” but longs for its ultimate redemption.