Reconciliation, in the Christian sense, is a description of the relationship between God and humanity, as well as a ministry to be practiced by believers. The New Testament word for reconciliation, katallasso, can be loosely translated as "putting things right." The concept is most closely related to the notion of atonement in Hebrew scriptures, or to the Jewish idea of tikkun olam, the healing of the world.
Reconciliation is found in a number of New Testament texts. The following list is taken from a bible study by James A. Fowler:
- Matt. 5:24 - "first be reconciled to your brother"
- Acts 7:26 - "he (Moses) tried to reconcile them in peace"
- Rom. 5:10 - "while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son ...having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life"
- Rom. 5:11 - "we have now received the reconciliation"
- Rom. 11:15 - "if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world"
- I Cor. 7:11 - "be reconciled to her husband"
- II Cor. 5:18 - "God, who reconciled us to Himself, through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation"
- II Cor. 5:19 - "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself ...committed to us the word of reconciliation"
- II Cor. 5:20 - "be reconciled to God"
- Eph. 2:16 - "might reconcile them both in one body"
- Col. 1:20 - "through Him to reconcile all things to Himself"
- Col. 1:22 - "He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death"
What is Reconciliation?
In Reconciliation: Mission & Ministry In A Changing Social Order, Robert J. Schreiter lays out three points of what reconciliation is not:
- 1)Hasty peace
- 2)A replacement for liberation
- 3)A managed process
He then goes on to name three characteristics of reconciliation found in the letters of Paul:
God reconciling through Christ
- The forgiveness to be found in reconciliation is not an individual attitude, but rather a discernment of God's mercy in a particular situation. In forgiving and reconciling (by first experiencing God's forgiveness and reconciliation) the believer enters into the divine work of healing and restoration. This work takes place through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, who through the experience of agony and death is able to transform the suffering of the world. While justice must be present for true reconciliation to take place, reconciliation is not a win/lose situation where victors stand in judgment of defeated opponents. Rather, both parties are called to participate in the vulnerability and hard-won love of Christ on the cross.
Reconciling Jew and Gentile
- For Paul, the categories of Jew and Gentile were basic social divisions, much like the Hellenic classes of Greek and barbarian. Paul believed that the exclusive claim of Jews to access to YHWH had been widened in Christ to a universal offer of salvation through Christ. He felt keenly Jewish resistance to this new offer as a form of oppression against those from "outside the family" who would seek salvation. This should not be read as a form of anti-Semitism, but as a frank (and partisan) assessment of social and political division in the economy of faith.
- Paul's essential insight into this state of affairs is twofold. First, God alone is capable of overcoming deeply-rooted social and personal divisions: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. Second, the sharpness of such divisions alienates us not only from one another, but from God. We cannot engage in the process of "othering" and remain faithful to a God who seeks to be known--and loved--by us. It goes almost without saying that this perspective is no less relevant today than it was in Paul's time; he could just as easily have written of the divisions between rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight.
All things reconciled in Christ
- Paul believed Christ to be the summation of all creation. To say that Christ's reconciliation had been achieved, then, would be to say that all the broken things of the world--relationships, things, people--were restored and brought to perfection in union with Christ. This is not a denial of the nature of creation, but an affirmation of its potential to be transformed into something new and better in the face of a culture that denied the possibility of change.
Schreiter extends from these characteristics a Christian understanding of reconciliation:
It is God who initiates and brings about reconciliation
- Because humanity (indeed the entire creation) cannot bring about the needed transformation, God intervenes on our behalf.
Reconciliation is more a spirituality than a strategy
- Reconciliation is a discovery of God's redemptive work, not our own creation.
Reconciliation makes of both victim and oppressor a new creation
- "Christian reconciliation never takes us back to where we were before," writes Schreiter. "It is more than the removal of suffering for the victim and conversion for the oppressor. Reconciliation takes us to a new place."
The new narrative that overcomes the narrative of the lie is the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
- This is more than doctrinal background noise. Christ, by making of himself the sacrificial lamb, has broken the power of sin and death by submitting to them. Thus, a new "controlling story" can be told, one in which freedom and new creation have the upper hand in our broken world.
Reconciliation is a multi-dimensional reality
- Reconciliation involves God's work in the world, our participation in that work, particularly in overcoming "alienation and otherness," and a cosmic redemption of creation.
Reconciliation calls us to a world in which relationships of all varieties can and should be set right: between people, between communities, between humanity and nature, between humanity and God (for the religious-minded). In this "setting right," no one remains "other," and justice is established as a necessary precondition.
Reconciliation opens up possibilities where previously none existed or none were seen. It creates the possibility of transformation where nothing changed before.
Reconciliation does not excuse us from participation in process, but it takes the ultimate responsibility for transformation off our shoulders. We take part in God's work, and God accomplishes the change with our help. For progressives, this should be tremendously liberating news.
Reconciliation, lastly, affirms that the world around us, and the people who inhabit it, can be healed, can be restored, can be brought closer together, can be changed for the better. One need only look at the pictures of children maimed or killed in war to understand the power of this assertion. The world can be a better place, and God actively seeks to make it so. This ultimately should be a word of comfort, regardless of faith.
Schreiter, Robert J.: Reconciliation: Mission and Ministry In A Changing Social Order Orbis Press: 1992.