At a summer gathering on Covenant’s campus to address racial concerns in our country, Kevin Smith, (senior pastor at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Covenant College board member, and proud father of Covenant alumna Joanna Smith ’19), stated “We are one Covenant.” This inspired our campus to deeply contemplate and sincerely live out of this theme. We sat down with Pastor Smith to explore this phrase and discuss unity in the body of Christ.
When animosity, bitterness, and turmoil seem to reign in our nation, it is more important than ever for the body of Christ to respond faithfully, show Christ-like love, and work with brothers and sisters in unity.
Pastor Kevin Smith coined the phrase “We are one Covenant,” speaking directly to the Covenant College community in response to some social media comments. As one school living from one motto, “In all things Christ preeminent,” Covenant should display unity. Unity, however, does not mean a lack of diversity. Covenant values diversity in our community because the image of God exists in all people groups and all cultures. Kevin noted that “without diversity, we have little opportunity to grow and experience God’s image.” We gain a clearer picture of God when we interact with His image as exemplified in other people. Unity through difference brings strength and vitality, while self-sorting into packs of people similar to us leads to weakness and fragility.
Kevin’s phrase also applies to the universal Church. “This phrase speaks to the unity that Christ died to give to His Church. His work on the cross unified His people, regardless of whether we live in affirmation or denial of that fact.” Kevin pointed out that Jesus is extremely concerned about unity in the Church, shown in John 17 as He prays to His Father: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me...so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23, ESV). If we, the church, do not show unity, we hurt our witness in the world by denying the unity of the trinity and denying the message of gospel.
Kevin reminded us, “Because of Jesus, we can have friends we would never otherwise have been friends with. Jesus befriended Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Simon the zealot, fishermen, and tax collectors, and He brought them together - people who would never have otherwise talked to each other.”
All too often, issues surrounding racism are hashed out on social media, with debates and even hateful speech ensuing. Kevin believes that one way we misuse social media is by presenting our ideas as absolute truth, instead of relying on the Bible alone as absolute truth. “Social media is not a good vehicle for debate. It’s all about expressing yourself and your own ideas, and it allows people to dehumanize whoever they view as their opponent. They don’t see a face on the other end.”
In contrast, followers of Christ are called to speak the truth in love. Kevin said, “Truth without love becomes a club and pharisaism, while love without truth is just a bleeding heart. I want to challenge students to picture Jesus on their shoulder when they go on social media.”
As we talked about Covenant’s growth in diversity and the areas where we still need to grow, Kevin noted that individual sanctification is a slow process, and institutional change is equally gradual. “The spirit of God works in the people of God to transform them to look more like Jesus, which takes years and years. We should look for [in ourselves and in our institutions] real progress with a clear goal of Christ-likeness.”
While working toward a more diverse campus, addressing racism, and growing in unity, we rely on the power of Christ to complete our sanctification. “Even racial justice can’t be our first priority - it has to be Christ and His kingdom first, with justice stemming from that. Identity from a cause is idolatry. If we don’t let Jesus transcend our arguments, then our arguments become central. I’m hopeful and encouraged by the changes I’ve already seen at Covenant College, and I’m looking towards a Revelation 7 vision of Covenant College.”