Thursday, June 07, 2007
On Being Black and Reformed
Ok. As you can see I’m taking some big, big liberties with the title of this post. Let me say from the outset that I have no intention of even attempting to re-write brother Anthony Carter’s fantastic book on the subject. I may be stupid, but I don’t think I’m crazy (at least not yet). Second allow me to plug the brother’s book. By all means if you haven’t gotten a copy please do so and add it to your summer reading list for you won’t be disappointed. Thirdly, I must tell you that for this particular series of posts I just couldn’t come up with a better title. For the issue I want to address is what might it mean for church to be both black and reformed. Fourthly, let me again stress the need and value for us to purchase and read our brother’s book ‘On Being Black and Reformed’.
To begin let me give a definition of the black church that not all may agree with. The church exists for the worship and witness of the living God as expressed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As such every church that exists among a particular people does so to represent our Covenant Lord to those people in His saving work wrought by Jesus Christ. An integral and indispensable aspect of that witness is the reality that the church is the house of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. The church is the truth corps of heaven with the twin duties of preserving and promoting God's truth regarding His Person, ways, will, character, nature, along with what He's revealed about His word, mankind, sin, salvation, holiness and the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The black church therefore isn't black in that our collective experience as a particular people group shapes the mission, character and truth of the church, but black in the sense that it is responsible for faithfully teaching and living the essential truths regarding Scripture, God, mankind, sin, salvation, the person and work of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit to black people. We do not own God’s church and thus don’t have the liberty to define or re-define it to suit our particular socio/cultural needs of the moment. The following biblical example should suffice for us to recognize the validity of this point. It regards attempts to squeeze the ancient church into a Jewish mold. Jewish believers wanting to retain all aspects of their culture imported both the moral aspects and the ceremonial aspects of the law into New Covenant Christianity. You hear this in James’ statement to Paul recorded in Acts 21 “And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;
These Jews had no intention of giving up their God-given culture, nor were they being taught to do so by the apostles who remained at Jerusalem. However, the church would not have had the impact it did upon the Greco-Roman world had she forced the growing Gentile believers to embrace fully Jewish culture. We know that some Jews wanted to extend the observation of the ceremonial law to Gentile converts but the apostles and elders moved by the Spirit would not have it (see Acts 15). There are also clues that some Jewish believers within Gentile churches may have wanted those churches to have a predominant Jewish flavor. Once more the Spirit speaking through Paul refutes that notion (see Rom. 14). These examples can provide some important insights to those of us to sprang from and love the black church. Namely, the Scriptures teach that no one group can claim cultural hegemony over the church. Not only is it unbiblical to attempt to force one’s culture on others, but it might also be unwise for us to be too focused on retaining each and every aspect of our ethnic culture within the church. Moreover, the extent to which we demand that our particular culture dominates the church may be the extent to which we limit the spread and expansion of the gospel.
As we enter the 21st century I’d like to pose some questions for those of us who came from, love and long to see reform in the black church. The first and perhaps most surprising is this: Should we begin to think in terms of a post-black church era? Is this the time to start thinking of re-defining the church apart from dominant ethnic labels? Granted, some of our other brothers and sisters may not be thinking this way, but why not take the lead? While thinking through your answers (and I’d welcome your responses and input) consider this: if we’re to continue having a black church who gets to define ‘blackness’?
To Him Who Loves Us…