Friday, November 30, 2007
But what are ya'll doing in the hood? It's a frequent and expected question to those who've embraced biblical theology and seek to spread that theology to black churches and the black community. And for the most part it's a good question. A biblical understanding and promotion of the gospel must move us into adopting a lifestyle of service for a lifetime (see Eph. 2:1-10 esp vs. 10). Unfortunately far too many seem to forget the 'biblical understanding of the gospel' part. The underlying assumption in the question is that of all the needs in the hood theology just isn’t one of them.
I wonder, why is it that we’re so quick and eager to accept that what you believe about scripture, God, humanity, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the church etc. are barely relevant to how you view life and the choices you make. How is it that there can be so much talk about ‘holistic’ ministry and yet as soon as someone utters the first syllable of forbidden ‘T’ word he or she is told how irrelevant they are?
Let me give another example from The Baal Network. This time while at the in-laws my mother-in-law got a phone call from a friend urging her to turn on one of their favorite Baal priests. She quickly hung up the phone and did so. Having heard enough of this garbage before I remained in another room trying to block out the flood of blasphemy spewing from this priest’s mouth. After the usual ‘just speak it and it will happen mantra’ (btw can someone please tell me why people sit week after week and day after day to hear the same tired phrases? One would think that if you haven’t got what you want after speaking into existence for the last ten years you’re probably not going to get it, but I digress) I nearly fell into the fireplace when he said ‘you know why I’m not going to hell? Because I speak against it!’ Upon hearing that I jumped up and once more warned my mother-in-law that she’s listening to blasphemy. This man just said that he will avoid God’s anger against sin not by the sinless life, sacrificial death and powerful resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ but by his own spiritual power and fortitude.
If that weren’t enough (and if it’s not we’ve got much, much more serious problems than I thought) there’s the whole issue of the ‘you must speak and create the reality you want’ theology. Did you notice how this theology moves the church away from pursuing justice and community involvement? Think about that for a moment. If I believe that one’s quality of life is directly related to his or her own personal faith then why would I bother with the work of addressing structural or cyclical injustice? My theological worldview tells me that their problems are due to their own lack of faith not broken homes, failing schools or lack of opportunity. If they don’t want to be poor and sick anymore then they need to start speaking and believing health and wealth for themselves. As one well known preacher used to declare ‘remember you don’t have any problems, all you need is faith in God’.
Wait there’s more. The leaders of the new Baal temples are convinced that they must set the tone and example of success for their followers. How many of us truly believe that the wolves who prowl The Baal Network live anywhere near the hood or encourage their people to do so? How many of them use the pennies of the poor to buy McMansions far out in the burbs? From houses, to cars, to clothes and whatever else he or she wants these grinches steal resources from the hood to use for themselves and themselves alone.
You don’t think theology is important? Next time your unfriendly neighborhood Baal priest drives away in his Lexus after once more looting the poor take a good look around your community and think again.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
And remember… keep the faith. That’s how Tavis Smiley a well know African-American commentator usually signs off his social commentary. Tavis is referring to the ongoing struggle for full equality for black folks. It is that struggle that still defines a large group of African-Americans. Well brother AC from the ATL has written a little something something about the struggle at his blog. It’s worth checking out.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Looking for just the right gift for those special someone’s in your family? Well God’s providence has smiled on you once more. The Decline of African-American Theology From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity is out a few weeks ahead of schedule. This important work by our friend, brother and fellow elder Thabiti Anyabwile traces the theological decline of the black church. With all of the issues affecting black folks why write a book on theology? The fellow elder answers that question on his blog. Give it a look and then order this book for yourself. And then order one for your pastor. After reading it if you feel it’s worthwhile recommend it to friends, family, church members, Sunday school teachers, ministry leaders, assistant pastors and anyone else you think would benefit. While reading it please pray for the black church that the Lord will use this and other means to bring about a reformation for the sake of His savior and the praise of His glory.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Monday, November 26, 2007
The TBN network has to be the ultimate example of truth being stranger than fiction. Apart from seeing it with my own eyes I could not bring myself to believe that an entire network exists to promote rank idolatry under the guise of biblical Christianity and that millions of people watch, believe, try to live by, promote and defend the poison it spews on a daily basis. I caught a bit of The Baal Network this past week while spending some time with my in-laws who’ve locked it on their dial. Though I don’t remember the name of the first Baal priest I saw I won’t soon forget the brash manner in which he twisted the words of our Lord to push his religion of get rich or die trying.
He was speaking from the Matt 6 passage in which Jesus tells His disciples not to worry about our basic physical needs. The context of His teaching begins in verse 19 where Jesus specifically told His followers
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Those are the controlling words of this passage. What follows is a fuller explanation of what Jesus just said. He told us not to be consumed with the desire and accumulation of things. Material wealth does not last, cannot really satisfy and won’t provide security. Instead of investing our lives into getting more and more we are to pour ourselves into the advancement of His kingdom which will move us to do good and impact the lives of others. The gracious eternal reward generated through a lifestyle of service for a lifetime will never wear out, never be taken away and never fail to satisfy us completely. That’s because the Lord Himself is our reward and being present with Him will bring us all of the soul satisfaction we could ever hope for. Having such a hope liberates us from the ungodly pursuit of wealth and materialism at all cost. Much more could be said about the passage, especially Jesus’ metaphor of the eye being the lamp of the whole body. If materialism therefore is the sole focus of your existence then it is a sad empty existence indeed.
Somehow the baal priests and priestesses on TBN don’t get that. This particular priest took the words of our Lord that instruct us to refuse to follow greed’s trap and turned them into a call for new cars, new homes and great vacations. Upon referring to Matt. 6:32 (‘…your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things‘…) the priest went onto ask how many people in his audience needed a new car. When only a few raised their hands he took it to the next level and with utter disregard for the plain teaching of the passage shouted confidently ‘how many of you want a new car?’ Once everybody chimed in and started drinking the kool-aid he pressed his advantage and asked ‘who wants a new house and nice vacation. His implication was clear. Jesus wants you to run after things. Your life is defined by the things you have. Regardless of where you are now financially you’re not living the ‘victorious’ Christian life until you get what you want, all that you want and when you want it. And guess what? Jesus was born, spent a lifetime as a real man, endured Satan’s temptations, was constantly challenged by ungodly religious leaders (who by the way have the same values and attitudes of those of The Baal Network) was betrayed, put through a sham trial, mocked, jeered, denied, abandoned, beaten to a bloody pulp and then after having nails banged into His hands and feet was lifted naked onto a wooden cross. He then endured the full weight of the Father’s fierce, settled, righteous, passionate anger against the sin of the world until finally while on the cross the Father with whom He had enjoyed eternal fellowship with turned away as His own sinless Son was made to be sin. And then He died.
And why did the Lord of glory endure such grievous pain and death? So that you could sow your seed offering, claim your blessing and have yet one more thing to put in your Public Storage locker.
Folks enough is enough. These people aren’t in error, misguided or confused. They’re deliberately prostituting scripture, the cross and Jesus Christ to engorge their own debauched greed. How many people will listen to them and go further into debt just to live the ‘victorious’ life? How many people will refuse to see and believe what scripture plainly teaches about money and wealth and see riches beyond belief in every passage? How many people will be dissatisfied with a living, thriving, worshiping relationship with the God of steadfast love and instead simply use Him to get their next plasma t.v.? How many people will continue to exchange the eternal glory of the immortal God for the temporary glitter of the golden baals of our day? And at what cost to their souls will they do so?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, November 23, 2007
'Why do I have to sit through boring sermons and old music that don't speak to my real needs and problems?'"
Welcome to American ‘Christianity’ where the phrase ‘me, myself and I’ is our mission, motto, vision, creed and confession. For many of you that’s probably not news. What’s ironic is how this version of ‘Christianity’ has apparently taken the church by surprise. A recent article in Leadership journal detailed the faith attitudes of five distinct kinds of Christians. No longer do we identify ourselves in terms of denominations with distinct confessions of faith. (that’s sooooo last century) The terms Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian etc. have about as much meaning as the Whig and Bull Moose Party. According to the article Christians should now be identified as belonging to one of five camps: Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private and Cultural. For many their beliefs aren’t so much convictions grounded in scripture that move and shape the way think, speak and live but feelings centered in what they feel God should be like.
The reason for this latest bru ha ha is you guessed it a significant (and possibly growing) segment of those who identify themselves as Christian no longer see the church as a primary outlet for spiritual growth. Once again folks this is not news. Even Willow Creek has come to the conclusion that giving the people what they want doesn’t translate into the people wanting the living God. Treat sinners as religious consumers and eventually they will follow consumerism to its logical conclusion. That’s what many retailers are finding out on this Black Friday. Why struggle and press to wait three hours in the cold for the big box store’s special one day sale when you can get up, make a cup of coffee and surf the web in your jammies. So goes Best Buy, so goes First Baptist or Presbyterian, or Methodist etc.
As I said before however this is not news. What is interesting is that 25 or thirty years after the church growth revolution supposedly delivered us from boring worship and irrelevant sermons a whole new generation has arisen who don’t see the church as relevant for their ‘relationship’ with God. Now you’d think our latest crop of experts would have learned the lessons of 25 years of basically Christ-less Christianity. You’d think that after observing that over 60% of those who identify themselves as Christian don’t see Jesus Christ as central to their faith that they would counsel pastors and leaders return to Christ centered and focused worship, Christ centered and focused preaching and Christ centered and focused ministry.
You’d be wrong. In fact after noting that tolerance in our society has produced a climate in which ‘God’ is in and Jesus is out one expert offered the following counsel: “What we need to do is reintroduce people to Jesus, his story, his life and his teachings.”
Now here’s bonus quiz question: How many people do you know that have a real problem with Jesus’ story, life and teachings? This is especially true when we divorce His story from its old covenant context, reduce His life to just an example and cherry pick His teaching to suit our comfort seeking ears.
You know what they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. When will we learn? Over two decades ago the pied pipers of church growth told us that downplaying our theological convictions and moving away from the dreaded ‘D’ (doctrine) word was the path toward connecting with our culture. The holy grail of relevance was to be found by showing our heart for people which will of course awaken their hearts. And now guess what? The culture is telling us that they’re connection to God is going quite well without the church, without the cross and without Christ. Well, Job’s counselor’s are back and in light of the our present challenges what advice to they give? The article ends with this quote "Christianity is about Christ, and it is about that personal relationship. We have to not focus on explaining Pauline theology, but on the person and ministry of Christ. We have to be people who live out the life of Christ. People aren't generally interested in theological teaching. But everyone has a heart for the one who had a heart for us."
Thanks but no. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me!
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, November 16, 2007
My.. My… my. That’s what Pastor Ricky Armstrong said after Michael Leach’s message on The Gospel and Creation and that about sums up the reaction to the just completed Miami Pastor’s Conference at Glendale Baptist Church. You can find other reactions to the conference over at Non Nobis Domine, Pure Church and Truth in the Innermost. The conference was like that first slice of grandma’s special secret recipe sweet potato pie. Don’t get me wrong though. This conference wasn’t filled with theological fluff. The brothers brought the noise on what the gospel is, what it isn’t and our mandate to impact and disciple our society with the gospel. These brothers were like the grandmothers of old: taking their time to prepare the family meal just right. From the succulent and tender turkey, chicken and ham to the butter smooth mashed potatoes with that special gravy, to the creamy down home mac and cheese and the no doubt about it spicy collard greens this conference more resembled a grand family reunion than a series of talks about theology.
And you know you can’t have a family reunion without food. The good folks at Glendale Baptist Church fed us and fed us well. One of the important features of this conference are the communal meals we enjoy between the sessions. The saints at Glendale made it possible for us to talk and get to know one another and hear what our Lord is doing to raise up a people focused on His glory and gospel. We had representatives from California to the Caribbean and were encouraged by how the Lord is working to bring reform to our people here and abroad. Along with the food we enjoyed enriching worship, meaningful fellowship, informative side seminars and powerful preaching. And brothers and sisters these brothers preached. I don’t want to take anything away from the multitude of other reformed conferences but mercy me. These brothers preached the gospel with conviction, clarity and passion. It was a Spirit-filled gracious display of God using His servants to declare the treasured truths of His word in ways that drew our hearts and minds to worship, praise, reflect on and glory in the One who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.
Brothers and sisters God is moving to bring reformation to His people. I thank God for faithful men like Rev. Ricky Armstrong, Ken Jones, Anthony Carter, Michael Leach, Sherard Burns, Michael Horton, Reddit Andrews and Tom Ascol who encouraged our hearts and challenged our minds with the word of God. I also thank the Lord for the seminary students, fellowship of pastors, precious mothers and good brothers and sisters He's raising up for such a time as this. The conference is over but the work goes on. We don’t plan to stop with conferences or confine ourselves to blogs. No, no, no. By the grace and power of our living Lord we hope to have a movement that will cause us to marvel at His work and revival so that years from now we can look back on what He’s done, shake our heads and say my… my… my.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Monday, November 05, 2007
The countdown has begun. Our Lord willing in about three days the 2007 Miami Pastor’s Conference will begin with a pre-conference workshop on making the case for Reformed Theology among African-Americans. From there the conference will attempt to address one of the most (if not the most) important questions of our time, namely: What Is The Gospel?
I’m sure you know by now that it’s my conviction that this conference, the movement it’s apart of and the theme it seeks to address are critical to the resurrection of blackness in God’s image and for His glory. Black will be neither beautiful or meaningful until and unless we recognize that the purpose of our particular history, struggle, culture and people is to love, delight in, serve, worship, obey and follow the living God through the Person of Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ and Christ alone that we’ll discover our significance, dignity, identity, reason for being, satisfaction, security, destiny and authentic hope.
The Miami Pastor’s Conference will also serve as the coming out party of the Council of Reforming Churches. CRC is a group of pastors and churches that have banded together to see biblically reformed theology planted, take root in and eventually flourish within the black church and black community. Our hope is to raise a network of individuals and churches that will work together to see reformed theology impact our people and community. CRC is not limited to just black people. However just as Paul had a great yearning to see his own people come to embrace the richness of Jesus Christ so we desire to see our brothers after the flesh come to understand, know, embrace and delight in the living God. We therefore invite and encourage anyone regardless of ethnicity to work along with us to pursue our core goals.
You can begin by going to the CRC website looking up the member churches and begin to pray for them. Pray that the Lord will strengthen these congregations through the power of His Spirit so that they will godly impact for truth upon those they seek to serve. Pray for their pastors that they would continue to be men of integrity who preach the word faithfully, pastor God’s people wisely, devote themselves to loving their wives and children and seek to spread the gospel of God’s grace in their communities.
Finally, please pray for the conference. Pray that the Lord will enrich us with His word and through our mutual fellowship. Pray that relationships will form that press for the renewal and resurrection of God’s people within the black church and community. Pray that our Lord will use the conference to continue His work and bring reformation to our people for His own praise and glory.
For Christ, His Church and the Truth
Thursday, November 01, 2007
So where do we go from here? Blackness is dead and no amount of denial, willful blindness or intentional deafness will bring it back again. Culturally, politically and spiritually our goal, hope and focus as a people is on success and the good life. And the pied pipers leading the charge are the so-called ministers of the new black Laodicean churches. They’ve convinced us that it’s not only God’s will for us to be wealthy but that wealth, fame and success are the substance, point, purpose and goal of existence and redemption. Meanwhile the hood crumbles under the weight of anger, grief, frustration and despair even as our new super-apostles drive to their distant suburban homes in Bentleys bought with the pennies of the poor.
I may have said this before but it is important to say it again. In my view (and yes I’m only one man and a fallible man at that) the deviant, destructive, non-biblical poison known as word of faith theology (and don’t be fooled folks it is a theology) is the greatest challenge and obstacle to the resurrection of blackness and the restoration of our churches and communities today. It is a greater threat than the growing presence of the Nation of Islam, a greater threat than our increasing secularism and yes a greater threat than continued white racism.
Once we give credence to, believe, accept, promote and begin to practice a theology that radically changes the objective scriptural view of God, scripture, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ and the Spirit we’re on the path to an idolatry that will only lead to the eternal destruction of our souls even as we sing about the blessing of Abraham in our cavernous cathedrals.
So where do we go from here: We’ll begin with the ‘five solas’: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, To God Be the Glory Alone. These were the substantive issues that framed the Reformation and pitted the theology of the reformers against the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. It is my view that these are still the salient theological issues of our time and the ones that will contrast our theology and the churches born of that theology with the new theological heretics of the Black church. Moreover, these great theological themes along with the doctrines of grace must be the theology that forms the basis of our unity with other Reformed believers burdened with impacting the black church and community with biblical theology whether they are Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran or Pentecostal/Charismatic.
Consequently we must meet the enemy at the point of attack by stating and reasserting the solas as the foundation of our theology. Functionally, we must preach, teach, promote and plant churches that stress that Scripture and Scripture Alone forms the basis of our thought, belief and practice. Scripture, not our impression or supposed visions, dreams or new revelations dictate what we believe and how we practice our beliefs. Standing on Scripture alone will mean that we reject any notion that God is communicating any kind of new, authoritative truth that is in any way binding on His people. We are not called to get a ‘new word’ from God, but to be faithful to the word already given in Scripture. We must train, pray for and support pastors who stress our conviction of Scripture alone by faithfully preaching through Scripture in a systematic, expository manner. They will allow the themes and form of a particular passage determine of the theme and form of their sermons. Additionally, they will focus on preaching through books of the Bible which will give them ample opportunity to highlight God’s character and nature even as they emphasize the centrality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Emphasizing Christ Alone will enable new and revived churches to place the weight of our eternal salvation and our people’s only hope on the shoulders of our sovereign, sinless Savior Jesus Christ. Preaching Christ and His cross will bring us into direct conflict with deviant, perverse heretical theology. For the Christ of Scripture is the historical Jesus, the eternal Son of God who was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day He physically rose from the dead with the same body in which He was buried. His sinless life, vicarious death and powerful resurrection have achieved and secured a salvation from sin for His people. He is the Head of the church and we are bound to follow His agenda, not co-opt Him into following ours. We categorically and vigorously reject any notion that salvation is primarily a deliverance from poverty, sickness or the pathway to a trouble free ‘victorious’ life. Furthermore we declare emphatically and preach intentionally that Christ and Christ alone is mankind’s only hope for a permanent right relationship with God the Father.
Scripture declares that Jesus saves His people by Grace Alone. Salvation is completely a work of the triune God. God the Father chose a people to save before the creation of the world. God the Son lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death for those people and God the Spirit applies this great salvation to God’s people by giving them new life and bringing them to faith in the finished work of Christ, (see 2 Thes. 2:13-14). Preaching salvation by grace alone frees our churches to put our trust fully in the work of God’s Spirit through the proclamation of the word of God. We are thus liberated from using manmade gimmicks and techniques like altar calls to assure ourselves that God is at work in the hearts of His people. Proclaiming salvation by grace alone also liberates God’s people from captivity to manipulators who deceive them into believing that there is something they can do to assure God’s favor and grace. We stand on, preach and believe that we are rescued from God’s wrath and given a permanent right standing in Him by grace alone.
This salvation by grace alone, grounded in Christ alone is obtained by Faith Alone. It doesn’t depend on our family values or the fact that we’ve been born as apart of a historically oppressed minority. Considering our present context it is important to emphasize that Biblical faith is not a special magical or supernatural force that changes our present reality. Nor is the issue how much faith we have or the quality of our faith. Biblical faith for salvation is a conviction of certain eternal realities concerning our sin, God’s holiness, Christ’s perfect work and God’s response to that work. By declaring that salvation is through faith alone we are affirming that people are justified (i.e. declared to be in a permanent right relationship with God) by believing in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone. There is nothing to be added nor is our faith a manifestation of our spiritual power, but God’s gift to us.
Finally, our new Biblically driven Reformed churches will promote and proclaim that all of life and salvation is to and for God’s Glory Alone. God’s glory and not our selfish quest for wealth, comfort, convenience, prestige and power is the point, aim and pursuit of our lives. Our churches must highlight God’s glory alone by featuring worship services that focus on praising, adoring, reflecting on and stressing His character and nature as expressed fully in the Person, work and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Instead of appealing and catering to the interest of religious consumers these churches will look to make active followers of Jesus Christ. These are disciples who follow our Lord through passionate worship, a diligent holy walk and consistent bold witness. Moreover, they make major and minor life decisions based on how they further the witness of the gospel.
Please join me in praying that our Lord will raise up a generation of disciples willing to plant and convert churches whose chief desire is to see the glory of our Lord cover our communities as the waters cover the sea.
Related sermon: A Theology For The City
To Him Who Loves Us…