Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Between Three Worlds

We live in a society in which identity in one way or the other touches everything. And that has been no more evident that in the current presidential campaign. A couple of weeks ago our brother Thabiti Anyabwile gave a powerful sermon on our identity in Christ at the T4G conference. Our fellow elder challenged God’s people to accept the biblical reality that we’re all descended from one man and in him all make up one race. He then went on to speak on how those in Christ are now one new people and therefore basically we should get on with the business of living like it.

I’m sure all of us who heard the message were encouraged and challenged to think or re-think our approach to people and mission. The message particularly challenged me in regards to what I believe was a central aspect of my calling. Ever since studying and embracing reformed theology nearly twenty years ago I’ve been convinced that God wanted me to take these truths to the black church and black community. And since I was sure that our Lord’s primary vehicle to introduce His gospel and disciple His people was through the local church I was certain that He wanted to me to plant a black reformed church. By black reformed church it was my intention start a fellowship which would draw from the cultural heritage of the historic black church and marry that culture with the reformed truths I’d embraced. However, it’s important to be up front and note that any church that sought to feature historic black church experience would appeal mainly to African-Americans and by default exclude most people from other ethnicities. I say by default because whether we admit it or not many of us factor in a given church’s culture when deciding on where to worship.

But here’s the question. Should I have sought to do that in the first place? No matter how benign my intentions were should I have planted a church that specifically targeted souls based on their ethnicity? In doing so did I contribute to the sin of using the church to highlight existing ethnic differences? My thoughts dwell on the way to pursue authentically biblical ministry, serve the subculture that I came out of while at the same time striving for the unity of the faith. For instance should I seek to write books, hold conferences and start or revitalize churches that focus on the issues prevalent in the African-American church and community? More than that, since the issues presented by the black church and community are so different than those faced by others should a whole movement be designed to impact the black church and community with authentic biblical theology and practice? If it did so and was ‘successful’ would the result be another ethnically based church and would that be right? Yet if we don’t go this route what are some alternatives to addressing things like prosperity theology, black liberation theology, the nation of Islam and the confused sacred/secular enmeshment of the black community? Mercy, it ain't easy living between three worlds!

Lastly, I need to end by thanking God for brother Thabiti, his message and his continuing ministry to God’s church. I also want to thank our Lord for the saints at First Baptist of GC and for brothers like Kevin Smith of Pinelands PCA, Reddit Andrew of Soaring Oaks PCA, Mike Campbell of Redeemer PCA of Jackson, Irwyn Ince of City of Hope in Columbia MD and the many other African-American pastors who intentionally sought to serve at mainly white congregations. These brothers are showing us that the body of Christ can stand unified in the face of our persistent ethnic tensions. And their congregations are demonstrating to our culture that white people can and have submitted to black leadership and are willing to invite a black man into one of the most intimate relationships of their lives, namely that of pastor and parishioner. No matter how these things shake out we would do well to pray for and highlight these examples of the gracious power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance


wwdunc said...

Brother Lance,

I hear and can identify with your concern. It sure does seem that if there ever is to be any kind of reformation in the black community there will have to be ministries that specifically target the black community. You bring up some good questions; there certainly aren't any easy answers.

Wyeth Duncan

Steve said...


This is a remarkable post, and I want you to know how glad I am that you're my pastor. May I add a word of public encouragement as you work through all this?
You are, week in and week out, proclaiming God's Word to our congregation. As an elder and one of the resident middle aged white guys I know how much I need to think about, but I don't know how to work it out. BUT I know that you are 'instant in season and out of season' - and they're extremely complex seasons. You minister the Word and show God's love to all of us over and over and over, in spite of the 100% corruption rate of individual sin and society's confusion - and the fellowship of the Redeemed falling way short of our standard.
I don't know how to minister in the landscape of fallen, broken, alienated, divided people groups, but I know that you bring God's Word to bear on your congregation.
However difficult the strategy issues are, you are doing a great thing by living in Christ's name, indwelt by His Spirit, addressing His Father in prayer and instructing His people in His Word.
Here's my cheap metaphor: We can't pick our way through this earthly wreckage without light, and you, Brother, are working manfully to shed the light of the great lamp at our feet, on our path.

I thank God for you.

Blessings and Love,


Lionel Woods said...

Hey Pastor Lance,

As I wrote you this is my struggle why? Because I believe that Reformed Theology is true and God exalting theology. Since this is the case I am moved by every fiber in me to communicate this truth to every nation. Our current place of residence (U.S) has created nations within a nation. What I mean is you have the disenfranchised, marginalized and poor. Those with multiple felonies, welfare checks, SSI checks, three baby daddies, and have been in the slums for generations.

The U.S has created suburbs, gated communities, and projects to ensure the seperation of such people from "the hard workers". But if this truth is what I believe it is I have to find a way to communicate it to them. The problem we have is they don't have access to Blogs (and wouldn't read them if they did), they don't have access to education, and they would never drive out to any of these churches because they feel they don't fit in.

So what am I to do in such a situation? I must convey Reformed theology and the truth of the Gospel in ways that are God honoring but also clearly understood by such people. I was one of such people, who felt God had abandoded me or that the world was against me. So Satan crept in and sold me lies and I bought them with no inspection.

So if the big time Reformers and some of our well to do brothers and sisters refuse to go in to these areas and preach and teach and attempt to rebuild the city (maybe God has not burndened them with such a conviction) then I have to. Why? Because my heart is moved and God will not let me get a good nights rest without thinking about them.

This nation is already segregated and it more about economics today than it is race. For the most part T4G is a middle class upper middle class conference in which most of the people in the world (especially the poor) will never ever hear and that is why Pastor T's discussion will never make it to the place where it belongs unless we take it there.

Jim Pemberton said...

There is something to be said for congregationalism. I don't see a call in scripture for a homogeneous church structure. There are principles all must follow, but Paul faced different challenges with different groups of people and adjusted accordingly. There were 7 churches in Asia addressed by John in Revelation, each with a different set of issues. Whether we have an ethnically focused or diverse church, it seems that God can use each for different ministerial iterations of the same gospel to His glory.