Friday, May 30, 2008

Between Three Worlds - Battlestations!

"Now when it comes down to religion and I'm finished with this. When it comes down to religion it's all about God. But God is not of any one religion. HE CANNOT BE. Religion is really like glasses that we wear on our eyes. This pair of glasses that I have on I wear them because I see best out of them… I see best out of them. If you put my glasses on you cannot see out of my glasses. I am a Christian because it is the Christian faith that allows me to see God best out of my eyes. My brother is a Muslim because he sees God best out of his eyes. It's how we see God. . . and its one common thread that runs through all faiths and all religions and that is the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all mankind. We are here today because we are of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all men".

This is just one of the challenges facing the black church and black community today. It is a dual threat that involves a denial of the central message of scripture which is God’s saving work of His people through the person and work of Jesus Christ along with the exaltation of a religious system that pushes Christ to the margins and enthrones ethnicity into the center. Like other threats to the black church and black community this one does not have a specific correlation within the predominant culture. It’s therefore an issue that is not usually addressed by evangelicals. This is why many black reformed brothers and sisters see a definite need and call to bring reform to the black church and black community. Most of us have no desire to further ethnic division and we most certainly don’t wish to begin a new black reformed church. We do acknowledge that God’s providential activity among our people calls for us to pointedly address the issues that have sprung from that activity.

I’ve already mentioned what I believe is the main threat to biblical Christianity within the black community, namely the wild popularity of prosperity theology. As I wrote previously prosperity theology is akin to a neo-liberalism with the black church and community. It is a theology in that it defines (or redefines) the church’s historic convictions regarding revelation, scripture, God, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the atonement, the Holy Spirit, the church etc. In doing so 21st century prosperity theology has trod the same path of 20th century liberalism. It seeks to be viewed as authentic biblical Christianity while in fact being a completely different religion.

A third threat to the historic black church and by extension to authentic biblical faith continuing within the African-American community is related to the quote that began this post. Its seeds are in the nature of the historical black church’s development in general and in its role in leading the struggle for civil rights in particular. The intensity of the Civil Rights struggle led many black congregations and pastors to view the gospel through the lens of human civil rights. For these churches the central message of scripture and therefore God’s main agenda was to secure civil rights for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. It would be a mistake to confuse this view with Black Liberation Theology. That’s because these churches and their pastors did not feel that God was on the side of black people just because they were black. Rather they held to the conviction that it was the black church’s mission to side with any group that suffered injustice and furthermore that the main mission of the black church was to press for civil rights for all.

The continuing and in some areas growing presence of the Nation of Islam though not spoken of much is in my view another serious threat to the continued presence and influence of biblical faith in the greater African-American community. NOI has gained a foothold in many of our cities just as the hypocrisy produced by theology prosperity has taken off in black America. Think of how it must look to young black men who see and hear of how members of ‘the nation’ look out for the local community while the local church just looks to move out. What can we say when Muslim’s appear to emphasize modesty, discipline and community while we wrap our lives around material excess all in Jesus‘ name?

A fifth factor which impresses many black reformed brothers and sisters to impact our people and culture is the gross tribalization of the living God. By this I mean that many (perhaps far too many) in the black community view the Covenant Lord of scripture as no more than a local tribal deity whose main priority is to grant us a life of overall happiness and well being. This view of God was acted out (literally) on a popular television show that featured four African-American friends. In one episode the character apparently believes she’s found the man of her dreams and then following some sex in the suburbs with him got up from the bed, got down on her knees and thanked the Lord for being so good to her and sending her such happiness. Remember this is happening at the exact time when the prosperity gospel is the dominant theology of many if not most regular church going African-Americans.

But there is at least one more thing that must be mentioned. Whether it’s the politicized social gospel of the historic black church, the Black Liberation Theology of a small (yet at times vocal) segment of the black church or the over the top health and wealth theology of some of today’s black mega-churches and their mini-wannabes the tie that binds them together is the centrality of the needs, wishes and idols of black people. Though they may have taken different paths to get there each is intent on leading the black church and by extension black people down the road to idolatry.

Dearly loved ones in Christ it is my view (and I recognize that I’m just one man) that for the first time in our four hundred year history on these shores the black church may be in serious danger of losing our witness to the black community. We may actually be the generation that looks back and wonders what happened when the black community in which we were born and nurtured has little if any resemblance of genuine biblical faith, worship and practice. We have pastors who openly deny the exclusive person and work of the Lord who bought us with His own blood, charlatans who without conscience take from the poor to enrich themselves and the pied pipers of a false religion given time and space to spout their rebellion from our pulpits!

But we also have Jesus Christ the Lord of glory, Lord of the gospel and Lord of His church. We have the word of God which is still sharper than any double-edged sword. We have the real power of the Holy Spirit who can and is still giving new life to those dead in sin. And we have God the Father who has caused us to look over this new valley of dry bones so that by His grace and power He might use us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ so that His church can once more stand on scripture alone and declare that men and women are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for God’s glory alone.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Go Mike Go!

By most measures and certainly in my humble opinion Philadelphia’s new mayor Michael Nutter has done an outstanding job of leading our city in his first few months in office. Does that mean that things have taken a dramatic turn for the better and our problems are now behind us? No, of course not. But in my view it does mean that that the man charged with leading our city is doing a good job of doing just that leading. By leading I mean that Mayor Nutter is setting a pace for what we can do and what our city can become as we glide into the second decade of this century.

Haven’t we recently made the news for the cowardly murder of a police officer and then subsequent video of a gross act of police brutality? Yes we have and in both instances our mayor and his chosen police commissioner showed the kind of leadership that keeps a city together and moving forward instead of once more breaking down into our own ghettoized camps.

Mike’s latest move is to grant a tax credit for those businesses willing to hire ex-convicts. Like most large cities Philadelphia has high crime problem coupled with overcrowded prisons. Most ex-offenders have a great deal of trouble finding gainful employment once they’re released and thus far too many end up right back in prison. Mayor Nutter recognized that there were some businesses who had stepped out on the limb to hire these men and decided to encourage them and others to do so. And the way the math is looking it may cost half as much to grant this tax credit as it does to house a returning inmate for one year. Now that’s what I call good, just and wise government. Does that mean that the mayor in particular and government in general ‘can solve all our problems’. Nope, not by a long shot. However I do believe it shows that government can do a good job in working with society’s other institutions to improve the quality of life for all.

Now if only hizzoner can land us a major sports championship. Patience grasshoppers…. patience.

Pastor lance


Between Three Worlds - Looking Back To Leap Forward Pt. 2

Well… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on the Lord… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus, halleluj, halleluj, hallelujah!

Well… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom, halleluj, halluluj, hallulujah!

The songs from the souls of black folk testified to the influence the black church had on our agenda from the time of slavery.

The black church had forged its leadership role among our people and culture through the fires of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Red Summer. It was during those times that our bishops, pastors, preachers, deacons, deaconess and church mothers exhorted us to keep our minds and hearts stayed on Jesus. And we did so knowing that in a world where we had little and could expect less Jesus was all we had and having Him was enough indeed. But soon after WWII the winds of providence started to change and the church that had nurtured the souls of black folks began to organize us into an army to take on the most powerful nation in the world for the simple right to live as free people in the land of our birth. And so for a short time we switched a few of the words to some of our old songs not as way of pushing Jesus to the side but to alert the world that whether we won basic civil rights or not we would do so as the people of the living God.

Influence can be a double edged sword however. In my view the church led struggle for civil rights was the God ordained, right and just thing to do. It was a proper and wise use of the influence the black church had with the African-American community in particular and the general society at large. It also allowed the black church to speak to some profound theological issues that the evangelical church had chosen to ignore. And despite the black church’s flaws at that time it is my view that they led our people and this nation well at a time when things could have gone extremely worse. Yet with that in mind we must remember that the church that can lead its people and culture into a fuller grasp of God's kingdom can also lead it astray into the waiting arms of ever present cultural idols.

The end of the Civil Rights Movements found the black church somewhat at a loss. For one, there no longer was a single overriding enemy that had set itself against the progress of African-Americans. Beyond that the decade of the 70’s was the first time in American history where African-Americans could actually dream of making some real gains within American society. The possibility of genuine integration made reliance on the church less of a priority for many African-Americans. It’s possible that many believed a new era had dawned in which black people would achieve significant integration within the next decade or two thus permanently changing the way we related to our church. Consequently, as the greater black community wandered through the socio/cultural wilderness of the 70’s and 80’s the black church seems to have lost its prime place in setting the agenda for the black community.

The Million Man March called by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in Oct. of 1995 appeared to be the climatic event that spelled the final eclipse of the black church as the de facto leader of the (greater) African-American community. Here was a man who not only came from an entirely different religion, but was able to garner the widespread support of the greater black community including many of its church leaders! But if the black church was down it was most definitely by no means out. Farrakhan and his potential widespread and lasting influence dissipated like the morning dew of a hot Mississippi summer morning. In its wake a new group of church leaders began generating a new movement that caught the attention of and once more set the tone and agenda of the greater black community. And now what are we singing you ask?

Well I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on blessing… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on success… I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on blessing, halleluj, halleluj, hallelujah!

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance


Friday, May 23, 2008

Pulling Teeth

Hey fam,

Now I remember why I hated visiting the dentist as a child. Anyway having had a few teeth removed this past week I’ve been laying low while on the mend. Lord willing I’ll pick up next week and finish up the series before going to the PCA’s general assembly in June.

Meanwhile here are a few pieces worth checking out for our mutual edification.

Brother Duncan has been reading and then writing about A.W. Tozer.

Lionel Woods had some timely and insightful posts concerning a young black reformed man’s dilemma.

Anthony Carter is taking us on a trip to Glory Road and listing some of the significant books and preachers who influenced some of the contributors to this upcoming book.

Finally, brother Scotty Williams tells us why it’s time to put Black Liberation Theology on the scrap heap.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Between Three Worlds - Looking Back to Leap Forward Pt. 1

Before moving forward it may be helpful to give a brief review. Following this I hope to lay out the case for a purposeful, active and sustained effort to impact the black church and black community with biblically reformed theology. I do this however with the desire to maintain our press toward gospel based and fueled unity across ethnic lines.

As I said in a previous post I’m neither a historian nor the son of a historian. To that let me add that I’m neither a sociologist nor the son of one. And as much as I’d like to examine any number of trends related to our subject I simply don’t have the time to delve into all of it. Lord willing this can be part of an ongoing dialogue among those who are eager to deliver the faith once delivered to the saints wherever and to whomever our Lord will take us.

WWII ended with America a superpower leading a new technologically driven world. The nature of the war and its aftermath solidified America as a country which now had to take a leading role in foreign affairs. Thus for the first time in its history the USA added a distinct global foreign component to its sense of mission. No longer would the USA confine itself to the Monroe Doctrine and Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum to walk softly and carry a big stick both of which mainly focused America’s activity in the Western hemisphere. Now the US had to check and counter the Soviet Union, help rebuild Europe, keep an eye on far east Asia, and become engaged with lands, peoples and cultures that few Americans ever heard of let alone knew much about. Consequently, the governments top priority on the foreign front was checking Soviet Communism and spreading free market capitalism.

Domestically American policy concentrated on expanding the nation’s wealth to a growing middle class so that they could enjoy the blessings of liberty. American prosperity, progress and the middle-income lifestyle was an important tool in the fight against communism. Consequently, cultivating and promoting free market capitalism on the domestic front was seen as government’s top priority. Of course the political and economic segregation and oppression of its substantial black population presented a huge challenge to America’s overall leadership. However while that must be mentioned it’s not the focus of these musings. The focus is on the black church, how it developed following WWII and why its development has generated an urgent need for reform.

America’s new agenda was embraced by all of its major institutions. Obviously the political institutions were united in fighting communism and ensuring prosperity even if the major political parties disagreed on how to do so. In fact it’s fairly safe to say that it was America’s political institutions that set the tone and agenda for the American people. The country’s other institutions followed the political lead. Commercially, American businesses raced full speed ahead to make and sell goods at home and abroad. Academically, American education stressed the value of education to propel the economy and outdo the Soviets. And last but by no means least the evangelical church provided the necessary moral approval to America’s fight against communism and economic progress at home. While the evangelical church’s contribution was important they could not lay claim to setting the pace for American society nor for that matter were they the main voice within the dominant culture’s religious conversation.

That was not so for America’s parallel church that served its parallel culture. Except for the church African-Americans had no strong institutional structures to set its agenda nor give voice to our cause. Though other institutions existed and did some remarkable work the history and nature of American society prevented their full growth within the greater black community. Thus it was left to the historic black church to take a role within the black community and culture that evangelicals could perhaps only dream of.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Monday, May 12, 2008

Between Three Worlds - A New Thing

It’s 2008 and you awaken from the your coma to a flurry of fleeting media attention and visits by dozens of family and friends thanking God that your back. After doing a bit of catch up (you believe it when told the Birds still haven’t won a Superbowl but are convinced the fam is just playing with this talk about a black man on the precipice of the presidency) you ask about church. ‘How’s Holy Mt. Zion and pastor Jones?‘ The saints exchange glances with one another before one of them is designated to tell you ‘new thing’ God is doing. She begins by breaking the news that pastor Jones went home to be with the Lord in 1989. You listen patiently as she explains how the church had a ‘wilderness’ experience until God sent a young man to pastor the church. No matter, once cleared by your doctors you prepare for your first service of worship in almost 30 years.

Riding to church with friends and family you notice that Holy Mt. Zion has moved.
The grand stone building that served the working class community for years was vacated when the church moved into new digs located in an industrial park across town. That’s not all that’s changed though. Pulling up to the new edifice you notice something. The church formerly known as Holy Mt. Zion Pentecostal Church is now Empowering Destiny Christian Center pastored by Apostle Johnson. You sit through the service and while some things are the same there’s also much that’s different. Although you have a lot of questions you keep them to yourself and continue to attend for several weeks.

Finally, after ‘special’ evening service that left you particularly perplexed the questions just start pouring out to those riding home with you.
First you want to know why the church changed it’s name and why the new name has nothing to do with holiness. And though you like some of the new music, how did the service come to resemble one long loud gospel concert. You also want to know why the offering is such a big deal in the service now. Why is it you ask that we must recite a mantra to ‘speak our blessing into existence’ before sowing our seed.

And then there is ‘apostle’ Johnson.
While you certainly want to support the man of God you wonder out loud why the ‘apostle’ needs three luxury cars and lives so far away from the church. And his messages have you completely confused and it’s not just his style. From your point of view though apostle Johnson uses the same terms employed by pastor Jones the meanings of the terms have changed drastically. It seems that before salvation was a journey from this world to the next in which victory was seen as moving to higher levels of holiness. Now salvation is preached as experiencing a sensational successful life here and now and victory is the absence of any pain, trial or tribulation. You look at your friends waiting for an answer and the only reply is ‘God is doing a new thing’. You then sink back in your seat wishing that God had stuck with the old things.

How did prosperity theology move from the fringe to occupy a central place within the black church? The reasons are many but they go back to the place the black church has played among the greater black community for centuries. First and foremost these churches captured the hearts of black folks by retaining a worship focus that spoke to black folks common desire to reaffirm our humanity. The black expression of worship has always a balm to the wounded souls of African-Americans. It helped reaffirm that we were people, created in God’s image and loved and accepted by Him. The black church by and large didn’t teach that we were accepted by the Lord because we were black, but it did confirm that unlike our experience in America we weren’t rejected just because we were black. It was as if in the black expression of worship God was saying ‘I created you black, I want you to be black and I accept the blackness of your humanity by being tangibly present in your worship.’ The new health and wealth churches latched onto old style Pentecostal worship and while making some crucial changes retained its open, emotional expressiveness that spoke so deeply to so many African-Americans.

The other reason prosperity appealed to black people was that it provided the theological basis and justification for the growing black middle class to maintain their focus and drive for material wealth and success. The historic black church had long assured African-Americans that God would never leave them or forsake them. That He was a very present help in the time of trouble. The church exhorted black people to wait on the Lord for though He may not come when we want Him to He’s always on time. These kinds of phrases and sermons sprung from a theology that believed that though life was hard and at times harsh, trials weren’t abnormal for God’s people. In fact many a time we heard that if there is no cross there can be no crown.

Prosperity theology changed that however by declaring that all believers including black folks were kings kids who need not live beneath their privilege by experiencing life’s ordinary difficulties and challenges. Moving beyond that prosperity theology taught that black people along with other believers were commanded by God to live in abundance in everyway. Not only were believers like other people the crown of God’s creation, they were destined to lead lives of incredible blessing if they would just walk in faith. But it goes deeper than that, much deeper. Prosperity theology (and don’t get it twisted this is a theology with distinct views on scripture, the nature of God, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation and the atonement) appeals to our innate pride by declaring that we are like God in that we too can create our own reality. Moreover it’s a theology that tells us that our desires, dreams, ambitions, prosperity, comfort and achievement are central to God’s agenda and kingdom. Whereas survival and progress in the face of racism was the emphasis the traditional black church, success and prosperity is the message of much of the black church today.

And for that reason brothers and sisters it is badly in need of reform.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Friday, May 09, 2008

Between Three Worlds - It's Friday But Sunday's Comin'

Imagine being an old school Pentecostal who lapsed into a coma in 1980. Up till that time you remember attending Holy Zion Pentecostal church faithfully at least twice and perhaps three times a week. You recall how the choir sang the souls of the saints happy as you broke out in shouting and dancing to praise the goodness of your Lord. You remember the times of testimony where the saints gave honor to God, our beloved bishop, the pastor, first lady, ministers, mothers of the church, deacons, trustees and of course saints and friends. They then thanked the Lord for the little things, praising him for a reasonable portion of health, strength, the activity of their limbs, being in their right mind and always ending by asking the saints to pray their strength in the Lord.

And then there was the preaching. The pastor read a passage, gave his title and began the message in a paced, deliberate manner. Along with everyone else you listened attentively as shepherd and saints began their weekly journey into the call and response of God’s word. At first there was a stray ’well’ here and brief ’amen’ there. As the message progressed these grew slightly louder and more frequent until finally the minister said something that struck a chord leading someone to exclaim ’talk about it sah’! The preacher then moved through the message speaking of the glories of God’s power, character and wondrous miracles taking the time to tell us of how He created the world in six days, saved Israel through Gideon and his three hundred, delivered Goliath into the hands of a shepherd boy armed with just fives smooth stones and walked in the fiery furnace with three brave Hebrew boys.

By this time the message is reaching a fever pitch with much of the church shouting amen continuously. And then it happens. The preacher says ‘oh I feel my help coming on now’. The organist takes the cue, mans his station and provides the necessary back up. He then begins to talk about you and your situation. Your stress, problems, pain and confusion. He assures you that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is your God too. He preaches in such a way that you know that the God walked with Moses through the wilderness, led Joshua to conquer the city of Jericho, whispered to Elijah in the cleft of the rock, went before Esther into the king and healed proud Namaan of leprosy is with you too.

The preacher tells you that God sits high and looks low. And to prove it he wound down (or should I say up) by speaking of Mary’s little baby Jesus who came down forty and two generations. Jesus who walked up and down the shores of Galilee, turned water into wine, fed the five thousand, walked on water and healed blind Bartimaeus. He says that you too can know of Jesus’ power to heal and deliver just like the woman who had the issue of blood. The sermon now is at a frenzy as the preacher said that if we would but touch the hem of his garment we can be healed and freed. Now the place is a wreck. Everybody’s on their feet shouting, praising and some crying. The message ends with the pastor telling the saints that your times may be dark and seemingly hopeless but that’s alright. Because the crucifixion was also a dark and apparently hopeless time as the sinless Son of God died for our sins. But the grave couldn’t hold him he tells us. For early one Sunday morning He got up from the grave with all power in His hands. Don't worry he says, it may be Friday but Sunday's coming. The message ends with a crescendo of praise as the Hammond B-3 rages like a carnival, the choir belts out one last song and the saints fill the air and the church aisles with their praises.

Whatever was going on in your life before you came through the door now seems small and as light as a feather. The God who created the world and everything it in six days and then raised Jesus from the dead on the third day is with you. Whatever it is you know that He will work it out. While filing out with the rest of the saints you tell a friend ‘pastor sure did preach today.’

Now that was church, or at least how you remembered it.

Stay Tuned
Pastor Lance

A Prayer For the City

The City of Brotherly Love has had a long history of tense relations between its police department and the African-American community. These relations however only mirror those which exist between our black and white communities. Tensions reached a boiling point recently when a police officer was attacked and murdered by a bank robber who wielded a weapon similar to an AK-47. Few if any words can adequately express the grief this public servant’s wife, three children, siblings, neighbors and fellow officers must endure now. This was followed a several police officers caught on tape punching and kicking three suspects following a short chase through North Philadelphia. Sadly in an all too often repeat of our city’s past these incidents ripped open the tense ethnic atmosphere we’ve endured for multiple decades.

For those who aren’t familiar with our past and present it’s pretty much true that Philadelphia is not one city but at least three and possibly more. One city consists of long time working class whites descended from ethnic immigrants who came to America in successive waves in the past two centuries. Added to this are a mixture of working class African-Americans who descend from those who in the early 1920’s and 30’s moved to northern cities in droves to escape the crushing weight of southern racism. The new kids on the block are the mostly young, white urban professionals who have resettled center city and its surrounding neighborhoods. We mainly live in our own sections and among our own kind. And even where there is surface diversity it can by no means be defined as integration.

For the most part we stay out of each others way and rarely live as one city except for major sports happenings like a World Series or Superbowl appearance. That one exception was the election of Mayor Michael Nutter who was chosen by an overwhelming majority of Philadelphians from all three groups. And our mayor, the police department and our city could use your prayers right now. There have been reports of increased police brutality against African-American men and some within the black community have voiced a concern that the police have declared open season on black males. Most everyone is sick and tired with the crime, guns and violence in the city and we want something done about it.

From where I sit there are no easy answers to the dilemma we face. The fears, suspicions, mistrust, misgivings and hostility that’s infected the soul of Philly hasn’t diminished in years and appears only to be growing worse. So please pray that the church of the living God becomes an actual light in this present darkness that inflicts our city. By God’s grace there are churches that represent all three groups. Pray that we’d come together and with humility and grace demonstrate the power of God’s glorious gospel to bring harmony out of hostility. And when you see or hear a news report about us please take just a few moments and say a prayer for the city.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Two Cities - Two Conferences

It’s that time again. The New Life Bible Conference is literally right around the corner. Can you believe it’s May already? This year’s theme is ‘What Difference does the Gospel Make’ from the book of Galatians. The speakers are Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Carter and Sherard Burns. The conference is from June 19th to the 21st. So if your still sulking over your team's playoff loss don’t worry. Jet out to Chitown, relieve the days of MJ and by all means get yo grace on with Galatians.

Looking a bit further down the road the Miami Pastor’s Conference is gearing up to be another blessed time. And considering how bad the Fins were last year it’s probably the only thing worth checking out in Jiggytown this Fall. This year’s speakers will include Rev. Mike Campbell and Rev. Voddie Baucham. The conference is from Nov. 6-8 so lock in that prime air fare now.

Finally, please pray for these conferences, the pastors and churches who hosts them (our good brothers Louis Love Jr. of New Life Church of Vernon Hills and Ricky Armstrong of Glendale Baptist Church) those who will speak and those who attend that all will be enriched by God’s word, the fellowship of the saints and the mission to impact our communities with the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Between Three Worlds - Name It and Claim It

So what’s all the fuss with Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Well it’s not the prevalence of his theology within the black church. And that’s somewhat odd. In a country that had just fought the war to end all wars to end totalitarianism black people were still literally the odd man out. Politically the government stood by several states that maintained a strict system of Jim Crow laws that affected nearly every aspect of black life. Commercially black people were systematically cut out and left behind as other Americans thrived with good jobs that afforded middle class lifestyles. Academically the country that opened the school day with prayer to the One who made all people from one man was quite comfortable with schools that were segregated and most definitely unequal. Socially housing and lending patterns assured that African-Americans would remain segregated in all black neighborhoods. And religiously evangelical churches all across the nation would read from Paul’s injunction regarding our common communion from 1 Cor. 11 and then proceed to violate the spirit and letter of the words by forbidding communion and membership to their brothers and sisters solely on the basis of the color of the their skin.

Against all this black people had one faithful and diligent ally namely the black church. It was this church that would lead the battle into the classrooms, lunch counters and courtrooms to seek equal rights under the law for people created in God’s image and blessed to be born in America. The 1960’s brought a number of changes to this struggle one of which was the black power movement. It was in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle and the black power movement that became an offshoot of that struggle that Dr. James Cone published his landmark books ‘Black Theology and Black Power’ and ‘A Black Theology of Liberation’. It could be that Dr. Cone though that the black church needed to adjust to the times much like liberal theologians earlier in the 20th century believed the white church needed to adjust to modernism. And in light of the presence of the Nation of Islam and the general treatment of most African-Americans by their native land one could have easily thought that Black Liberation Theology would initiate a new wave of black churches bound together by our common experience and new ethno-centric theology.

But that did not happen. Apart from anomalies like TUCC most black churches do not adhere to Black Liberation Theology. Why is that? There are many reasons that I don’t want to get into here. Suffice it to say that if you were to talk with the average African-American church member whether he or she is Methodist, Baptist or Pentecostal the theology espoused would be more in line with Dr. Frederick K. Price than Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

What we know as prosperity theology has been around since soon after the church of the risen Savior began. Paul warned Timothy of those who preached a message in which godliness was a means to material wealth. (see 1Tim. 6) In America this theology began to gain traction around the 1920’s. Many black folks were exposed to this kind of theology by Rev. Ike whose radio ministry reached its peak in the 1970’s. Perhaps because of his time Rev. Ike always stood on the outside of the mainstream black church. It wasn’t until African-Americans actually began to move into the middle class in larger numbers that prosperity theology really took off within the black church. And in many ways it is now the dominant theology among the black church and within the black community. Unlike Black Liberation theology the prosperity gospel didn’t arise and remain mainly among the academy. It captured the hearts and minds of a new generation of black pastors who began or revamped churches based on this theology of worldly success and wealth.

But just how did this brand of theology that was still on the fringe up to the mid to late eighties come to dominate the black church scene? More on that next time.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Friday, May 02, 2008

Between Three Worlds - Our Story

By the end of WWII several strands of American Protestantism were evident on the religious landscape. Among them were the classical evangelicals identified by David Wells in his latest book ‘The Courage To Be Protestant’. Another group of Protestants who exerted a significant influence in America (and in some ways a much more significant than classical evangelicals) was the black bible believing church. This group mainly consisted of black Baptist and Methodist though others participated as well.

Most of us are aware that the struggle for Civil Rights was the critical issue that occupied the greater Black church following WWII.
There are a number of reasons for this that I can’t get into now though there are a few things that are worth a mention regarding some of the differences between classical evangelicals and the traditional black bible believing church. Unlike the mainline church from whom evangelicals formed the traditional black church did not have a great struggle against liberalism. When you live as an oppressed minority at the whims of a capricious and at times terrorist majority you learn to hold on to a God who sits high and looks low.

Your theology revolves around the God who created the world in six days, parted the Red Sea, broke down the walls of Jericho, empowered David to slay Goliath and rescued the three Hebrew boys from the fiery furnace.
Moreover, you can only find comfort, healing and hope in a Savior who was born of the virgin, cast out demons, unstopped deaf ears, opened the eyes of blind Bartimaeus, fed the five thousand and though crucified got up early one Sunday morning. But even more than that you need to know that this God’s power and immanence has not changed one iota. You want to serve the One who is the same today, yesterday and forever. Though He may not come when you want Him to you’re convinced that He’s always on time. You want and need a God who is still a lawyer in the courtroom and a doctor in the sickroom. You look forward to a literal heaven, a real mansion, streets of gold and place where everyday will be Sunday.
The god of liberalism could never have worked in the early to mid century black church. For such a god could never have protected and preserved the souls of black folk against the onslaught of racism.

Another major difference between classical evangelicalism and the bible believing black church concerned the timing of each bodies ‘worship wars’.
By the time WWII ended the black church had long since made the transition from the use of mainly hymns and spirituals to what I’ll call classic gospel music. This not only meant that in general black church services were much more upbeat and expressive than our white counterparts, but also and even more importantly the black church was much more open to accepting and incorporating progressive changes in gospel music into the worship service. This meant among other things that the black church that worshiped to the sounds of the Caravan’s and James Cleveland in the 60’s had little or no problem switching to the Hawkins family in the 70’s, the Winans and Richard Smallwood in the 80’s, Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin in the 90’s and Israel and New Breed in the 21st century all while keeping their Hammond B-3 as the centerpiece of their music.

What does all this have to do with the price of tea in China? Firstly, the black church worship style allowed it to be a Tran generational church. Thus the African-American teen who walked away from the church in 66 could return to that very same church in 86 and not lament the fact that the service and music was old fashioned and out of touch. Nor did they feel a need to establish their own kind of church for their own generation. Consequently, the traditional black church never saw a need to reinvent itself in order to capture a new constituency who thought it was out of touch and irrelevant.

Secondly, as long as black folks struggled with and against racism whether overt or covert the black church saw itself in one way or another as assisting in and/or leading that struggle. The church therefore still cultivated and promoted a theology of God in which He was powerful, sovereign and immanent in the cause of empowering African-Americans to fight against racism and its effects. These two factors then, worship and mission allowed the black church to remain fairly relevant to the black community without having to change its basic approach to scripture or structure.

But then something happened. Something that the pillars of the traditional black church did not see coming. More on that next time.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Between Three Worlds - History

In his book ‘The Courage To Be Protestant’ author David Wells describes three distinct groups of evangelicals who represent much evangelicalism from the middle of the last century to the dawn of the present one. The first group are the classical evangelicals led by good brothers like John Stott, Carl Henry, J.I. Packer and Billy Graham. These brothers and the movement they nurtured were mainly defined by the crucial biblical truths they held to as the world emerged from the second world war. The second group he calls the marketers. As you might have guessed this group represented by brothers such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren viewed the church differently and focused more on church growth and the means thereof. The third group he calls the emergents. I’m sure many of us are familiar with these brothers who may define themselves as part of the postmodern youth culture in America.

As with his other books brother Wells does a fantastic job in describing the issues and impact these movements have had on the evangelical church and then charts a course for those who wish to promote historic biblical faith in a contemporary context. But this is not a review of the book which by the way I highly recommend and even quoted from last week during a sermon. I did want to use our brother’s categories to provide some historical background to my thought process regarding impacting the black church and community with reformed theology while at the same time striving to maintain the gospel based unity of God’s church across ethnic lines. I’ve entitled this short series of posts ‘Between Three Worlds’ and here’s why.

It seems as though I inhabit three distinct yet intersecting worlds. I am first and foremost a blood bought believer in Jesus Christ. My primary identity therefore is with Him who loved me and freed me from my sins by His blood. Consequently, my identify, mission, agenda and destiny are mainly and intimately tied to my Lord, Shepherd, King and Savior Jesus Christ. I am also a 21st century mono-cultural American. By that I mean that I’m for and promote a representative democratic form of government. I prefer to live in a free enterprise capitalistic economic system and value individual rights with corresponding responsibilities. I also enjoy sophisticated technology, real football and Dunkin Donuts (perhaps too much). And yet with all that I am a black man coming from a people who through God’s providence have developed into a distinct people group with our own history, church and issues that are different from many other Americans.

Ok back to the book. The three groups of evangelicals describe by Dr. Wells roughly correspond to the three groups of people they sought to serve with the gospel. The classical evangelical church mainly served the post WWII builder generation who through government intervention began to move from the central cities into the suburbs. This was the generation that began to build up a great deal of the nation’s wealth and started to grow into the large middle class we have today. They also initiated the American baby boom. And it was the first two generations of that boom who began to grow weary of and eventually checked out of their parents churches. In came brothers like Hybels and Warren who marketed a different kind of church to these boomers. Their techniques caught on and from about the mid seventies to late 90’s the market driven boomer church eclipsed the older evangelical church. The children of the second gen boomers have now emerged from the shadows of their parents churches wanting something different. These are the Seinfeld/Friends folks who like living in central cities and want a different kind of experience than their parents contemporary churches. Many of them now populate the new emergent church movement.

Before I end please let me beg your indulgence as I’m neither a historian nor the son of a historian. I’ve painted with a broad brush and certainly failed to fill in some necessary gaps. I only wanted to show how much of the present day effort of the reformed evangelical camp represented by good brothers like Wells, conferences like T4G and PCRT and church movements like the PCA, Sovereign Grace, Acts 29 and many among the SBC focus on the first two worlds. What about the last? Well that will have to wait until the next post.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance