Monday, July 28, 2008
So here we stand at the precipice of a new century with what could be a golden providential opportunity before us. Not only could we reshape how the black church and black community think and practice the faith once delivered to all the saints, but we might actually re-form a church that truly includes all the saints.
So in a journey of a thousand miles where do we start?
Determine that reform is both desirable and necessary. There are many we know who for the most part see little if anything wrong within the black church. From their perspective each new successive “move of God” should be welcomed and followed until it fails to titillate and we then move onto something else. Some however see that at this point in time the black church is for the most part living in Ephesians 4:14. Change is necessary and sorely needed. And now is not the time for us to just sit back and watch the black church crash on the rocks of false destructive teaching.
Form a functional connection. This may be the most challenging step that we face. It calls for the growing number of African-Americans embracing reformed theology to let go of our distrust of others and ourselves, learn flexibility and actually begin working toward something meaningful. For some this might be especially difficult because their pain may have caused them to distrust any kind of structure organized for the purpose of expanding the kingdom. Many may genuinely believe that they must go it alone if only to avoid being disappointed by yet another leader. But I don’t think we can allow that to prevent us from engaging our people and our culture with the true gospel of God’s grace. Think how many are still caught in the snare of the wolves who even now ravage the saints.
A functional connection means that we pursue a broadly reformed association for the purpose of impacting the black church and black community with the gospel of God’s grace with the goal of galvanizing the evangelical church to embrace a biblically driven, kingdom focused, Christ centered witness. It means that we will seek out others of like mind and heart and embrace them in fellowship even though they don’t line up exactly with our 34 point criteria for what is truly reformed. It means that we’re willing to work with, support and worship with those who’ve embraced the doctrines of grace, the five solas and long to see them impact the black church, black community and American culture.
Will we all agree on who is baptized and the mode of such baptism? No. Will we all agree on the biblical form of church government? No. Will we all concur on the biblical or reformed way God’s people ought to express themselves in worship? No. Will we all agree on the continuing validity of spiritual gifts? No. Will we all agree on all issues regarding eschatology? No. Should we allow such differences to prevent us from forming a working fellowship? Absolutely not. And no it doesn’t mean that we’re an open ended group in which anyone who is sincere enough can join. By God’s grace and the wisdom of the saints who went before us there are enough creeds and confessions we can all agree on that can form the basis for a working association. Remember I’m calling for a functional connection not a formal one. Those who want a formal connection with a body of believers who share their concerns on the above mentioned issues can probably find at least one reformed denomination to become apart of. For those who cannot then I appeal to you to at least consider linking up with our functional connection.
How shall we begin? Let me give three specific actions and then perhaps in another post suggest a few more.
Generate a unifying statement of faith, identity and vision. A few of us are actually in the process of doing this over at the Council of Reforming Churches. The purpose of the statement is to define what we believe, who we are in Christ and what we hope to see our Lord do in our churches and communities. Our goal isn’t to weed out as many as possible but to give all who wish to join us a realistically biblical basis for working together.
Form regional geographic networks for the purpose advancing biblical theology and practice in our area. These groups could decide to meet a certain number of times per year to pray, fellowship and plan for the revival and even resurrection of God’s church in that area. These networks could have three primary purposes. 1) Draw into fellowship various people and churches seeking to impact the black church and community with biblically reformed theology. 2) Devise strategies for spreading the basic biblical truths of scripture which may be the best way to combat false teaching. 3) Develop church planting networks consisting of existing churches, committed leaders and lay people willing to give of their time and money to do biblically driven church planting.
Draft a uniform training curriculum. Most of us within reformed circles believe that formal education for the ministry is a necessary and wise requirement. However there’s no reason that such an education must happen within a traditional seminary. The wealth of books, DVD’s, MP3’s and whole courses available on the internet means we can construct a robust seminary level curriculum and deliver it within the context of the local church. This means that we can prepare the next generation of ministers, officers and other lay leaders using both an academic and hands on mentored ministry approach. We can also remove the potentially high cost of obtaining a seminary education from the ministry equation of those young men who wish to obtain it but are hindered by finances.
By the grace of God brothers and sisters let’s begin to pray for our Lord to once more revive and enliven His church so that she will indeed live out her calling to be the house of God which is the church of the living God the pillar and foundation of the truth. And then let’s be ready to respond to His answer by joining with those He’s called to press this battle on.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, July 25, 2008
So just what can two cats (Justus and Epaphras) from the first century teach today's church regarding employing a kingdom focused, biblically driven witness that leads with truth and engages people from multiple cultures?
Enlarge our vision. Presently we tend to only engage distinct subcultures within our society perhaps believing that young white goatee sportin post-modern artists could never have anything to do with middle aged, black modern entrepreneurs. We then craft a mission strategy that heavily depends on entering their cultural world. The end result are churches that consist mainly of young white post-moderns and middle aged, black moderns. However, instead of seeing the white post-moderns as the problem and purview of the white evangelical church and the black, middle aged moderns as the challenge for the bible believing black church let’s go after both with the belief and intention of seeing God transform them to the extent that they recognize see that what we have in common in Christ is far more important and far more valuable than what naturally divides us.
Don’t worship your culture. Both Justus and Epaphras had to part with aspects of their culture which were very important to them. This didn’t mean that Justus ceased being Jewish or Epaphras stopped being Greek. It did mean that upon believing in Christ they chose to focus on those aspects of biblical culture transmitted though the faith once delivered to the saints. This also enabled them to enjoy the flexibility of adopting certain non-sinful human aspects of culture for the purpose of advancing the kingdom. It’s here that Paul’s maxim from 1 Cor 9:19-23 is particularly important to us. Like Paul we must learn to wear human culture loosely. The extent that we’re wedded to a specific culture is the extent that we will shrink the reach of our witness. And we might be surprised at how flexible others are with respect to culture once we’re committed to biblical driven cultural flexibility.
Don’t waste our culture. Part of the challenge with any culture is the way that it defines who people are and marks them as belonging to one people group and therefore standing apart from other people groups. And in my view that’s one of the biggest obstacles facing the expansion of an authentic, biblical driven, unified witness in the 21st century. White evangelical believers and bible believing black believers have identified and held onto their natural cultures far too tightly and far too long. In doing so we’ve failed to emphasize and embody genuine biblical culture for the witness of the gospel and the glory of Christ. We spend so much time attempting to be culturally relevant to our niche human cultures that we’ve failed to produce a people that who are mainly known for the culture embodied in passages such as Ten Commandments, Beatitudes or Colossians 3. The result is believers who are far more American or African-American than we are Christian.
What could a focus on biblical culture look like? Let me give an example from each of the passages I just mentioned. From the Ten Commandments God’s people could nurture a culture of contentment. This could be especially valuable in a society that prizes covetousness. Through our lives we could demonstrate the advantages of gratitude, giving and biblical contentment. We could show our society that life isn’t about things and that our identity isn’t found in having the latest and best gadgets. We could also learn to be a people who intentionally live beneath our means so that we could increase what we give to those who have less than we.
From the Beatitudes we could prize the biblical cultural virtue of meekness. We could then find ways to use whatever strength we have be it emotional, financial, psychological, social or political on behalf of those who are weak and have less strength. And we could apply this meekness towards all kinds of people who for whatever reason need it. Imagine a group of churches in a particular city or region deciding to gather together and speak out and support the latest group of immigrants just because God providentially provided us with the opportunity to do so?
Lastly, from Col. 3 we could cultivate a taste for the life yet to come. We could become so enamored by our next life and the Savior who awaits us that we literally reorganized our time, finances and lives around the pursuit of His kingdom and promotion of His gospel.
The basis of this way of thinking is the view that the strength of our witness doesn’t spring from having worship events that mimic our human culture as much as it is having the One we worship transform us as we engage the culture.
Check your politics at the door. I’m using the term politics here in the generic sense of the way societies organize resources. I’m not asking for anyone to change his or her political views. Instead I’m asking that we don’t hold our politics so dear as to just about mandate that those who believe like us must vote like us. Also we need to be crystal clear with ourselves and our culture concerning which things are so important that they should occupy out time, thought, conversation and fellowship and which are not. Frankly brothers and sisters it is both unwise and detrimental to our witness to be so identified with and tied to one political party or another. And it is also unwise and potentially damaging for any aspect of God’s church to speak or act in such a way that lifts the temporal earthly agenda of a country or people to the level of God’s eternal kingdom. We are not here to promote or preserve the overall economic, political and military supremacy of the United States nor the lifestyle to which that supremacy brings us. Nor are we here to see that African-Americans or any other ethnic group levels the playing field and grabs their slice of the American dream along with everybody else.
Is there a place for politics in this new 21st century church? Yes there is. These churches should work together and work with the local officials of our cities, counties, townships and regions to advocate for policies that will benefit everyone who lives in the region.
Work hard. Isn’t it interesting how Paul the apostle of God’s grace mentioned how hard people worked to see that the message of grace impacted the Roman world? First century discipleship wasn’t a casual affair. Those who embraced Christ adopted the promotion of the gospel as a way of life and not merely a religious addition to their existing life. They gave themselves to the task of the gospel doing whatever was necessary to see to that it spread. Though we’re not sure what all of them did we do know that whatever it was they did it willfully, consistently, whole-heartedly and joyfully.
The current community of believers in America may have to look at itself in the mirror and make a hard choice. We can adopt the path of following Jesus by the way of the cross and truly embody biblically informed culture. This will mean wrapping our lives around the promotion of the gospel and thus radically altering how we spend our time, money and organize our lives. Or we can continue to be molded by our current culture of commerce and entertainment, wrap our lives around the comfort and convenience that culture affords us and then wait for the next church growth guru to tell us the real secret to connecting with the culture.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, "See that you fulfill the ministry that you have re ceived in the Lord." I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
What were some of the keys to the planting, rooting and expansion of God’s church in the first century? And how can those keys propel us into a genuine multi-ethnic gospel witness in the 21st century? God’s sovereign power of course. True, but how did God exercise that power? Answering that may help provide some of the keys to the spread of the gospel. So what were some of those keys? They include the power of the gospel message, the geopolitical context of the Roman empire, the overall spiritual climate of the Roman empire at that time, the explosive power of the Holy Spirit and if we’ve read the book of Acts the courage and perseverance of the apostles.
One other key that I don’t hear mentioned a great deal however is the quality and dedication of the ordinary disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. The section of scripture printed above comes from the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. (a church by the way that he did not plant) In it he mentions ten people who were instrumental in the planting, growth and expansion of the church in the first century. And it was disciples like these who played a significant role in propelling the gospel throughout the Roman world. And I don’t think that the strength of their witness was based on their ability to do the miraculous, artistic talent, cutting edge cultural relevance or powerfully gifted speaking skills.
What then was the key to their witness? To boil it down the early disciples were willing to wrap their lives around the message of the gospel and work hard for its promotion and expansion in their world. And to do that they had to step out of their birth culture and give themselves fully to the culture of the kingdom. What do I mean by that? Take another look at that passage from Colossians. Note how Paul distinguishes between Jewish and Greek believers. He speaks of those men who are among the circumcision (that is his Jewish brothers) and then writes ‘Epaphras, who is one of you’ indicating that he was Greek. What did they have in common?
Whether Jew or Greek their commitment to Christ automatically distanced themselves from their natural culture. Thus, for Justus to answer the call of the gospel meant that he had to reject the Jewish sacrificial system and the cultural core symbol of the Jews which was the temple at Jerusalem. It also meant that he no longer yearned for a military messiah who would overthrow the Romans and establish a political kingdom in Israel. Now once he did this Justus wasn’t simply regarded by his people as some quirky religious cat but their sworn enemy.
Likewise for Epaphras to embrace the gospel of Christ meant to reject Greek philosophy, the Greek pantheon and in many was the Greco/Roman way of life which was centered in idolatry. It meant that he rejected the cultural core symbols of his people which were the statues of their gods. He too became an enemy of his people since they tied so much of their identity to their idolatry and believed that the strength of the Roman state was tied to fidelity to the gods.
How can their examples instruct us who are now some twenty centuries removed from them as we attempt to establish a biblical based, Christ-centered, kingdom focused, multi-ethnic gospel witness?
To Him Who Loves Us...
Monday, July 21, 2008
What kind of church could we leave to our children as they take up the cross and lead the witness of the gospel into the middle of this century? Is it possible that maintaining the status quo may leave us in the awkward position of being the last American institution that’s largely separated along ethnic lines? With all the emphasis we place on cultural relevance could the very nature of how we do church render our cutting edge, technologically savvy, artistically aware churches absolutely irrelevant within the next 20 years? Imagine how we might be viewed if towards the middle of this century we have large churches in urban centers that mainly cater to one or at most two ethnicities? Are we really looking forward to continuing to attend conferences, convocations and conventions that draw multiple thousands of mainly one ethnicity?
Can we imagine a future in which the distinction within the church in America falls along truth lines instead of ethnic ones? Why am I going here? I thought as long as I’m pushing for reform of the black church I might as well include everybody. Let’s face it folks. The American church got off on the wrong foot from day one. Despite how God has used us we’ve never presented a strong, unified, multi-ethnic witness of the gospel that would cause people to look beyond our ethnicity to the Lord of the gospel. Now’s our chance however. Many in our society want to live in an authentically unified multi-ethnic community but have no idea how. Our churches both black and white are in serious trouble. Immigrants are flocking to America in record numbers. Who knows if God has called us to this place and this era for such a time as this?
How then can the next generation of God’s church in America boldly go where we’ve never gone before? As I said in the previous post we may have to leave our current reformed and bible believing black churches behind at least for now. I say that because it’s unlikely that they would be willing to make the necessary changes to truly transform into authentic multi-ethnic churches. So do we start by examining the dominant features of our existing church cultures and seeking ways to blend them together? Nope. We lead with truth. Instead of majoring on the important but transient facets of God given human culture we focus on producing a people who emphasize and embody a distinct, biblically informed, Christ-centered culture.
I’m using the term ‘culture’ to describe the beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior of a particular nation or people along with their shared history, attitudes, world view and view of their place within the world. And here’s where we have an advantage. For our culture enables us to inject ourselves into multiple cultures and deliver a witness that speaks to authentic issues and needs of humanity. Since scripture doesn’t demand that we package the message of the gospel in any specific human culture we’re free to use or not use culture as prudence dictates. More importantly, we can be confident that our witness to our own people doesn’t depend on our willingness to hold fast to and perpetuate our culture. Cow chips you say. Let me give an example. Suppose someone came to you and insisted that the traditional African-American style of preaching that ended with an emotional hoop was absolutely necessary to identify with and reach black folks, even those who weren’t churched. You dutifully employ this tactic until you discover that the majority of black people regularly listen to men who do no such thing. You do some inquiring and find that for the most part the hoop has gone the way of the dodo bird. You then wonder ‘where do I go from here’? Cultural affectations, even cherished ones go out of style. Genuine biblical culture however is always relevant and always useful because it always answers the deepest questions of people from every culture.
Where do we find such culture? Open the scriptures and you’ll find it all over the place. The scriptures provide the key to who we are, why we’re here, what’s ultimately important, to whom we’re accountable to, what makes us significant, where we’re going, where to take our pain, who cares for us, and what in life is worth celebrating. The scriptures also provide the people of God at all times and in all places a choice. We can decide to identify mainly with the temporal interest, issues, and idols of the people of our first birth, or take our place and identify with the eternal interest, issues and God of our second birth. To break it down into our time we can either be Americans whose main interest lie in perpetuating the way of life and overall supremacy of the United States and are willing to claim that God’s on our side for that purpose or we can believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who prize the lifestyle of the cross and reorient our existence around the expansion of His eternal kingdom. We can either be African-Americans who live to equal the playing field for ourselves and grab our slice of the American dream all in Jesus’ name of course or we can be the people of God showing our people and others what real abundant life is as we press toward the goal of extending His kingdom.
How we answer that question may well depend on what kind of church we want to see in the 21st century. So I ask you brothers and sisters: Got Vision?
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, July 18, 2008
In just about four months the United States of America may elect its first African-American president. Already many see Senator Barack Obama’s historic run for the presidency as a significant step forward in America’s ongoing struggle with the issue of race and ethnicity. A recent Gallup pole revealed that for the first time in a very long time black Americans have a more positive outlook on future race relations. There are a few other important sociological trends coinciding with his run. Among these are the desire of some evangelical denominations to become more diverse and growing theological decline within the historic black church.
Consequently, as we look to see biblical reform among the American church in general and the black in particular should we focus on both theological and sociological reform. Here’s what I’m getting at. I’ve proceeded with this short series with the assumption that we will continue to have an aspect of God’s church organized mainly around the characteristic of ethnicity. The challenge I’ve addressed isn’t the black church’s ethnicity, but its theology. Yet should we call for a reform that would not only overhaul the black church’s theology but her sociology as well? Why am I even entertaining such thoughts?
Most of us agree that America is still a country divided largely along the lines of ethnicity. Though we may have achieved a greater degree of diversity in the past two to three decades that hasn’t necessarily translated into a greater sense of unity across ethnic lines. And despite all of our rhetoric about how the gospel breaks down ethnic barriers the truth is that most evangelical churches and bible believing black churches feature one ethnicity. Furthermore this pattern of mono-ethnic churches has been replicated by other ethnicities. Could the desire for theological reform within the black church be the catalyst for an overall sociological reform among the general evangelical church? Might this be the time when for once the church sees what’s happening in our culture and takes the lead by proactively addressing ethnicity instead of ignoring it? Wouldn’t it be a shame if President Barack Obama succeeds in having the country achieve a greater degree of ethnic unity for the glory of America while we sat on the sidelines stuck in our religious ethnic ghettos? Isn’t giving up certain aspects of our culture which are very important to all of us a small price to pay for the possibility to demonstrate gospel driven ethnic unity?
Another reason I’m considering a sociological as well as theological reform concerns the nature of the new black church. This dear ones is certainly not your grandmother’s church. The way many black churches view scripture, God, humanity, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and other key biblical foundations is categorically different from the way the historic black church viewed and defined them. Consequently, any reform of the black church will result in a distinct and substantial break with the kind of worship, teaching and ethos that’s featured in much of today’s black church. Let me put it to you this way. Imagine for a moment your version of an ideal black reformed church. Finished? Good, now plop that church down in a typical black community. Finally, think about how the residents of that community will view that church’s worship, teaching and general philosophy of life and ministry. Ah here’s where I got you pastor Lance. You see our reformed church is going to focus on the unchurched who religiously speaking are a blank slate. Really now. What you may not understand friend is that unlike other cultural groups the black community doesn’t neatly divide the sacred from the secular. The views of men such as T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar and Eddie Long aren’t just confined to their pews but are heard and accepted in black secular media as well. Therefore, it’s neither uncommon nor surprising to hear your average non-church going black person declare with confidence a basic tenet of belief espoused by one of these men and their many followers. For them church is what they’ve seen or heard from the new pied pipers of prosperity. Thus, for them to walk into our ideal black reformed church is to enter into a different culture whether we realize it or not. That being the case why not go all the way?
How can this happen? I’m not entirely sure. (remember this is a blog folks so I need your input) We may have to seriously consider leaving the existing reformed and black church where they are and move forward without them. I say that because by and large they may be too entrenched in their current cultures to make the changes necessary to launch this particular kind of movement. What I’m proposing will take vision, courage and humility. And what it might look like is the subject of my next post.
To Him Who Loves Us…
allow me to introduce to Benito Stallings to you. He's a good young brother seeking to bring reform the the black church. Like many brother Stallings is an example of what God is doing within His church to bring glory to Himself through Jesus Christ. His story is familiar to many of us. Benito is currently on staff with DiscipleMakers at the main campus of Penn State U. Please take the time to read his testimony and consider supporting his work of ministry.
Fellow Reformed Brothers & Sisters,
My name is Benito Stallings. I’m 21 years old, a recent Penn State grad, now on full-time staff with a college ministry called DiscipleMakers. I praise God for what He has done in my life. During my college years, God has helped me to know Him better by opening my eyes to the doctrines of grace and giving me a real heart to transform African-American culture. Today, I count myself as a fellow brother in the movement to bring Reformation to the predominantly African-American church. However, this wasn’t always the case…
I came from a culturally Christian family upbringing. I grew up in the black church, and like many in the black church today, found myself very frustrated and confused when it came to spiritual growth. I didn’t know what being a Christian really looked like. In high school, when I decided to accept Christ and live for Him, I desperately wanted instruction in the Word, so I began to seek out various television ministries. However, despite all of those things, I was still very unhappy. I did not feel fulfilled. I wanted a happy and prosperous life. After all isn’t that what true Christianity is all about—health, wealth, and making the rapture? That’s what all of the teachers that I listened to told me.
My life radically changed when I started college and got involved with the campus ministry, DiscipleMakers. In fact, my entire outlook on life changed. I learned what being a disciple of Christ truly meant. It meant seeking to become more like Christ in every area of my life. It meant being more pleased with my spiritual status of a co-heir with Christ, than my earthly status. Suddenly life became less about me and more about the Lord. I finally learned what was like to live the Christian life. I gained a real passion for evangelism and sought to counter the post-modern lies often engrained into students’ minds by professors.
During this time, I also learned another lesson. I realized that the predominantly black church never taught what I was learning in DiscipleMakers—discipleship and evangelism. I realized that Word of Faith theology, and liberation were major foci in the black church, and that the gospel and other historic doctrines of the faith were largely ignored.
In time God opened my eyes to the doctrines of grace and gave me a desire to share these biblical truths with others, especially those of my own culture. I realized that only the gospel will change black culture, and that we really need to shift the focus in black churches back towards the scriptures and the historic doctrines of the faith. Around the same time that I realized this, I met Pastor Lance Lewis of Christ Liberation Fellowship, and found out about the Council of Reforming Churches. I also began to read books like, On Being Black and Reformed by Anthony J. Carter and Reconciliation Blues by Edward Gilbreath. I developed a deeper passion of bringing Reformed doctrine to the black community and decided to give my life to advancing the Reformation of the Black Church. God has also given me a great passion for race relations, especially within the church. Another major vision of mine is to see black and white churches begin to work together and unify. My conviction is that without the help of white evangelicals, we will continue to see the perpetuation of racial division both in the church and in society.
I am excited about my ministry with DiscipleMakers because it will give me opportunities to reach people from all over the world, including African-Americans. On Penn State’s campus, there is a tightly knit African-American community and there are many opportunities to reach this segment of the campus population. I have the unique opportunity to invest in students like myself—ones that may be from the inner city but have “beat the odds” and are in college. If God touched even a few of these students to affect their families and neighborhoods with the Gospel, as He has touched me, there is no telling what could happen! There is no doubt that Reformation is happening, and I will work to advance it in my ministry with DiscipleMakers.
How you can partner with me
If you have heart for missions and for seeing the Gospel transform culture, I want to talk to you. God has provided a wonderful opportunity through DiscipleMakers to see the Gospel influence the influencers—college graduates. I would like to speak with you to further explain my role with DiscipleMakers and how you can help support the advancements of God’s kingdom through the college campus. I’m excited about the opportunity God has given me to impact our culture and the world for Christ and I hope that you are too!
If you wish to contact me, my information is:
For more information about DiscipleMakers, visit www.dm.org. For more information about me, visit http://www.dm.org/about-us/find-us/by_staff/stallingsb.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Previously in this series I outlined a brief case concerning reforming the black church. I did so not because I have all the answers, but because in my view the social/historical factors that helped shaped the black church has brought us to the point where it is badly in need of reform. I realize that this view is not shared by all but for those who do I now want to chart a course toward that reform. Of course I welcome your input so please feel free to comment on the blog or drop me a line.
Where do we begin? With prayer. While that would seem to be a no brainer I still think it’s important to emphasize the need to have prayer at the forefront of our movement. To begin, prayer acknowledges that God chooses to work His sovereign will in response to the prayers of His people. (see Matt. 6:9-10; Acts 4:23-31) Prayer also reminds us that despite all our effort it is God’s power, goodness and grace alone that changes hearts and expands His kingdom. The apostle Paul consistently asked the saints to pray for him and the mission God had called him to (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3 and 1 Thes. 5:25).
And in light of the continued degeneration of God’s church among black Americans (see T. Carter’s latest blog) it should be clear that prayer is crucial if were are to change the current mind and heartset of the black church. What should we pray for? There are a number of places to begin, but in light of our current crises I’ll start with the shepherds of God’s people. Taking Acts 20 as a guide let’s pray that the shepherds of God’s people will wake up and pay much closer attention to our lives and the those whom God has charged us with shepherding. What does it mean to pay attention to ourselves and ministry? Looking at Paul’s model of ministry in Acts 20 let’s pray that we will serve our Lord with complete humility. Pray that we will major on the core gospel issue of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Pray that we will determine to teach through the scriptures in a biblical, systematic, comprehensive and Christ-focused manner. Pray that we will live upright lives of genuine holiness before all. And by all means pray that we will not use our calling and abuse God’s people by seeking to get rich.
Pray that we would realize the gravity of our calling by understanding that this is God’s own people purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. Pray that we will shepherd in the light of having to answer to Him for how we conducted our lives, taught His word and oversaw the spiritual needs of His people. Pray that we would care for and not abuse His people. Pray that we would stand against the savage wolves who only wish to abuse the flock for their own pride and pocketbook. Finally, pray that our Lord will raise up hundreds perhaps even thousands of shepherds who truly desire to lead His people, cultivate lives of holiness, teach the word and honor Him.
A second category of prayer concerns the black church’s and greater black community’s deliverance from the idols of materialism (see Col. 3:5), ease and comfort. There really is no other way to say it. Far too much of the black church and black community is actively worshiping (that is deriving our identity, dignity, destiny, meaning, worth and security) money and things. We’ve not only joined the American obsession with wealth and materialism but have actually brought it into the church and lifted it up as God to the extent that even the unsaved among our community believe that it is God’s express will and intent to make us wealthy. Pray that God would awaken our people to the foolishness of this idolatry and help us to realize that we really can’t serve two masters.
The third category of prayer is related to that. Pray that God would give us a strong desire to know, love and delight in Him as an end in and of itself. Pray that the goodness, love, beauty and glory of Jesus Christ would capture our hearts, minds, attention and affection.
Fourthly, pray that our churches and people would be concerned for the true truth of God for truth’s sake. Pray that our people would hear and pay attention to God’s truth about Himself, ourselves, sin, salvation, scripture, the Spirit, Jesus Christ, His church, suffering and other issues important in our walk with Him. According to Eph. 4 pray that we wouldn’t be blown back and forth by every so-called new move of God and that we would simply grow up.
Lastly, (but certainly not exhaustively since there is so much to pray for) pray for reform. Pray that the seeds of the reformation that have begun to sprout here and there among the black church would mushroom into a movement that will eventually see God’s truth which is centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ become the dominant theology in our churches and community for our good and His glory.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Friday, July 11, 2008
The Big E has posted an excellent and timely article on why many bible-believing black folks plan to vote for Senator Obama. You should read the article and then the comment by one of his elders that follows it. The article explains the thinking of most African-Americans regarding their vote while the comment expresses the feeling behind the vote.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again. Despite what one might think of Senator Obama as a man, senator and presidential candidate I have to stress that within much of the black community this is ‘Incredible Hulk’ like big. And I don’t think I’m overstating the case in saying that many if not most black people 45 and under would consider this to be the single most important collective event in our lifetime.
That said I once again appeal for all believers to exercise care and wisdom concerning how we speak and the conclusions we draw. Take the time to read our brother’s article and the comment that follows. And then by God’s grace find a real (not virtual) person with which to discuss it.
Oh alright a chocolate chip cookie for the first one who can name the original ’Big E’.
To Him Who Loves Us..
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
A few years ago my cousin commented that I sounded a lot like his pastor. I didn’t pay that much attention to that comment since from his youth my cousin has been and continues to be a die hard, straight up, no holds bard, shoutin Pentecostal with a capital ‘P’. When he told me that he recently moved his membership from one Pentecostal church to another, I have to admit that I didn’t take his pastoral comparison too seriously. Every so often he’d visit our church and say pretty much the same thing and after while I concluded that he was comparing the style not the content of our preaching.
But apparently my cousin was onto something else and insisted I meet with his pastor for lunch. I called, spoke with him and arranged to meet just so I could explain to my cuz, that though we sounded alike our content was quite dissimilar.
Well, once again I was wrong. Rev. Earl Wright is a straight up confessional 5 point Calvinist who also happens to be a reformed Pentecostal. Since meeting we’ve enjoyed great fellowship and even had a few worship services together. You can visit his churche's website here.
This coming weekend Pastor Earl is hosting the first annual Northeast Regional Conference of the Association of Reformed Charismatic Churches. I attended their national conference last year and can testify to the love these brothers and sisters have for God’s truth and our Pentecostal brothers. If you’re in the Philly area please consider attending the conference. The conference theme is ‘The Sovereign Grace of God’. I’m scheduled to speak on Sat. July 12th from Eze. 37. Even if you can’t attend please pray for the conference and for ACRC as they attempt to proclaim the doctrines of God’s grace to the growing number of Pentecostal and Charismatic evangelicals.
To Him Who Loves Us...
We're back. This time for good. I think. June was a busy month which included my cpu going down, our home internet going down, going to the PCA GA and finally returning from vacation last week. Speaking of vacation me and Sharon had a wonderful time at the Harvey Cedars Bible Conference and Retreat Center. We spent a week there with the saints and among the highlights were fitness walking with my wife, afternoon naps, playing Phase 10 with the saints and hearing from our brother Carl Trueman who did a spectacular job of relating the writings of some of the saints of old to the times in which they lived and then explaining their relevance for our lives and times. Carl also preached a timely message on what the gospel says about the character and nature of God for our Sunday morning worship. For families looking for an inexpensive yet fun-filled and spiritually enriching vacation Harvey Cedars is worth checking out.
From here on I'll be doing some catch up work. This weekend I'm speaking at a friends conference (more on that next post) and then hopefully will get back in stride.