Friday, July 18, 2008
Between Three Worlds - Vision Pt. 1
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…