Monday, July 21, 2008
Between Three Worlds - Vision Pt. 2
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…