Pastor’s Post #22: “MINISTRY TO THE AMERICAN BLACK COMMUNITY” (07/08/’17)
I love to remind people (as I love to remind myself) that the Gospel does what the United Nations cannot. In a most remarkable passage in the Bible (in the New Testament book of Ephesians, chapter 2, beginning at verse 11) the apostle Paul gives a grand picture of how, by the cross of Jesus Christ, God unites people who would otherwise be divided: “Remember that, at one time, you –Gentiles in the flesh…were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, i.e. the Old Testament form of the people of God, , and strangers to the covenants of promise – having no hope, and without God in the world. But now, in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made (both believing Jew and believing Gentile) ONE – and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility…(by creating) in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace. And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross – thereby killing the hostility (Note those powerful words)…For through Him we both have access (in the Holy Spirit) to the Father. So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets – Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. In (Him) the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the (Holy) Spirit.” The Gospel did what no human invention can do: In Christ it brought together Jews and Gentiles – those who formerly were deeply at odds with one another.
The effect of this most remarkable passage about what the Gospel does was the creation, over time, of Christian churches composed of “people of every tongue and tribe and nation.” And its members were not just friends – they became brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, their Elder Brother, their Savior, and their Lord. Nothing that I can think of is more remarkable than this in describing what the Gospel is meant to do in the world.
This is what the Gospel is meant to do.
But, in every church, in every location, and in every generation, cultural differences run into head-on collision with the pesky influences of our own sinful natures. We become proud of our national character and distinctives – and we look down on others – even others whom we are to regard as brothers and sisters in Christ. We elevate our cultural preferences over Christian principle. We’re comfortable with “our way of doing things”, and we are uncomfortable with the way other people – people of other cultures and backgrounds –do things. That discomfort usually comes from fear of what is unfamiliar to us. And fear leads to fleeing – to alienation. To separating ourselves into our own comfortable cliques.
You know the battle. But, do you fight it for the sake of the Gospel?
This separation – even against the backdrop of the cross of Christ before which all Christians are equal and in which all Christians are to be united – this separation is no more obvious than in our relationship with the American Black community. And there are so many factors that have brought this about. I think it’s the very pain of these things that makes us distance ourselves from the problem:
- The evil of slavery. An evil that was fueled in no small part by the belief of so many that Black people were less than human. (A belief, I hasten to add, that is utterly contrary to the biblical view that God has made all people in His own image.)
- The disruption of the American Black family. Fathers, mothers, and children were often separated from one another by being sold as property.
- The development, acceptance, and even the encouragement of segregated churches –both Black and White.
- The perpetuation of segregated churches as ways (particularly in the American Black community) to protect and preserve their rights and influence in society.
As a result, even more than a half a century after the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it remains true that – for both American Black and American White churches – the hour of worship remains one of the most segregated hours of the week.
Given what the Gospel is supposed to do in forming a church of every tongue and tribe and nation, this should make us very uncomfortable. It should break our hearts. It should make us pray and work for ongoing biblical reformation – with no excuses.
How do predominantly White churches – especially churches in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition – begin to break down the barriers to ministry to the American Black community? Certainly we begin by making friends of people whose skin color is different than ours. Cut through the pride, condescension, and fear that keep us from one another. And cut through it boldly. Make conscious efforts to befriend others who are different than you are. And don’t just make friends of “people of color”. Have them into your homes. Show them the hospitality of God – which is the heart of all Gospel ministry.
But before we can do that well, we need to understand something of the minds, the hearts, the backgrounds, the suspicions, and the fears of those who, for so many decades, were segregated from us and were treated poorly by predominantly White social, political, intellectual, economic, and religions structures. We will not get very far in unity if we do not start on the road of understanding.
Today the topic for A Visit to the Pastor’s Study is “Ministry to the American Black Community.” And let me emphasize that we are NOT doing this, first, with the goal of getting non-White people into our largely White churches. We want to understand the hurdles before us – and how to begin breaking them down.
My guests today are two very, very special friends and brother and sister in Christ, Jim & Pam Brown two American Black Christians. They are members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (the Church in which I am a minister); but that transition did not come easily for them. For our program today, Jim and Pam will help us understand some of the issues and challenges that churches (especially Presbyterian and Reformed churches) face as they seek to minister to the American Black Community.
But what I want to impress upon you, is that the Gospel still has power to enable us to address these issues and challenges – and to destroy the hostility that has marred our unity in Christ.
For now, though…Jim & Pam Brown, welcome to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study…