Thursday, July 20, 2006

Things I've Learned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (#5 - Boldness)

Article XVII
We affirm that God calls his people to display his glory in the reconciliation of the nations within the Church, and that God's pleasure in this reconciliation is evident in the gathering of believers from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. We acknowledge that the staggering magnitude of injustice against African-Americans in the name of the Gospel presents a special opportunity for displaying the repentance, forgiveness, and restoration promised in the Gospel. We further affirm that evangelical Christianity in America bears a unique responsibility to demonstrate this reconciliation with our African-American brothers and sisters.

We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or division without betraying the Gospel.


That's an article from the "Affirmations and Denials" documented circulated at the Together for the Gospel '06 conference in Louisville. The statement was signed by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and John MacArthur.

That's a statement of boldness. Gospel boldness. Boldness in the truth. Exclusive, excluding boldness. Sweeping boldness. Boldness with integrity. Boldness with implications and applications. Targeted boldness. Big-chested, loins-girded, bare-knuckled, man-up boldness!

You don't see statements like these everyday... much less from national leaders of this stature... less still from "conservative, white, fundamentalist, evangelical" (choose your favorite label) leaders with apparently everything to lose and nothing to gain from such statements.

Let's face it... race is still a much-feared topic in the church and especially among many Reformed types. And the charge of "racism" is downright terrifying to many of our brothers and as unshakeable as a skunk's stink once attached.

Here's what I learned at CHBC... follow the truth wherever it leads you and stand on it! I saw that modeled at CHBC and I praise my God daily for blessing me with the ineffable joy and privilege of serving there.

While I was there, truth-based, gospel-motivated boldness displayed itself in the leaders and the congregation on everything from courtship and dating to race and racism. And it was far more than a verbal declaration.

Just a couple of examples:

  • It's now policy that each class of pastoral interns read and discuss Francis J. Grimke's Christianity and Race Prejudice, a scathing but insightful condemnation of racism in the white church and its incompatibility with the gospel. That's 12 men per year now thinking in an intensive way about an issue they might otherwise have avoided altogether.
  • I had the privilege of periodically introducing on Wednesday nights the congregation to important African-American pastors and church leaders with Reformed convictions... men like Lemuel Haynes and Jupiter Hammon and women like poetess Phillis Wheatley. That's a local congregation broadening its view of "the Church" to include and appreciate men and women of different hues that have made significant contributions to the gospel cause in this country.
  • I sat through hours of discussions where pastors deliberated thoughtfully, prayerfully, and sometimes agonizingly over how to cultivate, protect, and add to the racial unity the Lord has wrought in the church. That's a changed pastorate, committed to loving people well by not being "color blind" (as if that were possible or encouraging) but by acknowledging that the varieties of humanity existing in our churches and in the world are not an after-thought of God but a purposeful decision to display His wisdom and glory.
  • And oh! to witness the growing conversations among so many in the congregation that are desirous for the local church to look more and more like Eph. 2:11-3:12 and Rev 5:9. How I rejoice when the 22 year old brother from Ohio says, "I'm free to think about race in a responsible way for the first time." And I could multiply comments like these because of the holy boldness the church has shown in this area.
  • Or this denial broadcast to the entire church world: "We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or division without betraying the Gospel." That's the kind of boldness that puts the world on notice about where you stand and where those who oppose the truth stand.

And in all of this, I've seen boldness tempered by thoughtfulness, the kind of thoughtfulness that denies any place to guilt trips, culture-idolizing, and gospel-blurring or denying gimmicks but seeks to repent of genuine wrongs. I've learned that such boldness takes discipline and character, and it takes the kind of courage that's willing to break a few eggs in the attempt at an omelette. That says to a predominantly white, Southern Baptist church, "perhaps the greatest blight on the gospel in this country is the grotesquely sinful treatment African Americans have suffered at the hands of professing white Christians."

What I value about CHBC's effort at addressing race is that it's undertaken in a theologically informed, pastorally careful, personally challenging, and publicly accountable way. They've avoided programmatic fads and have sought to bet their chips... get this... on Christians loving each other in a gospel-centered, gospel-motivated, gospel-defined way. They're betting that the gospel actually changes people, that it renews minds (and hearts), even on profoundly difficult topics like race. That's bold, too. It would be easiser to start a program or some other mostly outward display. But, they're betting that Jesus will work in Christians in such a way as to display His glory through a supernatural unity across "natural divides" that mystifies and sometimes attracts an unbelieving world that, on the one hand, yearns for an end to its sin-induced alienation from God and man but, on the otherhand, has no reconciling solution outside of Christ.

Now, we're not in heaven yet, so the work there is still incomplete. They're much to be learned still; there are errors ahead of them to be sure. But, with God's leading and omnipotent aid, they've at least begun the work. How many of us in our churches and in our personal lives are unable to say we've even begun? Too many of us I'm afraid. Can we say we're true churches or true Christians apart from evidence of grace that trends toward this kind of boldness?

I've learned at CHBC something more about being bold. It's betting my all and the church in my charge on the Gospel, on the Truth, on Jesus Christ. It's following the Truth wherever He leads me and trusting in Him in all things. Jim Elliot seems appropriate here: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." That's posted on the entry to the CHBC parking lot; I want it to be posted over my life. I'm praying for more boldness... and faith. What about you?

8 comments:

Señor Limpio said...

Amen - may more of our churches follow that example!

Jeff R said...

Thabiti,

Thanks for your new blog, I'm subscribing and it's been edifying. I was a "weekender" at CHBC right before your trip to Grand Cayman and I'm excited to hear you ended up there.

Anyway, could you post a link to Francis J. Grimke's Christianity and Race Prejudice or let us know how we can get a copy? I did not see it on Amazon, and would be interested to read this. Thanks!

- JR

ajcarter said...

Great post my brother. My prayer of late has consistently been a prayer for boldness, courage, and faith - faith to believe God, the courage to act upon, and the boldness to stand upon those actions.

Also, statements are easy to make. Modern evangelicals have been making statements concerning racial unity for more than a decade now. What I am impressed with is not statements, but those men who are willing to put some feet and teeth to those statements by their actions. In this, I am greatly encouraged by Mark Dever, John Piper, and CJ Mahaney. I see in these men a genuine commitment to making the statement on racism a reality. I pray God will continue to give them courage and grace in this area, and that He will raise up more who will consciously take up this gospel charge as well. Thanks again, my friend.

Cindy said...

I like your profile statement. And from what I read, I find your blog interesting.

Your post points out, to me, a depressing state of affairs within churches of all faiths. It is truly sad when churches have to write a policy to tell the world (and its members!) they love all people, regardless of race or ethnicity. And it is an even more depressing state when non-christians must expect such policies!

As Christians, we are called by God to live what we believe, not write policies to inform the world of how tolerant we are in our actions and views.

Racism is wrong, it is a sin and as such the Bible is the only statement against sin any organization should need. Members should be taught Biblical principles regarding such problems. If there is a need to write a policy or make a formal statement to tell the members or local officials that "We aren't racist" then I would wonder what is going on in the pews that would demand such statement. Churches of any faith (and I am sure other churches have similar statements) should be living testaments to their love, acceptance, and fairness. But above all, living testaments to the love, acceptance, and grace of Jesus Christ who views all people equally. We are instructed in God's word to be like Jesus.

Of course, no matter where you go or how many policies are written, there will always be sin until He returns to cleanse the planet.

I wish you the best. May God bless you in your search for truth and continued growth in Him.

FellowElder said...

Jeff R,
For the Grimke sermon, send me an e-mail from my profile and I'll send you an attachment. The sermon was preached in 1910, reprinted in 1942 in The Grimke Papers edited by Carter G. Woodson, both of which are out of print. It will be included in a volume of sermons called The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway) next Spring, Lord willing.

But drop me an e-mail and I should be able to send you a copy. I pray it edifies your soul.

Grace and peace,
Thabiti

FellowElder said...

Cindy,
Thanks for stopping by. It's a shame for a "Dixie girl" to be trapped in Indiana! Have they made you a Hoosier yet?

You wrote: "If there is a need to write a policy or make a formal statement to tell the members or local officials that "We aren't racist" then I would wonder what is going on in the pews that would demand such statement."

I'm sure (by way of hard experience) that sometimes the statement, "I'm not a racist" is bogus and indicative of real problems.

But sometimes, the statement is absolutely true. And, the act of both proclaiming that you're not a racist... coupled with actively denouncing racism... and denouncing it when no one has asked you to... joined with real efforts to teach and live the Biblical principles you allude to... well, I have to conclude there's nothing happening in the pews to believe otherwise. In life and doctrine, the folks at CHBC and many other churches are proving that their love for the nations is increasingly like Jesus' love for the nations. I'm thankful for that.

And I'm thankful that such a proclamation comes from a church in a denomination that has its history sullied with the stain of racism. Sometimes you have to make these kinds of statements not because you're covertly guilty of them but because you're trying to distinguish light from darkness in a world (even Christian world) that too cozily reclines in both.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll keep droppin' in and chattin' from time to time.
For the love of Jesus,
Thabiti

Anonymous said...

Will you continue your blog in Grand Cayman?

FellowElder said...

Anonymous,
Lord willing I will continue to blog from Grand Cayman. Since I don't much like the beach, I should have some available time to muse and chatter in the blogosphere. Pray that it would be edifying for some.
Thabiti