Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Legacy of the African-American Church: Justice

With my silence or inactivity on this series, you'd be right to wonder if I didn't have much to say about the African-American church in her heyday. You'd be right to wonder, but you'd be wrong to conclude that.

I'm in Birmingham, AL currently, enjoying the sweet fellowship and hospitality of Harry Reeder and the saints at Briarwood Presbyterian. I'm in the heart of the South, and the literal stomping grounds (marching grounds) of the Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years ago, a revolution rang out from this place. The society Americans now live in was unimaginable just a generation or so ago. What happened?

Lots of things happened. Television entered the American home and for the first time Americans saw graphic images of wars abroad and of church bombings, attacking dogs, water hosed children and so on. The pictures of good looking, promising young men like Goodman, Cheney, and Schwartz were flashed on the screen. Television changed how America saw itself. It shrank the country so that families in Ohio could readily see the happenings in Selma and Atlanta and Montgomery. And many, many people, black and white, did not like what they saw.

Television happened. But that wouldn't have been such a big deal if the African-American church hadn't happened as well. It's a well-worn fact that the African-American church was home base and launching pad for the Civil Rights Movement. There would not have been a movement if there had not been a Black Church. And not just a Civil Rights Movement, but arguably an Abolitionist movement either. Through most of her long and storied history, the African-American church has maintained a tenacious grip on justice as a necessary outworking of the gospel.

This is what makes men like James Cone so nearly right when they write about liberation as the gospel. But in being nearly correct they are completely wrong. Liberation is not the gospel. Whether folks are ever liberated or not, the gospel remains. And the freedom that Christ came to give us (Gal. 5:1) is not bound in chains or behind bars or paroled with out bodies. Justice, liberation, mercy are outworkings of the gospel but not the gospel itself. In her prime, the African-American church knew this and lived this.

We seem to put social justice at odds with gospel proclamation. Many today don't think these can easily coexist. They think that to fight for justice as the Christian church inevitably means the abandonment of the gospel. They may be correct. For since the Civil Rights Movement, the gospel has been thoroughly confused by too many in the African American church with liberation and justice itself.

But even if that caution is correct, to preach the gospel and have no concern and take no action in the cause of justice is as much an abandonment of the gospel as mistaken the gospel. How can a faithful gospel preacher preach the gospel before slaves and never wince at the gross barbarity of that peculiar institution? How can a man claim to live the gospel with fellow brothers in Christ and yet uphold laws that disenfranchise, marginalize, and oppress those same brothers? They may gospel doctrine down pat, but they don't have gospel living at all! Having a form of godliness, they deny the power thereof.

Not so with the African-American church and the many faithful Christians she birthed who laced up worn but shined shoes, straightened their ties and their backs, and marched in love for justice. At her best, she not only understood the gospel but felt the irresistible impulse of the gospel to do something consistent with the gospel in the face of injustice. Today, to many gospel preachers preach and teach in such a way that the fine edges of the gospel are shaved, sanded, and smoothed until the gospel only tickles rather than pierces. We need to learn from the African-American church how to pursue justice precisely because we understand and live the gospel. And we need to learn from the African-American church that justice and liberation are not idols to worship, or themes to supplant the gospel. Black Church history has enough in it to teach both sides of the issue, to keep us from falling off either side of the horse.

Consider Jupiter Hammond, a slave all his life, addressing fellow slaves on this very dynamic:

My dear brethren, we are many of us seeking for a temporal freedom, and I pray that God would grant your desire. If we are slaves, it is by the permission of God. If we are free, it must be by the power of the most high God. Be not discouraged, but cheerfully perform the duties of the day, sensible that the same power that created the heavens and the earth and causeth the greater light to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night can cause a universal freedom. And I pray God may give you grace to seek that freedom which tendeth to everlasting life.

Hammon continued:

My dear brethren, let not your hearts be set too much on the pleasure of this life. For if it were possible for one man to gain a thousand freedoms and not an interest in the merit of Christ, where must all the advantage be? “For what is a man profited if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (See, Hammon, An Evening’s Improvement, in Sondra O’Neale, Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African American Literature (Meutchen, N.J.: American Library Association, 1993), pp. 172-73)

I know many free men who reject out of hand Hammon's reasoning. They do so never having known the lash and the chain as Haynes did. What a convenient place from which to judge a better man--knowing all the advantages he didn't and none of the oppression. But Haynes is sure correct when he wrote “that liberty is a great thing and worth seeking for if we can get it honestly and by our good conduct prevail on our masters to set us free,” but finally concluded that physical freedom “is by no means the greatest thing we have to be concerned about. Getting our liberty in this world is nothing to our having the liberty of the children of God.”

Consider how Lemuel Haynes reasoned from the gospel outward to the illegality of slave-keeping (original spellings):

But now our glorious high priest hath visably appear’d in the flesh, and hath Establish’d a more glorious Oeconomy. He that not only visably Broken Down that wall of partision that interposed Between the offended majesty of Heaven and rebellious Sinners and removed those tedeous forms under the Law, which savoured so much of servitude, and which could never make the comers thereunto perfect, By rendering them obsolete: but he has removed those many Embarisments, and Distinctions, that they were incident to, under so contracted a Dispensation. So that whatever Bodily imperfections, or whatever Birth we sustain, it Does not in the Least Debar us from Gospel previlege’s. Or whatever hainous practice any may be gilty of, yet if they manifest a gospel repentance, we have no right to Debar them from our Communion. And it is plain Beyond all Doubt, that at the comeing of Christ, this curse that was upon Canaan, was taken off; and I think there is not the Least force in this argument than there would Be to argue that an imperfect Contexture of parts, or Base Birth, Should Deprive any from Gospel previleges; or Bring up any of those antiquated Ceremonies from oblivion, and reduce them into practice.

But you will say that Slave-keeping was practiced Even under the Gospel, for we find paul, and the other apostles Exhorting Servants to be obedient to their masters. To which I reply, that it mite be they were Speaking to Servants in minority in General; But Doubtless it was practiced in the Days of the Apostles from what St. paul Says, 1 Corin. 7 21, art thou called, being a servant? care not for it; but if thou mayest Be made free, use it rather. So that the Apostle seems to recomend freedom if attainable, q.d. “if it is thy unhappy Lot to be a slave, yet if thou art Spiritually free Let the former appear so minute a thing when compared with the Latter that it is comparatively unworthy of notice; yet Since freedom is so Exelent a Jewel, which none have a right to Extirpate, and if there is any hope of attaining it, use all Lawfull measures for that purpose.” So that however Extant or prevalent it might Be in that or this age; yet it does not in the Least reverse the unchangeable Laws of God, or of nature; or make that Become Lawfull which is in itself unlawfull; neither is it Strange, if we consider the moral Depravity of mans nature, thro’out all ages of the world, that mankind should Deviate from the unerring rules of Heaven.

Haynes grew up an indentured servant as well. Served in the American Revolution. Was largely self-taught. Didn't have the advantages of many of us today. And yet he saw clearly that the gospel and justice go together like hand in glove.

Sometimes I wonder if in the comfort western Christians almost universally enjoy we don't make this more difficult than it needs to be. How about Zech. 7:9-10. We may learn this from the best of the African-American church tradition.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why I Have Withdrawal Symptoms from ACC Basketball

Actually, better than the basketball sometimes is the trash-talking. Exhibit A from respected and godly pastors! Is it March yet? I can feel it in the air!

Whitefield Around the Blog

From Of First Importance, "The Excellency of Election":

“Oh the excellency of the doctrine of election, and of the saints’ final perseverance, to those who are truly sealed by the Spirit of promise! I am persuaded, till a man comes to believe and feel these important truths, he cannot come out of himself; but when convinced of these, and assured of the application of them to his own heart, he then walks by faith indeed, not in himself but in the Son of God, who died and gave himself for him. Love, not fear, constrains him to obedience.”

From The Purpose Driven Blog, a selection from Whitefield's "The Lord Our Righteousness":

Whoever is acquainted with the nature of mankind in general, or the propensity of his own heart in particular, must acknowledge, that self- righteousness is the last idol that is rooted out of the heart: being once born under a covenant of works, it is natural for us all to have recourse to a covenant of works, for our everlasting salvation. And we have contracted such devilish pride, by our fall from God, that we would, if not wholly, yet in part at least, glory in being the cause of our own salvation. We cry out against popery, and that very justly; but we are all Papists, at least, I am sure, we are all Arminians by nature; and therefore no wonder so many natural men embrace that scheme. It is true, we disclaim the doctrine of merit, are ashamed directly to say we deserve any good at the hands of God; therefore, as the Apostle excellently well observes, "we go about," we fetch a circuit, "to establish a righteousness of our own, and," like the Pharisees of old, "will not wholly submit to that righteousness which is of God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

From DG, "Whitefield Exalts in Christ":

The Lord, the Lord Christ, the everlasting God, is your righteousness. Christ has justified you, who is he that condemneth you? Christ has died for you, nay rather is risen again, and ever liveth to make intercession for you. Being now justified by his grace, you have peace with God, and shall, ere long, be with Jesus in glory, reaping everlasting and unspeakable fruits both in body and soul. For there is no condemnation to those that are really in Christ Jesus. Whether Paul or Apollos, or life or death, all is yours if you are Christ's, for Christ is God's.

My brethren, my heart is enlarged towards you! O think of the love of Christ in dying for you! If the Lord be your righteousness, let the righteousness of your Lord be continually in your mouth. Talk of, O talk of, and recommend the righteousness of Christ, when you lie down, and when you rise up, at your going out and coming in! Think of the greatness of the gift, as well as the giver! Show to all the world, in whom you have believed! Let all by your fruits know, that the Lord is your righteousness, and that you are waiting for your Lord from heaven!

This is not Whitefield, but it's a quote at Unashamed Workman from David Wells that probably describes Whitefield's preaching:

Preaching is not a conversation about some interesting ideas. It is not the moment in which postmoderns hear their own private message in the biblical words, one unique to each one who hears, and then go their own way. No! This is God speaking! He speaks through the stammering lips of the preacher where that preacher’s mind is on the text of Scripture and his heart is in the presence of God. God, as Luther puts it, lives in the preacher’s mouth.

This is the kind of preaching that issues a summons, which nourishes the soul, which draws the congregation into the very presence of God so that no matter what aspect of his character, his truth, his working in this world is in focus, we leave with awe, gratitude, encouragement, and sometimes a rebuke. We have been in the very presence of God! This is what great preaching always does.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What's Impressive About Briarwood Presbyterian?

The first-time visitor will no doubt first notice the size of the campus. The locals affectionately call it "Briarworld." Truth be told, it's probably one of the largest church campuses I've ever visited. Actually got a little misdirected driving to the meeting place tonight.

But what's really impressive about Briarwood has nothing to do with the buildings. The chapel soars, but even more so does the spirit of the people of Briarwood. What's far more impressive is the earnest and deep hospitality, warmth, and evangelistic zeal of the people. Two things have been prominent from the moment I first shook hands with a Briarwood person: (1) genuine love for the brethren, and (2) genuine love for the lost.

Now, I'd rather be with the humble, joyful, gospel-loving, Jesus-cherishing people of FBC on the Lord's Day. But if I'm going to be somewhere else, I'm really glad to be with the dear people of the Lord at Briarwood. And what's really sweet is the fact that the Lord has people like this all over the world! Oh, the Body of Christ is a wondrous thing!

Praying you have a wonder-filled Lord's Day tomorrow!

Glad Tidings Preached Gladly

"Let's preach to sinners the news so good that we ourselves must struggle against the joy of it."

Read here.

Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Upcoming Travels, Speaking and Prayer Request

In God's kindness, and with the loving prayer and support of the saints at FBC, I'm off to Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham to speak at their Global Ministries Conference. I'm looking forward to time with Bro. Harry Reeder and the Briarwood family, thinking together about this wondrous privilege of taking the Good News of our Savior and Lord to the ends of the earth.

Following the time at Briarwood, we travel to Southeast Asia for a 1.5 weeks of ministry there. I'll be leading a two-day conference on the gospel in all of Scripture with student leaders from around the region. Following that, there'll be a public Muslim-Christian dialogue on the topic "Who Is God and How Are We Saved." Speaking a couple times at a local church and various things through the week.

I covet your prayers for all these opportunities. Should the Lord bring us to mind, please ask Him to enlarge the work of His Spirit in these opportunities, edifying, establishing, and expanding His church, particularly in the unreached areas of southeast Asia. Please pray the Lord would show Himself in saving power during the time there. Please pray that Christ’s love, glory, power, holiness, deity, wrath and grace might be seen for what it truly is, and that every knee would bow!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

John Folmar on Eph. 6:1-4

Listened to this one twice today. It's the sermon entitled "Spiritual Families" (30 January). Excellent, clear, convicting and encouraging. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Is NEXT

The latest video for the upcoming NEXT conference. Check it out here and check out the conference!

Act What You Are

You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. (1 Thes. 5:5-6)

Gene L. Green in The Letters to the Thessalonians (PNTC) has this helpful comment and reminder about Paul's words in these two verses:

The believers' existence as "children of the light and children of the day" has moral implications that the author begins to elaborate in [v. 6]. The imperative is put in the first person plural and begins with the words so then, which introduce the inference drawn from the previous statement (v. 5). Since Christians are "children of the light and children of the day," they should not sleep but rather be alert and self-controlled. This intimate relationship between their new existence and their new moral life touches a fundamental aspect of Christian ethics: What they are is what they should do. The moral exhortation finds its roots in the previous work of God in their lives. They have been made "children of the light and children of the day" via their salvation, and now they are to act according to that new state of being. The gift of grace includes within it the call to obedience. As V.P. Furnish states, "God's claim is regarded by the apostles as a constitutive part of God's gift. The Pauline concept of grace is inclusive of the Pauline concept of obedience." Since the imperative is integral to the indicative, the summons of Christian ethics becomes, "Act what you are." (pp.237-238)

Breaking off the indicative and emphasizing the imperative leads to gospel-less moralism and even legalism.

Breaking off the imperative and emphasizing only the indicative leads license and cheap grace.

What God has joined together (grace and obedience) let not the Christian or the preacher separate.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Six Goals for Every Pastor

UA reminds us of six goals that Prime and Begg suggest every pastor should set.

to feed the flock (John 21:15-17)
to proclaim the whole will of God (Acts 20:27)
to present everyone perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29)
to prepare God’s people for works of service (Ephesians 4:12)
to equip God’s people to be fisher’s of men (2 Timothy 4:5)
to keep watch over oneself until the task is complete (1 Timothy 4:16)


The Primacy of Preaching

The good folks over at Expository Thoughts offer a short post with three great quotes on preaching:

In his opening chapter The Primacy of Preaching from the book Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea For Preaching Dr. Al Mohler wrote, “Evangelical pastors commonly state that biblical preaching is the hallmark of their calling. Nevertheless, a careful observer might come to a very different conclusion. The priority of preaching is simply not evident in far too many churches.

We must affirm with Luther that the preaching of the Word is the first essential mark of the church. Luther believed so strongly in the centrality of preaching that he stated, ‘Now, wherever you hear or see this Word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do no doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica (Christian, holy people) must be there….And even were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s Word cannot be without God’s people and, conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s Word.’”

Before he died the great Bible expositor James Montgomery Boice wrote, “I do not think it is too much to say that preaching really is an essential means perhaps even the most important means, of grace. If that is the case, then we should be very careful in our Christian lives to expose ourselves to the best teaching and attend the best churches available.”

2 Timothy 3:13-4:5; John 21:15-17; Col. 1:25-29; Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23, 2:2; 1 Timothy 4:13-18; Ezra 7:10; Neh. 8.

Good stuff.

One of the Funniest Pastors I Know on Humor in the Pulpit

Humor in the pulpit can be very dangerous. It's like a narcotic. Your people will love it (how much more entertaining to hear you riff on something than to teach Leviticus or talk about sin). You'll love it (less sleeping, more laughing at how hilarious you are!). And the temptation will be for you to give the people more of what they want and less of what they need. I listen to about 10 sermons a week, and some of the guys I listen to are both funny and really good teachers. But here's what I notice... they have to tell three jokes for every one that really lands. Two out of three just kind of linger there and die. And so the whole sermon feels like it's being interuppted by second rate comedy. Over time, my fear is that the people will come hungry for your humor and not necessarily for the word of God. They will be dependent on you and your charisma and your sense of humor, and you'll never be able to plant churches because you can't find anyone else as funny as you are, and so you'll have to pipe your sermons into other locations.

Read the entire list of theses here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"Read with Discernment"

That's the trademarked strategy at Lifeway stores these days. (HT: Challies) The store has decided to attach a sticker to certain books with questionable content. You can read more here.

Lifeway provides this explanatory comment:

We want you to know that the authors of books marked Read with Discernment may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.

However, we are making these titles available to our customers (along with the background and additional insight offered here through Read With Discernment) because we believe the books do present content that is relevant and of value to Christians and/or because pastors, seminary students, and other ministry leaders need access to this type of material, strictly for critical study or research to help them understand and develop responses to the diversity of religious thought in today's postmodern world. Our prayer for you is that in whatever you read, you place the material under the magnifying glass of scripture and read with discernment, asking God to reveal His truth to you so that, as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:9-10, "...your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ..." (Holman CSB).

So far, the following authors have received the label: William P. Young (The Shack), Rob Bell (of Velvet Elvis fame), Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz).

A couple of these authors have put things in print that depart so far from the biblical truth that you can only use the label "heretical" to describe them.

On the one hand, you're happy to see Lifeway trying to aid the unsuspecting book purchaser. On the other hand, you're left wondering why a Christian bookstore would carry anything harmful to a person's soul.

What say ye? Is this a good idea? Too much? Too little? Should they put this label on all the non-book stuff they sell?

My Daughters, the Poets

I'm not really a big reader of poetry. It's okay; I just don't spend a lot of time reading and reflecting on it.

But my daughters have been writing some poetry lately, and I am a big fan of my daughters and their poetry. Two samples.

First a limerick from my youngest daughter, Eden (age 9), who manages to rebuke her dad in rhyme:

Fat Man

There is a man that carries a bat;
He eats too much so he is very fat.
His beard is really long,
And sings his jolly long.
He will never lose weight acting like that.

Then there is the poem from my oldest daughter (soon to be 11) who manages to put in poetry a love we share, reading.

The Magic of Reading

I open my book to my favorite page.
I look down and see everything has changed.
The old excitement is replaced with something brighter!
The white on the pages are now even whiter!
And as I am filled with excitement and glee,
It all fades away, then I read with less speed.
I must say, it is magic to read.

All of the stories come to life on the page;
And just like the characters I feel happiness and rage.
All of the words have new meaning to me;
And slowly I read with greater speed.
And that's why I say: "It is magic to read."

I travel with Don Quixote and his horse,
And with Nat Bowditch I proof-read morse.
I play the piccolo with Dominic,
And like Olivia "Miss O" will stick.
Running and singing and hiding from De Vil.
I'm magicly caught in the reading spell.
Only a closed book can get me out of it,
And if the character does, I'm bound to pout a bit.
So I'll say it again:
"It is magic to read."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do You Have a Favorite Book of the Bible?

Do you?

I think my favorite book is Hebrews. Is there a book that so completely demonstrates the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all things?

So, I'm thankful for anything that gives me a deeper love for the Savior by helping me to plumb the riches of the Book of Hebrews. If you haven't heard already, Justin Buzzard has published an excellent study of the Book of Hebrews. It's called Hebrews: Consider Jesus. Everyone should pick this study guide up.

Here's the information from the Good Book Company website:

Product Description

Jesus Christ - it's a name that still has unique pulling power, even in today's secular society. Jesus is used as a comforting idea in times of trouble, an inspiration for those seeking spirituality, and even as a figurehead for counter-cultural enthusiasts. But the real Jesus is so much greater than this.

Jesus Christ is at the centre of the Bible's message and God's plan for the universe - and at the centre of human history. But is He at the centre of our existence - our hopes, priorities and day-to-day lives? We need to move on from simply knowing the details of His birth, life and death to a deeper understanding of their meaning.

The letter to the Hebrews helps us leave behind out limited views of Jesus by explaining to us the supreme greatness of Christ Himself.

Consider Jesus is a Bible-study guide to help ordinary Christians get to grips with Hebrews. Here is an invitation to fix our eyes on God's Son - our perfect Brother, faithful and merciful High Priest, atoning Sacrifice and great Shepherd. Use these studies to discover the whole picture of Jesus Christ, and equip yourself to know, trust and follow Him, come what may.

Table of contents

Why study Hebrews?
1. God's greatest revelation (Hebrews 1 v 1 - 2 v 4)
2. The greatest man (Hebrews 2 v 5-18)
3. A greater Moses (Hebrews 3 v 1 - 4 v 13)
4. A greater priest (Hebrews 4 v 14 - 5 v 10 (ch 7))
5. A greater truth (Hebrews 5 v 11 - 6 v 20)
6. A greater covenant (Hebrews 8 v 1 - 10 v 25)
7. A greater promise (Hebrews 10 v 26 - 12 v 3)
8. A greater kingdom (Hebrews 12 v 1 - 13 v 25)

Leaders' Guide

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Legacy of the African-American Church: Faith

How would you define "faith"? How would you know faith when you see it?

Though I think many people could give some general definition of faith, I think it remains a misty concept for many others. It's an intangible. Most folks think you either have it or you don't. Even though we may talk of little faith or great faith, do you feel that sometimes "little faith" is simply a nice pseudonym for "no faith in reality"?

Sometimes life is harder than steel. Sometimes life mangles and twists us like so many guard rails smashed by speeding, out-of-control vehicles. And in those times of hardship, we discover what faith is and whether we have it.

I'm convinced that perhaps the greatest example of genuine faith in American Christian history is the example left by African Americans who love the Lord. The situation most African-Americans live in now was the stuff of dreams just 50 years ago. Recede further into the history, past Jim Crow, past Reconstruction, past the abolitionist movement, on back to Jamestown and you find a people dragged into "history as terror" or "daemonic dread" as one author put it. He asked, "Who do you pray to in the bowels of a slave ship?"

It's a good question.

In time, many Africans sold as chattel in the New World prayed to the One True God through Jesus Christ His Son and entered into eternal life. Howard Thurman, a famed theologically liberal African-American pastor and educator, had it right when he pointed out that the greatest irony of American history was that the slaves should pray to the master's God.

But that irony is why the African-American church's legacy of genuine, biblical, God-centered faith is so rich and necessary to recover and esteem. Read slave conversion testimonies in a work like Clifton Johnson's God Struck Me Dead, or the poetry of Phillis Wheatly, and all you find is soul-deep, God-longing faith in the face of life as hard as steel, as stinging as the lash, as cruel as pregnant bellies ripped open, as horrendous as black bodies burned and swinging from trees, as tragic as young men hobbled and amputated, as wrenching families split and wives raped.

How do you survive such an existence? How do you survive such an existence without checking out of reality? How do you survive such an existence without checking out of reality while knowing that "trouble won't last always"? How do you survive such an existence without checking out of reality while knowing that "trouble won't last always" and simultaneously working for a better day? How do you endure such an existence without exploding in hate toward others? How do you endure such an existence and make any sense of "love your enemies"? How do you endure such an existence and sing and dance and love and create and laugh?

Only by believing that God is good, that He controls all events, that His justice will prevail, that vengeance belongs to Him, that He hears the cry of the oppressed, that social standing is no proxy for God's love, that life in His image is infused with dignity even when others don't think you're human. Only by believing those things and trusting God himself do you survive such atrocities, and not only survive but thrive and contribute.

It was faith in God through Jesus that sustained the African-American church. I sometimes think we don't know how to trust God deeply because we've not suffered deeply. In fact, God thinks that of us. That's why suffering is such a central part of the Christian experience. It breeds trust in God and distinguishes genuine faith its superficial counterparts.

So where does a rich and largely suffering-free generation like ours look for instruction in persevering faith? We have to look to those who have suffered horrifically yet trusted God implicitly. Modern examples exist. But as the U.S. celebrates African-American history month, the domestic parable so glaring and glorious is that of the African-American church which by faith endured bombings, lynchings, cross burnings, sharecropping, Jim Crow, Bull Connor, the Ku Klux Klan, chattel slavery, disenfranchisement, Black Codes, auctions, marches, sit ins, ghettos in the north, plantations in the south with no visible means of support, only a sometimes quiet, sometimes singing, sometimes mourning, sometimes active, sometimes ridiculed, sometimes shut out, sometimes demonstrating, all the time preaching faith in God.

If Hebrews 11 were still being written today, the chapter would be twice as long for its inclusion of now forgotten black faces that would have to be included for their heroic faith in God. What did Moses have on Harriet Tuman, Abraham on Jupiter Hammond, Gideon on Nat Turner, Isaac on Denmark Vesey, or Sampson on George Liele? Nothing.

At her finest, the African-American church offers the most compelling example of centuries-long persecution-triumphing trust in God. May we learn from her and live like her.

Monday, February 09, 2009

When Counselling Don’t...

1. Counsel women alone
2. Counsel drunks; wait till they sober up
3. Counsel someone being counseled by another
4. Counsel without access to a phone, desk, writing materials, etc.
5. Counsel people who set down conditions
6. Counsel when a person refuses to do his homework
7. Counsel by telephone
8. Counsel by separating spouses from one another
9. Counsel people so drugged that they can’t reason
10. Counsel young children; counsel their parents
11. Counsel unbelievers; evangelize them
12. Counsel a Christian who will not accept Scripture as a Standard

See the remainder of Jay Adams’ list here. (HT: UA)

Singleness Q&A

Yesterday we wrapped up out 6 week Sunday school class on singleness and courtship. Today, a helpful list of questions and answers on singleness from Piper:

1. How is singleness better than marriage?
2. How can singles help foster a relational culture at church?
3. How do I deal with the intense longing to be married?
4. What are the trials unique to singleness, and how do you recommend combating them?
5. What would you say to someone who thinks their sexual sin has disqualified them from ministry?
6. What do you think about masturbation?
7. Is it OK for a single woman to pursue a career?

I'm particularly interested in question 2. What does your church do on this one?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Hansen on What He Left Out

Over at Ref21, Colin Hansen reflects on some topics he left out of Young, Resltess, and Reformed. (HT: Challies) And in the midst of his reflection, he included this nugget about what he did see as he worked on his book:

[W]hat I saw during my travels was the stirrings of a true spiritual revival, not merely renewed interest in a particular theological system. I saw hunger for God's Word, passion to spread the gospel around the world, and zeal to pursue greater holiness. That's something Christians of any theological persuasion can support. For those who despair of this growing movement, I can only recommend that they renew their efforts to catechize young believers. It's easy to embrace Reformed theology in college when a Calvinist is the first Christian who has exposited the Word for you.

Indeed, may a God-centered revival be wrought among us by a glorious God desiring to be known and loved by His creation. May hunger for the Word stay the famine that is coming. May the gospe run rapidly around the world and the dark doldrums and slumber of spiritual wickedness be cast out. And may those holding to different commitments nonetheless hold committedly to the One True God with all the light He graciously gives!

Speaking of the African-American Church...

and the cross-fertilization she shares with the wider church, our brother Wyeth Duncan is meditating on AME liturgy and its indebtedness to the Methodist Episcopal Church which is indebted to the Book of Common Prayer. But what draws his attention this morning is this line of general confession in the communion liturgy: "We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us."

I remember the first time I heard those words prayed. My heart went, "Yes. I'm grieved by my sin!" The prayer so wonderfully gives wording and vent to the Christian heart drawn in remembrance to its wanderings. And yet, we don't stop with grieving, for in heaven sits enthroned our Perfect Righteousness. Our grief is turned to joy when our eyes are turned to Christ. In the gospel is the complete forgiveness of sins, but also the imputation of perfect righteousness which consoles us even when the knowledge of forgiveness can't.

Grieve for your sins today. Then rejoice in Christ's everlasting righteousness!

Reflecting on the African-American Church During Black History Month

Yesterday, February 1st, began African-American history month. The annual celebration of African-American history began at the initiative of esteemed scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950). Woodson is regarded by many as the father of Black history, and a copious preserver of that historical heritage. He participated in the founding of the Society for the Study of African American Life and History and for years ran an influential publication called The Journal of Negro History.

African-American history month began as "Negro History Week" in 1926. Woodson settled on the second week in February because it fell between the birthdays of what he considered the two greatest Americans, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. From the start, there was a recognition that Black history was inseparably tied to American history.

In 1921, Woodson published a study entitled The History of the Negro Church (electronic version here). He outlined and explored the subject as follows:


I. --Early Missionaries and the Negro . . . . . 1
II. --The Dawn of the New Day . . . . . 23
III.-- Pioneer Negro Preachers . . . . . 40
IV. --The Independent Church Movement . . . . . 71
V.-- Early Development . . . . . 100
VI. --The Schism and the Subsequent Situation . . . . . 123
VII. --Religious Instruction Revived . . . . . 148
VIII. --Preachers of Versatile Genius . . . . . 167
IX.-- The Civil War and the Church . . . . . 185
X. -- Religious Education as a Preparation . . . . . 202
XI. --The Call of Politics . . . . 220
XII.-- The Conservative and Progressive . . . . . 247
XIII. --The Negro Church Socialized . . . . . 266
XIV. --The Recent Growth of the Negro Church . . . . . 286
XV. --The Negro Church of To-day . . . . . 300

Many African-American scholars took considered interest in the Black church, and found there tremendous resources for interpreting the African-American experience. Indeed, doomed is any attempt to understand the history and the ways of African Americans without understanding the predominantly Black church.

Off and on during the month of February, I hope to post some reflections on the history of the African-American church and the prospects for her future. These are reflections on God's glorious providence among a people within a people within in a people. For to discuss African-American Christianity is to focus on a Christian people belonging to the wider Christian family, and to reflect on a citizenry amongst a wider American commonwealth. The immersion and the emergence of African Americans in and from both milieus complicates and enriches the story of African Americans, Christians, and America. It's good for us to pause and reflect on the mysterious ways of God among His people. Thank you, Carter G. Woodson, for calling us to pause and reflect. May the Lord guide and make fruitful our meditations on His wondrous works of providence.