As I reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I can’t help but meditate deeply on something he wrote within an article entitled, “The Case Against Tokenism” for the New York Times, August 5, 1962-
“…it is still true that the church is the most segregated major institution in America. As a minister of the gospel, I am ashamed to say that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning-when we stand to sing ‘In Christ There Is No East Nor West’- is the most segregated hour of America, and that Sunday school is the most segregated school of the week.”
So what is the state of the church in the United States of America today, some 40 years after the murder of Dr. King? Christian sociologist Michael Emerson, who co-wrote the important book, “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, has said that today only about 7% of the church in the U.S. would be deemed multiracial. Of all the institutions in the United States could it be that the Christian church has struggled the most in living out the dream and vision of Dr. King? It seems so. But, in order to be missional into the future this must change. I am actually very hopeful about this happening.
On the website, churchleaders.com, Sam Rainer recently wrote about “Ten (Unexpected) Church Trends to Surface by 2020″ (http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/157452-10-unexpected-church-trends-to-surface-by-2020.html). The very first trend he mentions deals with something that champions of the multi-ethnic and missional church have known for a long time. Rainer points to the trend that the heterogeneous (or homogeneous church principle) church will explode. The question becomes what will cause this and are we preparing emerging leaders for this reality?
Let me deal with the issue of preparing leaders. No longer can we afford to make multi-ethnic and missional ministry simply a “track” within a leadership conference or a “Pre-conferene” before the general conference begins. Multi-ethnic and missional ministry must become the central issue of every denomination, church planting association, seminary, and leadership conference. I’m so glad, that the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination I serve, has done just that (www.covchurch.org).
Theology, preaching, church leadership, and ministry practice must be connected to this central issue of multi-ethnic and missional ministry. Multi-ethnicity is important, not just because of the current and future multicultural realities, but also because Jesus walked the earth as a multi-ethnic human being and the Bible is the most multi-ethnic story you will ever read. Being missional is about the church having a sense of urgency concerning evangelism, outreach, and biblical justice. These are the key components of the advancement of the kingdom of God.
To live into this multi-ethnic and missional movement, we can learn much from Dr. King the theologian. I encourage you to engage his writings and then return to the Scriptures with new eyes. Allowing Dr. King to influence how we engage the Scriptures allows us to see the God of salvation, deliverance, and liberation. The new church that is needed today can be developed as the words of Dr. King allow us to see the true church of the Scriptures. This church takes on the mission of advancing what Dr. King called, The Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is realized as the church embodies reconciliation, redemption, transformation, and justice.
1.) Become more of a movement than an institution.
2.) Become multi-ethnic.
3.) Proclaim and practice a deeply biblically-rooted strategy for compassion, mercy, and justice.
4.) Have a high priority and passion for evangelism.
5.) Involve large churches as a resource, but don’t lift them up alone as the highest model of a healthy and missional church.
6.) Affirm and train up men and women for the offices of Apostle, Evangelist, and Prophet based on biblical principles.
7.) Increase the number of women in pastoral leadership.
8.) Become students of how the Kingdom of God is being advanced in Africa, Central America, and South America.
9.) Expand the missional church conversation to include experts within the African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic, and Native American Church.
10.) Develop strategic Kingdom partnerships beyond your particular denomination.
This past June, we as the Evangelical Covenant Church, approved a Resource Paper on Compassion, Mercy, and Justice at our Annual Meeting. This act further guides our denomination into being a Kingdom advancing movement. If one surveys the Gospels, you see Jesus proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Not only does He proclaim this truth, He also performs the mighty wonders of this new community.
Jesus performs these mighty wonders through the forgiving of sins, the raising of the dead, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, and the empowerment of women. In Matthew 25, he speaks to Kingdom advancement including feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick, being hospitable to the stranger, and visiting the incarcerated. The advancement of the Kingdom of God is done at the intersection of evangelism and justice.
The evangelism part of this advancement is the new covenant brought and bought by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The justice part is a continuation of the Covenant established by God as he brought the Hebrew people out of bondage and oppression.
In these days of economic crisis, broken families, addiction, ethnic and political divisions, war, and lost souls, the church must increase its urgency around Kingdom advancement. The Evangelical Covenant Church and all denominations that desire to be biblically rooted and culturally relevant must become catalytic and prophetic resourcing ministries. We must do this by equipping the church and developing leaders to be Spirit-led and missional in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality.
Post-Black Theology is rooted in the thesis that there are theologies and best-practice models that have come out of the Black Church in America and Africa that are meant from God to be a gift to the whole church. You can’t present Post-Black Theology though without first dealing with Black Theology.
Black theology is a theology for Black people. Black theology is about a biblical understanding that God, thru Jesus, identifies with the historical suffering and current social disparities facing Black people. Theologian James Cone and Religious and African-American Studies Scholar, Cornell West are the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology has connections to Liberation Theology coming out of Latin America. Black Liberation Theology has not been fully received within evangelicalism because one, it’s focused on God identifying with the conditions facing Black people and two, it has elements which seem more rooted in marxism and humanism than Scripture. South African theologian Allan Boesak has offered a version of Black Liberation Theology that is more palatable for evangelical tastes.
Post-Black Theology, though not labeled that, begins with African-American theologians and organic scholars such as Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins. Thru these leaders we find the foundation of Reconciliation Theology. Reconciliation Theology is about the redemption, liberation, and reconciliation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. Black Liberation theology is primarily about the oppressed, with little or no focus on the transformation of the oppressor.
Post-Black theology also includes a more authentic missional ecclesiology. The Black Church has been a missional church since its inception. The Civil Rights Movement is both a missional and emergent movement before European-American pastors and theologians began the discussion. Hip Hop culture today is both a Post-Black movement and the most visible sign of post-modernism. Because it is a movement of urban African-American, Asian, and Hispanic youth, it is marginalized by the dominant culture. If the church in the United States is truly going to be missional it must learn to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, urban, global, technological, and hip hop reality.
The Black Church is missional because it has also been engaging culture for justice and transformation as well as being a development center for the empowerment of African-Americans to become Post-Black leaders. If not for the Black Church influence on some level, there would be no Post-Black leaders such as President Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, or Tony Dungy. Whether in their generation, their parents, or grandparents, the Black Church had influence.
I will spend time in future posts breaking down further Post-Black Theology. Stay tuned and I would love your thoughts.
Now that I have read Dr. John MacArthur’s latest book, Slave, I can now provide more thoughts on the main thesis within it. His main purpose in the book is to show us that as controversial and counter-cultural as it may be, we must accept that the primary way we find identity in Christ is as a slave to God. He begins by providing information on an “English translation conspiracy” that has taken the word for slave in the Greek and changed it to mean servant. So throughout the New Testament the servant has really replaced the word slave. We are then to look at all the texts in the New Testament around servant (which there are many) and see the revelation of the Christian life being the life of the slave.
My thought on this point is simply this. If we are to believe that there is an English translation conspiracy that has caused us to miss the mark on the true role of the Christian in relationship to God, why are we not so sure that there are no Greek translation conspiracies? How many times in the New Testament is the Greek translation taking Hebrew words out of context? In the book, A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the LORD’s Prayer, authors Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon actually make this case. They show through the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, ways in which the Greek translation has taken some Hebrew words out of its original context and meaning. Conspiracy?
The point here is, Dr. MacArthur may be creating another conspiracy in trying to uncover one. Or another way of putting it would be, he’s continuing the conspiracy of a Euro-centric captivity on biblical interpretation.
The next thing MacArthur does in the book is move to the Old Testament. His point here is to present the Exodus story as God bringing the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt in order to bring them into slavery under Him. This provides a very limited view of the Old Testament story. His foundation is in the interpretation of the Hebrew word “eded” which means slave and servant. What he doesn’t bring up is that this Hebrew word is rooted in another Hebrew word, “abad” which means slave, servant, husbandman, worshipper, and worker. I have two takes on this point in the book.
One, in MacArthur’s drive to make slaves out of all Christians, he leaves out another picture of the New Testament story. What about the picture of a God who frees a people from slavery, makes a Covenant with them, and then calls them to extend his love and justice to the poor, widow, orphan, and immigrant? MacArthur is so focused on “slave texts” that he seems to not care about what the Old Testament has to say about freedom, justice, and Covenant. The question becomes then, does Covenant equate Captivity? MacArthur seem to believe so. The second point is if the Hebrew word “abad” means slave, servant, husbandman, and worshipper, why is the focus of the book only on the slave portion of the meaning of the word?
The rest of the book is spent on looking at how Jesus and the authors of the Epistles in the New Testament mainly describe the Christian life as the life of an obedient slave to a Master, which is God. One, I cannot argue that there aren’t a number of biblical texts that describe the Christian as servant and slave. The issue is that this isn’t the only way the Christian life is described in the New Testament. In MacArthur’s focus on God as Master, he ignores the number of places where God is described as Father. I would argue that Jesus spends more time talking about God as His Father than as His Master. The disciple John spends a lot of time describing the Christian as a “beloved child.” MacArthur seems to believe that the only way to get obedience out of a Christian it to make him or her a slave. I respectfully disagree. The more we focus on God as Father and Liberator, the more space we have to describe the Christian as the liberated, transformed, and beloved child, who ought to live in obedience to a loving and all-powerful God of justice.
Finally, I’m saddened by how MacArthur hardly shows any sensitivity to the history and impact of slavery upon African-Americans. He doesn’t acknowledge that he isn’t the first European-American to use an interpretation of slavery in the bible to develop a theology and influence the masses. This is how slavery was justified many years ago in the United States of America.
10.) Act as if justice is simply a social issue and not a biblical one.
9.) Reduce the Christian life to individualism.
8.) Major in the minors theologically.
7.) Stop saying “hate the sin, but love the sinner” when we don’t do it.
6.) Feel comfortable with segregated church.
5.) Confuse political ideology with biblical theology.
4.) Act as if race, class, and gender are no longer issues to be dealt with.
3.) Avoid prophetic preaching.
2.) Missing out on being blessed by women in pastoral leadership.
1.) Ignoring the biblical mandate of reconciliation.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good?”
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and 18-19 (NASB)
These words written by Moses connect something very important for God’s chosen people. Throughout this book, God called the people to remember Him as their one and only God. This remembrance is rooted in the deliverance out of oppression and slavery in Egypt. From here, they are to know God, love God, and follow his commandments. One important element of these commandments is the execution of justice.
What God seems to be saying here thru Moses is, “I saw you when you were the marginalized and the oppressed. I delivered you out of this condition. Now out of remembrance, worship, and love, live for Me by caring for the marginalized and oppressed around you now. If you are not sure who those people are, let me be very clear; the orphan, the widow, and the alien.” In other places in Scripture the poor are also mentioned. In Matthew 25, Jesus extends this in a very clear way to the sick and incarcerated as well. This should lead us to understand the connection between Deliverance, Remembrance, and Justice. Let me take this a little further.
Jesus is our deliverance out of sin. We should not disconnect our understanding of this from the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Just as the people of Israel were called to remember this, we Christians are to participate in the Sacrament of Communion as a remembrance. The Old Testament remembrance ought inform the New Testament remembrance. The New Testament remembrance should not remove the Old Testament remembrance. It is the combination of the two that fueled the movement against slavery and Jim Crow segregation in the United States of America. These movements were another great awakening in our country, which provided a new lens of understanding Kingdom justice.
Today, the church should still be about the evangelistic work of deliverance, the communal act of remembrance, and the missional work of Kingdom justice. As a product of the African-American church, I’ve never understood the historic divide in the European-American church between evangelism and the social gospel. I realize that the term social justice has taken on a bad name in evangelicalism and in many ways I understand why. Justice has been kidnapped to a large degree by humanism. This was the undoing of the Civil Rights Movement in a lot of ways. It went from being a church-based movement, to a secularized and political one. But the church should never stop connecting Evangelism and Kingdom Justice. God is a God of love, deliverance, and justice. We should always remember that.
Three months ago while in Kenya, I visited the town of Dandora. Dandora has the second largest concentration of extreme poverty in Kenya. The town is basically built on a trash dump. As you go into the town you see mothers, children, and pigs on a mountain of trash digging for food and other necessities. There are families in the town that are so poor, that when they have a child born they take that baby to the trash dump to die.
In the midst of all this though, there is a church in the center of town. I met the pastor and some of their ministry staff who work in partnership with Compassion International. They have a motto that says, “we find God’s treasures amongst the trash. I met a young man who had been rescued from the trash dump years ago. He now is in college. I will never forgot this trip. It has forever changed my thoughts on the poor, God’s Kingdom, and the mission of the church.
Last weekend, I was in downtown Los Angeles. Rolling Hills Covenant Church is one of the churches in the conference which I serve. They sent a Kingdom army of close to 600 people from their congregation to Skid Row. Skid Row contains about 60,000 homeless people in downtown LA. You don’t have to go all the way to Kenya to see poverty. Rolling Hills partnered with the Fred Jordan Mission to put on a tremendous service of hope. I had the privilege of preaching with the senior pastor of Rolling Hills to hundreds of the homeless of Skid Row. But, we didn’t just preach. People were fed. People were plugged into programs for life change and were extended the love of God.
In the area of Kingdom Compassion, Mercy, and Justice there is yet still much to do. Churches around this country and around the world must put themselves in a position to hear God’s voice calling us still to love the poor. We must find our local and global place of mission and transformation. My trip to Kenya three months ago and my visit to downtown Los Angeles last weekend has my spirit so hopeful of what God will do thru us, His beloved children.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of the church or what could be called, the church of the future. Mostly, these thoughts have been limited to the church in the United States. After rereading a number of book recently on the future and state of the church though, my thoughts have gone more global. Phillip Jenkins sees places like Africa and South America as the future of the church. If this is true, then compassion, mercy, and justice must become a major focus of the church of the future. This does not mean that compassion, mercy, and justice replaces evangelism, discipleship, and mission. What it means is that compassion, mercy, and justice must be interwoven into evangelism, discipleship, and mission. This is not just an issue of relevancy, more importantly, it’s biblical. In the bible, God speaks to the chosen people about remembering their deliverance by being mindful of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. The future church must speak beyond social politics, towards a Spirit-filled picture of justice. A new liberation theology must be embraced by the church of the future, which includes the authority and centrality of Scripture.
Dave Olson says that the church is in crisis. When compared with population growth in the United States of America, the church is not growing. The vast majority of Americans are not in church on Sunday morning. So not only do we still have a segregated church on Sunday morning, we have a dying one as well. With all the mega-churches in our nation, a major movement of evangelism and discipleship within the local church is in question. I believe that the church still being for the most part a segregated institution is directly connected to its struggle in keeping up with population growth. Even though the United States is becoming more and more multi-ethnic and multicultural, the church is still stuck within the race-matrix of black and white. Even, many of our Asian and Latino churches are stuck with choosing worship songs and developing ministry models within a black and white framework. The future church must be multi-ethnic.
Soong-Chan Rah says the church is held captive by the western church. This points to the historic European influence upon the church in the United Staes. It also points to a dominant White theology and philosophy within the church. Please know that I don’t believe in eliminating the European and European-American perspective from the church. I believe we must add to this perspective. Large suburban and predominately European-American churches must be willing to become students of the church of the future. They must be willing to have their current cultural mindsets challenged, accepting that some of them are not biblical, but more based on a racial constructed upbringing. The answer to this is further developing cross cultural competencies.We must also develop best practice models for small, medium size, and large churches that take us beyond the black and white matrix. In order to do this we can’t be anti mega-church. The mega church has the influence and resources to point the way to the future church.
Together, as black, white, asian, latino, small, medium, large, urban, and suburban churches we must begin the journey towards the future church. If we do this, we can advance God’s kingdom like never before in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
I watched the Glen Beck show on Fox News this afternoon. His topic was how churches that are using the term, “social justice” are misinterpreting Scripture in order to spread Marxism. Now I don’t want to say that in some cases this might not be true, but to provide a wide-spread brush stroke of all uses of the term social justice to be Marxist and in no way biblical is a major blow to true evangelical theology.
One of the hallmarks of evangelical theology is the authority and centrality of Scripture. The Scripture is full of Kingdom mandates from God that calls for a justice that goes beyond individualism. For those that don’t believe this is the case, they have to wrestle with the Exodus story as well as the book of Esther and the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, beginning with verse 31. This mission of God in the world includes salvation, which is individualistic in nature, but also includes what the corporate church should do concerning the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, and the sick in society. The society makes up the social structures. This isn’t a political ideology, nor marxist philosophy, this is the Word of God.
Glen Beck’s show on social justice and the church included guests from Liberty University and Westminster Theological Seminary who stated that the gospel is individualistic in nature. The guest from Liberty University even said that the parable of the talents, (which just happens to come before a parable about feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and those in prison), is about free market enterprise. So the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the opinions of the guests are rooted in individualism and capitalism.It is about a person, as an individual, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then investing their resources into the marketplace.
This is a very limited and unbiblical view of salvation. Salvation itself is communal because it includes the community of the Trinity and in many cases the community of the person that God used to bring the person to Christ. This is why the evangelical church has a strong history of global missions. If the gospel is rooted in individualism, we should shut down every department of world missions in every evangelical denomination. Read the Old Testament and the Gospel letters and it won’t take you long to realize that justice in society is a biblical theme presented as an act out of the overflow of an intimate relationship with God thru Jesus Christ, as well as a significant part of the mission of the church. The church is called by God, through Scripture to be about the whole mission of God, which includes evangelism, discipleship, mission, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church is called to make disciples and to do justice and love mercy.
Let the Word of God drive the evangelical church and its theology, not a political talk show host.