Saturday, November 22, 2008

What are legitimate marks of the Church?

I had an an interesting exchange about the role of the church.  Historically there are a central set of marks of the church (Preaching, Sacraments, Discipline).  But I would argue there is a wider role that all churches play do play.  In thinking about racial reconciliation in particular (or Biblical Diversity if you prefer) it seems to me that we must broaden the discussion from "narrow systematics".  This doesn't mean that carefully constructed minimalist outlines are not true, but that real life implementation always holds other aspects that are assumed to be unwritten truth. This often includes cultural expression and identity reinforcements.  

It gets a bit heated but here is the part of my recent exchange that focused on what church is:


My Comment:  On the issue of theology and church.  The black church is in its social context a completely different thing than the white church.  It's history and witness and role is different.  This is in part why when someone suggests that in Christ there are only churches and not ethnic churches, it is a very shortsighted pronouncement that only white American's would suggest.  No Christians from other ethnic groups, nor from any other country in the world is likely to suggest such a thing.  But white American Christians, from a position of power and privilege to which they seldom really comprehend, have a tough time with this. They think colorblindness is a real virtue.   None of our ethnic brothers and sisters in Christ (aprox 90% of world Christians) see it this way.  I think it is arrogant to be ignorant and/or unconcerned about this. 

 T's Response:  you say the role of the black church is different than the role of the white church, yet where do you find any differentiation in calling of churches in Scripture?  The role of any church, is to teach the Scriptures, administer the sacraments, and oversee church discipline.  No church should be involved in any politicking for any party, but should firmly stand in and pronounce the Truth of God's Word.  Whether that be everyone's need of a Savior or the evils of abortion, that is what the church is called to do.  The methodology is what may be different, but not the role, saying otherwise goes wholly against 500 years of Reformed ecclesiology.

My Response:On the issue of the church:  Here you have suggested that a narrow reading of Reformed systematics is the only way to understand the role of the church.  This could only be suggested from within the framework of one from a culture of power.  Clearly if you read Calvin you will find a radically broader understanding of the church.  Or Kuyper.  Or Keller.  etc.... 

The black church was started because blacks were kicked out of white churches.  They serve not only the central marks you mentioned but a myriad of others, including a place of cultural expression that is largely forbidden, mocked and rejected in the wider culture.  One's church is also a reflection of one's culture and serves to reinforce cultural identity, sense of meaning, and the understanding of the world.  It goes well beyond what you've suggested whether you recognize it or not.  

And of course the church's validity is also whether or not it reflects truth, righteousness-justice, peace, deliverance both from worldly oppression and from sin (ie. the wrath of God).  Its validity is compromised if it is not a place in which believers exercise their gifts, the modest parts of the body are treated with extra grace, parents are equipped to lead their children, the community reaches out as the hands, feet and mouth of Jesus Christ.  All of these are aspects of legitimate churches that are beyond your narrow set of marks. The expression of these are very different in the black community-- one that is rooted in its history of oppression.  This cultural history shapes the church, giving it both strengths and weaknesses.  All churches reflect both the imago dei and depravity. 

While I am willing to defer to your desire not to be labeled a typical white evangelical, your description of the church makes it hard for me to see a distinction.   Perhaps the black church is too big a leap, but I would encourage you to learn from others about the value of Asian, Latino or other ethnic churches.  You will find them reflecting the grace of God in the role local body's play in ways quite different than your own. It's a beautiful (and biblical) thing.  

T's Counter: I'll be very blunt.  You are a Ruling Elder in the PCA, live up to that title, and don't throw any of this pomo garbage back at me.  When you were called and ordained, you vowed to uphold the teachings of Westminster Standards, and as such YOU are bound to a "narrow interpretation" of systematic and biblical theology and to abide within the standards laid out in the BCO.  If you find yourself in disagreement with any of these, it is your duty to report that to your session and your presbytery.  So, I caution you, don't presume to lecture me on "narrow readings" of systematics.  You signed on to a denomination that is most narrow in its interpretation of Scripture,and doesn't show any favor or liberality towards unorthodoxy. 
Lastly, your presuppostions, generalizations, and general prejudice towards, what you term the "white church" are disgusting, peurile, and frankly border on racism.  You pass judgements on me and my church, and yet have no basis for such conclusions, except for the fact that I, and most people who attend my church are white.  Really, you are no different than the cloak-wearing Klansmen, in that you presume the worth of an individual and his/her character based solely on the color of his/her skin. 
Joel, if anything, this interaction has shown me and taught me that individuals who cry for reconciliation between anything besides our reconcilation to our Creator are merely trying to push their own agenda, and are motivated by a spirit of hate, guilt, or a combination of the two.


Wow.  Does anyone get this???

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Urban Entry

You have to check this out. . . I wish I could import the video entry but I can't so you just have to follow the link.  

Scott Lundeen is doing some cool video stuff.  If you are joining us for Bridge Builders this year you'll get to see the video. .  . he's done a great job capturing what I keep telling people:  the hood is moving to the burbs!!

I just keep laughing. . . watch it and you will too. . .

"I live in the suburbs"

Mourning the election?

I am wondering about 2 groups of Christians that I seem to be running into.  None of them are out loud, out front.  

One group is mourning the fact that they voted for a man that may very well increase the rate of abortion in the U.S. 

The other is mourning the fact that they had the chance to vote for the first African American president but couldn't do it.

Both are quietly hurting.  

Monday, November 10, 2008

Real Life Together -- Bonhoeffer on Visionaries

I am reading "Life Together" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and finding his words a challenge to my own attempts at thinking about the division in the church across racial lines a well as a our outcomes requirements on Christian ministries. 



"God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. 


. . . we think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  Then we deplore the fact that we lack deep certainty, the strong faith, and  the rich experience that God has given to others  and we consider this lament to be pious.  We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.  How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from him the little things.  If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where this is no great experience, no discoverable riches,  but much weakness and small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary we only keep complaining to God that everything  is so paltry and petty, so far from our expected, then we hinder God form letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us us in Jesus Christ.  


This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. "pp. 28-29 


This guy would not have made it in the church growth era!  But what he says rings true to me about my own make-up (visionary) and oft found lack of contentment with the church.  


It also bolsters, in a way, my feeling that perhaps in adopting market principles for evaluating ministry we can overstep or over-reach what God has for us. 


There is a beauty in serving out of weakness-without-triumphalism that at the heart of the gospel.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Race, Politics, & Christians.

Do you hear that loud ripping sound?  It’s the church of Jesus Christ tearing further apart around politics, race, and specifically:  President Obama.

Here in Chicago, across the city, black conservative Christians (including some who voted against Obama) can be seen weeping, wailing, celebrating, and cherishing the historic step taken this week in the narrative of the United States.  Also, across the city and throughout the suburbs are white Christians in shock or dismay, expressing fear, incredulity and sometimes even anger. 

Nearby, the white leadership of a local Christian school that prides itself on its diversity (and has a student body that probably exceeds 50% non-white) failed to even acknowledge the election results.  “Its not in the history books yet” said one teacher. Black parents are supremely offended. 

So how can white Christians be so insensitive to our black brothers and sisters?  How can black and white Christians have no comprehension about one another in spite of all the Promise Keeper’s Racial Reconciliation stuff? (Or as a black colleague likes to call it “reconciliation blah blah”. )

We live in a country in which, as Mark Noll has documented carefully, there are no two voting blocks closer to one another in personal standards of morality than white evangelicals and black protestants – and there are no two voting blocks further apart.  How can this be?

Even as I write this I am listening to comments about the election, coming from white Christians, that are deplorable.   Love is patient?  Love is kind?  Love doesn’t envy or boast? Love doesn’t insist on it s own way?  Love is not irritable or resentful?  In relation to our black brothers and sisters I have to say that for far too many in the white church this love is not known today.

“The body is one and has many members. . . the [white] eye cannot say to the [black] hand ‘I have no need of you’. . . But God has so composed the body .  .  .  that there may be no division in the body , but that the members have the same care for one another. . . If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together”  (1 Cor 12.)

For the record, my interest here is the body of Christ not supporting any political candidate or party.  

To my white Christian friends:  yes I’ve read the Huntley Brown Letter.  That doesn’t change the fact that more than 90% of our conservative, bible-believing, Christ serving, spirit-indwelt black brothers and sisters LOVE our new president.  Out of love for Christ and His bride – shouldn’t we want to know why?  Aren’t you curious in the spirit of Christ’s reconciling love?  Or is all our talk about biblical reconciliation dead upon its lack of political expediency? 

There are many good questions to be asked.  There are many dumb questions to be dealt with.  There are many bridges to build.  Citing Huntley Brown, ignoring the presidential  election, remaining indifferent to the history that has been made will only exacerbate our dilemma of a divided body.   

One very interesting observation was made about Obama by a white, conservative ideological opponent of his at Harvard University.  That is, he is capable of discussion in which he presents an opposing view, learns from those he disagrees with, and doesn’t make enemies with those opponents.  Shouldn’t we as Christians be able to do this too?

For those interested please consider the following resources (assuming a preponderance of desire to learn over/against a desire to “battle”) here are some tools:

Book: Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

Book: Reconciliation Blues, Ed Gilbreath

Book:  God and Race in American Politics: A Short History, Mark Noll

Blog:  The Reconciliation Blog (www.

Blog: Beauty and Depravity (

Blog: 17 seeds (

Presentation:  Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s CCDA presentation can be ordered.   This lecture that is both professorial and pastoral in nature explores the differing theologies that develop in communities of “suffering” (ala. Marginalized communities) and those of “celebration” (ala. Middle class/mainstream US).  Fascinating with HUGE implications for understanding our own theology more deeply.  (

Discussion/Workshop:  For interaction at a personal or small group level please contact Sunshine Gospel Ministries and ask for Lauren Dillon or Joel Hamernick.  We will work to facilitate a discussion/workshop, or connect you with a facilitator in your area.  

Good discussion topics might include:

·      African American Church History

·      Biblical Reconciliation

·      Black Theology

·      How the Imago Dei and Depravity are evident in other cultures

A few good questions:  (Disclaimer: It will be very difficult for someone who doesn’t know these answers to ask the them of someone with whom they have no relationship.  If you are really interested, go slow, listen long, start where you have relationship credibility, be willing to be vulnerable and to be worthy of someone being vulnerable with you --. Ie. Re-read 1 Cor 13 slowly)

Why would Black Christians who voted for McCain be overwhelmed with joy and emotion when Obama was elected?

Why would someone who is opposed to abortion and gay rights be open to (or excited about) voting for Obama?

What is the personal connection for an African American parent, seeing Obama’s family walk out on that platform with him at the end of the speech in Chicago?

What is the significance and beauty of a black woman being the first lady of the United States (ask this question of a black woman)?

What are the most fun cultural changes that might take place in the white house?!