The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 4)

By: Thomas F. Booher

We now turn to Jarvis Williams' chapter The Gospel: A Uniquely Planned Strategy for Reconciliation.

Williams reminds us that through Christ, man is reconciled to God, to his fellow man, and to all of creation/the cosmos itself. So naturally, cultures can find common ground and unity through redemption in Christ. Williams has some strong, perhaps controversial statements, such as "race in the American narrative has prioritized majority White culture and dehumanized and marginalized minority (and especially Black) cultures." In the 1600's race developed in our nation as a social construct in order to establish and maintain a racial hierarchy of whites over blacks. The construct of race has served "as a way to dehumanize and marginalize black and brown people and subjugate them to the White majority." And one more for good measure -- "The construct of race in the American experience has historically operated as a category of privilege for the majority White culture over black bodies and as a category granting to majority White culture social, economic, and political power and privileges over black and brown bodies both inside and outside the church, and even in many other Christian spaces."

To grow, Williams says we need to see "the ways in which race still socially privileges and marginalizes different races in the church, in Christian institutions, and in society."

I am twenty-eight years old. This doesn't ring true in my experience, but I admit my experience is very brief, my memories beginning in the early to mid 1990's. I do not doubt that race has been used to denigrate certain people groups because of the color of their skin, among other things. But it is also true that whites have been viewed as oppressive in overly generalizing ways, that all white people are bad just because they are white. While there may be some "white structures" that still privilege white people, I know in my situation there has been scholarships made available to ethnic minorities that never would have been given to me, simply because I am white. Is that biblical justice? I don't really think granting scholarships for one group of people over another, based on ethnic background, makes a lot of sense. That is not to say that I think receiving such a scholarship if it is available to you is evil, but I do wonder why we do these kinds of things. If it is to make up for a deficit or mistreatment of minorities in the past, then at some point will things be "even" and these scholarships will disappear? Or are we saying it is bad that privilege exists in any sense, and thus the advantages of a majority culture are by their very nature sinful and should be done away with by various measures? I do not expect, if I was in Japan let's say, to be given special scholarships just because I was not Japanese.

There are plenty of white people that I know who are not experiencing much if any so-called "white privilege," and there are blacks and others who are being privileged beyond some whites, and sometimes their advantages come because they are being rewarded just for being an ethnic minority. Surely this is an over correction? Let each receive based on their own merit, their own capacity. At the foot of the cross, are not debts forgiven?

More importantly, trying to do the math on who owes who what is not something that can very easily be done. In fact, if we are honest it cannot be done at all. Only by picking out one sin (like racism) could one perhaps try to do this, but even then it will become much more complex and difficult than might be initially thought. I imagine Williams and others in this book might would laugh at that and say it is fairly easy and straightforward, and that I cannot see that because of my white privilege. But privilege isn't inherently bad, and not everything said to be privilege is in fact privilege.

What if I find out that I had a direct ancestor who was a wealthy slave owner? If I was born into a wealthy family (which I wasn't, not even close), would that obligate me to give some of that wealth to the descendants of the slaves of my direct ancestor? What if I was middle class, lower middle class, or poor? What if the slave's descendants, when I come across them, are enjoying more privilege and prosperity than I am? What if they are really awful, terrible, vile and wicked people? Do I blame their wickedness on my ancestor who enslaved their ancestors, and do I assume that the ripple effect of that led to a bad living environment and mistreatment, which bred sinfulness and a bad life of crime down through the generations to the vile black man whose great-great-great grandfather was enslaved by my vile great-great-great grandfather? And if I am an elder in the church, how do I sift through not only my own personal debts that I owe for transgressions that pre-exist me, but also the debts of others in my congregation?

Now, extrapolate that out to the level of entire towns, counties, states, etc. The truth is that we have cultures and societies dominating and mistreating one another, because men are sinners, and we sin against each other, blacks against whites, whites against blacks, whites against whites, blacks against blacks, and everyone else against everyone else. Only Jesus can wash away all our tangled sin, and our parents and ancestors tangled sins, and we are called to forgive others of their debts as God has forgiven us of our own. Who is to say, if we went back far enough in history, that if justice was meted out perfectly, all the way down to when you or I was born, that we wouldn't be born into a better life-situation? Who knows. It could be better, or it could be worse. We are called to live faithfully and love others, not to unduly stress about the past and who owes us what and what we owe to others because of what people we never knew and never met did with their lives. This is not to deny that we are born into this world with different degrees of privilege, or that some of us are born into really terrible situations because of the sins of others destroying and ravaging our parents, grandparents, and further back. But I am saying that only God can give justice to the dead, and we all have suffered injustices, and have received advantages, because of our forefathers and others' forefathers. 

Yet, consider that all of us who live in the United States are born into a blessed situation compared to most countries, and we live in a blessed time of medical and technological advancement that is much better than what was available even just 100 years ago. Adam is our representative, our federal head, something we did not ask for, and yet we are guilty in Adam and born dead in trespasses and sins (Romans 5), unable to trust in Christ for salvation or do anything good because of our inherited and inherent sinfulness (Romans 3). Perhaps we could thank God for what we have been given, decry racism where it is found, including structural racism when and where it exists, and admit that one can be unjustly prejudiced not only against blacks, but any ethnicity, including whites. So we love each other without regard to ethnic background or prior grievances that have been confessed and repented of. 

Williams discusses the already/not yet nature of the kingdom of God, and points out that disunity, division, factions, and so on are all something we are presently being delivered from, but will not be delivered from totally until Christ returns. Nevertheless, we experience kingdom life now by the power of the Spirit and as we all live together in harmony with one another as the body of Christ (Gal. 3:14, 28; Eph. 4:1ff.). Williams correctly notes that the diversity of the Church universal right now represents the bride of Christ that is gathered around the throne in Rev. 7:9. He says quite plainly that redemption in Christ "neither guarantees every church will be multi-ethnic, nor that Christian unity will happen without hard work and intentional efforts." I am glad to see that he acknowledges this, and I agree that reaching out to others who are not just like us is not always the easiest thing in the world. However, I don't fully understand why it is made out to be such a big deal sometimes. I have had, and do have, friends from different backgrounds, cultures, skin colors, and we seem to have a lot in common, particularly Christ. 

Williams puts his finger on one of the most confusing aspects of racial reconciliation for me when he says "when location allows and the Spirit enables, Christians should live now in imperfect reconciled communities in our local churches on earth as we reflect in part the inaugurated presence of the kingdom on earth with redeemed brothers and sisters from different tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations in Christian spaces (Eph. 2:11-3:8). Certainly we should remove all possible barriers to have churches that can fellowship together regardless of cultural differences. But language differences? And again, when and where and how do we know that the location does indeed allow for and the Spirit i sin fact enabling us to live in imperfect reconciled communities (whatever that exactly is)? Isn't every church, broadly speaking, empowered by the Spirit to live together as imperfect reconciled communities, regardless if the church is mainly white, black, or brown, or a balanced mix? My point is that racial and cultural differences are not the only thing that divides us and causes imperfection concerning our reconciliation with one another. Not even close.

For those churches that can live out what Williams says is the "Gospel's strategy for reconciliation in churches located in communities where multiethnic expressions of reconciliation are possible," he offers a few strategies to pursuing this end. In short they are to pursue multi-ethnic friendships, and Williams makes the curious comment that "preferences are also attached to a particular ethnic or racial culture. With that racial or ethnic culture comes a certain theological culture with which we identify." He doesn't elaborate further on that last sentence, but I am concerned that he is saying that we need to soften our doctrinal rigidity in order to be reconciled with those of other cultures and ethnic backgrounds. This is simply sub-biblical if that is in fact what he means. We never sacrifice the truth of God in order to get greater reconciliation in the process. It is impossible. Certainly we can speak with other Christians (regardless of background) and have fellowship with them, and regardless whether they have the exact same theology as we do. But why the need to state something as basic as that? That happens all the time already.

Williams does place the bulk of the burden on the privileged/majority cultures, and by that he means whites, to bring about this reconciliation by being "aware and intentional about their need to negotiate, to share, and to leverage some of the privileges and preferences they have due to their majority cultural status for the sake of reconciliation." Specifics are not given here, but I do wonder what this means. Is theological precision something that must be forfeited? If so, how much, and why (isn't truth, well, truth, which transcends culture)? Worship styles? Does this extend outside of the church services? I love trying different kinds of foods, but I don't consider eating diverse food to be giving up a privilege. Do I need to give up my job to someone else who is less privileged (or why can't I have the job of someone who is less qualified than me but got it just because of the privileged family or situation he was born into?)? Should I move into a home that is surrounded by those not of my own culture (I've done that, but not because I was trying to give up my white privilege)?

Williams also says that we should ask God to "help us embrace the racial and ethnic diversity in our communities". We should come to learn about the ethnic diversity in our own neighborhoods. If we can't do this because we are surrounded by our own culture, Williams says we should read books "by and about women and men from different racial and ethnic groups and cultures. We can listen to music, lectures, and observe art from cultures that represent the beautiful racial and ethnic diversity of our world." He also says to attend conferences led by ethnic minorities. Finally, he suggests that we rely upon the Spirit, who produces the unity in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). This is, for Williams, the Gospel's strategy for reconciliation as we pursue and walk in the power of the Spirit. I have no problem doing these things, but I think that they should occur naturally. I don't feel obligated to listen to someone of my own ethnic group or another's, I just listen to sermons and lectures that happen to be good. The same for music, and art. And that means I listen to and enjoy lots of different things from lots of different cultures. But again, not because I feel a moral obligation to make doing so my mission in life, and not because if I fail to do so I fail to faithfully live up to the ideals of the Gospel. I don't expect anyone to have to endure country music after all! I do not wish to be ignorant of other cultures, so I think in general Williams' advice is okay, but to indicate that we are being unfaithful to the Gospel if we do not go out of our way to listen to a certain number of songs, sermons, or whatever from cultures other than our own is absurd.     

Next up is chapter 4, Alexander Jun's chapter on Multivocality in the Church: Striving for More Harmonious and Diverse Faith Communities
   

  

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 3)

Part 3 of my review covers chapter two of the book, and I must say from the outset there is much in here that is commendable and helpful. The author is Irwyn Ince, graduated of Reformed Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary. He is Pastor and Director of the GraceDC Network Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission.

Much of the chapter is spent demonstrating the undoing of the Tower of Babel in Acts 2, where the nations are gathered, the Spirit is poured out on them, and the unity of the nations is seen in the power of the Spirit bringing the nations to faith in Jesus Christ. Ince opens with Col. 3:11 and Gal. 3:28. The religious bond, the bond that we have in Christ, runs deeper than any other bond. We have one Lord, one Father, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit. We are the body and bride of Christ, and Christ's body and bride is comprised of human beings from every tribe, tongue, and nation. That is a very beautiful and glorious thing. that's the power of the cross.

Ince argues that "the good news in Jesus Christ contradicted the acceptance of ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic division. The reality of union with Jesus Christ manifested itself in his people striving for union and unity with one another across dividing lines. Thankfully many American churches are taking more seriously the biblical call to build and participate in multiethnic churches and communities." Further, he sets out to show that the new normal of "redemptive ethnic unity" was possessed in the 1st century church and that we need to today regain what we have lost.

Ince uses Isa. 19:23-35 to demonstrate that the New Testament church is to be one of multiethnic worshiping communities. On the Day of Pentecost, all the nations are represented (Acts 2:9-10) and receive the Spirit, and three thousand souls are added to the church from among the nations (Acts 2:41) and are committed to Christian fellowship, love, and peace with one another (Acts 2:42-45). This is a beautiful thing. However, I would want to point out that the miracle of being able to hear in one's own language was not a new normal. There are still language barriers, and I would argue potentially cultural barriers, that can make worshiping together difficult, and if one cannot hear the Word of God and understand it, that is not a profitable situation. Does Ince want us to believe that our aim should be that we all speak multiple language, even all the languages, so that we can all worship together and understand each other? I doubt he would take things that far, but my point is simply that the picture of Pentecost is one of a consummated reality, which can only be fully realized when Christ returns. I agree that this reality is present now, and that it will grow by the grace of God. More and more nations and cultures will stream into the Kingdom of God, and will worship Him. There will be churches that are ethnically diverse and the diversity and breadth of the Kingdom of God will be displayed in some individual churches. But is this diversity within each individual church something that we must seek to achieve? Is God promising this kind of diversity for every or even most churches that are on the face of the earth today? I do not believe so.

Ince brings out helpful and relevant material when he notes the ethnic diversity of the Greco-Roman world:

Migrations and invasions occurred, such as that by the Celts into Macedonia and Asia Minor. Merchant-driven colonization occurred. Jews were scattered throughout the region. Roman soldiers and foreign auxiliary soldiers retired and settled in areas away from their homes; and slaves were captured from a variety of areas of the Roman frontier and transferred throughout the Empire to be incorporated into the diverse mix of peoples that inhabited the cities of the first century AD.

 Ince notes how quickly discrimination spread in the early church, looking at Acts 6 and the neglect by the Hebrews of the Hellenists' widows, who were not receiving the daily distribution of resources. Acts 10:15 shows Peter needing to be taught that all persons have been made clean, that Christ is saving people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Acts 11:19-20 is also noted, and Ince points out that at the Tower of Babel and throughout history since, man has turned his ethnicity into idolatry. The church is not supposed to be like this.  One can only amen the following:

The new normal of the multiethnic church in the New Testament moves the focus to Jesus Christ, and finding our identity in him helps avoid cultural idolatry. Jewishness was not to be at the center of anyone’s identity. Egyptian-ness, Libyan-ness, and Arabian-ness were not to be at the center of anyone’s identity. The Spirit of God worked to press the people of God into the new normal with Jesus Christ at the center of identity. Again, this did not mean that ethnic identities were no longer apparent or significant. The work of God was not a call to strike a balance between identity in Christ and ethnic identity, as if too much of one washes out the other. Instead, those who belonged to Christ were to understand ethnic identity as subservient to identity in Christ.
Ince closes with a powerful statement about our unity in Christ. Jesus is the center, bearing the weight of it all, for our ethnicity and culture cannot do it. God brings together the different threads of the nations and produces something beautiful and amazing. This is the new normal that we have lost from the early church and must regain, says Ince.

Well, as I have said throughout, there is much to commend here. However, I am not sure how to regain and recreate Pentecost. I am not convinced that is the point of Acts 2. Acts 2 and all of the book of Acts indicates that there is neither Jew nor Greek, that the Gospel is to go out to all indiscriminately. I should desire to tell anyone and everyone about salvation in Christ. I should not get mad at God if He is only calling one primary ethnic group into this or that particular local church, despite my efforts to proclaim the gospel without partiality. Then there is the consideration that many in our churches are not evangelistic, or at most talk to their closest friends about Christ. And here we have to recognize that for particular cultures to continue to exist at all, there has to be some people in one culture and other people in another culture. Otherwise, all cultural distinctions are blurred and bleed together. One does not have to repent for growing up in the South and enjoying much of southern culture, nor does one have to repent for growing up in the North and enjoying its culture. But these differences will have to be recognized and overcome in churches where northerners and southerners are together. Can they be overcome? Of course, and they can enrich one another. But does one have to give up their culture in order to overcome barriers to the cultures of others? No. But we know that even different personalities come into play, not to mention different theological traditions, when one decides what church he is going to attend. I want to be winsome and passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who calls all men to repentance and to trust in Him for salvation. We are to do so without discrimination.

Churches and church services, to some extent, are going to be shaped by the predominant culture that its membership comprises. I know of one author who is contributing to this book, and his church is said to be multi-ethnic. I went to a Presbytery meeting that was hosted at his church, and their worship service and style was not familiar to me and "my culture". And as long as the expression of worship is biblical, worshiping with reverence in spirit and truth, and is not salacious and is done with decency and in order, that is perfectly fine. But it was evident that this multi-cultural church was not really incorporating multi-ethnic worship into its service. But how could one do so anyway without obliterating the distinctives of each culture, or without the absurdity of having multiple services, multiple preachers of different ethnicity perhaps, and/or each worship song and part of the liturgy is fashioned after a different cultural groups traditional liturgical expression in worship. Again, this would yield something more like a platypus, not the most elegant and beautiful of God's creatures, and less like a well-turned 6-4-3 double play. So take that one element from baseball, then tack on an alley-oop slam dunk, then a flea flicker, and try to make them come together in a brand new sport with perfect harmony. I don't think we want to lose all our other sports to create one new mega-sport.

At the end of the day, I would say our focus needs to be on the preaching and proclamation of the Word of God, the quality fellowship we should have with the saints, and the loving bond expressed in that Christian community. Whether the music is what I am used to or not doesn't really matter in comparison. The theology of the church, the quality of its preaching and pastoral care, the breaking of bread and fellowship with the saints, the proper administration of the sacraments and church discipline, these are the things that should unite us. I think this will lead to some congregations that are very integrated, but some, perhaps many churches, are going to retain a certain liturgical identity, and that identity is going to draw certain cultures and ethnic groups more than others. And that, I do not believe, is an inherently wicked thing.   

Next time, chapter 3 with Jarvis Williams, entitled The Gospel: A Uniquely Planned Strategy For Reconciliation. 

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 2)

We now turn to chapter one of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church. This chapter is written by Eric M. Washington, who is "Associate Professor of History and Director of the African and African Diaspora Studies at Calvin College." The chapter is entitled The Most Segregated Hour: Roots and Remedies of An American Evangelical Problem.

Washington opens with a lengthy quote of Martin Luther King Jr., who said in 1963 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo that the worship hour on Sundays is the most segregated hour in the United States, and that the church can begin repenting by removing "the yoke of segregation" from itself. King goes on to say that "the church itself will stand under the judgment of God" for its racial segregation. (Certainly, I would agree that racism in the church will be met with the judgment of God if it does not repent.) Washington replies -- "Sadly these words still hold true." He then shares a 2008 report that indicates only 7 percent of the nation's churches are multiracial, and that a 2015 LifeWay Research survey found that eight out of ten American churches had only one main ethnic group, and that most church-goers were okay with this.

Washington turns to the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the Black Lives Matter movement to note that white Evangelicals often claim that people of color are causing more problems with racism by bringing attention to these killings. "In the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing, it became clear how racially divided America is. This includes the church." Washington shares the thesis of his chapter:

This chapter provides historical perspective regarding why a Black Church came into existence, and even continues, in light of calls for multiracial and cross-cultural churches. This chapter’s argument is that the Black Church is a product of White racism beginning in slavery and extending even now. African American churches function as a safe haven from the ravages of a racist society where African Americans can worship unashamed of their culture and lead in distinct cultural fashion.
Before we turn to Washington's historical survey, I'd like to comment on this quote. Is it true that African American churches exist today because of past and present racism? I think (as you will see) Washington makes the case that black churches began because of racism and slavery, but I am not persuaded that the predominant reason black churches still exist is because of present racism. I don't doubt this could be true in some circumstances, but I know of many welcoming churches that are mostly white, including my own church. If the argument is that white churches that do not go out of their way to reach out to blacks specifically are therefore guilty of racism (because of the history of slavery and racism in our nation), I cannot agree. Denominations recognizing and confessing the racial sin in their denomination (whether that sin is past or present) is necessary and beneficial. But pretending that we can go back and make amends for past sins by reaching out to the black community in such a way that prioritizes them over every other ethnic group is not a Gospel solution. Let me explain why by first turning to Ephesians 6:5-9,

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
God commands Masters to give up threatening, to not be harsh to their slaves. The command does not extend back to their father or grandfather's slaves, nor is their an explicit command to immediately set their slaves free, presumably even if they had been treating them harshly! Now, I am not saying that Christian love wouldn't lead to setting your slaves free (or NEVER having slaves to begin with because it was inherently wicked given the treatment of the slaves in route to the New World, among many other problems with slavery). What I am saying is that the biblical record itself does not demand reparations for the sins of our great, great, grandfathers. Even when God says he visits the sins of the fathers on the God-hating children down to the third and fourth generations, I do not see how this could be made to mean that all white people ought to be concerned to determine who in their family might have been slave owners, who treated their slaves harshly, and how today white people can pay back these slaves' offspring now some 150 or more years after the fact. Or if you had a Grandfather who owned a company and systematically chose to bar blacks from being his employees, I do not see how the Grand-child is obligated to hire black people specifically to make up for the injustice toward someone else who is now deceased. Could I choose to do this as an act of good-will and kindness? I don't see why not. But whether that is the right or wisest thing to do would depend on a multitude of circumstances.

One might say that black people today are growing up in terrible communities because of the sin of slavery and racism,  that those ripple effects are still being felt today. That may be true, and that is sad, and the gospel needs to be taken to them (as well as everyone else). But there are many sins which we commit, and many sins against many people, regardless of ethnicity, that have privileged some and disadvantaged others (and this cuts across ethnic lines; some ethnic minorities might find themselves in a more privileged position than a white person). Families cut each other down. Parents abort their children (and to my understanding, black parents abort their children at an alarmingly high rate compared to other ethnic groups), and children murder their parents. There is a tangled web of sin that cuts across ethnic and cultural lines in such a way that things cannot be sorted out until Christ returns. What God does say to do is to live a holy, righteous life, not showing favoritism to the rich or the poor (Lev. 19:15).

Another helpful passage is Deuteronomy 10:17ff.:

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Clearly, God does show kindness and mercy in an extra special way (and frequency) to the downcast and downtrodden. Yet as Deut. 7:7 and other verses show, God did not choose Israel because they were great and mighty. Their slavery did not absolve them of their sinfulness and unworthiness of redemption (whether physical or spiritual). God chooses whom He chooses for His glory, to make His name great, to overthrow Pharaoh and raise up an enslaved people to inherit the earth. And yet, when the Israelites sinned and rebelled, they could not appeal to their poor and wicked upbringing as slaves to the cruel Egyptians as an excuse for their sinfulness and God's eventual exiling them from the Promised Land. God did not tell them to return to their former overlords in Egypt and demand reparations (and note, those wandering in the wilderness were the same generation of Israelites that were set free from Egyptian slavery). Because Israel longed for slavery again and grumbled against what seemed to them to be a meager freedom in the wilderness with God, God was displeased and eventually punishes them (see Ex. 16-17, Num. 11, esp. v. 31-35) and ultimately causes them to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until a new generation can inherit the covenant promises.

Now, as I noted in part one, I do not consider my neighbors who are of a different ethnicity than myself to be a different nation that I must reach out to, certainly not in the sense that Christ in the Great Commission passage addresses (Matt. 28:19-20). Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:8-10) was required (see Ex. 22:1 and elsewhere) to make fourfold restitution of those he had defrauded, and he chose to give half of his possessions to the poor because he was rich, and Scripture demands that the rich be generous with their possessions. And he was rich because, as a tax collector, he naturally defrauded people and took more than he was supposed to take, in order to keep the extra for himself. But let's suppose he came from a long line of swindling tax collectors. Would he be required to make restitution for all those whom his fore-fathers had defrauded? Certainly not. And to my knowledge, we do not see that kind of thing occurring anywhere in the Old or New Testament.     

Returning to chapter one, highlights of Washington's historical survey include how whites were exclusively in leadership during the colonial period through the Revolutionary War, with only rare exceptions. Then, as free Africans migrated North, churches began segregating African American congregants. Whites in the south were able to control both enslaved and freed African Americans, regarding those who worshiped with them as only second-rate church members. Early on, few slave owners cared to catechize their slaves or baptize them, fearing this might mean they could no longer keep them as slaves. Dutch Reformed churches did more in the way of catechizing and allowing the enslaved to become members, marry, and baptize their children, however it does not appear that they could serve as deacons or elders. Congregationalist pastors believed their slaves were part of their covenant household and so they catechized their slaves, seeing the conversion of many. Other groups and even some catechism schools formed to reach out to black slaves with the gospel.  The First Great Awakening and New Light Presbyterians also served as a catalyst for more slaves converting to Christianity.

Washington then writes about the first black churches among the Baptists, Methodists, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and others from the 1770's and onward. It is all very interesting and well worth reading. Washington highlights the common refrain of racism and prejudice that blacks experienced: "Racial prejudice and the need to have churches under their own leadership prompted free Blacks in the urban North to start churches in the early nineteenth century....In integrated churches, African Americans had to sit in segregated seating in the galleries, and the leadership prohibited them from singing or speaking in worship."

Turning to the Antebellum Period, during the 1820's "States passed laws that eroded the independence and the ability of free African Americans from forming their own churches under their own control. Because of the Nat Turner rebellion, African American men were no longer permitted to preach legally without White supervision."

Following the Civil War, "the AME denomination flooded the South with missionaries who planted churches. At the end of Reconstruction, there were AME churches from Florida to Texas. One reason for such growth was the obvious newfound sense of independence among African Americans. The AME also successfully implored freedmen to join the church to be under African American leadership." This is similar for Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, where "church segregation was more a force perpetuated by white racism and gerrymandering than attitudes by African American Christians despising fellowship with their White brothers and sisters."

Washington analyzes his historical findings, and asks how we can be a more catholic/universal church, where blacks and whites are no longer segregated in worship. Washington concludes that, given the aforementioned history, the burden is on the white churches to solve this problem. He mentions strides made by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1995 to apologize for slavery, as well as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 2002 and 2016, where confession and repentance was made for not loving black neighbors during the Civil Rights era. Washington then adds, "History demands White churches repent from their past and present racism and that African American churches walk with them down the road of repentance from racism." He closes his chapter by noting how African American culture has been largely denigrated in the United States, and that racism is woven into the fabric of our society. Thus Christians, black and white together, must be committed to removing racism in the church and society. Of course, that means removing racism in our churches today requires that our churches be a healthy mix of blacks and whites (and I suppose he would add other ethnic groups as well).

I agree that we must be committed to doing all we can to remove true racism from the church and society. But I am not sure exactly how far-reaching racism is in the minds of the authors of this book. If I do not favor black people over others in my evangelism, outreach, mercy ministry, etc., am I guilty of being a racist? Are churches who refuse to do this guilty of being a racist church? I do not think so. I would say just the opposite, that to favor any one ethnic group over another due simply to injustices committed in history is actually a form of racism and disrupts the unity and oneness that we all have in Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:3, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit."

True integration should be desired in our churches, but not by showing partiality or favoritism. A church that is predominately white, or black, or any other ethnic group, may still be regarded as integrated, so long as they are not trying to be segregated. The desire to be integrated and the actual accomplishment of that are two different things, however. God has not promised that each church planted in an ethnically diverse community is going to yield an ethnically diverse church. Our goal should be to take the Gospel to all the peoples in our community, without showing partiality, and then to allow the Holy Spirit to save and bring into our particular churches whomever He wills. That may or may not lead to a church that reflects something of the ethnic diversity of Revelation 7:9-10, because Revelation 7:9-10, among other things, is not speaking of each individual church but of the church universal and the gathering of the church universal before the throne of God and Lamb of God. Revelation 7 is speaking of the consummated reality of the church universal, that is, the gathering of the Church from the four corners of the Earth at the time when all things are made new. Yet I have heard this used as a primary text in the racial reconciliation debates to support the idea that right now, all churches that are planted in ethnically diverse communities should reflect Revelation 7 diversity. The implication seems to be that if Revelation 7 diversity is not found, then that church is racist. But I do not see how taking the Gospel indiscriminately, without partiality and favoritism, is racist!

Or put another way, if each individual church is a species of the church universal, which would be the genus, then what some are claiming in the racial reconciliation movement today belongs properly to the church universal/genus, but they are mistakenly attributing this diversity to many if not all individual churches/species.

Or to put it one other way. If I order a pizza with each slice having only one topping, and each slice has a different topping from the other slices, the pizza collectively would have at least eight toppings (assuming there are eight slices of pizza). But does each individual slice of pizza have eight toppings? No, each has only one topping. In our churches today, it is simply impossible to have every topping/ethnicity represented, because I do not know of any one location where every nationality and people group is represented. So it is not possible for any individual church to truly reflect what Rev. 7:9 is addressing. Would it be hopeful and desirable that a church that is planted in a location with two or more ethnic groups also reflect that diversity? Certainly. But the Bible does not teach that the goal of our evangelistic ministry should be favoring ethnic minorities (or sexual minorities as the Revoice conference might desire) or any particular group over another. That doesn't mean that we might not have a group of  church members reach out especially to a nearby community that is primarily black, or white, or Latino, or whatever. Given the gifting and desires of each member in the local congregation, this might well occur, and praise God! But the church is not forced or commanded by God to pick and choose certain peoples or groups over others in order to reach the lost. 

Next time, we will examine chapter two, entitled, Regaining What We've Lost: The First-Century Church.












Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 1)

By: Thomas F. Booher

I have decided to write chapter-by-chapter reviews of the book All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church, which is edited by Leon Brown. (Find parts two, three, four, and five of my review here).

Each chapter is written by a different author, not a few of whom are in the PCA, my own denomination. From the book's introduction we find that: 

"Within these pages you will hear from men and women, African Americans, an Indian American, a Hispanic, and those of mixed-ethnic heritage. Their insights are valuable. Their perspectives—like yours—have been shaped by their cultures, ethnic heritages, histories, and financial standings."

This book comes with endorsements from some real heavy hitters in the Reformed world, including Michael Horton, Derek Thomas, D. Clair Davis, and others. The exhortation from Horton and others is to let non-whites/ethnic minorities do more talking concerning racial reconciliation. Horton also adds that "racism is a systematic as well as personal sin. Repentance and reconciliation must be both as well." 

Perhaps I am already violating what Horton and others want by not merely listening but also responding and pointing out where I agree and disagree with this book, and giving my reasons why. I certainly believe that all should be allowed to speak on the issues of racism, multi-culturalism, and how our churches should be reaching out to the culture(s) around us. The introduction gives a reason for All Are Welcome's existence, namely that our nation is becoming increasingly multicultural and multi-ethnic. 

Put more provocatively, the introduction asks, "Will the makeup of our churches remain the same—segregated?1 If we are going to reach the nations at our doorstep, something has to change." 

I am eager to see what must change for us to reach the nations at our doorstep, and I believe some good and helpful things will be said. But my first concern is the idea that multiple ethnic groups and cultures means that there are multiple nations within the one nation of the United States. I am sure this will be discussed in more detail as we go along, but for now I just want to note that I am not persuaded that my whiteness or culture or upbringing makes me one particular nation, and my neighbor who is black and perhaps has a different cultural upbringing and family traditions is therefore of a different "nation" that I must reach out to specifically and in a fundamentally different way than how I would speak to my white neighbor across the street from me (who I suppose it will be argued is of the same "nation" as me since we are both white and presumably have similar cultural beliefs and upbringings). 

Further, I am not convinced that churches that are predominately white (or black, or Korean, etc.) and are planted in multi-ethnic towns are necessarily engaging in sin by virtue of being mostly mono-cultural. I do not think this necessarily indicates a failure to reach out to the so-called nations around them (thought certainly it could indicate something sinful at a systemic level). My church is predominately white, and we live in a town that has a sizeable portion of ethnic minorities represented. While I think our church could be more evangelistic in general, I do not think that our "whiteness" is due to racism or a failure to love people of all skin colors and cultures equally. There is a wonderful black family at my church that is part of a covenant group that I lead, and we are good friends, despite my being Presbyterian and their being Reformed Baptist (now isn't that something!). 

I teach at a Christian school whose student body is predominately black, and I have taught more students who are non-white than those that are white in my three years of teaching. Everyone gets along very well, or at least, the leading concerns in our school and church are not stemming from racism, cultural differences, etc. 

This is not to say that I do not think racism is a real issue, or that racism is non-existent. I know there is racism in Christian schools and churches, and I wouldn't say that racism at any and every level is utterly non-existent in the school I teach at or even at my church. That would be quite foolish given the sinfulness of man. I also do not believe that only white people are capable of racism, sinful discrimination, and bigotry. We all have much sin to repent of, and racism doesn't "privilege" one ethnic group or skin color over another. Anyone can be racist. 

The introduction says that while "multi-everything" is meant to be hyperbole, they do affirm that "our congregations should be welcoming to everyone, affirming the good of the various cultures expressed in one’s community, and seeking to implement those cultural distinctions in our church services. Is that biblical? Is that possible?"

Since they asked if this is biblical and possible, I'll offer an answer. I certainly agree that our congregations should be welcoming to everyone and should affirm the good within cultures. I am not so sure that we should be or are required to implement those cultural distinctions into our church services. I frankly do not see how one church and one church service could incorporate distinctives of three, four, or more cultures. I also must confess that I do not know what implementing these cultural distinctions into our church services would even look like. Should we have multiple services with different music styles (which would still likely lead to so-called segregation, each ethnic group attending its favorite cultural expression of worship)? Wouldn't mixing multiple cultural expressions create a hodgepodge that would lose the distinctives of all the cultures, creating something new that would result in something more like a platypus and less like a symphony? I doubt whether this is possible, and I also doubt whether such an effort, regardless of pure or impure motivation, is biblical. I simply do not see Scripture emphasizing this kind of melding in church services anywhere. I do see Scripture speaking about the glory of all nations (Rev. 21:23-24), but not that we should try to incorporate the good of each culture represented in our community into each of our worship services. 


I do wonder how this book will wrestle with the oneness we all have in Christ as Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:27-29) given the language and concern to be a "multi-everything" church. The second to last paragraph of the introduction offers this: 

While every contributor is united as an ethnic minority, we also are all unified by confessing that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are infallible and inerrant. We believe there is only one God, who exists in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and there is no salvation outside of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We value the local church, and we love all our brothers and sisters in the faith.

The closing paragraph hopes that "we would truly become a multi-everything church where all are welcome." I indeed hope and pray that our churches welcome all, and I believe that many by and large do. I am not sure yet how being "multi-everything" ties in with being welcoming to everyone. Must a church be multi-everything in order to truly be a church that loves and welcomes all peoples in a way that God would want us to love all peoples? We shall see. 

Next time, I'll begin discussing and examining chapter one, entitled The Most Segregated Hour: Roots and Remedies of an American Evangelical Problem.