Monday, February 05, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 2)

The decision my wife and I made to leave the world of the Black Church for a predominantly white, non-denominational, evangelical church was made for doctrinal and theological reasons, and because we found a fellowship where we truly felt “at home”.

Many of us know there is a theological crisis in the Black Church. I, personally, see four aspects to this crisis in the Black Church. First, there is the health and wealth “gospel”, which is no gospel at all. This teaching is growing like an aggressive cancer in the Black Church. Formerly confined to the Pentecostal wing of the church, this teaching is now showing up in the preaching and teaching of more mainstream Black churches. I call this teaching a heresy because, quite simply, it is unbiblical. God does not promise Christians good health, and He doesn’t promise Christians material prosperity. Period. Secondly, it bears no resemblance to reality. There have been far too many poor and physically un-well saints throughout church history to give this teaching any credibility. Nevertheless, the health and wealth “gospel” continues to grow in popularity among the “have-nots” of society.

The second aspect of this theological crisis in the Black Church is neo-Pentecostalism. In saying this, I am not attacking classical Pentecostalism—not at all. What I am attacking is the new-style Pentecostalism that majors in the “gifts” and the “power” of Pentecost, but seems to avoid the holiness and simplicity of life, and faith in the Bible that characterized old-line Pentecostals. In short, you may have disagreed with certain doctrines of the old-line Pentecostals, but you couldn’t dispute their sincerity. It was “holiness or hell” for them. The world was something to be shunned. For the neo-Pentecostals, one can’t be so sure. There is great emphasis on church growth, emotionally high-pitched “worship” and financial and material “prosperity”, but gone is the sense that these people are dead-earnest about separation from the world and holiness of life. I believe neo-Pentecostalism is seen by many Black church leaders as a way to “grow” a church and, certainly, it has proven successful in multiplying the membership in many Black congregations found in various mainline denominations. But, I fear there is more Pentecostal “style” than there is spiritual “substance”.

The third aspect of this theological crisis in the Black Church is related to the previous two and, I believe, is responsible for the spread of neo-Pentecostalism and the health and wealth “gospel”: biblical ignorance. People just don’t know the Bible. From the front door of the church to the choir loft, including the pulpit, there is a phenomenal ignorance of Scripture. I’m almost embarrassed at some of the downright ign’ant (ignorant) things I’ve heard people say about what is in the Bible. Even preachers and pastors! Now, it must be said, the root of this biblical ignorance is the lack of education opportunities for Blacks in the past, because of American racism. However, I don’t feel that can be a valid excuse today. We’ve come a long way from where (as my great grandmother described it to me) even the preacher couldn’t read. The old, Black, country preacher just preached some verses he had memorized. That was something like a hundred years ago, when my great grandmother was a little girl. Most people today can read…at least, a little bit! And, if you can’t read, you can get the Bible on CD. There are tapes and CDs of Bible teaching available everywhere. Everybody that has a desire can learn something about the Bible. There are no more legitimate reasons, and absolutely no excuses, for biblical ignorance. Yet, biblical ignorance prevails all over the Black Church. My people are perishing for a lack of knowledge!

Which brings me to the fourth aspect of the theological crisis infecting the Black Church (and, probably, the source of all its contemporary problems): “Wolves” in the pulpit. I believe the Black Church is being destroyed by men (and women) in the pulpits whom God never called and never sent. These “wolves” prey on the “sheep” and cannot, by any objective, biblical standard, be considered Christian. They are dogs (If Paul could say it, I think I might venture to utter the term). I know those are strong words, but I’ve seen and met some of these folks! I’ve also seen (and experienced) the aftermath of their “ministry”. They are ruining souls. I see people get up-in-arms about priest sex scandals or about the Ted Haggards of the Church, but I think, “If you only knew what goes on all the time, unabated, in the Black Church!”

To make a long and complicated story short and simple, I finally took my family out from under all this. My wife was miserable, and I didn’t want my children to grow up thinking this was what church was all about. After leaving the historic Black Church, we had brief, but extremely unpleasant experiences with Black evangelicalism (again, a subject worth a blog post of its own). Finally, my wife and I came to the conclusion that we needed to look beyond race, in our search for a church, and simply look for a fellowship that believed, taught and followed Scripture, where we would truly be welcome.

God answered that prayer when He brought us to our current church home. In fact, I clearly see God’s sovereignty in bringing us to where we are today. In our journey, I see not only God’s sovereign hand, but I also see just how dauntingly wide the gulf is between the Black Church and white evangelicalism.

(To be continued…)

No comments: