Black church

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

I saw a funny video on Facebook of a comedian talking about his experience at “white church” when his white friends invited him on Sunday. It was not only hilarious but it highlighted some of the different experiences Christians have in church based on their race.

More and more churches have a diversity of races among them. Non-denominationalism has greatly helped this, but we still have a long way to go. There are still “white Protestant” and “black Protestant” churches and traditions. There are “white Pentecostal” and “black Pentecostal” churches and traditions. There are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically white and there are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically black.

When you look at studies done of the American church–from organizations like Pew Research and Barna Group–they show that the “black church” has had a strong emphasis on social justice. The “white church” in America has been trying to catch up to this emphasis for decades, first in the mainline Protestant traditions and now among evangelicals. But the other emphasis–the one that is hardly ever mentioned in the news, among evangelicals, or among mainline protestants–is how the black church has for decades emphasized the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit and the movement of the Spirit within the worship setting.

The Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the movement of the Spirit is not only emphasized in black Pentecostal churches, but even within historically black Protestant traditions. In other words, it seems that in the fight against oppression and injustice, the black church not only focused on the importance of social justice and transformation but also focused on the need for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

This hardly ever gets discussed in conversations about racial reconciliation in the church. Why?

The reason is because the white churches that champion social justice the most completely reject the gifts of the Spirit and the importance of the movement of the Spirit.

Here is what I’d like to propose. Until the white church understands the Holy Spirit better, how the supernatural gifts of the Spirit operate today, and what it looks like for a movement of the Spirit to happen, there will be large gaps in racial reconciliation in the church. How can a white church that rejects the fullness of the Spirit embrace a black church that not only emphasizes the Spirit but absolutely depends on Him.

Let me take it a step further. Until the white church embraces the charismata, we will never fully embrace our black brothers and sisters in Christ. If we don’t understand what is happening when that black grandma prayer warrior falls down on the church carpet after being prayed for, if we, in all our whiteness, still label it “emotionalism” or worse (black people getting carried away) then we’ll never be able to move toward racial reconciliation in the church. I propose that until we, as white folks, start dropping under the power of the Holy Spirit, racial reconciliation will just be an academic pursuit.

Paul said, “For through Him (Jesus) we both have access to the same Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit is the One who unifies the Church, the Body of Christ. Again, Paul reminds us, “…we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). In 1906 when the Holy Spirit sparked the Azuza Street revival–the birthplace of Pentecostalism–blacks, whites, and Latinos all came together and worshiped together. William Seymour, the son of emancipated slaves, led the revival. This was completely unheard of in that time of segregation. But the revival fires of the Holy Spirit brought unity and racial reconciliation (however temporary).

We cannot seek unity and racial reconciliation and reject the Spirit. We cannot say “No” to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that are on full display in our black brothers and sisters and then turn around and try to say “Yes” to unity.

So, are you a Christian who is passionate about racial reconciliation in the Church? Then I propose that you start investigating the Holy Spirit. I invite you to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the manifestations of the Spirit. Start there and you’ll be on your way to increasing your understanding of the black church in America.

When the Spirit falls

Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came on Saul’s men, and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. Finally, he himself left for Ramah…But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. 

1 Samuel 19:19-24

Saul was out to kill David. Saul was jealous of David and at times lost his mind in fits of rage. Yet, when the Spirit of God falls, the plans of humanity fall apart. No matter how many times Saul sent men to kill David, they all ran into the thick Presence of God and started prophesying. Saul then decided to do it himself, and he too was waylaid by the Spirit of God. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry...especially when God decides to interrupt them.

One of the main promises of when the Holy Spirit is poured out on everyone–prophesied by the prophet Joel and then quoted by Peter–is that everyone will be able to prophesy.

…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18

So we know that when the Spirit falls upon people (like in the Old Testament), or when the Spirit fills people (like in the New Testament), the result is often the gift of prophecy.

We also know that when the Spirit falls, our plans get interrupted and disrupted. Things get messy. King Saul found himself lying naked day and night. Neat and tidy Sunday services burst open with fervor and fire. Calm and respectable people get undignified. This has always been the case when the Spirit falls in power. It will always be the case no matter how tidy we try to force the Spirit to be.

Sometimes the Spirit falls so powerfully that we are unable to continue with our day. We are knocked to the ground or so enraptured with His Presence that we don’t want to do anything else but be with Him. Notice what happens to one of Saul’s servants when he goes to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle.

Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.

1 Samuel 21:7

Sometimes in our normal obedience, maybe something we’ve done a thousand times, the Lord comes and detains us in His Presence. Suddenly the ordinary worship becomes a divine encounter. When this happens, it’s best not to fight it. If the Lord wants to interrupt our routines and traditions with His beauty and power, we should be grateful. We should linger. We should surrender and allow ourselves to be detained before the Lord.

We American Christians can get so offended by the messiness that comes with the Spirit of God. We can get put off by such raw displays of divine affection. We like to be in control, and we’ll often resist the move of the Spirit to try to stay in control.

But is that what the Lord did with us?

No. The Lord saw all of our messiness, the sin and chaos of our lives, and never once flinched. He didn’t get offended by our mess or distance Himself because of it. Instead, He did the opposite. He came near. The Spirit saw all of our chaos and mess and decided to move in. He decided to take up residence inside the mess and then invite us to join Him in the great renovation of our lives.

Do we not owe God this same response to the messiness that comes with a move of the Spirit? When the fire falls and we get pushed out of our comfort zone with things like the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we do what He did for us? Shouldn’t we lean in instead of push Him away? Shouldn’t we embrace Him as He has embraced us…mess and all? Shouldn’t we put to death our inner control freak and let the Spirit lead us?

I think so.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good…

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21