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.

Start with the Holy Spirit

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:8-11

One of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to our hearts that leads to repentance. Paul calls this “Godly sorrow.” The Holy Spirit has a way of bringing both conviction and comfort. Our sin is exposed, but we are never shamed. We see how far short we’ve fallen, and yet the Spirit shows us how God sees us with eyes of love and compassion. This is the inner work that the Holy Spirit does from the inside out.

Paul contrasts this with “worldly sorry” which brings death. Worldly sorrow often comes in the form of guilt and shame. These are counterfeits of true conviction and repentance. Worldly sorrow exposes sin but it does so in a way that keeps the focus on us. Rather than leading to repentance it leads either to a folding in (despair, hopelessness, shame,) or an exploding out (rage, hatred, violence, revenge). Worldly sorrow is not an inner work of the Spirit but an external work trying to use external pressures to bring inner change. It never works.

As followers of Jesus we must allow Godly sorrow to lead us to repentance. This is the beginning of change. We must allow the conviction of the Spirit to do its work. But if we find ourselves slipping either into despair or violence, shame or revenge, then we’ve entered the realm of worldly sorrow. And worldly sorrow always leads to the death of things rather than new life.

Godly sorrow will always start with repentance. And true repentance will lead to “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Paul lists some of the fruit of real repentance: “earnestness“, “indignation“, “alarm“, “longing, concern, and readiness to see justice done.”

Our culture, which promotes worldly sorrow and its toxic fruit, so often wants to skip past the inner work of the Spirit and get straight to “doing something.” This approach so often produces self-righteousness. I saw this when I was helping to start a nonprofit that addresses human trafficking. When we don’t begin with personal conviction of our own sin and repentance, we will so often approach justice issues with an air of self-righteousness and a messiah complex. Without the Spirit, we will forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

If we want change in our society, we need to ask the Spirit to clean out our own heart first (Psalm 51:10; 139:23-24) . Then we repent for the sin that gets revealed. Start there. We all need to start there.

It was Jesus, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, who managed to bind together two groups that hated each other and then call it the Body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles couldn’t have been more different and their distain for each other couldn’t have been greater. Yet the Spirit managed to bring them together and create the Church out of the two groups. Jesus brought peace and the Spirit gave both groups access to the Father.

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

It all begins with the work of the Spirit. It all begins with Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. When that comes first, the fruit will be exactly what our culture needs–one new humanity out of the two.

Unity, not Uniformity

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

This is one of the most powerful passages about unity in the whole Bible. Paul was saying that, when we belong to Christ, ethnicity can’t separate us, socio-economic status can’t separate us, and even the battle of the sexes can’t separate us. We become one in Christ as heirs of the Kingdom of God according to the promise that comes only through Jesus. What a powerful truth!

Yet, a truth this powerful and potent will always try to be skewed and manipulated by the enemy. Some have tried to use this passage to affirm their damaging beliefs about gender fluidity, non-binary gender identities, and homosexuality. “After all,” they argue, “this passage says ‘nor is there male and female.'”

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is trying to use this passage to support uniformity. But God’s message to us here was not about uniformity but about unity. Unity is when oneness comes from things that are different. Uniformity is when oneness comes from things that are the same. The brilliance of the gospel is that, in Christ, oneness can come out of two things that are very different from each other.

Paul’s point here is not that Jews and Gentiles are basically the same, so therefore they can be one in Christ. His point was exactly the opposite. His point about the radical nature of the gospel is that it can bring together Jews and Gentiles who couldn’t be more different from each other.

This also applies to those who were slaves and those who were free. Who would dare argue that their condition was “basically the same.” Absolutely not! Their socio-economic situation was radically different from each other. Yet, the One who doesn’t show favoritism (Romans 2:11) is the One who can even bring together slave and free. The oneness and bond of being in Christ is greater than the separation of their socio-economic reality.

Now we can see clearly how this applies to “male and female.” The point here is definitely not that men and women are basically the same; it’s the opposite. The point here is that though men and women are dramatically different in a variety of ways, Christ can even bridge that gap. Christ can bring oneness where there was only separation and animosity. Jesus can bring unity to two factions that are entirely unique and different from each other.

No, Jesus is not promoting non-normative and non-binary gender fluidity. And He’s also not promoting the uniformity of two people of the same sex trying to be joined together romantically. Christ offers something much more powerful and more radical than uniformity. In Christ, unity is possible, which is the bringing together of two things very different from each other. This is the power of the gospel!