Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Long on Money

It appears that Eddie Long is long on money but short on integrity. He and his many non-profit organizations are being investigated for mishandling funds. Apparently, the mishandled funds were handed to him and his wife in the form of house, car, and salary. There is probably nothing that so mars the church in general, and the predominantly African-American church in particular, than these preachers who get rich by self-proclamation of their divinely-inspired authority. Our churches are filled with people who have been duped by the charismatic personality of these preachers. While it pains me to read these accounts, it pains me even more to hear them manipulize Scripture and take advantage of naive Christians. Perhaps Christ is beginning to shake the trees and judge his house. Perhaps He has seen enough of these money-changers. Perhaps the lash is out and the tables are being overturned. If it is, may the Lord have mercy on these men and us. It is unfortunate that such a thing would have to happen, but then again we must know that Christ will not allow his name to be used in vain for long (no pun intended). You can read the report and the monetary compensations Mr. Long has apparently finagled from his ministry by going to the Atlanta Journal Constitution and reading Bishop's Charity Generous to Bishop.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Reforming Worship

It is my heart's desire to see reformation within the church in general, and the predominantly African-American church in particular. I know that I am not alone in these sentiments and this is encouraging to know. However, I also know that if true reformation is going to take place it will be because we have recovered Biblical Worship. What is biblical worship? Well to put it simply, biblical worship is worship where we Read the Bible, Pray the Bible, Sing the Bible, See the Bible, and Preach the Bible. Unfortunately, in the majority of churches in America, particularly predominantly African-American churches, the Bible is nothing more than a prop or an institutional icon. It is present, but we rarely read it, we hardly pray it , we sparingly sing it, we relunctantly see it, and we sporatically preach it. This five-fold approach to worship has been expressed by the church from the beginning. Yet we have lost this simple and yet God-exalting experience in worship. If reformation in our churches is to be a reality, we must ask ourselves if we really have the Bible in its God-ordained prominent place in our services. For a fuller explanation of this biblical worship you can read Ligon Duncan's article From Worship Wars to Biblical Consensus. Without a doubt, it will challenge you to examine your worship so see if your church's worship is a helper or a hinderance to reformation. We will visit this subject again in the very near future.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

William Sheppard "Congo's African-American Livingstone"

Have you ever heard of William Sheppard? Well you should have. He is widely known as the "Black Livingstone." That is, like David Livingstone pioneered exploratory and missionary work in cental Africa, William Sheppard did much of the same in the congo. After graduating from Stillman College (Tuscaloosa Theological Institute at the time) in 1886, he was ordained by the Atlanta Presbytery and called to pastor Zion Church in Atlanta. Yet, he continued to hear the call to missions in Africa. Subsequently, he became the first African-American missionary commissioned by the Presbyterian Church U.S. to labor in Africa. His story is a remarkable and amazing journey. His life is the story of "how an African-American born in the South during the era of slavery emerged as one of the most distinguished Presbyterian leaders in American history." I am familiar with two books that chronicle Sheppard's life and times. One is by Pagan Kennedy entitled "Black Livingstone." The other is by William Phipps entitled "William Sheppard: Congo's African-American Livingstone." Apparently Pagan is a pagan. She makes little note of Sheppard's religious convictions and even makes light of the role his faith and theology played in his life and mission. Phipps on the other hand is an ordained minister in the PCUSA. He sees the undeniable role faith and theology played in Sheppard's life and is more insightful in that regard. I highly recommend Phipp's book, though you may want to refer to the Pagan's because she has good pictures :-) .

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What Are You Singing?

One of the most thought-provoking essays I've read in recent days is the essay by Carl Trueman entitled "What Can Miserable Christians Sing?" In it Carl Trueman argues for the intentional inclusion of Psalms singing in our worship. Since most of the popular contemporary songs and choruses are geared toward the high, victorious life, Trueman rightly asks "what songs are there for those Christians who do not live continually in an emotional high?" If we are honest, this is all of us from time to time. God has given us a repertoire of songs that speak to every human emotion we experience. How impoverished we are when we do not avail ourselves to this divine resource. At our church in Atlanta we have begun to incorporate more Psalms in our worship selections. It has been well received as our worship team have put them in our cultural context. The Trinity Psalter has been an excellent resource for this. I commend it to you. Truly Reformed worship, that is Biblical worship, must seriously consider the role the Psalms play in that worship (Eph. 5:19).

You can read the essay and other insightful musings by Carl Trueman in the book "The Wages of Spin."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Reformed (Charismatic) Chaos :-)

What is becoming of our world? "Human sacrifices! Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!" Who are we gonna call? Believe it or not, C.J. Mahaney preached at Grace Community Church, pastored by none other than John MacArthur. This is remarkable when you understand that C.J. is a self-proclaimed "reformed charismatic" (I have friends who would call this designation oxymoronic, but that is for another post) and MacArthur is the acclaimed author of Charismatic Chaos. Nevertheless, their mutual friend, Ligon Duncan, gives us some insight into the relationship that precipitated C.J. preaching for John. Check it out for yourself. Apparently the Postmillennialist may be right. The lion is dwelling with the lamb.

Ligon Duncan on C.J. and John

Monday, August 22, 2005

Returning "In" Glory

Not long ago (well actually, too long ago), my family and I were on a mini-vacation (these are easily planned and rather affordable). On the way to our cabin destination, I realized that I did not bring anything to read. So, when we stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies, I browsed through the book section and found Return to Glory: The Powerful Stirrings of the Black Race. I skimmed it a bit and read some of the endorsements and thought it might be an interesting read. Over the next couple days I became amazed at the amount of exegetical flaws in which so-called learned men can engage. Page after page was full of historical and biblical error. The intellectual leaps and presumptions that the authors expect of their readers is appalling and at times offensive. From the very beginning the book is unacceptable in its approach to hermeneutics. This book proposes that the Bible actually teaches that African-Americans are destined to return to the glory that was the Egytian Empire (wrongly assuming that African-Americans trace their lineage to the great Egyptian kings). However, what is most tragic about this book is not the error that it espouses, but the plethora of African-American Christians who have bought into this foolishness. I have been at churches who have shown the video detailing the contents of this book and planning to take their people though a study of it. It is apparent that such churches should not be seeking a return to glory but should be seeking a return to the Word of God. And if they were to return to the Word of God, they would find that the Word of God speaks nothing of a Return to Glory by African-Americans, but rather speaks rather lucidly about the Return IN Glory of the Christ.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Racial Diversity in the PCA

The PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) has begun to publish a new magazine titled By Faith. It is a well done publication. You would be well served in subscribing to it. In the most recent issue, there is an article on the PCA's on going struggle for racial harmony and diversity. Interestingly, in the article I am cited as a "PCA leader." While this is not true, my friend believes that statement may be proleptic. Read the article for yourself: Content With One Voice in the Choir: The PCA's Challenge for Racial Diversity.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Rainbow Mecca

When I first moved to Atlanta in 1990 it was known as the "Black Mecca." Here more than anywhere it was believed that Atlanta was the place where blacks could experience the great
American dream. I must admit that I was taken back when I first arrived within the city limits and saw so many black men and women driving around in luxury automobiles, coming and going from high, upscale, gated communities. The political infrastructure of Atlanta politics was black, with a black mayor and black police chief. Yet, 15 years later, Atlanta is not only the "Black Mecca", but now she is becoming known as the "Black Gay Mecca." That's right. Atlanta is the place to be if you are black, gay, and available. The growing number of Black gays in Atlanta is going to put a lot of pressure upon the predominantly black church in Atlanta, as the church must come to grips with the majority of these blacks who go to church. The debate over gay rights and gay marriage is not going to go away, no matter how many marches Eddie Long plans. As I listen to much of the rhetoric concerning gay marriage, I am compelled to say that the debate is all off base. For the record, the question is not whether or not gays should have the right to marry. The question is whether or not homosexuality is an acceptable and moral lifestyle. You see, if homosexuality is acceptable and moral then marriage is unquestionable. But if we deem homosexuality as unacceptable and immoral then marriage is out of the question. For example, the reason we do not let a man marry his daughter or a wife her son is not because they don't have the ability to, but rather because we have deemed that relationship as inherently immoral and unacceptable. Therefore, let us stop arguing whether or not gays should have the right to marry. Rather, let us engage the conversation at its logical foundations. Is homosexuality a morally legitimate and socially acceptable lifestyle? If it is not, then same-sex marriage is out of the question. If it is, then the next time you are in Atlanta look for the sign that reads "Welcome to the Rainbow Mecca."

Friday, August 12, 2005

A New Reformation....Purpose-Driven Style

Recently "America's Pastor," Rick Warren, was the conference speaker for the Pew Forum's Bi-Annual Faith Angle Conference. During that time he engaged in a discussion entitled Myths of the Modern Mega-Church with several cultural critics and journalist. You can read the entire manuscript of the discussion at the above link. One of the amazing things Rick Warren said during his time of self-congratulatory remarks was the following:
You know, 500 years ago, the first Reformation with Luther and then Calvin, was about beliefs. I think a new reformation is going to be about behavior. The first Reformation was about creeds. I think this one will be about deeds. I think the first one was about what the church believes; I think this one will be about what the church does.
I find it quite interesting that Rick Warren would suggest a distinction between belief and behavior, between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Indeed, the Reformers (i.e. Luther and Calvin) would have never seen such a distinction. To suggest that the Reformation was about beliefs is to miss the central tenet of the Reformation: Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone be the Glory). Furthermore to suggest that there could be another Reformation of behavior apart from beliefs is to miss another tenet of the first Reformation: Coram Deo (Before the Face of God). The Reformers knew well that the right doctrine leads to right living. Do you believe Calvin was only theorizing in Geneva? If you do, you know too little about Calvin's Geneva. The problem with the church prior to the Reformation was that awful doctrine was being manifested in the awful living of the church. The glory of the Reformation is that a right doctrine of the Glory of God, lead to right living before the face of God. The Reformation's goal was not simply orthodoxy, it was also orthopraxy. No one, not even Pastor Warren, wants to see a reformation in our day more than yours truly. But I would not be so naive as to believe that it will happen apart from right doctrine. The first Reformation was not that way, and neither will be the second (if the Lord so wills to grant it to us). Belief and behavior are inseparable in the Scriptures and will always be so in God's agenda. Apparently, Rick Warren is looking for a reformation, Purpose-Driven Style (that may be his next book :-). Yet this should not surprise us, what other kind would he know?

Monday, August 08, 2005

That Ol' Time Religion

I remember growing up in a small church in Woodland Park, MI. One of my favorite songs was, "Gimme That Ol' Time Religion." I don't know why it was. Maybe it was the melody, or may the simplicity of the words. Maybe it reminded me that what I believed was the same thing my mother believed and that gave me comfort. Whatever the case, I really liked that song. Well, today that song would not be found on my "Most Requested" list. Nevertheless, the sentiments found in the song continue to ring in my mind and heart. If there has ever been a time for a reclamation of the "Ol' Time Religion" or as the Bible puts it the "old paths" (Jer. 6:16), it is today. And if we were to search and find the "old paths" we would find them paths marked out by a faithful theology and preaching that was mostly Calvinistic.

The history of Christianity in America, and the African-American Church in particular, is that of Calvinistic distinctions. E. Brooks Holifield, in his book Theology in America, has a chapter entitled Roots of Black Theology. In it he asserts that when early African-American Christians "gave expression to theological ideas, they spoke most often as Calvinist or evangelical Arminians. Among the few surviving theological essays written by black authors, statements of Calvinist thought remain prominent." This is echoed by John Saillant in Black Puritan, Black Republican when he asserts that Calvinism was the accepted theological thought of the first generation of serious Black Christian authors (see pg. 4). From such men and women as Jupiter Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, Phyllis Wheatley, George Liele, Andrew Bryan, Andrew Marshall, and many others, we find a refreshing and viborant faith expressed in biblical Calvinism. In fact, Bryan, a Baptist, was commended by a local presbyterian minister for "giving so clear and decided a testimony to the precious though unpopular [Calvinistic] doctrines of grace" (Holifield 310).

Today we would do well to heed the voice of God saying, "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16). Maybe we need to find "Gimme That Ol' Time Religion" among our most requested once again.