"The Black church in America is an enigma. It's an institution who existence is unlikely and unpredictable. How could African-American men and women embrace the same Christ that their oppressors professed? Despite the worst intentions of many and because of the best intentions of others, the Black church, as an institution, is arguably the most indomitable in American history" (On Being Black and Reformed, p. 46).
Those words grew out of the understanding that the predominantly white church and predominantly black church in America are inextricably tied together. Without the evangelistic efforts (good) and the sinful prejudices (evil) of the White church in American we would not have a "black church." It could be argued that there would be not African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church if the Methodist had not been racist in their practices. There would be no National Baptist Convention (NBC) or even Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is their white sister organizations had been operating in brotherly love and kingdom principled. But alas, they were not and thus we have a segregated church. The pasts of white and black Christians is tied together. And I believe so are their futures. This is why I believe to ask the question of reform in the one is the beg the question of reform in the other.
Now, in his second post on Can the Predominantly African-American Church be Reformed, our brother and friend Thabiti has written some hard and true indictments of the black church. Without a doubt, his assessment will be met with some opposition, and yet his thoughts do not come out of mid air, but are the result of experiencing these errors and examining them in the light of the Scriptures. When I read Thabiti's assessment I find myself agreeing with him, even though something inside me did not want to. Being a son of the black church, I love my heritage, and yet I know all too well the errors that have plagued our churches and Thabiti have hit many them square on. And yet, I remain hopeful, not because I think it is possible to Reform the predominantly African-American church but because I believe Reformation is possible and is happening in Black Christianity.
The Black Church in America is institutionalized, make no mistake about it. What I mean by that is that it has been long established, it has its traditions (good and bad - though mostly bad on the theological side) and has found success in accomplishing many of its goals. It is a self-sufficient entity and therefore, while it may be willing to adjust from within, it is not likely to make any sweeping changes because of theological pressures from without. Thus, to look on it at face value it may appear that reforming the black church in America is not likely. However, I would suggest that reforming the predominantly black church should not be the goal. The goal should be to bring Reformed Christianity to black Christians. If I thought the goal should be the reforming of the institutionalized black church (e.g. the NBC, AME, and COGIC), I would despair at such a monstrous task. But I don't see the task as reforming the institutionalized church, but rather that of reforming Black Christianity. I am convinced that the prospect of reforming Black Christians is not only doable, but has already been done. I am a living witness.
When I state the goal as reforming black Christians more so than reforming the black church, I mean that our goal should be the introduction of reformed theology to individual men and women, boys and girls, more so than the introduction of reformed theology to the established, institutionalized Black church. I believe that if we can, by the grace of God, get Reformed theology in the hearts and minds of black individuals, then we will either begin to see a change in the historical black church, or we will see another "black (reformed and biblical) church" rise up along side her. Whatever the case, the key is the individual not the institution.