The Church

4 Things Black Pastors Should Never Do In Non-Black Congregations

Scotty Williams reflects on his experience of the gospel tearing down boundaries in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Gordon Fee–“Homogeneous churches have got to be the worst thing that has ever happened. It isn’t until you get a good dose of heterogenaity and find out that you have to love people that are unlike you, do things differently, eat different food, and experience grace and glory in the process. Then salvation has taken place! God has done His thing then!“

Ramblings of a Creole Pastor

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(In my last post I presented 5 things one should never say to Black pastors, but in this post I will present 4 things Black pastors should never do in non-Black congregations. Like the previous post, this post has nothing to do with a particular situation in the congregation I currently serve.)

As a Black-Louisiana Creole who grew up in the Black Church, I was suprised to learn that my first parish would not be in a Black denomination or my beloved rural Louisiana. Instead my first parish would be an urban congregation in a historically White denomination with partial Scandinavian roots (specifically Swedish) in the great state of Minnesota.

Now upon hearing of my new parish, some of my Black collegues working in Black congregations shook their heads with pity. Afteral I was the unlucky guy who drew the “White straw” from the Church bundle, and apart from clapping…

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Calvin on New Revelation

But when at length the Wisdom of God was manifested in the flesh, he fully unfolded to us all that the human mind can comprehend, or ought to think of the heavenly Father. Now, therefore, since Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, has arisen, we have the perfect refulgence of divine truth, like the brightness of noon-day, whereas the light was previously dim. It was no ordinary blessing which the apostle intended to publish when he wrote: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1, 2); for he intimates, nay, openly declares, that God will not henceforth, as formerly, speak by this one and by that one, that he will not add prophecy to prophecy, or revelation to revelation, but has so completed all the parts of teaching in the Son, that it is to be regarded as his last and eternal testimony. For which reason, the whole period of the new dispensation, from the time when Christ appeared to us with the preaching of his Gospel, until the day of judgment, is designated by the last hour, the last times, the last days, that, contented with the perfection of Christ’s doctrine, we may learn to frame no new doctrine for ourselves, or admit any one devised by others. With good cause, therefore, the Father appointed the Son our teacher, with special prerogative, commanding that he and no human being should be heard. When he said, “Hear him” (Mt. 17:5), he commended his office to us, in few words, indeed, but words of more weight and energy than is commonly supposed, for it is just as if he had withdrawn us from all doctrines of man, and confined us to him alone, ordering us to seek the whole doctrine of salvation from him alone, to depend on him alone, and cleave to him alone; in short (as the words express), to listen only to his voice. And, indeed, what can now be expected or desired from man, when the very Word of life has appeared before us, and familiarly explained himself? Nay, every mouth should be stopped when once he has spoken, in whom, according to the pleasure of our heavenly Father, “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), and spoken as became the Wisdom of God (which is in no part defective) and the Messiah (from whom the revelation of all things was expected) (John 4:25); in other words, has so spoken as to leave nothing to be spoken by others after him.

Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.VIII.7

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silly boomers

Some good perspectives from a Lutheran sister.

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Dear Mr. and Mrs. Lutheran Baby Boomer,

Hi.

Sir.

Ma’am.

I hear you say a lot of things about people my age in the church, people 30 and under. I hear you say them and I really am listening–mostly–but in my head, I’m usually thinking,  “WHAT?” and “Aw heck.” and “Here we go again.”

That’s because you’re being silly.

It’s silly to say, “Our church needs to cater to the younger crowd.” No, you don’t. You are not the crowd whisperer. The crowd either (a) wants the good stuff, so there’s no need to cater, or (b) isn’t going to like the good stuff whether you cater to it or not. This isn’t grade school. You don’t have to try to be hip and cool so that others will like you. Just be you. Be Lutheran. It’s quite freeing.

Plus, when you start catering, you make yourself inconsequential because you’re just…

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John Owen on Images Depicting Christ

The great Congregational theologian John Owen (1616-1683), one of the greatest Christian minds in history, writes on the topic of images depicting Christ in his work, The Glory of Christ:

“In this way Roman Catholics are deceived. They delight outwardly in images of Christ depicting his sufferings, resurrection and glory. By these images they think their love for him grows more and more strong. But no man-made image can truly represent the person of Christ and his glory. Only the gospel can do that.

John writes not only of himself but of his fellow apostles also, ‘We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). Now what was his glory of Christ which they saw, and how did they see it?

It was not the glory of Christ’s outward condition for he had no earthly glory or grandeur. He kept no court, nor did he entertain people to parties in a great house. He had nowhere to lay his head, even though he created all things. There was nothing about his outward appearance that would attract the eyes of the world (Isa. 53:14; 53:2-3). He appeared to others as a ‘man of sorrows’.

Neither was it the eternal essential glory of his divine nature that is meant, for this no man can see while in this world. What we shall see in heaven we cannot conceive.

What the apostles witnessed was the glory of ‘grace and truth’. They saw the glory of Christ’s person and office in the administration of grace and truth. And how did they see this glory? It was by faith and in no other way, for this privilege was given only to those who ‘received him’ and believe on his name (John 1:12). This was the glory which the Baptist saw when he pointed to Christ and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29).

So, let no one decieve himself. He that has no sight of Christ’s glory here shall never see it hereafter. The beholding of Christ’s glory is too high, glorious and marvellous for us in our present condition. The splendour of Christ’s glory is too much for our physical eyes just as is the sun shining in all its strength. So while we are here on earth we can behold his glory only by faith.”

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Calvin on the Ancient Church as a Model of Biblical Church Polity

ImageUntil now we have spoken of the order of governing the Church, according as it was left to us by the word of God alone.  We have also treated of the ministers as Jesus Christ instituted them.  Now in order that all of this be familiarly declared to us and imprinted in our memory, it will be beneficial for us to recognize what the form of the ancient Church was in all these things, considering that she is able to represent to us as in a mirror this instruction from God that we have set forth.

Jean Calvin, L’Institution Chrétienne, IV.IV.I.1

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David F. Wells on the Church without the Word

Good word from one of my seminary profs.

Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum - Theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ

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“…Without this transcendent Word in its life, the church has no rudder, no compass, no provisions. Without the Word, it has no capacity to stand outside its culture, to detect and wretch itself free from the seductions of modernity. Without the Word, the church has no meaning. It may seek substitutes for meaning in committee work, relief work, and various other church activities, but such things cannot fill the role for very long. Cut off from the meaning that God has given, faith cannot offer anything more by way of light in our dark world than what is offered by philosophy, psychology, or sociology. Cut off from God’s meaning, the church is cut off from God; it loses its identity as the people of God in belief, in practice, in hope. Cut off from God’s Word, the church is on its own, left to live for itself, by itself, upon…

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An Admonition Against Schism

Still, however, even the good are sometimes affected by this inconsiderate zeal for righteousness, though we shall find that this excessive moroseness is more the result of pride and a false idea of sanctity, than genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it. Accordingly, those who are the most forward, and, as it were, leaders in producing revolt from the Church, have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all other men.

Well and wisely, therefore, does Augustine say, “Seeing that pious reason and the mode of ecclesiastical discipline ought specially to regard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which the Apostle enjoins us to keep, by bearing with one another (for if we keep it not, the application of medicine is not only superfluous, but pernicious, and therefore proves to be no medicine); those bad sons who, not from hatred of other men’s iniquities, but zeal for their own contentions, attempt altogether to draw away, or at least to divide, weak brethren ensnared by the glare of their name, while swollen with pride, stuffed with petulance, insidiously calumnious, and turbulently seditious, use the cloak of a rigorous severity, that they may not seem devoid of the light of truth, and pervert to sacrilegious schism, and purposes of excision, those things which are enjoined in the Holy Scriptures (due regard being had to sincere love, and the unity of peace), to correct a brother’s faults by the appliance of a moderate cure” (August. Cont. Parmen. cap. 1). To the pious and placid his advice is, mercifully to correct what they can, and to bear patiently with what they cannot correct, in love lamenting and mourning until God either reform or correct, or at the harvest root up the tares, and scatter the chaff (Ibid. cap. 2).

Let all the godly study to provide themselves with these weapons, lest, while they deem themselves strenuous and ardent defenders of righteousness, they revolt from the kingdom of heaven, which is the only kingdom of righteousness. For as God has been pleased that the communion of his Church shall be maintained in this external society, any one who, from hatred of the ungodly, violates the bond of this society, enters on a downward course, in which he incurs great danger of cutting himself off from the communion of saints.

Let them reflect, that in a numerous body there are several who may escape their notice, and yet are truly righteous and innocent in the eyes of the Lord. Let them reflect, that of those who seem diseased, there are many who are far from taking pleasure or flattering themselves in their faults, and who, ever and anon aroused by a serious fear of the Lord, aspire to greater integrity.

Let them reflect, that they have no right to pass judgment on a man for one act, since the holiest sometimes make the most grievous fall.

Let them reflect, that in the ministry of the word and participation of the sacraments, the power to collect the Church is too great to be deprived of all its efficacy, by the fault of some ungodly men.

Lastly, let them reflect, that in estimating the Church, divine is of more force than human judgment.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, chapter I, 16.

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Os Guinness on the idol of relevance

Attempts by the church to be viewed as relevant by the world are a lot like a dog chasing cars. It never works, and only makes the dog look silly. True relevance comes from obedient faithfulness to God speaking in Scripture, as Os Guinness relates:

Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum - Theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ

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One of the major themes of Os Guinness‘ short book Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance, is the following provocative phrase:

“Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant” (p. 12).

Essentially, Guinness says that most “Christian” attempts at relevance end up being trivial, trite, and transient. This relevance is not based on truth but popularity, and thus Christianity today is largely irrelevant in the United States (and elsewhere where the same “relevance” is desired, such as here in South Africa). How many non-Christians listen to Christian radio or watch Christian movies because they are so relevant to the deep and fundamental issues of life?

Here’s a synopsis of the book in Guinness’ own terms.

“By our uncritical pursuit of relevance we have actually courted irrelevance; by our breathless chase after relevance without a matching commitment to faithfulness…

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When Things Fit Together In Unplanned Ways

I am often struck with the extent to which everything in a public worship service “fits” together, and supports the theme of the sermon.  I mean, when there are things that fit together in ways that, for my part, as the pastor who plans and leads worship, were completely unplanned.

For instance, this morning I preached on Mark 14:32-42, about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, pouring out His heart to the Father in prayer, under tremendous temptation, yet submitted to His will, as He prepares to drink the cup of God’s wrath against sinners.  I selected as first hymn for the service, “Sweetly the Holy Hymn”, a Hymn written by Rev. C. H. Spurgeon.  I selected it because it is generally an excellent hymn for starting a worship service, without rereading it in its entirety.  The fifth stanza reads, “On the lone mountain side, Before the morning’s light, The Man of sorrows wept and cried, And rose refreshed with might.”  This is a description of the same Gethsemane, the theme of the sermon for this morning!  I had not remembered this portion of the hymn at all when I selected it for this morning.  God in His providence had me select a hymn that would get the congregation meditating on Jesus’ prayer in the garden, in preparation to hear Him speak on the subject.

This seems to happen a lot.  That is, I’ve observed how God frequently overrules and overrides details and elements to make it all fit and hang together.  I make two observations:  First of all, that the worship service is so important to God, and for His people, that He uses the little details of things to draw them into His presence to bless them.  Secondly, God is in control of all these little details and He works them together in ways that we never planned for His glory.  Glory be to God!

The full text of the aforementioned hymn is presented below:

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Sweetly the holy hymn
Breaks on the morning air;
Before the world with smoke is dim
We meet to offer prayer.

While flowers are wet with dews,
Dew of our souls, descend:
Ere yet the sun the day renews,
O Lord, Thy Spirit send.

Upon the battlefield,
Before the fight begins,
We seek, O Lord, Thy sheltering shield,
To guard us from our sins.

Ere yet our vessel sails
Upon the stream of day
We plead, O Lord, for heavenly gales
To speed us on our way!

On the lone mountain side,
Before the morning’s light,
The Man of sorrows wept and cried,
And rose refreshed with might.

Oh, hear us then, for we
Are very weak and frail,
We make the Savior’s Name our plea,
And surely must prevail.

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Many are induced…

Many are induced by pride and presumption, by disdain, or by envy to persuade themselves that they will get enough benefit from reading in private, or meditating in private. By doing so, they contemn the public assemblies, and think that meditation there is unnecessary. But because they dissolve or divide, as much as is in them, the bond of unity which God wills to be kept inviolable, it is fitting that they receive the reward of such a divorce, for they bewitch themselves of all the errors and reveries which carry them to confusion.

Jean Calvin, L’Institution Chrétienne, IV.I.5

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