A White Evangelical Responds to “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”

a WHITE EVANGELICAL RESPONDS TO

(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)

Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.

Historical Overview

Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.

In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:

Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)

In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”

The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.

The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.

If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)

Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.

In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!

In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.

The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)

The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.

Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.

To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)

Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.

The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.

I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.

Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)

Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today

Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.

When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.

As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.

Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.

My Reflections

I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.

I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.

In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)

On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.

I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.

What is a White Evangelical to Do?

Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.

Resources

Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.

Two of my favorite African American pastors are:

  • Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
  • Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.

The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.

  • The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
  • Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
  • Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
  • Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Hannah

Check out some of of my other articles:

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

When you hear the phrase “Prosperity Gospel,” you might imagine the luxurious mansions and perfect health supposedly promised to any person with faith enough to claim it. The term “Fundamentalism,” on the other hand, may conjure images of stern people in conservative clothing threatening others into good behavior. What could these possibly have in common? Quite a lot, actually.

Both Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel see good things as a reward for good people who make good choices. For the Prosperity Gospel, faith and positivity unlock wealth and health. For Fundamentalism, holiness and submission lead to happiness and success. In essence, the Prosperity Gospel says, “If you have enough faith, then you will be happy and successful,” while Fundamentalism says, “If you make good choices, then you will be happy and successful.” But God doesn’t work that way, and nowhere does he promise health in exchange for faith or happiness in exchange for holiness.

There are some unsettling and heartbreaking implications to this way of thinking. For one, trials in life are seen as the result of personal failure, whether failure of faith or of holiness. Success, on the other hand, is a reward for those who do enough or believe enough. If a person struggles, it is because they are inadequate. And if a person is happy and life is going great, it is because they are great. Those who experience difficulty, therefore, can be judged and should be fixed. And those who are successful can be honored and should be followed.

Let’s look at some examples. In the case of sickness, the Prosperity Gospel urges people to “just have faith” that a reversal of fortunes is just around the corner. A person who believes such nonsense will tell the sufferer to believe better so they can get better, rather than compassionately sitting with the sufferer in the midst of the mess. In fact, when people with this view encounter suffering, they must either believe that the sufferer lacks sufficient faith or reexamine their entire worldview!

In another example, Rachel Joy Welcher recently spoke on Twitter (@racheljwelcher) about Fundamentalism’s view that abstinence guarantees a happy and problem-free marriage. The idea is that abstaining from sexual activity before marriage earns you the reward of blissful marital intimacy and lack of relational conflict. In other words, do good to earn happiness. One problem with this is that when these rewards do not manifest, people feel confused and guilty. Here’s what Rachel says:

Common in Christian dating and purity books from my teen years was the promise that waiting until marriage for sex guaranteed a good marriage. Included in this promise was the idea that the greatest trial your relationship would endure was this waiting. The expectations this creates. The turmoil and fear and false-guilt when marriage is difficult – more difficult than abstinence. One book I read last night promised that “if you wait…you’ll make babies with great celebration” and that sex will be “a blast.” What happens when starting a family is full of loss and pain? When your sex-life is not “a blast”? When those who did all the “right things” and wrote the “lists” are getting divorced?

There are other commonalities between the Prosperity Gospel and Fundamentalism besides false if-then promises. These include the idealization of leaders and a theology that is too enmeshed with a specific cultural context. However, these are topics for another time. For now, let’s look at what the Bible actually teaches and how it challenges these faulty beliefs. 

First of all, the Bible teaches that all people, including good Christians, will experience difficult times (take a look at the book of Job!) and the full range of emotions (see the book of Psalms or Jesus in the Gospels). It does not promise that we will see happy resolutions to our suffering in this lifetime or that we will be successful if we work hard enough. To teach otherwise is inconsistent with what is true.

Second, life’s challenges–ill health, marital strife, or other difficulties–are sometimes the result of our own sin or foolishness. But other times they are because of the brokenness of this world, another person’s sin, a corrupt society, or the Devil. Most often, difficulties occur because of some combination of these reasons. To assume the cause of suffering is always just one of these is not fair to the teaching of Scripture.

Third, the Bible urges us to have faith, to trust in God’s character and God’s promises. However, it is not our faith that unlocks God’s character or allows him to keep his promises. He is who he is regardless of our belief or unbelief; our faith does not create reality. The very fact that God’s character and promises are not dependant on us is the one of the reasons he is worthy of our trust!

Fourth, God does call us to holiness in all areas of life, both as individuals and as communities (see Romans 12-16, Ephesians 4-6). The Book of Proverbs even enumerates the ways that living according to goodness and wisdom may lead to blessings! But our right choices do not guarantee blessings and may even lead to more difficulties (again, see Job).

And finally, regarding motivations for holiness, the Bible provides several motivations beyond the potential happy outcomes. There is the hope of reward in heaven, the call to live according to our new life in Christ (Romans 12:2-2), and the desire to bring God glory. Again, Rachel Joy Welcher has some excellent thoughts on this specifically as relates to sexual purity.

Lovers of God, do we need more motivation (great marriage, lots of babies, great sex, easy-sailing after the alter, etc.) to obey our Savior, than His glory? These books. So full of promises. Dangled carrots. Cultural references. There are lots of reasons people practice abstinence before marriage. Christians should not pursue purity to ensure a trial-free future (this is never a promise in Scripture) or their own personal fulfillment. Christians pursue purity for the glory of God. Because He is our King. And we fail & fumble at this. Some endure theft & rape. Purity isn’t virginity, fitting into a white dress or having the same story, history or future as everyone else. It’s about loving God so much that obeying Him is worship, failing Him is repentance & accepting grace is daily.

Rather than promising escape from earthly trials either through faith or through holy living, the Bible promises that God is with his people in the midst of difficult times. Christians may or may not see success and happiness on this Earth, and we do a disservice when we promise otherwise. Instead we can walk in faith and obedience, coming alongside those who are hurting in order to be a tangible reminder of God’s presence with them in their troubles.

So let us not fall prey to the lies of if-then religiosity in any of its forms. Instead may we embrace the whole counsel of Scripture, walking in holiness and putting our faith in God, not because we believe we are guaranteed happy results, but in order to live as those who are in Christ and whose destination is heaven, where all things will be made whole. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out Rachel Joy Welcher (@racheljwelcher): https://twitter.com/racheljwelcher?s=09 A big thank you to her for her insights and inspiration! 

Systematic, Biblical, and Historical Theology

3 Theologies

I’ve got a high school diploma and a whole semester of technical college under my belt and I’m going to crudely explain Systematic, Biblical, and Historical Theology.

Systematic Theology

This is the most common way to study theology. Basically, all of the information in Scripture is put into different categories and these categories are taught ‘systematically’ (hence the name). The main idea behind systematic theology is make clear what Scripture as a whole teaches about a particular doctrine or idea.

Recommended: “Foundations of the Christian Faith” – James Montgomery Boice

Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology is a less common way to look at theology, but it is still important nonetheless. Personally, this is my favorite way to look at theology so it’s possible that I could be a little biased. Biblical Theology seeks to looks at the narrative of Scripture on a particular topic. Because of this, Biblical Theology will, at times, overlap with Systematic Theology. The main difference is how the ideas are presented. While Systematic Theology looks at what Scripture as a whole says about an idea or a doctrine, Biblical Theology will often look to see how that doctrine or idea has evolved from Genesis to Revelation.

Recommended: What is Biblical Theology? – James Hamilton

Historical Theology

Finally, we come to the seemingly most ignored of the three methods, Historical Theology. While Historical Theology does look at what Scripture says about a particular doctrine or idea, it also goes outside the bounds of Scripture and looks at how a particular doctrine or idea has been taught and examined throughout church history leading up to the present day.

An article on Got Questions accurately summed it up in this way:

“Like any area of theology, historical theology is also sometimes used by liberal scholars and non-Christians to cast doubt upon or attack the essential doctrines of the Christian faith as simply being the concoctions of men instead of the divinely revealed biblical truth that they really are. One example of this is in the discussion of the triune nature of God. The historical theologian will study and trace the development of this doctrine throughout church history knowing that this truth is clearly revealed in Scripture, yet throughout church history there have been times when the doctrine came under attack and thus it was necessary for the church to define and defend the doctrine. The truth of the doctrine comes directly from Scripture; however, the church’s understanding and proclamation of the doctrine has been clarified over the years, often in times when the nature of God had come under attack by those “savage wolves” that Paul warned would come.”

The article goes on to say:

“Historical theology, when correctly understood and applied, does not diminish the authority or sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture alone is the standard in all matters of faith and practice. It alone is inspired and inerrant. Scripture alone is our authority and guide, but historical theology can help us understand the many dangers of some “new teaching” or novel interpretation of Scripture. With over 2,000 years of church history and thousands if not millions of Christians preceding us, shouldn’t we be automatically wary of someone who claims to have a “new explanation” or interpretation of Scripture?”

Recommended: Historical Theology – Alister McGrath

Conclusion

Systematic theology asks, “What does the Bible as a whole say about x?”

Biblical theology asks, “How did the writers of Scripture understand the idea of x, and how did this concept evolve from Genesis to Revelation?”

Historical theology asks, “What can we learn about x from the time of the Bible all the way up to our present day?”

None of these methods are perfect. They all have their pros and cons. Glean from all three methods of studying and don’t just get stuck in one mode because you’ll create a theological blindside for yourself.

Like I said earlier, this is a crude explanation. If I left something out or said something incorrectly (and I probably did), let me know about it in the comments.

God bless.

Sacred: Part 3: Growth and Maturity

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” – 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 (ESV)

“All in favor of impeaching J. J. Parker as the senior pastor of Nickel Grove Free Will Baptist Church say Aye.”

A chorus of ‘ayes’ and it was done.  23-year-old J. J. Parker was no longer the pastor of the small church that had voted him in a little under a year ago. What was the reason? Was it financial infidelity? Was it sexual promiscuity? Did he preach heresy? Did he have a hidden problem with drugs or alcohol? No. Even worse. He voluntarily paid for the church to have new carpet. Not even a new carpet color, just new carpet. And when he moved the pews back, he forgot put Brother Taylor’s pew back in the third row. This wasn’t just any pew. This was a pew that Brother Taylor had placed there in memory of his father who had been a deacon at this church for 32 years. This careless act of forgetting to place that pew back in the third row had gotten him voted out just as quickly as he was voted in.

This story is based on true events that happen in churches all across the country all the time. Why does this happen? Why can’t a church keep a pastor for more than a year or two at a time? Immaturity. That’s all it boils down to. People are immature in their faith and they begin to identify themselves with a person or a movement other than Christ. It’s okay to be fans of some theologians or follow some movements to see what God is doing through them, but it’s never okay to place your faith in that person or movement because they can fail.

Churches often place their identity with a pastor that catered to their every whim and did things exactly the way they wanted them to be done and as a result they handicapped that church and left them to wallow in their immaturity when it came time for them to leave that pastoral position. This is a disadvantage not only to the congregation, but to the new incoming pastor that has to clean up the mess that the old pastor left behind.

What Paul addresses in this passage is maturity and growth. He is writing to them a second time (1st Corinthians is actually the second letter to the Corinthians because the first letter was never recovered, thus 2nd Corinthians is actually the third letter), and he’s not perfect people by any means, but he is expecting a people that have grown since the last time he wrote to them. He’s thoroughly disappointed.

Parents, imagine you’ve potty-trained your baby. They are now independently going to the bathroom on their own. Then one day you’re in the living room and your child is play with his/her toys and you see that familiar look on their face and that all too familiar odor creeps into the room. After once going to the bathroom on their own. They’ve pooped their pants. This is no accident. This is a regression back to days gone by when making the effort to go to the bathroom was even an issue and someone else could clean up the mess. This is exactly what Paul is feeling at this point when the Corinthians are exhibiting immaturity and lack of growth.

Ultimately, what is happening is that these people are attaching their faith to a person rather than putting their faith in Christ.

“For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?”
– 1 Corinthians 3:4 (ESV)

The Corinthians are forgetting that guys like Apollos and Paul had to be trained in godliness just like they are being trained in godliness (Acts 18:24-28). We idolize people instead of worshiping, loving, and receiving instruction from Jesus. In the end, when we truly submit to God’s Spirit we allow Him make us mature and grow us in the beauty of His holiness.

Sacred: Part 2: Fellowship

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” – 1 Corinthians 1:9-10 (ESV)

In this series, I’m going to use 1 Corinthians to cover some basic things that we can’t afford to forget as Christians.. In the first two posts I made in the series, I discussed who Jesus is and why it’s important to know and believe His deity and humanity.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at Fellowship. The word for “fellowship”, in the Greek is koinōnia it literally means to be “in intimate community and participation”. This would be like a tightly knit group of people that have a strong common bond. When Paul talks about the importance of fellowship and unity, he makes it clear that you can’t have true fellowship with each other unless you first have fellowship with Christ.

Fellowship With Christ
In verse 9, he says that we are called into the fellowship of God’s son. What does this mean for us? It means simply that we have intimacy with Jesus. We are to walk so closely to Him that our hearts break over what makes His heart break. If you truly love someone, you’re torn to pieces when you see them suffer. Our hearts should be broken over the injustice in the world. Our hearts should be broken over those that reject the love of God. That’s only a tiny fragment of what it means to have intimacy with Christ.

Let’s take a look at the writings of John for a minute:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” – 1 John 1:1-3 (ESV)

John is writing to three people groups, Believers, Judaizers that claim to be believers, and Gnostics who claim to be believers. The big issue with the Gnostics is that they believed that Jesus could not have been fully a human being. What the Judaizers couldn’t understand is how God could be human. The Judaizers also believed that the resurrection was a hoax created by the apostles.  John is immediately starting off His letter addressing the issue by tell them that we have touched Him, we have heard Him, and we have seen Him. There is no way this could be an illusion. If it was, then it was an illusion shared by over 500 men (1 Corinthians 15:5). 

If we want to go deep, we’ll break this down, Lots of people saw Jesus without ever hearing what He had to say. Still, there’s a great number of people who heard what He had to say, but never got to touch Him. There are very few instances where people got to touch Him while He was on Earth, but now that He’s at the right hand of the Father anybody can come before the throne of grace and touch Him. In the words of a pastor friend of mine, “That’ll preach.”

In John 20, Mary can’t touch Him because He hadn’t ascended (John 20:17). Yet, when Thomas sees Him, Jesus tells Thomas to do more than touch Him. He tells Thomas to thrust his hands through the scars (John 20:27). The difference is that Mary didn’t need to touch Him to believe, Thomas did. A touch from Jesus is always available when we need it.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

We touch Him because we have fellowship with Him. We have fellowship with Him because Jesus tore down the veil of separation between God and man with His blood.

Because God made a way of fellowship with Him, we can have fellowship with each other.

Fellowship With One Another

 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)

Throughout the rest of chapter 1 and then on up into chapter 3, Paul addresses the issue of divisions. In verses 11-17, Paul talks about how people were dividing over who they were baptized by or by what teachings they followed. Christians were picking and choosing their favorite theologian and dividing over it. Then you had this fourth group of people that said, “We don’t care about theology, we just cared about Jesus”, hence the “I of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 1:12. These are the same arrogant people that think being “non-denominational” makes them special because they’re not actually apart of a denomination. Regardless, that’s a different rant for a different time.

Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun, we have the same problems today that the Corinthians were having then. We start allowing ourselves to be students of Calvin, Wesley, Luther, or others and we allow trivial theological differences to divide us.

In the words of Mark Driscoll, “It’s okay to disagree, it’s sin to divide.”

As a matter of fact in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul implies that dividing over trivial things like that is a sign of spiritual immaturity. So, here’s what I want your big take away to be from this post: Jesus died to make a way for you to have fellowship with Him and with others. It’s stupid to divide over trivial things when Jesus is so much bigger than your differences and He is the best common denominator you can have with someone.

Be blessed today!

Sacred, Part 1: The Jesus of the Church: His Humanity

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” – 1 John 1:1-4 (NRSV)

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (KJV)

In my last post in this series, we started talking about Christ and His proclamation of His deity. Just as a short review, covered parts of John 8 and talked about how Jesus directly referred to Himself as “I AM”. John 8 and many other passages of Scripture affirm the deity of Christ as well as numerous Church fathers and the Creeds of the early such as the Nicene Creed:

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made. “

In this post what we will attempt to cover is the humanity of Christ which is just as important as affirming the deity of Christ. If we make the mistake affirming Christ’s deity and not His humanity, then we commit the Gnostic heresy of believing that Jesus was some supernatural angelic figure that had no human qualities. This would be described as the early Church heresy of Docetism that taught that Christ only appeared to be human. This teaching as well as the teaching of Apollinarianism (the teaching that claims that Christ had a human body, but not a human mind or will. If this view were true then Christ could not redeem the human mind or will, only the the body. But Christ did not die for only certain aspects of humanity.) stood in stark contrast to the Biblical concept of te incarnation. Jesus died to restore all the aspects of humanity, which is why we can have a renewed mind (Romans 12:1, 2), a new spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and a new body (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).

An awesome theologian, J.I. Packer once said:

“But in fact the real mystery, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us… lies not in the Good Friday message of the atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of incarnation.” 

Here’s the thing, if you read the Bible and claim to believe in the Bible as the inerrant word of God, then you can’t deny Christ’s humanity. He was hungry, He was thirsty, He experienced pain, He experience happiness and joy at celebrations with friends and family. Not only is He just as much God as His Father in Heaven, but He was just as much human as we are. 100% man. 100% God.

“Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.”
– Saint Augustine of Hippo

As a result of being fully human, Jesus can fully restore all aspects of our human nature. Jesus made all of this possible by the blood of His cross, and He rose victorious over sin, hell, and the grave. Allow these last two passages of Scripture to resonate in your heart as you consider the humanity and deity of Christ.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NRSV)

 “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16 (NRSV)

Sacred, Part 1: The Jesus of the Church

What is it about the holy that scares people? It’s simple. Differentiation. R.C. Sproul said that the simplest way to define ‘holy’ is that which is separate or other. It seems that the Church has taken that to extremes to the point that we are abandoning sacred doctrines. Holy doctrines. Distinct doctrines. Doctrines that are imperative to the very foundation of what we believe. Out of these distinct doctrines that we’re going to look at in the series, the foremost that we will address is the deity of Christ. We cannot build the Church of Jesus without the Jesus of the Church being the foundation. There can be no edifying sanctification unless there is first regenerating salvation. So, let’s begin.

Now, let’s get something straight, I’m not going to be able to get into the depth and richness of who Jesus is in one blog post. That would take too much time and energy. I’ll go over Jesus’ huge claim in John 8 and we’ll go from there.

The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:52-59 (ESV)

Let’s catch up, Jesus is schooling the Jews in theology by informing them that He is God and if they abide in His words, then they will be free. The problem is that believe that they are already free. Watch this.

“They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” – John 8:33 (ESV)

In the case of the Jews, denial is not just a river in Egypt. In the Old Testament, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they were taken captive by Babylon, and even now, as they are making this statement, they’re being dominated by Rome. This is the very reason that people refuse to see Jesus as God. People don’t need God if they are under the impression that they are their own god. No one is going to want the freedom that Jesus offers if they believe that they are already free.

Now, if we fast forward to what Jesus tells them in John 8:58, then we’ll see what He’s really trying to get through to them.

“Jesus said to them,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58 (ESV)

If you are a grammarian, then this sentence will drive you absolutely bonkers if you have no idea what Jesus is saying. What you think He’s going to say is “before Abraham was, I was also”, but no. He decides that bring the name of God into it. He blatantly makes the claim that He is God. How do these Jews that claim to know God respond?

“So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” – John 8:59 (ESV)

Here’s the issue. We read this passage and think to ourselves, “Those horrible pharisees. They shouldn’t throw stones at Jesus when all He’s trying to do is help them understand who He is.” We don’t acknowledge that we, at times, are the Pharisees. Every time we hear a sermon, read a book, or read a passage of Scripture that convicts, and we don’t respond the way we know we’re supposed to, we might as well pick up rocks to throw at Jesus.

So, what does this mean for us as the Church? As the Church, we should be responding to Jesus everyday in faith and repentance. It has been said that the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. Do a self-evaluation. How are you responding? Are you being melted by Jesus or are you hardening yourself against Him and kicking against the pricks as Paul did?