Saturday, February 5, 2011

Black History Month

Every week I receive an email from Relevant Magazine. I'm a subscriber to the bi-monthly publication, so I guess that entitles me to a weekly email. The emails usually contain content from the magazine, as well as some other stuff. Most of it gets my blood boiling a bit, and I've posted about some of these instances here and here. It's a mostly liberal publication (politically and theologically speaking), and really the only reason I stay subscribed to the magazine is so that I can stay up to date on Christian pop culture (whatever that is). Or, I guess you could say that I'm trying to stay "relevant" (although that is very low on my list of concerns in life).

Anyway, the most recent weekly email from Relevant Magazine featured this article from Dr. Tony Evans on a Christian perspective on black history month, which is this month. The article is entitled, "Why Black History Month Matters." The author notes a common question asked by many, even in evangelical circles: "Do we really need a black history month?"

Dr. Evans' article had what I thought were some really great points about black history month, diversity, and unity. But before I go any further, I must confess that I was heretofore totally unacquainted with Dr. Evans, his writing, or his ministry. And not being familiar with the man or his beliefs, I wasn't about to fully align myself with him or endorse his beliefs. A quick Google search revealed that his radio ministry is broadcast on over 400 radio stations across the country. I was encouraged by a look at his website, which advocated church (rather than government) involvement in social issues and holding the word of God as central for providing lasting impact in people's lives. Other than that, I don't know much about the man. So take my endorsements of some of his views presented in this article with a significantly sized grain of salt.

Regarding black history month, Evans says:

God does His best work in the midst of unity. In fact, so essential is the issue of oneness in the church that we are told to be on guard against those who try to destroy it. (Romans 16:17). God has intentionally reconciled racially divided groups into one new man, (Ephesians 2:14-15) uniting them into a new body, (Ephesians 2:16) in order that the church can function as one (Ephesians 2:13). When the church functions as one, we boldly brag on God to a world in desperate need of experiencing Him.

But how do we as a Church function as one? We don’t. He does—both in us and through us.

When we got saved, we were baptized into the body of Christ. No matter what our race, gender, or class is, when each of us came to faith in Jesus, we entered into a new family. We didn’t create God’s family. We became a part of it.

That is so important to realize because far too often we are trying to force unity when authentic unity cannot be mandated or manufactured. Instead, God says we are to “preserve the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). The Holy Spirit has created our unity. It is our job to preserve it.

The reason why we haven’t solved the racial divide in America after hundreds of years is because people apart from God are trying to invent unity, while people who belong to God are not living out the unity that we already possess. The result of both of these situations has been, and will continue to be, disastrous for our nation. Let alone disastrous for the witness of Christ to our nation.

I think there are several good points in these paragraphs. Allow me a chance to tell you what I think they are:

1) All true unity is made possible only through Christ. Any other kind of unity is totally manufactured by the world and will not stand. People are so different that the only way they can truly come together is by supernatural means. This leads to the second point:

2) The diversity and unity of the church is evidence of its divine nature, and this is a strong witness to the world. As Evans says, "When the church functions as one, we boldly brag on God to a world in desperate need of experiencing Him." Think about it for a minute: can you think of any other organization of people that is as diverse as the church but finds unity in itself despite individual differences? I can't. I don't think there is one. The reason this is possible is the commonality of Christ in all believers. The church should be so unified in and through Christ (in the face of individual differences) that the world has to stop and take notice.

3) The unity of the body is God's doing. We don't create unity, God does, because it was he who called us to be a part of his family. Anything else would be manufactured unity. This is what, in my opinion (maybe Evans would disagree with me on this), the world is trying to do with black history month: manufacture unity. It's just not going to happen - not without Christ at the center, and also because human beings are sinful and fallen and have the propensity to be prejudiced against any and everyone. It's also important for Christians to realize this, and not to try and manufacture unity based on the world's system, but instead upon Christ.

4) The church often falls into the trap of trying to manufacture unity by way of worldly means. The body of Christ is not politically correct. Nor does it operate by policies akin to affirmative action. It is neither of these things because the unifying focal point of the church is other-worldly. Unfortunately however, the church sometimes tends to take a man-centered approach to unity and forgets the trans-cultural/ethnic/socio-political nature of the body of Christ.

While I think these are great points, and I would readily affirm them, I part with Evans midway through his article, however. Evans defines "unity" as "oneness of purpose," and says that unity is achieved when different people work toward the same goal(s), and he sees community service and social action as the focal point for achieving unity in the body of Christ. In other words, if the church wants to be unified, it needs to work together through its individual differences to serve the world. To me, that seems to be putting the cart before the horse, and seems to be a type of the "manufactured unity" that Evans warns of. The basic problem that I have with it is that it does not keep Christ as the focus, but rather serving others. Don't get me wrong: I certainly have no qualms about serving others and social action within our communities. But serving the community with people of other ethnicities, classes, religions, or whatever will not produce biblical unity. Only Christ will. Serving the world together is a product of our oneness in Christ, not vice versa. In other words, Christ enables very different people to come together for the sake of the world. Christians do not come together to serve the world for the sake of being united in Christ. There's a huge difference there.

Evans goes on to talk about how, in order to best appreciate the unity we have in Christ, and in order to most efficiently work together for the kingdom of God, we have to know both ourselves and each other. I would offer a hearty "Amen" to this as well, and I would also add that it is the most efficient way for us to love one another as well, and also the best way of guarding unity that the Bible talks about. Evans sees black history month as an ideal way for these realizations to take place. I disagree. In my estimation, the best way for Christians of all ethnic/cultural/socio-political backgrounds is to live with one another and build relationships with each other. Certainly the "black experience" isn't bound up in black history month, nor is the "white experience" bound up in history books. It's personal. It's individual. I think the best way for Christians to move towards unity in Christ while at the same time knowing and understanding our ourselves and others is to simply live with each other and open up some dialogues with our fellow believers. To this end, black or white isn't even the issue. While I may be the same ethnicity as a lot of people in my church, I can guarantee you that we see and experience the world in vastly unique ways, which creates differences, which creates the potential for disunity. But that potential can and is overcome in and through Christ. Yes, it's going to take some humility, some honesty, and maybe even some discomfort, but the progress towards unity in the body will be well worth the effort. Then we can come together in Christ to be a witness to the world.

I don't want to celebrate black history because it's what the world says I should do, or because it's what the world says is acceptable or politically correct. I want to be united because it is Christ who has brought together sinners from every race, culture, and creed on the planet through repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins - a message that transcends any and every worldly dividing line. To think about unity in any way that does not include Christ is, as Evans says, an attempt to invent unity where none is actually possible.

Perhaps Evans's article was doomed from the start, because any kind of comparison between the world's idea of unity (like designating a particular month of the year to focus on the history of a specific ethnicity) to that of the unity of the church through Christ is a comparison of apples to oranges, if ever there was one.

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