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Race and the Church

In the Nick of Time

Jon Pratt

Central Seminary has hosted the MacDonald Lecture Series annually since 1991. The lectures are named in honor of Dr. Charles MacDonald, who served as professor of practical theology from 1969-1971. Through the MacDonald Lectures, Central Seminary has hosted many speakers who have addressed a variety of ministry issues. But on February 7, 2017, for the first time in the history of the series, Pastor Emmanuel Malone addressed the subject of race and the church.

We are indebted to our brother for his diligent work on this vital and often volatile subject. All attendees received a 33-page handout which included a summary of Pastor Malone’s four lectures, along with charts, historical data, and bibliographic resources. The lectures can be downloaded from the seminary’s website.

In his introduction, Pastor Malone made some startling and thought-provoking statements. Here are three: 1) “The problem [of race relations] is a heart matter and a deeply embedded worldview (Jeremiah 17:9). The contents of hearts are full of misperceptions, affections, and assumptions about the character and value of ‘otherness.’” 2) “The church at large, liberal and conservative, has allowed social perceptions of race, pragmatism, expedience, and traditions to hold too great a sway over biblical truth.” 3) “Suspicious theology was justification for the servile plight of black people, e.g. inferior blood, Hamitic curse, and Mosaic Law against interracial marriage. But, even after acknowledging a corrected theology, the boundaries and inertia rejecting ‘otherness’ persists. The consequence: we live in a racialized society, and it is reflected in our local churches, Bible colleges, and seminaries.”

Pastor Malone then laid out a four-fold outline:

1. The description of the problem: how have we arrived at our current state?
2. The biblical answer to the problem: what model from Scripture can help?
3. The threats to the biblical solution
4. The implementation of the biblical solution

To answer the first question, Malone discussed four eras of American race history: Slavery (1700-1864), Segregation (1876-1960s), Civil Rights (late 1950s-1970s), and Mass Incarcerations (1980s-present). In each of these eras he delineated demands, perceptions about black people, a prevailing theology, questions before the Supreme Court, and unintended consequences. For those who find themselves in the majority people group, information of this type is commonly unknown or ignored. But it is essential in grasping the plight of black Americans today.

Numerous solutions have been proposed to the difficulties that African-Americans experience today. Three major models exist: social justice, government policies, and cessation, i.e. “Let’s not talk about it.” Malone rejected these options and argued for a biblical “Acceptance Model” based on the gospel truth of union with Christ in Ephesians 1:6. Since all believers are accepted into God’s family, both reconciliation with God (Rom 5:1) and harmony with other believers (Eph 2:14) occurs when someone trusts in Christ. This Acceptance Model was at the heart of Malone’s whole discussion. If we understand the implications of what it means to be adopted into the family of God, we will be prepared to engage with and accept people of all ethnicities. “Scripture leads us to a startling conclusion: the unity of the church is not only the product of the gospel; it is an essential part of the gospel.”

There are six crucial concepts of the Acceptance Model. First, the church must be intentional and take personal initiative to foster racial harmony. To accomplish this goal, Malone promoted his “51% rule” which states, “The church member will take the majority responsibility to initiate conversation with visitors or members who are of a different ethnicity, shade of color, or social background.”

Second, because God has accepted us in Christ, inclusion of every person who names the name of Jesus should be thoroughly embraced within the local assembly. Since oppression is the use of power by the majority to discriminate against the minority, the inclusive Christian ought to be gracious, show a caring spirit and a smile, show interest in the life of a person, and intently listen to “the other.” Furthermore, the local church must be a welcoming place that seeks to accommodate (e.g. “we’re glad you’re a part of us—now who you are in Christ and your applied giftedness will shape us further”) rather than assimilate (e.g. “we’re glad you’re a part of us—now be like us”) those who join the membership.

Third, the cross judges and destroys relational aversions, oppression, exclusions, and abandonment. It frees the believer from the bondage of these barriers. Yet, the call of the cross is not an easy one, for we find that true blessing comes through repentance, forgiveness, and forgetting. Interestingly, Malone pointed out that these actions are responsibilities of the oppressed as they come to recognize the significance of Christ’s cross work.

Fourth, God’s revelation of the mystery of His will (Eph 1:9-10) shows that the church must work toward the unity and harmony God intends for His church. Thus, the local church should seek to promote racial harmony in its preaching and teaching ministries, literature and promotional materials, and visionary statements. These should all “convey the biblical truth that ‘otherness’ is fellow-heir, of the same body, and partaker of His promise in Christ by the gospel.”

Fifth, Christ is our peace, who has made us both one (Eph 2:15-16). As a result, He has been instrumental in the formation of a new community. Essential to this new unity is an awareness of the barriers that still remain between majority and minority Christians. Malone spoke of seven barriers: forgetting the past, political ideology, identity, geographic and social boundaries, perception, preference, and historic Christianity.

Sixth, the church must engage in cross-cultural ministry just like Paul did. And this ministry must not only include ministry to cultures in foreign contexts, but it must also include the diverse cultures present within in our own country’s boundaries. Malone asserted, “A powerful way of transcending the racial divide, given opportunity, is sending out racially mixed church planting teams, domestic and abroad.”

While there are many threats to the biblical solution proposed, Malone pointed specifically to the heart of God’s people as being affected by a secular mindset regarding race. Using the term “worldview” to speak of the content of the heart, he called for the need to transform worldview such that love for the Lord transcends and controls one’s view of life. As this transformation takes place, the biblical solution is shown by a transcendent life, a reliance on grace, a correct view of the providence of God, and the reality of sanctifying change.

Much more remains to be considered in regard to this important subject. In fact, Pastor Malone provided 25 race-related questions for further thought, the discussion of which could have easily filled another two lecture series. Nonetheless, the wisdom shared in these four lectures provided us with help and hope as we seek to be Christian brothers and sisters who demonstrate the unifying and inclusive love of Christ to all those who are “other” than we. May the Lord be pleased to use all of us in this endeavor as He builds His church.

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This essay is by Jon Pratt, Vice President of Academics and Professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Kindred in Christ
John Newton (1725–1807)

Kindred in Christ, for his dear sake,
A hearty welcome here receive;
May we together now partake
The joys which only he can give!

To you and us by grace ’tis given,
To know the Savior’s precious name;
And shortly we shall meet in heaven,
Our hope, our way, our end, the same.

May he, by whose kind care we meet,
Send his good Spirit from above,
Make our communications sweet,
And cause our hearts to burn with love!

Forgotten be each worldly theme,
When Christians see each other thus;
We only wish to speak of him,
Who lived and died and rose for us.

We’ll talk of all he did and said,
And suffered for us here below;
The path he marked for us to tread,
And what he’s doing for us now.

Thus, as the moments pass away,
We’ll love, and wonder and adore.
Lord, hasten on the glorious day
When we shall meet to part no more!

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About Guest Author

This guest article has been published because an editor has determined its contents to be supportive of the values of Religious Affections Ministries. Its publication does not imply full agreement between its author and RAM on other matters.

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