I decided to re-release this post because it touches on topics that are still relevant to us today. Some editing has been done as this piece was actually a response to an article, Is the Gospel No Longer Enough for Black Christians? by Darrell B. Harrison. Unfortunately, Harrison intended his article as an attack on the black church and Black Christians during a difficult time. My original response to his article can also be found at the Torry Gazette.
The faith and history of the Black Church is complex thing filled with sorrow, triumph, struggles, and a sole reliance on Christ to carry and sustain it. Due to it’s complex history, the Black church can and will not use the label “social gospel” to avoid addressing the issue directly. This fact has led many to ask the question “Is the Gospel enough for Black Christians?”—an out-right blasphemous insult to everything the Black church has been and is. While many decide to paint the Black Church as having a false gospel, the truth is far from that.
The Black church with all its flaws is a beautiful grace filled thing. Even the story of the “Charleston 9” makes this abundantly clear. They welcomed a non-Black stranger into their Bible study with open arms only to get gunned down by the same racist hate that results in this “Is the Gospel No Longer Enough for Black Christians?” question used to attack the Black church.
A testimony I constantly hear from non-Black people upon visiting a Black church is: “It was so welcoming, and people were so pleasant and greeted me. They made sure I felt welcomed.” Much of that sounds like the fruit of the Spirit overflowing in the believer’s life. After Dylan Roof massacred nine people—simply for being Black—in an attempt to start a race war, each family approached a podium, told Dylan Roof that they forgave gave him, and pointed him to Christ. Why not paint the Black church with these facts? Apparently, promoting the history of how the Black church has been a pillar of the Black community for years and showing love and forgiveness does not get enough hits.
Why not describe how throughout slavery the Black church was a rock that our community relied on? (I would be in the wrong to categorize the whole white church as apathetic to the racist plight of our people in America. But where are the hyped up conference like the anti-Pentecostal ‘Strange Fire’ for addressing racism?) Instead of describing these highlights, people use slanderous attacks applying stereotypes as a broad brush to the Black church.
Black churches with Black pastors in neighborhoods throughout this country are preaching Christ crucified, feeding the poor, tutoring youth, comforting widows, and impacting their communities. In the Black community, we do not have the luxury of ignoring racism. And to be honest the sin of racism should not be ignored, it should be addressed like every other sin. People are calling on the Black church to get over racism, but why not demand the White church believe in the reconciliation power of the Gospel? Do not ignore racism when you see others practicing it. Instead, confront it and stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ while denouncing it. If we are being honest, the White church does not have the greatest record in the category of race relations (research the history of the SBC, the PCA, and others). In actuality, there is no White church or Black church, we all are called to stand as brothers and sisters in Christ united against racism.
I have read blog posts shared by countless evangelical professors, glorifying the writings of a slave who was scared to be free, that were heralded as a gospel-believing example (as if trust in God to deliver them is an act of works-righteousness). “Is the Gospel No Longer Enough for Black Christians?” is not an accurate question in our current times, but rather, “Is Gospel reductionism intent on minimizing Jesus’s command to love our neighbor and be salt in the world enough to reconcile our communities?”
The historical example of Jupiter Hammon is one of a man scared of the unknown, not one of a heroic reliance on the Gospel. Hammon was a slave. Living in oppression was all he knew. Is he supposed to be an example to tell us, colored people, to shut up and accept our station in life?
To love our neighbor as ourselves in opposition to racism is not at odds with believing the Gospel. This is a false dichotomy. Did the Good Samaritan look at the battered guy on the side of the road and ask “Is the Gospel enough?” and then just to continue on his way? Or was getting involved in his neighbor’s life a good, noble, and holy thing? I would say that this notion fits perfectly with the passage found in the book of James:
“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15-16) [emphasis added]
Another example is in Matthew 25. Jesus uses an example of rebuking the people that did not help him and praising the people that did show love and compassion to him?
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:34-46) [emphasis added]
Are we to act like the church where caring about people is against the Gospel? No, the Bible is clear on the matter. People are correct that we must be born again. And when you are born again the fruit of the Spirit is manifest gradually in your life:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24)
Gospel Reductionism is a serious issue. In this instance, it is the equivalent of using the biblically true stance Sola Fide to deny that a Christian is commanded to love their neighbor. It is the equivalent of the Good Samaritan asking the person who was battered and beaten, “Is the Gospel enough?” without helping him. Make no mistake the Gospel is outside of you. It is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—resulting in reconciliation with God. But denying that the Gospel impacts the outpouring of our lives is to reduce the full scope of the Gospel.
The Black church has many problems and issues, but the fruit of the Spirit can be seen vibrantly in it. The phrase “Jesus saves” is a hallmark of some historic Black churches and is absolutely true. But Jesus does not save you just to leave you where you are. Jesus saves you, gives you a new heart, works in your life, comforts and empowers you, and enables you to love your neighbor.
“Is the Gospel Enough for the Black Church?” The answer is a resounding and powerful “Yes!” It was enough to carry my ancestors through slavery with hope in the fact that our Savior will be back again for us. It was enough for Black Christians in the Civil Rights Movement to pray to God to protect them as they exited buses to dog attacks and being sprayed with fire hoses. Sadly, some have use this Nazi march in Charlottesville as a ploy to tear down the Black church, but why not ask another question: When will evangelicals use their soap box to preach against racism as vehemently as they do other sins?
“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist” – A. Davis