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Archive for the ‘Healthy Churches’ Category

 

Carter, Anthony. Experiencing the Truth:Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church. Crossway Books , 2008. pp. 192. $12.99

Anthony Carter, Ken Jones and Michael Leach are all pastors. Anthony Carter pastors East Point Church in East Point (Atlanta) Georgia, Ken Jones pastors Greater Union Baptist Church   and Michael Leach pastors All Saints Redeemer Church located in Decatur (Atlanta) Georgia. Anthony Carter also published another ground breaking work titled “On Being Black and Reformed”.

The purpose of the book can be easily indentified in the sub-title “Bringing the Reformation to the African American Church”. The authors feel that if the Gospel is going to advance amongst those of the African American community it is imperative that the current practice be reformed. The authors go through and clearly explain exactly what this means (Biblical Theology Chapters 1-2) and what it should look like (Chapters 3-5). Anthony Carter sums the book up with an appeal for the Doctrines of Grace to be embraced amongst those of the African American community and the book ends with an appendix pack full of very practical ways to flush out a Reformed Worship Service.

The Review

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I think I have finally realized something, that will now put me in a very flaky category with many but that is okay also. I won’t preface what I believe because I think that has been clear by my statement of faith which could easily be defined by Romans 3:21-27 and 1 Corinthians 15 with a dash of monergistic salvation.

So I want to say this and this may change tomorrow but it is at least food for thought. That is if we “must” do something, then that “must” has to be aligned with scripture. You see I used to get confuse about all the fuss on paedo/credo baptism. But now I think I get the argument. If we “must” baptize which I believe the bible says there is a right and wrong way of doing it. But this opens up Pandora’s box for me. Why? Because I am a blog follower and avid book reader and what I am starting to see is. Most of these authors and bloggers ain’t leaving room for flexibility. Most are very dogmatic as it comes to certain things which I will list below. But truth be told they should be. Why? Because if these things are must, then they “must” be done the right way. In steps the proverbial problem. So lets look at some things together.

1. If we must be a member of a church, then that church should function as biblically as possible. With 24K known denominations you know we got serious problems in that area.

2. If we must have leadership, then that leadership must reflect the biblical model. So either plurality, Senior pastor, blended leadership with a senior elder, senior pastor/deacon. Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist or neither are right. We just can’t say the bible is flexible on this but we must have them. That is like a doctor telling you, that you will die and you need some medicine but their is flexibility in what you take. Either one of them are right or none of them are right and if you tell a Christian that must submit to leadership that leadership “must” be biblical.

3. The Lord’s Table. Many of my Reformed Brothers are big on the Lord’s Supper, Communion or whatever you want to call it these days. So if we must do this, and some believe God is present in the partaking of the table, then it must be done as biblical as possible. I don’t believe a thimble of juice and an oyster cracker is sufficient. But I will leave that open to debate.

4. Church discipline. If we are to discipline than we must discipline as biblically as possible. Once again if we make this a must there should be consensus on how God wants this done. So we don’t even know how to do what we must do. Some feel that leaders are responsible others feel that the whole church is to know (I agree with the latter)

5. Women in ministry. Now this is a huge one. Most evangelically conservative churches agree that women should not be in “authority” (whatever that means) in the church and nor should they teach. The problem is teaching in one church is not teaching in another and authority in one church isn’t authority in another. So we have glaring inconsistencies though we are clear that we all agree on 1 Timothy 2-3. This can’t be right. Somebody is in sin for allowing a “woman” to do something she shouldn’t be doing and is causing or condoning her sin also. Should she be a worship leader, new members director, deacon, can she teach men on finances or counsel men (with their wives hopefully)? The inconsistencies across the board on this are alarming indeed.

6. Some will tell me that Christ died for the local church to be established also. If that is the case what should that look like? How should the local church function? How should they not function? Should we court the attendance of non-believers. Should we focus more on the believers? How about leaders again. Are we a church only if we agree with Calvin? You know, sacraments faithfully administered, biblical leaders, the word faithfully taught (whatever that means)? Or can we be like some guys I know that meet over coffee?

7. Then what about worship? Can I have nonbelievers playing in my worship band? Should we sing certain songs while others are not acceptable? What is acceptable? Should we have worship leaders or those who facilitate worship? Should we have choirs or worship teams? Not again if we must do worship, then shouldn’t we do it the way the bible describes it? Though many will say that they are it is radical inconsistencies between parties.

8. Finally I will leave with teaching! Now we all agree we “must” teach. But then some feel that expository preaching is the only way. Others believe it should be interactive. Some say preaching is logic on fire. Can we have a 15 minute pep talk with 30 minutes of worship and 15 minutes of announcements? Should we have 45-1hour preaching with all of the seminary homiletics employed?

I am not being mordant here, I am saying again if cans are musts then musts have musts.

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After reading Matthew and Hebrews a few time it becomes quite obvious that there are some verses that causes or should at least cause a believer, no matter how seasoned he is, to examine themselves and immediately preach the Gospel to themselves. When I am being unmerciful, impatient, unkind, selfish, self-righteous, and stingy these verses spring to front of my mind as if they are purifying me. In addition to both Matthew and Hebrews we see the words of the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul when he says in 2 Corinthians 13:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

Paul admonishes the Church at Corinth with these very sobering words! Why? He has written them previously (this is the third letter) and uses this verse as to say “if you are not heeding my warnings, they you are not in the faith”. I think the rest of the bible becomes our litmus test. Are we measuring up? Are we growing in grace and knowledge, are we growing in love with the Church, are finding ourselves to be growing in humility, patience, kindness, compassion, mercy? Is our zeal for the things of the world shrinking while are zeal for the things of God growing? Are we learning how to yield ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is our appetite for God’s word driving us to study it, to listen to it, to desire it more than television? Do we have an unquenchable desire to share Christ with a dying world? If the answer is a no, but I want it then these verses are motivators, if the answer to this is yes but I know it is only by the Grace of God then these verses are motivators, if your answer to this is no and I don’t care, take heed because these verses are screaming with a bullhorn to the deepest parts of your soul and you should tremble with fear. So lets check them out shall we.

Matthew 7

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This my friend was the start of me dying to self-righteousness and running to the throne of Grace. I said to myself “self, you are okay, you are doing some great things, look at the rest of the pew potatoes” then whalah! These verses rubbed up against me like a grater on a soft block of cheese and they were very abrasive! I thought to myself how is this possible. Look at the verses again “not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord”! Now hopefully you have heard a clear exposition on this before, but I hadn’t, when I met these verses for the first time (I had passed them in the mall a couple of times, even sat next to them in a coffee shop, but we were never formally introduced you see). I started to think they acknowledge that Jesus was Lord and even recognized him, well what about 1 John 4 “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God“. Then Romans 10:9-10 came to mind. They had to confess Jesus right? They had to recognize His Lordship, Jesus makes that clear in the opening section of the verse. So how did this work. Then it dawned on me. They professed Him, but He didn’t know them!

We ask the next obvious question. But, but Jesus knows everybody, He is God correct? Well yes and no! The greek language does us a favor by using to words that are rendered “know” in the english language one is “eidon” the other is “ginōskō” the first means to perceive or to see the other is to know intimately and is even a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse. Which one do you think Jesus was using? Ding, Ding, Ding he used the word “ginōskō”. If you go up a few verses Jesus makes it clear that you can only enter in the narrow way. If you have ever read or saw “Pilgrims Progress” John Bunyan conveys this beautifully. So those who tried to sneak in through the back door, or bypass the narrow way and chose the broad road, we are given a clear picture of what will happen to them. There is much to be said but I will move on to the one that causes the biggest concern for me.

Hebrews 6:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Now if you are a Pastor, a small group leader, a spouse, or just a plain ol single Christian walking as a priest before God this should be like fingernails on a chalkboard. I rather hear County and Blues being played back to back for 5 days straight than here this scripture being read. I used to struggle so much, and still do sometimes, with these verses. I used to because I have a decent understanding of what is saying now, versus my old Pentecostal days when I would argue with those who believed the silly doctrine “once saved always saved or OSAS”. I still struggle with it because as far as we can tell safe Christianity is punted with this section of scriptures.

Let me explain what I think the verse is saying and would love some feedback on it. We first have to ask what does it mean “to be enlightened, to tasted and to share”? These words are strong words that seems to be conveying that this person was truly saved. When asked this question by someone you can’t ignore that these words are used in other places to denote saving faith or at least insinuate it. The next question is does “impossible” really mean impossible? Those are the hardest things to get around in this section of Hebrews. The next question is if Christ has already resurrected how is that we can nail Him back to the cross and crucify Him again.

I believe that key lies at the end of the verse. The writer says “for the land that drinks the rain” and then he goes on to talk about producing crops or thorns. It sounds a lot like Matthew 13 to me which is the other scary portion of scripture for me. In Matthew 13 the seed was good, but the soil was the problem. At the end of this section the rain is good but the land is the problem the writer says “but if”. So in both sections the seed isn’t the problem, the seed isn’t the problem but the soil/land is! Thus I think we have an idea. I believe a person (soil, stony ground, wayside) can partake, taste, and be enlightened (the Seed which is the Gospel)  but still never produce fruit. Why? Because they are bad soil/land! You can have the best farmer, the greatest brand of crops, and the flowing waters of the Nile and still not produce a crop because of the soil you are attempting to cultivate. Bad land is a farmers nightmare! The only thing to be done with it is fertilize it, cultivate and pray that God will do something with it. The same with a person who can sit in church, Sunday after Sunday, teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, lead bible studies, be faithful attendees and givers while at the same time, being soil that will never produce any fruit.

I believe Judas to be the case example for such a statement. He saw the miracles, heard the Gospel night in and night out, participated in the feeding of the five thousand, was sent out two by two to proclaim the good news, saw Lazarus raised from the dead, saw Jesus walk on water, heard the confession of Peter, and other such things and he was called a devil by Jesus. So not only did he know Jesus he even partook in most of Jesus’ public ministry. Listen people, there are countless stories of people who were Pastors 50 years, served in every ministry possible, went to seminary, mission trips, maybe even saw miracles performed, but at some point they couldn’t fake the funk anymore! The folded like a house of cards. They came to conclusion that what they were doing was a hoax and as the parable says “the thorns choked them out”. Now some people aren’t as bold as Judas or the other fellas who come right out and say “we don’t believe you Jesus” they continually go through the motions, they continually do good works, the continually “prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name” and they will hear in that day “DEPART FROM ME”.  This should scare all pastors and anyone else with any type of shepherd responsibilities right out of their socks. This should keep every pastor up late at night and it should keep us up late also.

In closing, we have to examine ourselves but shepherds have to examine the sheep put in their care. The only way this examination will be properly executed is through the unadulterated preaching of the Gospel. We have to be convinced through the preaching of the Gospel that we are Christs and He is ours. But if the church is full of good moral stories, how to reposition ourselves, or how to go “rebuild the city” without understanding “What God Demands from the World” we are in serious trouble. Many will sit comfortably being prepared like a fat cow for dinner. The fires of hell are nipping at their feet all the while the Gospel is being overlooked and ignored by those who are to convey it the most. These are the Keys to the Kingdom Jesus is talking about. This is the rock that motivates Jesus to tell Peter “blessed are you Simon”. This is where true deliverance, power, authority and kingdom living is experienced. This is where the beatitudes are lived out. This his how you love the sheep and lay your life down for them. We have to stop giving people what they want and give them what they need. Even if that means that dislike you for it. Even if they don’t want to talk to you and they call us bigots, narrow-minded, self-righteous, foolish (they called Paul and Jesus fools also) dumb, uneducated, mystics, bubble heads, and so forth. Even if they fold their arms and poke out their bottom lips and say “I am leaving this boring Church”! Let them leave at least you can be like Paul who said in Acts 20 “I did not shrink away from preaching the WHOLE COUNSEL”!  We have everything that every human needs. The Gospel! I sign off with the words of the Spirit through Paul “for I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for IT IS the power of God unto salvation to those who believe…..”!

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Let me start off by saying, maybe I have been approaching the Church Diversity issue all wrong. I have been searching for a church during the last 2 months or so, not sure if I am leaving the church that I am member, but not sure that I will be staying either. I have talked to many pastors and have visited at least 6 churches and a small group during this time-frame. I have asked some tough questions one being the church’s philosophy on diversity. I pretty much got the same answer each time (I live in a predominately white suburban area so “black churches” are nonexistent).

The answer I received is “we would love a diverse church”. The only problem is that this becoming a reality, given the current state of racial harmony, will remain a pipe dream if something doesn’t change. Now I don’t know what the answer is. But I do have some suggestions or at lest some ideas to throw around to help bridge this gap. I will say that the suburbs in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area have become more diverse and the churches are not. Many would rather commute 45 minutes to an hour to Dallas in order to be involved in Sunday worship and be around black folk.

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 If you have not heard of Pastor Eric Redmond this is a great introduction. This is a great interview and a great way to learn the heartbeat of an African American Reformed Pastor.  Pastor Redmond’s blog is here and is called a Man from Issachar. He is the Second V.P of the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of the Council of Reforming Churches  . Learn more about Pastor Redmond at his blog. Oh, don’t let me forget here is the interview, it is worth the time to sit back grab some coffee or a coke (some juice for Tyris), and learn and laugh. God bless and what a wonderful way to start the New Year

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Now I will be the first to admit that when I think of visiting California, I don’t think of churches, but beaches and Palm trees. We also understand that California has not been popular for its Christian values either. MacArthur is there though and that is good. To make it even worse, when you think of Compton, CA you typically envision N.W.A murder capital of the world, and Easy-E and Ice Cube (for those of us who grew up on rap music). Well today I want to erase your mind of all that and recommend that you visit Greater Union Baptist Church. The lead pastor is Ken Jones and if you ever heard of the White Horse Inn or the Miami Pastor’s Conference then you may be familiar with him. If you are not, no need to fret, I have his sermons on the side bar below. Now I love good preaching, what I love even more is good preaching sprinkled with a little urban flavor, if you know what I mean. Black preaching has been know for its charisma, energy, and liveliness, Pastor Ken brings all of this, but there is something even better, he brings it with a Reformed perspective. This brother can flat out preach and as I listned to his last sermon of Grace, I had to check the legalist in me. The brother pushed me back to the cross and I found solace in Christ’s finished work and not my ability. You know sometimes we get on a sanctified kick and tend to look at ourselves more highly than we should.  I listened to three of his sermons yesterday and will finish the rest I have on my IPOD today. I have been blessed by Pastor Ken’s teaching and I believe you will also. He has a high view of Christ, great charisma, and a thorough knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. God bless and please don’t wait too long, you will understand once your heart is blessed by the beautiful brother in the Lord.  

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Okay I decided to add some of my white brethren who get heavy rotation on my IPOD. These brothers can preach folks and they are all in my backyard, excluding Steve Lawson, who I believe to be one of the greatest expository preachers this side of heaven. The brother can flat our preach. He is also a great author. Our goal isn’t to just expose you to black preaching, but also to solid reformed preaching, and these guys have been a blessing in my life. All are Reformed Baptist also. So check their websites out and I want to give a special shoutout to Eric Gunny Hartman the pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church, this brother has a heart for racial reconciliation within the body of Christ folks. He held an event where he invited a black church within the same community to watch “Remember the Titans” and they had fellowship afterwards, what a great movie to discuss racial reconciliation. Please send him an email and check out his blog at www.gunny93.blogspot.com

 Reedemer Church, Ft. Worth, TX

Providence Reformed Baptist Church, Garland, TX

Christ Fellowship Church, Mobile, AL

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