The Critical Question of Race

RACE – a term that teeters on the edge of being classified as a “four-letter word” in many circles. A term that really doesn’t mean what it has been made out to mean. Just like so many other terms in human language (especially the English language) that have been adultuerated, redefined, and bent to fit political and sociological agendas, the term “race” simply is not what you may think.

And among all settings where “race”, regardless of how you define it, should matter the least – Christianity, the term is again blowing up people and churches. And yet again, it is because so many have a completely erronious udnerstanding of the term.

Se let us take a look at God’s Word. After all, as one who holds to Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone for basis of faith, doctrine, and theology).

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28 NASB

Let US make man in OUR image – Us being plural (the very first clear, inarguable statement of the Triune God) , yet a singular image. One image – and “make man” being a general term that actually applies to mankind – all of humanity. THE Image of God (Imago Dei). All of mankind, because the first man (and woman) were made in the image of God, is also made in the image of God. Further – how man different species of man did God make? Absurd question? Not at all – God made man and woman. Period. All of humanity in a single exemplar pair. Even modern science, with the advanced DNA sequencing and comparison ultimatley comes ot the same conclusion – all of mankind are of a single species – a single “kind”. What did Adam and Even look like? It is doubtful we will ever figure that out in this lifetime. But that is truly irrelevant – as we all come through/from that first couple (our family tree further returns to a single line through Noah as well!).

But let us return to the discussion at hand. There are several, some well-known, folks in the Christian/Evangelical circus who have begun abusing the whole “race” label. This goes beyond what the nefarious characters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – two of the most famous race-baiting for agenda promoters of my lifetime. I’m referring to Thabiti Anyabwile (real name is Ron Burns), who formerly had my respect for writing some biblically-sound materials on church membership as well as several other encouraging and true resources. Yet Mr. Thabiti has chosen a different path – one of promoting division among races, who has attacked “multi-cultural” churches, not based necessarily on the doctrinal and theological issues often found is such churches, but for trying to make black church members into what many of his mindset refer to as “Oreos” – black on the outside, white on the inside. He has decried (along side others of similar broken and racist views), that white people have coopted Christianity and made it a “white man’s religion”. He has called out Christians to essentially throw away commentaries and theological works by White men and find Black theologians to follow and learn from. He has joined with such race-hustlers as Kyle J. Howard (a close friend of Beth Moore, who radically endorses him, by the way) who is a self-appointed Preacher, Bible Teacher, Racial Trauma Counselor, etc.. in calling for radical reparations for all of the Black race – and even saying that there can be no reconciliation between black and whites in “the church” until all White Evangelicals” take ownership of their complicity in the injustices against the black race and reparations are paid based.

David facing Goliath?

But the problem isn’t just one-sided. For FAR too long, professed Christians, including many of the “Baptist” pursuasion HAVE held race as a component of their theology and doctrins. Lest we forget, those old family Bibles with all the beautiful paintings of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Jesus” or the similarly European-depicted David (or most all biblical characters). These images became the building blocks of race-based thought in churches. And divides have festered like gangreen in a jungle-wound. And the problem isn’t helped when people further attempt to swing the pendulum the other direction and claim (as the Black Hebrew Israelites do) that all authentic biblical characters (other than the bad guys) are of the dark-as-the-night “black race”. (*could this be a part of why God commanded His people to NOT make graven images of anything in Heaven, in Earth, or below the earth?)

And contrary to what I believe are well-intentioned movements to racially-integrate churches (the current multi-cultural church planting efforts), I see more damage being done to theology and doctrine in the scramble. And it all goes back to a broken concept of RACE.

You see, when the Bible makes use of the Greek term γένος, it isn’t referring to races – different kinds of people. It is a reference to ethnicity, nationality, family lines. There are not different kinds of human beings – because we are all – regardless of location of birth, quantity (or lack) of melanin in our skin, or the circumstances of our birth – we are all of ONE Race – the Human Race. And we know this, not only from the ceation account found in Genesis, but more imprtantly, from the New Testament statements on the matter, with Paul referencing thsoe who are regenerated and born-again as those Christians:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 NASB

but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:10-11 NASB

God is not a discriminator based on anything but the heart, not because of some spiritual blinders, but because HE created us – all of us, in HIS image, through Adam – all unique, yet all of one Human Race. Yes, He has allowed, even brought about, differences in skin color (all amazingly adapted to the areas He sent people after the tower of Babel rebellion.

Even with different languages (many of which have yet to even be discovered, much less have Jesus named), an amazing myriad of skin colors, and other physical attributes – we all remain linked by DNA – and by Jesus’ own label of NEIGHBOR!

In setting up Jesus’ parable of the so-called “Good Samaritan”, He was asked by a lawyer what was required to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response was to go to the Law that this lawyer was so intimately aquainted with – law briefly summarized concludes with “love your neighbor as yourself”. The Lawyer’s question then was “who is my neighbor”. The answer would have been as startling today as it would be to both sides in the evil “race” battles:

The Samaritan – a man who, by cultural standards, was expected to HATE this Jewish man. They were like cats and dogs – both viewed each other as the scum of the earth (despite the fact there was little visual difference between them). They hated each other because they saw each other as different races, not of the single Human Race. Yet this particular Samaratin saw, not a “Jewish dog”, but a human being in need of help. He looked beyond any superficial ethnic difference to the man who needed saving.

If we want genuine “racial reconciliation” – it isn’t going to come because of some kind of reparations paid for evils that others may or may not have suffered. Reconcilliation will not happen by the continued pointing out of differences between “races” – as this simply perpetuates the myth of race. Genuine unity as the Human Race will only come when we truly understand God’s perspective – from the Greator who created us all in HIS Imago Dei – and realize – regardless of the color of our skin – we are all sinners who are desperately without hope – doomed to receive the due wrath of a Holy and perfectly-righteous God – who even HE sees beyond the exterior to see the needy humanity – and reaches down to save those He will by the power of Jesus’ blood – regenerating hearts, not based on ethnicity or any perceived qaulity in us – but by His perfect love, by His perfect Grace – and all for HIS glory alone!

The Pilgrim’s Progress – Solid Rendering of this Allegorical Classic


Just got home from taking a group to see The Pilgrim’s Progress, based on John Bunyan’s classic book that he penned while in prison for his faith.  I have been looking forward to seeing this film, but have been cautiously optimistic. Far too often when a film shows real promise, particularly when based on a classic work. The reserved ticketing chart at the theater we booked at is deceptive and we ended up with seats on the VERY front row.  I could get upset with the theater – except this is not the first time I’ve made this mistake at this very theater!  In-your-face view aside, I have to say – this was a very good rendition of Bunyan’s classic tale of redemption and the Christian journey.

The Interpreter image

The film opened with Kristyn Getty (of Getty Music) helping to set the stage for this near-epic story. But instead of acting as narrator, Getty introduces by explaining the history of the book and the purpose of allegory and our creative imaginations in the pursuit of God. In my opinion, the intro was a great way to help open up the film to those who are unfamiliar with the book or the concept of pure allegorical writing. Getty also happens to be the voice of “The Interpreter” in the film.

Christian Pilgrim.png

The main character, Christian Pilgrim is voiced by David Thorpe, who does an excellent job at portraying the voice of the on-screen image with a likable performance.

Of course, when making a film version of a fairly long book that takes well over 7 hours in audiobook format, you have to make some hard choices in what to cut or skim over. The producers of this film did an excellent job of splicing the storyline together, holding on to the biggest and most impactful scenes and characters, while keeping the movie to under two hours!

Some words of caution, though – There are some scenes in the movie that might be a bit on the intense side for very young children. All this being said, whether you are familiar with the story, have actually read the book, or are a fan of alegory – this is a film that paints a beautiful picture of the growth and blooming of faith as well as the failings of even those who belong to the King. Remember – stay on the narrow path! Go see this moive!

Pilgrim’s Progress Trailer

Baptism and Faith

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation, and to the Lord’s Supper; in which the members of the church by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:5-6; John 3:22-23; John 4:12; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 10:47-48; Gal.3:26-28; Rom.6:4; Col. 2:12; I Peter 3:20-21; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:41-42; I Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; I Cor.11:28; I Cor. 5:1-8; I Cor. 10:3-32; I Cor. 11:17-32; John 6:26

 

The New Hampshire Confession of Faith is a beautiful document that is the original foundational statement of faith the church association I am a part of rests. it does a beautiful job of describing baptism.  This document itself finds its origins in Scripture (of course), as well as a preceding Confession which is somewhat more detailed and the one to which I prefer to fall back on – the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, as it holds more details. The chapter on Baptism is as follows:

Chapter 29 Of Baptism

1 Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4)

2 Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37; 2:41; 8:12; 18:8)

3 The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19-20; Act 8:38)

4 Immersion, or dipping of the person fin water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance. (Mat 3:16; John 3:23)

I bring this up because of an all too common issue that comes up from time to time in ministry:  Those who make professions of faith, especially at a very young age, that FromD2L-Nelsonmight not have been genuine professions at the time. But because of “our” relatively modern methodology of “get them to say a prayer and dunk ’em” has led to many false assurances of salvation, and ultimately spiritually dead church members. In his book Death To Life, Allen Nelson IV refers to these folks as the walking dead. The startlingly sad reality is that there are (and have long been) those who – as he put it:

We would be stunned at how many people have a date written down in their bible but not their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Even more alarming is how many of these people might be pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or other prominent leaders within the church. Just because people feel saved, doesn’t mean they are saved. (From Death To Life: How Salvation Works, Chapter 2, p. 19)

This is a reminder of why I am so thankful for several brethren the LORD placed in my path as I began ministry. One that really sticks out in my heart on the issue of salvation and baptism is Bro. Harrel Herring. Bro. Harrel’s real burden and passion was for not just professions of faith – but for genuine conversion.  His own testimony was one oft-heard – having “walked the aisle” when his brother did, and an evangelist who asked all the wrong questions and offered raving, yet false, assurance of salvation.  Bro. Harrel knew at the time he wasn’t genuinely saved – but who was he to question or argue the 

image1point as a youngster?  But Harrel knew what the problem was and did indeed come to
genuine repentance and saving faith.  But this experience planted in him the passion he spent much of the rest of his life trying to help other to avoid false professions and to find real, saving faith. Indeed, I first met Bro. Harrel at Budd Creek Baptist Camp during the BMA of Arkansas week back in 2006. At camp, Bro. Harrel had the privilege of meeting with each young person who made a profession, to ask the right questions to at least have some basis for recording decisions.  He also gave out copies of a booklet he had put together specifically for new believers titled Starting My Life With Christ. I still have a handful of copies and find it quite useful!

The problem Brother Herring was trying to address is a real one. Every church I have been a part of in my walk since conversion has had more than one similar illustration – someone who made a profession, but then at some point later determined that it was not a genuine conversion and came to Christ afterward.  Unfortunately, there are those in churches who never do realize their repeating of a “sinners prayer” was nothing more than the “vain repitition” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:7! They are, as Allen Nelson labeled them – The Walking Dead.

But God is indeed full of Amazing Grace! And He does still call many from that spiritually dead state to new life! He is indeed faithful to call ALL who are His to repentance. And the responsibility of those He does call out of that dead state is to, as those lowly fishermen Jesus called in Galilee did – drop your nets and follow Him!

And one of the first steps one called to new life to take is baptism. Even if you were dunked in a pond, creek, pool, or “official” church baptistry – if it was on a false profession – it was nothing more than getting wet.  It was not a genuine act of obedience in faith. Therein lies the rub for many – whether it is pride or shame, some who realize their old profession was without merit find it difficult to publicly proclaim their newfound salvation for fear of shame or for their position. And many shudder at the thought of submitting themselves for “re-baptism” (a misnomer if the first was not scriptural). Sadly, some never make known their latter genuine conversion for fear of what others will think. And this is what brings me to the impetus for today’s entry:

As both a father and a pastor, I am always extremely concerned about the possibility of pressuring a young person, particularly my own daughters, into a “decision” that is not God-initiated, and preceded and empowered by the Holy Spirit and HIS complete work in salvation. In this case, my youngest daughter, Selah, made a profession several years ago while I was still in my first pastorate (Park View Baptist Church, North Little Rock). She followed on the heels of her older sister. Both had been immersed in the gospel from birth (or before if you consider in-vitro time in church!). Both had received the benefit of not only their mom and me trying our best to speak and demonstrate the gospel, but a church with many caring souls who also poured into them the words of Life. So when Selah came to me and said she had asked Jesus into her heart, she had all the right answers, to the right questions (as Bro. Harrel would put it). Selah is sharp and while casual observation might lead you to believe she is paying zero attention – she soaks in what is going on around her in an amazing way. So – after several of us visited with her, she submitted herself to be baptized.

Yet far too often, we saw signs that gave her mom and I serious pause regarding her actually having seen genuine regeneration. Some of her actions going way beyond “childhood indiscretions” or “immaturity”.  Six months ago, Diana and I both voiced concern about Selah’s spiritual condition and began praying in earnest for answers, guidance, and for God to truly work in her.

On Wednesday evening, July 18, those of us at Ozark Baptist Encampment, Week 1, those of us at camp knew something was up.  But when I got the message that I was needed at our girl’s cabin at nearly 10:30PM, I knew something was serious.  Selah was afraid that I would be mad if she told me – but she knew without a doubt that when she made her “profession of faith” several years ago – it wasn’t real – she just did what she knew the rest of us wanted – and what got her positive attention. There were signs this time of genuine contrite heart and very heavy conviction.

And the Sunday after camp, Selah came before First Baptist Church and confessed before the entire assembly of what had happened, including her false profession years ago, and submitting herself humbly for baptism! I am pleased to announce that on Sunday, August  19, I get to genuinely baptize my precious daughter! And don’t ever doubt my joy and thanksgiving that God didn’t just leave her to her own case of The Walking Dead! And don’t ever doubt the power of God to call His own unto repentance and genuine salvation!

And preachers – never tire of preaching the gospel, the whole gospel, the saving gospel always!

Redefine or Rediscover Church Membership

I have watched with great interest (and concern) at the evolution of “church membership” over the years. This obviously is seasoned with my own personal experiences, from an early background attending (and technically a “member” of) the Episcopal Church while growing up, to various excursions into differing faith groups – and ultimately being redeemed, baptized, and added to Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Carlisle, Arkansas what seems so long ago.  Add to the mix my observations of several modern/contemporary churches which have essentially eliminated the concept of formal church membership, and I have developed rather strong opinion on what Church Membership is.  So much so, that I have been led to begin a Sunday evening sermon series regarding what Biblical Church Membership is – what it looks like – and indeed, what is a “healthy” church member (and membership).  A great help in my chase on the subject is Jonathan Leeman’s Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents JesusLeeman’s passion for the local church is evident, and while this book does not mine the extensive (and indeed endless) depths of what Scripture has to say about the local church and membership in her, it does serve as an incredible opportunity and tool to help the reader refocus and maybe rediscover what church membership really is.

In fact, I was going to attempt to put into words what I have formed in my own thinking on the subject of how we have maybe gotten it wrong – but then I recalled that in his first chapter, Leeman has a section that lists off some of the symptoms of wrong thinking in and about the “church” and I am simply going to quote that below.  I pray it will serve to help us all rethink, and ultimately rediscover what church membership really is.


The following is from Jonathan Leeman’s Church Membership: How The World Knows Who Represents Jesus Copyright ©2012 Johnathan Leeman, pp. 23-24.

     Maybe we acquired this understanding of the local church from the Protestant emphasis on the location of preaching and the ordinances. Maybe we’ve been duped by Western democratic society into viewing churches as voluntary associations. Maybe it’s a century’s worth of practice at being consumers. I’m not sure. But here are some of the symptoms of our wrong thinking:

  • Christians can think it’s fine to attend a church indefinitely without joining;
  • Christians think of getting baptized apart from joining;
  • Christians take the Lord’s Supper without joining;*
  • Christians view the Lord’s Supper as their own private, mystical experience for Christians and not as an activity for church members who are incorporated into body life together;
  • Christians don’t integrate their Monday-to-Saturday lives with the lives of other saints;
  • Christians assume they can make a perpetual habit of being absent from the church’s gathers a few Sundays a month or more;
  • Christians make major life decisions (moving, accepting a promotion, choosing a spouse, etc.) without considering the effects of those decisions on the family of relationships in the church or without consulting the wisdom of the church’s pastors and other members;
  • Christians buy homes or rent apartments with scant regard to how factors such as distance and cost will affect their abilities to serve their church;
  • Christians don’t realize that they are partly responsible for both the spiritual welfare and the physical livelihood of the other members of their church, even members they have not met. When one mounts, one morns by himself. When one rejoices, one rejoices by herself.

The Basic disease behind all of these symptoms, the disease which, I admit, courses through my own veins, is the assumption that we have the authority to conduct our Christian lives on our own. We include the church piece when and where we please.

That is to say, we treat the local church like a club to join – or not. And this assumption leaves us conducting our Christian lives somewhat aloof from the local church even when we do join one: “Sure, I’m a member, but why in the world would I ask the church to help me think through accepting that job in Albuquerque?”

Please understand, I’m not just pointing the finger. These are my cultural instincts, too. I confess that I want to do things my way. I want to avoid taking responsibility for others.

But this is not the biblical picture. We need to take off one set of glasses and put on another. Are you ready?


So what, then, shall we do?If even one of the symptoms above are present in our lives – we have an issue to deal with. I sadly believe that many of us today have many of these symptoms in some way evident in our lives. The reality is – we are either going to redefine the meaning of being a church member, or we are going to rediscover what Christ had in mind when He set up His church – and will mirror what He has established in our actions and our relationship one with another. I believe that if we will take the step of genuinely investing in each other, opening our own hearts to be poured in to, while also pouring into others – all while also recognizing the fact that much of the authority Jesus Christ gave was to the church, not to individual Christians acting alone. And in all of this, we also need to recognize that it is God who leads Christians to the church He would have us be a functional part of. As Paul illustrated so often – a body, rightly fitted together.

Remember – First Baptist Church Cave Springs, Arkansas – Evening service series: A Church Member is __________.  The first installment filled in the blank with “Functional” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)