Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Gray Matter of African American Syncretism: Giving Honor to the King of Pop

Jacko, but link is to another titleThe syncretistic practice of Christianity within the traditional African American church is well known, and in some settings, cherished. The line between “Christianity” and secular African American culture is not blurred; it does not exist. Positively, some sociologists and historians have suggested that, historically, this is due to the inseparability of the slave church and slave culture. Slaves were able to survive the brutality of antebellum slavery due to their Christian faith, and the slave church was the rallying and unifying point of the slave community.  Negatively, the gray matter of African American Christianity is most evident in the democratic process of Presidential elections: My Christian position on the life of the unborn and the Biblical teaching on marriage have no place in my decision-making when it comes to the election of a President. He is African American, I am African American; nothing else matters.

The blurred nature of what is distinctively Christian and what is African American is commonly displayed at our national, non-Christian music and video award shows. It would be typical for an African American artist, who is receiving an award for a song or video full of lyrics and/or scenes completely contrary to the moral standards of the Gospel, to receive the award with the words, “First, I would like to thank my Lord Jesus Christ for…” giving something related to the talent of the singer or the award itself. The thanksgiving, though obviously hypocritical, is received with great acclamation, seemingly without the hosts or audience being put off by the references to the Lord among the secular throng.

Yesterday, I watched the last hour of this year’s BET Music Awards show, a show I had never previously watched. Compared to what I have seen on other awards shows in the past, somewhat expectedly I found the BET show very much affected by the passing of Michael Jackson. There were many tributes given to the King of Pop. They ranged from snippets of his music before commercial breaks, to words of tribute from the various artists and emcees on the program. Some of the tributes honored the enduring nature of his race-transcending music. Other tributes virtually deified him.

For example, the legendary Soul Train host, Don Cornelius, referred to the artist as the “immortal Michael Jackson.” To this my oldest daughter immediately retorted, “Well, I think this week we found out, clearly, that he was not immortal.” Yet many in the BET audience expressed agreement with Cornelius.

The artist Wyclef Jean, who received a humanitarian award, spoke of a long hoped-for meeting with Jackson. He said he had planned his words for this exciting meeting, but “when [Jackson] showed up, I shook his hand and lost my voice completely. That is the affect this man had on people.”

Other artists quipped that “[Jackson] meant so much to us and to the whole world,” and that he was “often imitated but never duplicated.” One artist referred to him as “a musical deity.”  Never mind those suspicions surrounding children, the dangling of the baby out of the window, the constant changing of his facial appearance, and Jackson’s other self-destructive behavior; Jackson was an entertainment god.

There was a very odd moment in the television program when one of the members of the O’Jays used some very foul language while honoring Michael. The award show’s technicians attempted to mute the word, but were about a half-second too late, so the entire listening TV audience heard the word. The foible produced roaring laughter among the audience and some momentary blushing on the part of the entertainer who made the mistake. I was wondering if anyone had noticed that only a few moments before, when the O’Jays stepped on stage to receive an award for lifetime achievement, two of the men began with words of praise like, “I would like to give honor to God, to whom be all the power and glory,” and “First, we would like to thank God for all the blessings bestowed upon the O’Jays.” The member who slipped with the curse word ended the acceptance speech with “God Bless….” I guess Michael can be honored while foul language is used, and this can happen to the praise of God. This is not simply gray. This is where you wish you had not made the switch from analog to digital.

I think, however, the tale-telling sign of African American Christian syncretism was revealed at the award show in a different manner. This year, the vast majority of artists did not mention God at all. Instead, where you might have expected thanks to be given to God, thanks was given to Michael Jackson. It is not that Jackson was being thanked for empowering the artists, but simply that a great amount of thanks being given at this year’s show was given to Michael. Thanks to God was eclipsed by thanks to the King of Pop.

I can only imagine how many words of honor were given to Michael Jackson from African American pulpits this past Sunday. It would be my hope that Michael’s death would have provided many opportunities for African American pastors to point out the errors of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. For Michael, along with the artist, Prince, are the Watchtower’s two most well known members, both are African American, and the Witnesses love to prey on African Americans. Many African Americans equate the Jehovah’s Witnesses with a Christian denomination. Christ’s name would be honored by pointing out that Michael’s hopes did not rest on God the Son, and that there are many like him within the African American community who are in need of the message about God the Son coming into the world to save people from the wrath of God due to their sins. I suspect, however, that much praise was given in the name of the Lord for Michael Jackson. Prayers might even have been offered from pulpits for the comfort – rather than salvation – of Jackson’s family members, who also are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The death of Jackson shows that African American syncretism never was; in truth, what appears to be syncretism is a comfortable atheism. Many African American church-goers are fine with Christianity as long as we, as African Americans, can bring our cultural gods with us. We see no problem with our secular artists, their words or their behavior, as long as our fellow church members see God’s blessings as being consistent with our entertainers’ debauchery. Yet, I hope that the death of Jackson will help awaken the Black Church out of its syncretism—that we will view the lives of entertainers with discernment rather than with bliss, and give worship to the King of Kings alone. Only one of them is immortal, and he is to be worshipped. This should not be a gray matter. This should be a no-brainer.

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UPDATE: Someone kindly emailed me to say that MJ converted to Islam. I have been searching the web. I find reports here and there, but nothing that can be substantiated. Some reports suggested a trip to the Middle East led to a conversion. Others suggested one of his brothers intorduced him to Islam. All that I know for certain is that Jackson was raised as a Witness. If you can find the correct information on a profession of Isalm, please forward it to me. Thank you.

On Adoption and Orphan Care: SBC Resoultion

adopted for lifeI am grateful for the ministry of Dr. Russell Moore, his friendship, and  the leadership he provides within the Southern Baptist Covention and at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am very thankful for his latest work, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Fmailies and Churches (Crossway, 2009; I highly encourage you to get this book and consider the implications of the Gospel for adopting ophans, and, if I might add, for adopting African American children out of our state social services systems, as they make up the bulk of the orphans in our state systems. Adoption is a means of demonstrating the Gospel–of living out the Gospel.) This week the SBC passed a resolution On Adoption and Orphan Care, demonstrating a heart for those marginalized, and demonstrating a pro-life stance that is consistent from craddle to grave. I have printed the resolution below.

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On Adoption And Orphan Care
June 2009

RESOLUTION NO. 2
ON ADOPTION AND ORPHAN CARE
WHEREAS, In the gospel we have received the “Spirit of adoption” whereby we are no longer spiritual orphans but are now beloved children of God and joint heirs with Christ (John 14:18; Romans 8:12-25; Galatians 3:27-4:9; Ephesians 1:5); and

WHEREAS, The God we now know as our Father reveals himself as a “father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5) who grants mercy to orphans (Deuteronomy 10:18; Hosea 14:3); and

WHEREAS, Our Lord Jesus welcomes the little ones (Luke 18:15-17), pleads for the lives of the innocent (Psalm 72:12-14), and shows us that we will be held accountable for our response to “the least of these brothers of mine” (Matthew 25:40); and

WHEREAS, The Scripture defines “pure and undefiled religion” as “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27); and

 


WHEREAS, The satanic powers and the ravages of sin have warred against infants and children from Pharaoh to Molech to Herod and, now, through the horrors of a divorce culture, an abortion industry, and the global plagues of disease, starvation, and warfare; and
WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have articulated an unequivocal commitment to the sanctity of all human life, born and unborn; and

WHEREAS, Churches defined by the Great Commission must be concerned for the evangelism of children—including those who have no parents; and

WHEREAS, Upward of 150 million orphans now languish without families in orphanages, group homes, and placement systems in North America and around the world; and

WHEREAS, Our Father loves all of these children, and a great multitude of them will never otherwise hear the gospel of Jesus Christ; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, June 23-24, 2009, express our commitment to join our Father in seeking mercy for orphans; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on each Southern Baptist family to pray for guidance as to whether God is calling them to adopt or foster a child or children; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage our pastors and church leaders to preach and teach on God’s concern for orphans; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we commend churches and ministries that are equipping families to provide financial and other resources to those called to adopt, through grants, matching funds, or loans; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage local churches to champion the evangelism of and ministry to orphans around the world, and to seek out ways to energize Southern Baptists behind this mission; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage Southern Baptist churches to join with other evangelical Christians in setting aside a special Sunday each year to focus upon our adoption in Christ and our common burden for the orphans of the world; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we pray what God is doing in creating an adoption culture in so many churches and families can point us to a gospel oneness that is determined not by “the flesh,” or race, or economics, or cultural sameness, but by the Spirit, unity, and peace in Christ Jesus; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we pray for an outpouring of God’s Spirit on Southern Baptist congregations so that our churches will proclaim and picture, in word and in deed, that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

 

 

McKissic and SBC Obama Resolution

Rev. Wm. Dwight McKissicI am grateful for the mind, heart, pulpit and pen of my kind friend, Rev. Wm. Dwight McKissic, Senior Pastor of Conerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX.  He drafted a resolution for the SBC concerning the recognition of the historic significance of the election of President Barack Obama.  The SBC website reported on its adoption here.  Below I have posted the original resolution, which can be found at www.dwightmckissic.wordpress.com.

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Resolution on racial reconciliation and

the election of Barack Hussein Obama

 

Submitted by Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

Cornerstone Baptist Church

Arlington, TX

Submitted to the Messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention

June 24, 2009

Louisville, Kentucky

WHEREAS, the American colonists declared their independence from the British

crown on July 4, 1776, by recognizing as self-evident that “all men are created

equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,

[and] that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” and

 

WHEREAS, at the time of the nation’s founding and for nearly a century

thereafter, the American principle of liberty coexisted perfidiously with the evil

institution of chattel slavery whereby, in the words of President Abraham

Lincoln, men dared “to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from

the sweat of other men’s faces;” and

 

WHEREAS, President Lincoln – with undaunted and unparalleled courage – issued

the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, to declare that “all

persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State . . . shall be,

thenceforward, and forever free;” and

 

WHEREAS, from that time forward there grew efforts – both political and cultural

– to recognize the equality of all human persons and vouchsafe the civil rights of

all American citizens regardless of race; and

 

WHEREAS, among these advances in racial equality and civil rights are: The

adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States

(1865); the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to guarantee due process and

equal protection under the law to all U.S. citizens (1868); the Fifteenth

Amendment to ensure the right to vote for all U.S. citizens (1870); President

Truman’s executive order to desegregate the United States armed services

(1948); the landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v.

Board of Education to end racial segregation in public schools (1954) and Bailey

v. Patterson to declare segregation in transportation facilities as unconstitutional

(1962); the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in voting,

federal-assistance programs and public accommodations, facilities and education;

the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices

nationwide; and the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision of the Unites States

Supreme Court to strike down racially discriminatory marriage laws; and

 

WHEREAS, in 1868, John Willis Menard (R-LA) was the first African American to

take the oath of office to serve in the United States House of Representatives, and

has been followed by 115 other African Americans in the nation’s history;

 

WHEREAS, in 1870, Hiram Revels (R-MS) was the first African American to take

the oath of office to serve in the United States Senate, and has been followed by

only five other African Americans in the nation’s history; and

 

WHEREAS, in 1967, Justice Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first African

American to serve on the United States Supreme Court, and has been followed by

only one other African American in the nation’s history; and

 

WHEREAS, since 1937 the Southern Baptist Convention has formally rejected

every vestige of racial discrimination that remained from its founding in 1845 by

the adoption of resolutions denouncing racial prejudice, lynching, church

desecrations, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan; and

 

WHEREAS, on its 150th anniversary, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted “A

Resolution on Racial Reconciliation” that recognized the failures of some

Southern Baptists to affirm the dignity, worth, and equal rights of African

Americans, apologized and sought forgiveness for these injustices and purposed

to “eradicate in all its forms;” and

 

WHEREAS, during our 1996 annual meeting in New Orleans, Southern Baptists

demonstrated a renewed commitment to racial equality and justice by electing

Rev. Fred Luter as the first African American to serve as the convention’s second

vice president, and in 2001 selected him to be the first African American to

deliver the annual convention sermon; and

 

WHEREAS, on November 4, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was elected as the first

African American to serve as the President of the United States of America; and

 

WHEREAS, this tremendous moment in our nation’s history provides a new

opportunity for people of faith to facilitate racial reconciliation and heal the

wounds and scars of the past; and

 

WHEREAS, President Barack Hussein Obama – while pursuing numerous social,

political and economic policies that are in fundamental opposition to the values

for which our convention and our churches have stood – has yet demonstrated

commendable efforts to include the perspective of Southern Baptists by

appointing our former convention president, Dr. Frank Page of South Carolina, to

advise his administration concerning issues of faith and public policy; and

 

WHEREAS, it is the sacred responsibility of God’s people to pray for their leaders

and render them appropriate honor and due respect in accord with the principles

of Holy Scripture; now

 

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in

Louisville, KY, on June 24, 2009, celebrates the historic nature of the election of

President Barack Hussein Obama as a significant contribution to the ongoing

cause of racial reconciliation in the United States; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we earnestly pray that President Barrack

Hussein Obama will use the constitutional authority assigned to his office to

promote liberty and justice for all people, including the unborn; and

 

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that we will join hands with President Obama and his

administration to advance causes of racial justice insofar as those efforts are

consistent with biblical principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

 

Calvin Catechism: Fri June 26 Q 180 The Rest of Servants

buffalo sleepingFri June 26 Q 180 The Rest of Servants

 
180. What do you mean by saying that this commandment is also given to provide for the relief of servants?  
To give some relaxation to those who are under the power of others. And likewise, this tends to maintain a common polity. For everyone accustoms himself to labour for the rest of the time, when there is one day for rest.

 

It is of significance to see that within the Law God expresses his desire for all of his creatures to rest. This is his hope for his covenant people Israel, their children, their servants, and those who are aliens among them. This is his will even for all of their beasts (cf. Isa 11:6-9; 65:25; Hos 2:18). This is also the hope of God for all who are created in his image, for if the unregenerate were to hear of the fame of God’s name through the witness of Israel to the nations, they too could have come under the Law of God through faith. They too would come into the legislated Sabbath rest.

As human rulers never fully demonstrate the rule of God in justice, compassion, truth, kindness or faithfulness, those under human rule will tire of imperfect work scenarios. Labor, since the fall, is with great effort, rather than with the effortlessness labor that would have been Adam’s joy in the Garden (cf. Gen 2:15; 3:17-19). Work occurs in a fallen world rather than in a place of complete pleasure. All workers need occasional relief from this unredeemed work environment. The Law is a measure of God’s grace to his people.

In wisdom, the Creator and Lawgiver also provided the Law of the Sabbath so that we might be motivated to work. That is, by limiting the day of rest to one day per week, the habit and character that is to be formed in his people is that of working regularly, faithfully, and cheerful the other days of the week. Six days of work make us long for rest; one day of rest cultivates the practice of working. Ultimately relief from work will come to the servants of God through Christ, when he establishes his remaining Sabbath rest. To this our labors and rest point every week.

Calvin Catechism: Fri June 19 Q. 174: Sabbath, Sanctification and Rest

Calvin Catechism: Fri June 19 Q. 174: Sabbath, Sanctification and Rest

 

174. Is  this to be done only one day a week?
This is to be done continually. After we have once begun, we must continue all our life.

 

 
The Catechism continues to probe the question of spiritual rest by recognizing its role in our sanctification, not simply in our justification. In justification, we rest from attempts to work before him or merit his favor. Instead, we wholly depend on Christ for rest, for it is through him that God declares us righteous: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Mt 11:29). The ability to find salvation as rest stands on Jesus’ ministry of providing the work of salvation. In contrast, for us, “This is the work of God, that [we] believe in him whom he has sent,” (Jn 6:29).

In addition to resting in justification, we are also called to rest in our sanctification. In our continuous obedience to him and his making of us holy, we are not to think that it is our effort that achieves his holiness and blessing. It is not our faithfulness before him that sanctifies us, but the faithful work of Christ to make us faithful before him even when we are faithless and unfaithful (cf. I Thess 5:23-24; 2 Tim 2:13). In weakness and frailty of righteousness, we rely on Christ by the power of the Spirit. The only other alternative his to accomplish good and evil works in the power of our own human effort—that is, without crucifying the flesh, (see Q. 173).

However, unlike the one time act of resting in him for justification before God, the rest of sanctification continues (with no pun intended). We are to rely on the power of the Spirit continually, denying the remnants of our Adamic nature continually, doing so with holy warfare daily until we finally rest in him eternally. In this war for rest, Scripture and prayer must attend to us daily and unhurriedly, as these are the means by which the Spirit accomplishes his work in us. Scripture provides words of rest, for we hear words from a God who is true and we are thusly assured that he will keep his promises to us. Prayer – which is the means of drawing upon the Spirit, as God is pleased to respond in mercy – provides the power of rest—release from ourselves and reliance upon him alone. The rest of Scripture and the Spirit cannot await the Sabbath. For without these we tire in our nature and are too worn to be holy before him on any given day.

Sweeney on Edwards: The Modern Pastor as Theologian

Edwards SweeneyJustin Taylor has alerted us to the release of Doug Sweeney’s, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought (IVP, 2009). Below I reprint some of Justin’s comments from Sweeney’s thoughts on the pastor as theologian – a concept that needs to be recovered in the modern church. I am looking forward to this book.

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I want to draw attention to one of Sweeney’s theses in particular (see the previous post): #5, namely, that “theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God” (p. 199). Sweeney writes:

“In the early twenty-first century, when many pastors have abdicated their responsibilities as theologians, and many theologians do their work in a way that is lost on the people of God, we need to recover Edwards’ model of Christian ministry. Most of the best theologians in the history of the church were parish pastors. Obviously, however, this is not the case today. Is it any wonder, then, that many struggle to think about their daily lives theologically, and often fail to understand the basics of the faith? I want to be realistic here. A certain amount of specialization is inevitable in complex, market-driven economies. And the specialization of roles within God’s kingdom can enhance our Christian ministries. But when our pastors spend the bulk of their time on organizational matters, and professors spend the bulk of their time on intramural academics, no one is left to do the crucial work of shaping God’s people with the Word. Perhaps our pastors and professors, Christian activists and thinkers, need to collaborate more regularly in ministry. Perhaps the laity need to give their pastors time to think and write–for their local congregations and the larger kingdom of God.” [my emphasis]

 

Can I get an Amen?

Calvin Catechism Addendum: The Institutes on the Sabbath

Institutes of the Christian ReligionIn association with the Catechism section on the Fourth Commandment (see previous post), I encourage the reader to consider Calvin’s Institutes, Book II.8.28-35 on the Fourth Commandment, one of the greatest sections of the Institutes. Here is a sample from the section:

 

“The purport of the commandment is, that being dead to our own affections and works, we meditate on the kingdom of God, and in order to such meditation, have recourse to the means which he has appointed. But as this commandment stands in peculiar circumstances apart from the others, the mode of exposition must be somewhat different. Early Christian writers are wont to call it typical, as containing the external observance of a day which was abolished with the other types on the advent of Christ. This is indeed true; but it leaves the half of the matter untouched. Wherefore, we must look deeper for our exposition, and attend to three cases in which it appears to me that the observance of this commandment consists. First, under the rest of the seventh days the divine Lawgiver meant to furnish the people of Israel with a type of the spiritual rest by which believers were to cease from their own works, and allow God to work in them. Secondly he meant that there should be a stated day on which they should assemble to hear the Law, and perform religious rites, or which, at least, they should specially employ in meditating on his works, and be thereby trained to piety. Thirdly, he meant that servants, and those who lived under the authority of others, should be indulged with a day of rest, and thus have some intermission from labour… Indeed, there is no commandment the observance of which the Almighty more strictly enforces. When he would intimate by the Prophets that religion was entirely subverted, he complains that his sabbaths were polluted, violated, not kept, not hallowed; as if, after it was neglected, there remained nothing in which he could be honoured. The observance of it he eulogises in the highest terms, and hence, among other divine privileges, the faithful set an extraordinary value on the revelation of the Sabbath…. All this tends to celebrate the dignity of the mystery, which is most admirably expressed by Moses and Ezekiel. Thus in Exodus: “Verily my sabbaths shall ye keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you…. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever,” (Ex 31: 13-17). Ezekiel is still more full, but the sum of what he says amounts to this: that the sabbath is a sign by which Israel might know that God is their sanctifier. If our sanctification consists in the mortification of our own will, the analogy between the external sign and the thing signified is most appropriate. We must rest entirely, in order that God may work in us; we must resign our own will, yield up our heart, and abandon all the lusts of the flesh. In short, we must desist from all the acts of our own mind, that God working in us, we may rest in him, as the Apostle also teaches, (Heb 3: 13; 4: 3, 9).”  (John Calvin, “Fourth Commandment,’ Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.4.28-29,  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.ix.html, accessed June 14, 2009, emphasis added.)