The phrase gospel community denotes the community brothers and sisters who were formerly alienated from God and each other now have in Christ. Consider related words. Community. Communal. Communion. Common.
Gospel communities hold something in common. They share something, holding equally in it. This thing they share is based on Christ and held together by Christ. Those in gospel community are IN Christ, who breaks down barriers between people who were formerly alienated from one another. In Paul’s time, it was Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and male and female. These groups were alienated from each other, one oppressor, the other oppressed, but in Christ the alienation was put away, and they were reconciled. Reconciliation between unequal powers is an interesting thing. In the end, every last time, it is the oppressed that receives the greater grace, for they have more to overcome in reconciliation. They have more to forgive. They lay down more in sins against them. They lay down more in deserved retribution. But where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.
In the United States, there are two particular groups who have been systematically oppressed for generation after generation – the Native American community and the black community. Honestly, I don’t have much first hand experience with gospel reconciliation among those in the Native American community, though I am sure it exists in places. But I have been watching carefully gospel reconciliation in the black community and, by extension, the black and white community.
I started taking special note of this phenomena listening to the families of the Emmanuel Nine last summer. I watched and wept during the arraignment hearing for Dylan Root, who gunned down nine faithful church goers at Bible study and prayer service. BECAUSE THEY WERE BLACK. The black church members had welcomed the white kid with nazi tendencies into their little service, and he killed nine out of the twelve of them. Their family members confronted him at the hearing, and several offered forgiveness. There were no riots in the city, no looting of streets. There was profound grief at the weight of what Root brought upon those families. There were rounds of Amazing Grace. And there was forgiveness.
As I listened to that hearing, I was struck that for all the efforts of young white hipster Christians longing to take the gospel to inner cities (and please do!), it would be the quiet voices of weeping black family members who had descended from slaves and still lived in the area many had served that would ring the bell of gospel grace to a community. And I was deeply humbled. I saw a little burst of God’s kingdom light shining through a previously unknown, humble little group of African Americans.
Fast forward to the last two weeks, and I again am humbled, my faith strengthened, through a humble little group of African Americans associated with the Reformed African American Network. For a long time, it deeply disturbed me that the reformed movement (and churches) of which I was a part always seemed so white. In Seattle, they also included a number of Asian Americans, but I could count on one hand the number of African Americans that I worshipped with. Why was presbyterianism so white?! Well, as I look at its history in America, I understand now. But I believed the doctrines of grace, and by extension, I believed them for all nations and all races. I struggled with the disparity between races among my reformed cohorts.
Enter RAAN. Just their mere appearance on Twitter and Facebook encouraged me. The doctrines I believed DID transcend race and nationality, and I praised God to see the growth of African American brothers and sisters who believed the doctrines were true and worthy of embracing EVEN THOUGH the history of the reformed church in America was anything but helpful to their quest for equal rights. In the last few weeks, I’ve had reason to grow in faith yet again through these folks. A controversy arose when another reformed teacher made insensitive, prejudicial statements about a young black man he saw on the street. His original post pre-judged the young man based on his dress and insolent demeanor toward a police car. And when confronted by African American pastors, this man doubled down justifying his words rather than humbly hearing their concerns. I’m not going to link to his words, because I think they are proud and unteachable, and I don’t want to draw extra attention to his sin. But you can read articles on the RAAN website that address it.
There is only so much one can take, right? When the people who believe the same doctrines as you are provoked to pride rather than humility, to judgment rather than compassion, at what point do you throw in the towel? When do you say that there must be something wrong with the doctrines if people believing them can act with such pride and prejudice? But instead, Jemar Tisby of the Reformed African American Network did a podcast to address the situation. And it increased my faith. Jemar isn’t throwing away the doctrines of grace, for they are too precious to be tossed aside and too solid to be crushed under the weight of such a conflict. Another brilliant beam of light shone in my eyes as the kingdom of God broke through the clouds. Seeds fall into the ground, look like they died, and then turn into oak trees. Leaven transform an entire lump of dough. Hidden pearls of the kingdom are bursting forth in unlikely places, and it is beautiful and faith increasing to watch. Jemar and other reformed African Americans chose faith and truth, and they addressed sin from that gospel foundation.
My own presbytery in the low country of South Carolina is planting a multi-ethnic church in my hometown. Guess who is going to be a part of it? I’m excited for this opportunity to continue watching God’s kingdom coming through the black community to the whole community of faith. I feel as much the mission field as the missionary. I have much to learn from the perseverance through suffering of the black community of faith. To the praise of His glorious grace.