Racism; An Excerpt from an Apostolic Ministries Lecture

Posted: December 19, 2012 in Leadership/Pollitics, Living the Faith, On Being Apostolic, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church
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Azusa; Template for Societal Change

At Azusa Street, the dynamic work of the Spirit provided a God-ordained template for radical societal change.  American society was divided along race, gender, and social lines…but when God poured out His Spirit, all of those lines began to blur at the Azusa Street Mission.  A black pastor led a multi-ethnic, multi-racial congregation of men and women, rich and poor, in one of the greatest revivals the world had ever seen.  How the world identified you didn’t matter, for a spiritual peoples’ movement had been born.  All could walk together, worship together, learn together, and work together.  It was radical.  It was revolutionary.  It was God’s design for humanity being re-birthed in His Church.  Even the first attempts at organization in the fledgling Pentecostal movement were interracial, open to the anointed ministries of all races and both genders.

But it didn’t last long.

In a matter of a few short years cultural and societal pressure splintered the movement into white, black, and Hispanic organizations, and we reverted to type…isolated from each other, suspicious of each other, even denigrating each other.  It seems especially sad that there was no large scale effort to tear down the barriers between us until the political and social climate had changed, and the nation at large began to shift.  Instead of leading change in our culture, we were led by the culture…a sad state of affairs that continues to be the norm.

Defining “Race”

But what is “race”?  How do we define the concept of race?  The definition is significant because how we popularly and culturally define “race” influences our understanding of Scripture.  We know that ideas evolve and develop, and that definitions change over time.  It only stands to reason that the ideas and definitions that we absorb from our current cultural context will be applied to the Bible.  But reasonable or no, it can lead to an inaccurate view of Biblical teaching.

Our definitions of “race” and “racism” had their origins in post-enlightenment Europe, and developed more fully as a direct result of the European and North American slave trade.  For the first time in the recorded history of humanity, human beings were enslaved because of the colour of their skin.  This hateful crime naturally added to the continued evolution of the idea that some groups of people were inferior to other groups of people.  While this idea was prevalent in all European colonial powers, the development of this concept reached a level in Britain and North America previously unknown in the world.  Whites were simply superior in European colonial eyes to all whose skin was a different colour.

The pain and injustice this idea has caused can never be measured.  Sadly, American society continues to be afflicted with its fallout.  While we have endeavoured to right wrongs by legislation, we are as a society as divided as ever.  Legislation cannot erase the corrupting influence of racism.  Legislation cannot sooth bitterness and cannot remedy hate.  The idea of racism has been marginalized and demonized, and everyone professes to believe that racism is evil.  Yet, the politics of race is more dominant than ever before.

To the Church

There is a message from the Word of God to the Church regarding this issue, and that message is, “No barriers!  No divisions!”  Our natural, philosophical, political, and culturally defined distinctions do not exist in Christ!  And it is tragic…even devastating…when we not only allow these divisions in the body, but encourage them.

When we allow and even encourage these barriers and distinctions in the Body of Christ, we are denying redemption, and the whole work of the Cross is made of no effect!  One of the greatest evidences of conversion in the early church was that in Christ all were one, all were equal, all were free, and all were loved.  The world may have identified Omnesimus as a slave, but Paul called him a brother.  The world may have identified Timothy as a Greek¸ but Paul said, “He’s my son!”  The world may have identified the lady of 3rd John as only a woman, but John called her chosen.  We dare not allow the barriers destroyed by the cross to be reestablished.  We dare not allow new divisions, other divisions, to be built up.

The Church must not allow itself to be divided or influenced by the world’s idea of race.  Establishing churches and ministries along racial and cultural lines is no more acceptable to God than establishing churches along the lines of gender or citizenship.  “Men only in this church!”  “Only Americans or legal immigrants in our congregation, thank you!”  Allowing and encouraging racial divisions is as ridiculous as having a First United Pentecostal Church of the Upper Middle Class…working poor need not attend!

The answer to racism in the Church begins with repentance, with the Apostolic Church on her knees, crying out to God, asking Him to forgive her for turning her back on the work He began.  The answer begins with the Church on her knees seeking God’s forgiveness for bowing to the pressure of an ungodly society to separate and segregate.  The answer begins with us in humility seeking God’s forgiveness for our failure to be the light and lead the way.

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