Over the past decade, America has seen racial divisions rise. While the blame can be laid at the feet of many people, I would rather try and refocus on our common purpose of racial equality. There is no easy answer. There is no one solution.Archibald H. Grimke in his 1891 biography on the radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison gives me hope that we are not so far gone that we cannot recapture the vision for radical equality in Jesus Christ.
Garrison’s Abolitionism was of the most radical character. It went the whole length of the humanity of the colored race, and all that that implied. They were, the meanest members, whether bond or free, his brothers and his sisters. From the first he regarded them as bone of his bone and blood of his blood, as children with him of a common father. Poor and enslaved and despised to be sure, wronged by all men, and contemned by all men, but for that very reason they were deserving of his most devoted love and labor. He never looked down upon them as wanting in any essential respect the manhood which was his. They were men and as such entitled to immediate emancipation. They were besides entitled to equality of civil and political rights in the republic, entitled to equality and fraternity in the church, equality and fraternity at the North, equality and fraternity always and everywhere. This is what he preached, this is what he practiced. In not a single particular was he ever found separating himself from his brother in black, saying to him “thus far but no farther.” He never drew the line in public or private between him and the people whose cause was his cause — not even socially. He went into their homes and was in all things one with them. He forgot that he was white, forgot that they were black, forgot the pride of race, forgot the stigma of race too in the tie of human kinship which bound him to them. If he had what they did not possess, the rights of a man, the civil and political position of a man in the State, the equality of a brother in the church, it could not make him feel better than they, it filled him instead with a righteous sense of wrong, a passionate sympathy, a supreme desire and determination to make his own rights the measure of theirs.
“I lose sight of your present situation,” he said in his address before Free People of Color, “and look at it only in futurity. I imagine myself surrounded by educated men of color, the Websters, and Clays, and Hamiltons, and Dwights, and Edwardses of the day. I listen to their voice as judges and representatives, and rulers of the people — the whole people.” This glowing vision was not the handiwork of a rhetorician writing with an eye to its effect upon his hearers. The ardent hope of the reformer was rather the father of the golden dream.
This is why the church as a fellowship in faith emphasizes the divine presence taking form in a new fabric of human relationships—a fellowship of people. This fellowship shares a corporate life. For example, Luke describes the early Christians as being of “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They even sold their possessions and lived in common, although, as the rebellion of Ananais and Sapphira illustrates, this original common community was difficult to administrate. Living together was not easy, and the principles of being the church together had to be learned as each member of the community submitted to the rule of Christ. But faith in the end was to overcome the boundaries that separated people, transcending racial, economic, and sexual differences. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). The character of the “fellowship in faith” is to be far different from the character of other communities.
The difference is rooted in a common slavery to Jesus Christ. The image of a slave, so often overlooked, is an image that Paul often used of himself in relation to other believers, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). A slavery to God immediately transforms relations on the horizontal level. No longer can one person “lord it” over another. All God’s people are equal before God and each other. For this reason the church is called the “family of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We all serve in God’s house under God’s authority. Thus, the church is a fellowship in faith, a corporate existence under God, a mutual slavery to each other.
The church as the realized experience of the “fellowship of faith” will break down our extreme individualism. Modern individualism is something different from a personal relationship with God in Christ. It is a form of Christianity that fails to understand the integral relationship that exists between the members of Christ’s body. We need to reflect on the teaching of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (A.D. 110), who wrote to the Ephesian church: “your accord and harmonious love is a hymn to Jesus Christ.” When the “fellowship in faith” is actualized, the church as a true fellowship makes Christianity real to the individual, as Ignatius indicated when he described the church “as a choir able to sing in unison and [with] one voice.” The mandate to break through the faÁade of individualism and create dynamic Christian relationships is demonstrated in this new fabric of human relations.
Consequently, the challenge of the church in the postmodern world is to recover community within the local church and the community of the entire church throughout history. We must learn that we are members of the whole church, the living and the dead, who constitute the fellowship in faith. Our calling is to deconstruct our sectarianism and to enter into dialogue with the whole church with the intent of recovering our relationship to the whole family of God—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. The more we experience the “fellowship in faith,” the more deeply we will experience the church as the body of Christ, a body that will attract and hold the postmodern seeker.
Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith : Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 79-81.
2 Corinthians 4:5-6
1 Peter 4:16-17
We, as followers f Jesus, are called to live in community and for community (church). If you really took this challenge seriously, how would it change the way you practice your faith on a daily and weekly basis? What do you need to give up? What do you need to embrace?
The church in the West is in decline. Some churches are refusing to change while others are willing, but fear that change means a necessary compromise of their core beliefs—it doesn’t. If your church is ready, then Mission Possible is an essential primer to guide you through the first steps along the path toward missional ministry.
The first five chapters of the book outline the basics for Attractional Evangelism:
Making your church the social center of the community.
Regaining the church’s place as the ceremonial center of the community.
Using the church’s facilites as an outreach tool into the community.
The last six chapters outline the far more difficult challenge of making the Philosophical changes necessary so your church can reach the coming postmodern generation through Missional Evangelism. One of the biggest hurdles is what the books calls Tradition Idolatry: “the tendency to assume that following one’s religious traditions is the same thing as following God (37).”
I have seen close friends hit this hurdle in their churches and the ensuing conflict eventually degenerated into a battle for power beween those who refuse to let go of tradition and those who hope for a better future in reaching the lost with the Gospel.
With these friends in the back of my mind, I asked Terry a few pointed questions about the lessons he has learned since the release of his book.
[Joe Miller] In my experience, more established churches have an entrenched resistance to shifting away from their traditional approaches toward a missional philosophy. What are 1 or 2 key strategies you would suggest for leaders who are trying to make this transition but encounter a lot of push-back from people within their church?
[Terry Dorsett] First, do not try to make all the changes at once. I have seen many good men who had a heart for reaching the next generation try to push the church too fast. Make one small change at a time. Look at this as a five year process instead of a five month process. Think of some small changes that are not likely to cause too much controversy and try them first. Once they are successful, then try another slightly bigger one. Never make big changes until several of the little ones have been proven to be helpful, or at least not harmful. Accept the reality that some churches can only handle so much change. If you can get a church that mainly reaches 70 year olds to become more attractive to 50 years olds, that is progress, and in some churches, that is all the progress that will ever be made. Learn to accept that and rejoice in the success God gives. Perhaps the next pastor will be able to move the church down another decade, and so on.
Second, let other people read the book. Far too often a pastor or youth pastor goes to a conference and gets all excited about what they learn. They come back home and are disappointed when the congregation does not share their excitement. The congregation does not share in the excitement because they do not know what they are supposed to be excited about. Instead of declaring some big change two weeks after reaching the book, buy a box of books and pass them out to all the deacons, Sunday School teachers and other key leaders. Ask them to read the book and come to a meeting with ONE good idea from the book they think should be considered. Listen to the list of good ideas that these leaders offer and resist the temptation to only follow the ideas that you like. If we let others try out their ideas first, they will be more likely to let us try ours out later. In short, share the concepts, get people talking, and then be patient.
[Joe Miller]Your book has been out for a while now and, like every writer, I am sure you have some thoughts that didn’t make it into print. Can you share with my readers 1 or 2 of the most significant post-publication insights that you wish were in the book?
[Terry Dorsett] First, because I serve in a small town, I wrote the book focused mainly on small towns and rural churches. I think the book clearly applies to those settings. But as I have interacted with others about the book, it has become obvious that these same issues are facing small churches in EVERY context, not just small towns and rural areas. I wish I had spent one more month researching how small churches in the inner city and suburbia are being impacted and included a chapter or two about that.
Second, though I talk a lot about using technology in a worship service or for follow up after a Bible study (both more “corporate” in nature), I regret not having a section on how to use technology to share our faith personally. I do share some stories about how I counsel young adults through social media, but most lay people are not going to feel comfortable doing that. They may however feel comfortable sharing their faith in a non-counseling situation through social media. I regret not having a chapter to share how to do that. I am considering a short e-book that might cover that topic.
[Joe Miller] Thanks Terry for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope folks will pick up a copy of your book and begin working through it with the people in their churches.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terry is a writer, a church planter, a pastor, and a mentor to many young people seeking God’s will for their lives. Having been raised in the mid-west, he understands America’s heartland values. Having served for nearly twenty years in ministry in post-modern Vermont, he understands the issues the next generation is facing. As a father, he has helps guide his own three children to adulthood and rejoices as he sees them walking in the truth. Connect with Terry on his website.