The Black Church, here in town, is like a great and fearsome battle ship, with state of the art weaponry. Only, this ship never fights any battles. As the war rages, this elite battleship never leaves dock. Never fires a shot. Instead, all we do is polish the brass and put on grand celebrations of what a great and fearsome battleship we are, celebrating each passing year of our mighty vessel taking up space at the dock.
with an older sister at bible study, a dear woman who seems to
know every written word in the King James (only) version of the
bible. The problem is, she knows the letter of the Word but
knows little of the meaning behind it. She knows what the Word
says but she doesn't know, and is not interested in learning,
what those words actually mean. The archaic language of 17th
century England is precious to her, and when queried on what
“With one accord” means, she dug in, folding her arms and
averting her eyes and repeating, “All I know is it's what the
Word says. It's what the Word says.” Yes, but does it mean the
believers decided to be on one accord or does it mean the
believers submitted themselves to God in prayer and supplication
and their unity was a result of that process? Which came first,
the chicken or the egg? “I don't know about no chicken,” she
said, “The Word is the Word.”
Matthew Henry suggests Luke's use of “With one accord,” in Acts Chapter 2 was not so much a conscious decision on the believers' part as it was a product of the believers' submission to God. Since the ascension, the believers had been praying together on a regular basis (Acts 1:14), and that unity within the Body of Christ was a natural result of that activity. For years now, I and many other ministers in town have been trying to solve the seemingly unsolvable problem of the fractured disarray of the black church here in Colorado Springs. A relatively small city, Colorado Springs is, of course, the headquarters of the massive Focus On The Family mega ministry, and the expansive New Life Church dominates the city's protestant churches.
The black churches here in town have typical memberships of somewhere around 100 to 150. They are underfunded, poorly administrated and are of only marginal political or economic concern to the city at large. There are somewhere around 60 black churches in town, most of them spun out of one core ministry by members who split off to start their own church after becoming dissatisfied by the pastor or church leadership.
The churches here are loosely allied into several district associations. I'm unsure of what actual purpose these districts serve other than to put on grand pageants and annual celebrations congratulating us for, well, being us. The district associations rarely cooperate with one another and are, in large measure, poorly organized and administrated.
A century ago there was one black church in Colorado Springs, St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, the oldest black church in town. Over the years, ministers and congregants have left St. John's to start Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Greater Tri-Rock Missionary Baptist Church, Divine Spirit Missionary Baptist Church, New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, and other churches around town. New Jerusalem in turn birthed True Spirit Baptist Church and other members left for Cornerstone MBC, New Light Baptist Church and others. In 1963 Friendship MBC members left to organize their own ministry which would become Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, the city's leading black church. Trinity MBC's pastor founded New Resurrection MBC when he was fired from Trinity, and a Trinity minister now pastors Perfect Peace MBC. King Solomon Baptist Church recently split, a group of believers leaving to found New City Community Church.
All of this dividing and founding has increased from an occasional oddity into a common occurrence. Church histories typically omit the grittier details of how the church was founded and what drove the congregants to start their own church. While the best face we put on things suggests these churches were glorious new and spontaneous moves of God, the more likely and less recorded scenario is one of disgruntled members ceding from established ministries to go their own way in largely personality-driven departures. The believers then pool around personalities they feel more in agreement with. Over the decades, these sub-tribes have coalesced into hardened arteries within the Body of Christ, with increasingly less emphasis on diversity and tolerance with one another. This has resulted in a common acceptance of church-divorce, either in small measure (individual members leaving) or in larger and more disruptive ways, with members attempting to oust pastors or, failing that, divide the church. It seems every year the bar is being lowered for disgruntled members to bolt or divide or otherwise disrupt the church.
Disruptive and divisive influences are not ever inspired of God. God does not author confusion or inspire division. God does not inspire us to whisper amongst ourselves or conspire against the pastor. God does not inspire fistfights at national conventions or clandestine back-room deals among deacons and trustees to freeze someone in or out. We give God both credit and blame for things He has absolutely no hand in. Things that are borne more out of our own spiritual immaturity, the immaturity of people who have spent a lifetime in church. A lifetime wasted, as our church leadership has ultimately failed to impart any external or infallible or eternal truth to us, or failed to recognize that the truth of God, the Spirit of God, has not in fact taken hold in the lives of those they pastor. Either way, it's a terrible failure of leadership, one that we have neither recognized nor come to terms with.
We seem to have so very much less patience with one another. And, while we give lip service to unity, the truth is, with so many churches and so many activities, members are exhausted and drained, broke and tired of all the running around. Our Sunday morning congregations continue to shrink, and our “city-wide” gatherings summon only handfuls of the faithful. We are competing with one another for the same (and increasingly shrinking) group of Black Christians.
With rare exception, the black churches here in town have no definable objective within the communities they are located in. In fact, for many of these churches, their location happens to be one of opportunity and/or circumstance, with the membership traveling from various parts of town to meet at the church, and then dispersing in like manner, leaving the community, the actual neighborhood the church is located in, wondering what the church actually does and who actually goes there. Far from being a lighthouse in the community, or the friendly church on the corner, the black church is, in large measure, an invasive presence. Loud black people and loud black music invading the quiet and then vanishing, ignoring the lonely, the lost, the hungry, and the needy literally doors away from the church. I've likened one church, one of the larger churches here in town, to a great and fearsome battle ship, with huge guns and cruise missiles and state of the art weaponry. Only, this ship never fights any battles. Never leaves port. As the battle for the hearts and souls of men and women rages, this elite battleship never leaves dock. Never fires a shot. Instead, all we do is polish the brass and swab the deck and put on grand celebrations of what a great and fearsome battleship we are, celebrating each passing year of our mighty vessel taking up space at the dock.
Faith without works is dead (James 2). Christ never died for us to spend our days congratulating ourselves and fighting with one another. God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14), “...but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
What conclusions do we then arrive at when we consider there are dozens and dozens of black churches in this one small town, that precious few of them cooperate with or support one another, that they are, in large measure, poorly administrated and poorly focused, ineffectual in the neighborhoods they are located within, existing in large measure only to congratulate themselves every few months for this or that Annual Day? Is this what our Savior had in mind when He was suffering on the cross? If this the measure and worth of His precious blood? This carnival we've got going out here?
Jesus' entire ministry was about risk. He took risks. He didn't save money in banks and he didn't ever, even once, congratulate himself for the X-Anniversary of His ministry. Jesus fed people. Jesus comforted people. Jesus defied the order of the day by ushering in the new age and the new dispensation. There is no scriptural example and no sound basis for the navel=staring self-absorbed circles our black churches run in here in town. Most of our church calendars and annual budgets are, in fact, in direct conflict with the clear example of the scriptures themselves.
As a result, we are not with one accord, and we will not ever find ourselves with one accord until we align ourselves and our ministries with the Word of God. As is, we align our churches with the tradition of our church. A rich tradition to be sure, but even the richest church traditions must align themselves with the obvious theme and example of the scriptures. Luke said Jesus, “Went about doing good.” Every reasonable example we have of church and ministry involves risk and sacrifice, supplication, love and cooperation. This example has become distorted and twisted and lost somewhere along the way, to the point where we think it's perfectly normal to prioritize useless pageantry over outreach and meeting basic human needs.