Top 10 Challenges Facing the Church in 2016 (Part 1)

Since starting Bellator Christi three-years-ago, I have made it a practice to end each year with a glimpse of the challenges facing the church in the year ahead. The top-10 articles have become some of the more popular articles on the website. This year is no different.

It must be noted that I am writing simply as a pastor actively involved in church ministry. These lists are evaluations from what I see in the overall church, particularly in North America. These lists do not necessarily reflect any one particular church, or churches, to which I have served. Rather, this list reflects trends and issues that the church must address in the year ahead. While these issues reflect those facing the global church at large, the issues particularly relate to the church of North America.

 

This article will provide numbers 10 through 6. Next Tuesday’s article will provide the final five.

CHRISTIANS-GUNS

  1. The Christian’s Right to Bear Arms: To Bear or Not to Bear?

Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr. recently supported the Christian’s right to arm themselves. Falwell’s statement seemed to ignite a firestorm not only in secular media outlets, but also in the church. Many leaders supported Falwell’s claim that Christians had the right and responsibility to defend oneself and one’s home. However, others such as John Piper condemned Falwell’s comments. That we are even having this conversation demonstrates the great cultural changes that have taken place since the days of the American Revolution. Nevertheless, the right to arm oneself, particularly that of the Christian, is not one that will be disarmed in 2016 (pun intended). With 2016 being a Presidential election year, anticipate this topic to find itself even greater ammunition (again, pun intended).[1]

How to combat:          Leaders will need to stress their views and explain why they feel the way that they do. Warning: it has been my experience that this issue can bring out great hostility by those on both sides. A spirit of comradery and openness will be necessary for advocates on both sides to allow for proper discourse and dialogue.

entitled-kid-494x328

  1. Entitlement: Ask Not What I Can Do for God, but what God can Do for Me.

The issue of entitlement is one that is beyond the scope of race or gender. Entitlement has become a phenomena for many individuals in modern culture. By entitlement, I mean the person’s belief that they are owed something. Perhaps the issue of entitlement stems from individualism gone wrong. While I am a capitalist, Socrates warned that extreme capitalism could lead to an individualized society where every person becomes his/her own island.[2] The Christian worldview is one that stresses the value and importance of community. Thus, this issue can become problematic, especially since the entitlement philosophy inherently opposes charitable endeavors. The philosophy of entitlement is focused on the self and not the needs of others.

How to combat:          Involving youth in missions work is a great way to demonstrate the impoverishment of the poor and afflicted. Charity and love for others must be emphasized.

Apathy-I-dont-care

  1. Apathy for the Lost.

Apathy has found its way on the top-ten list before. It is no stranger. By apathy, I stress the lack of concern that many Christians hold for the lost and downtrodden…particularly the lost. Other issues noted in the top five may hold a key in understanding the lack of enthusiasm that some hold. I am a congruist[3] and have many Calvinist friends. However, I do believe extreme Calvinism, especially that which espouses antinomianism, allows for such apathy regarding evangelism. This is certainly not true of all Calvinists. Many of my Calvinist friends are among some of the greatest of evangelists that I know. However, one must avoid views that negate the importance of the Great Commission regardless of one’s soteriological viewpoints.

How to combat:          Stress the Great Commission and the responsibility that Christians hold. Forgiveness does not excuse laziness and unholy living.

racism

  1. Race relations.

2015 has demonstrated just how problematic and deep the racial divide still remains. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Let us be clear. Racism and Christianity are incompatible. Racism and Christianity are oil and water. They do not mix. Unfortunately, fears and anxieties tend to diminish unity found in Christ. Instead, fears and anxieties elevate such tendencies.

How to combat:          Stress God’s impartiality[4] and that heaven will be full of various nationalities. Make an effort to befriend individuals of different ethnicities. See the value in all people. Dr. Derwin Gray is doing a great job in this area with his church Transformation Church in South Carolina.

unwavering-faith

  1. Trusting in God despite chaos.

With the increased “craziness” of the world, people—even believers—can succumb to negative thinking, conspiracy paranoia,[5] and alarmism. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Nonetheless, we must all remember that God is in control. In the midst of the chaos there exists a grand weaver orchestrating an elaborate tapestry that will in the end be for the best for the children of God.[6] While studies and surveys are useful. It is more important to trust in the sovereignty of Almighty God.

How to Combat:         WE MUST STUDY AND TEACH BIBLICAL and SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY!!! I keep coming back to the wise words of Dr. Daniel Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell is the Professor of Theology at Liberty University School of Divinity. Dr. Mitchell said, “The more I study God, the bigger God becomes.”[7] When we study the attributes of God, we come to realize just how mighty our God really is. So, to Dr. Mitchell I say, “Amen!”

Next week, I will provide the top five challenges facing the church in 2016.*

 

*Click here to read the second installment.

 

© December 29, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] In full disclosure, I must acknowledge that I support the Christian’s right to bear arms as I feel it is part of a person’s responsibility to protect one’s home. I do, however, readily admit that background checks should evaluate a person’s mental and emotional stability, as well as one’s ties to known terrorist agencies.

[2] See Plato’s Republic.

[3] Meaning that I believe both in the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity. For a good explanation of this view, see Norman Geisler’s Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010) and Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 356.

[4] Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34-35.

[5] That is, seeing every minute thing as a conspiracy. For instance, “the weather is especially rainy. The government must not want the sun to shine!” Such a mindset provides governmental institutions a god-like status. Whether or not conspiracies exist is moot in this regard. Paranoia is antagonistic to faith.

[6] See Romans 8:28.

[7] Daniel Mitchell, Video Lecture, Liberty University.

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Jesus–the Barrier Breaker

Recently, I heard the racial remarks made by a principal of a private school during the graduation ceremonies in Georgia. The most troubling matter, to this writer, was not only that a principal allowed herself to spout forth racial comments during what was supposed to be a celebration, but it was that this episode occurred in a church with a big bold cross standing behind her. One may question what all transpired during the meeting. But the episode proves that unfortunately, racism is alive and well in our modern times—much more than individuals would like to presuppose.

However, when an individual evaluates the life of Christ Jesus, one will find that Jesus was a barrier breaker. Jesus consistently broke barriers. In John’s Gospel, one will find a particular episode where Jesus spoke with a woman at the well. In this case, Jesus broke at least five barriers.

1.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Race.

The apostle John denotes that Jesus “came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well” (John 4:5-6a).[1] John also reports that “It was about noon” (John 4:6b, NIV).[2] Then, “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink’” (John 4:7). The woman then said to Jesus, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman” (John 4:9)?

The woman asked why Jesus would even address her. Why? The woman inquired this of Jesus because there existed racial tensions between Jews and Samarians. Jews remained purebred, whereas the Samaritans stemmed from a mixture of Jewish and Assyrian bloodlines. Many Jews did not have any dealings with Samaritans because of this great racial divide. Jesus, however, demonstrated that He is no respecter of persons, meaning that “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Jesus does not distinguish between a person who is of a darker and/or a lighter complexion. As the children’s song states, “Jesus loves the little children—red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” If Jesus makes no distinction between races, then why in the world should we???

2.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Religion.

The woman at the well challenged Jesus with another barrier that existed between her people and the Jews. She said, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20, NIV). Jesus corrected this problem by noting that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Often different religious spectrums and backgrounds create barriers. However, in this case, Jesus breaks this barrier with truth. Various denominations focus on varying aspects of the faith. Nevertheless, one needs to understand the essential truths that comprise mere, or basic, Christianity. It seems to me that the time has come where Christians need to lower their minor denominational differences and elevate the core beliefs that comprise the Christian faith.

3.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Socio-economics.

It is reasonable to posit that this woman was in many ways an outcast. The woman, as noted in John 4:17-18, had been married multiple times. She was probably an outcast in her society. The woman probably barely made it by on the funds that were provided to her. However, Jesus did not come to the most respected person of Sychar. Rather, Jesus came to one of the more despised of Sychar to preach the message of grace and truth to her. When accused of befriending those who were not the best and brightest of society, Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (John 9:12, NIV). While some only associate with the wealthiest and most successful, Jesus breaks such a barrier.

4.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Gender.

When the disciples returned, John denotes that the “disciples…were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman” (John 4:27). Why were they amazed that Jesus would speak with a woman? It was due to the custom of the day. It was not proper for a man to speak with a woman in public. Yet, Jesus was not concerned about the traditions as much as He was concerned with the spiritual condition of the woman in question. Christ loves men and women. Salvation is not for men alone. Neither does this promote feminism—a thought process that tends to occasionally exclude men. Rather, Jesus is concerned with the spiritual condition of all people. It is for this reason that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 5.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Sin.

Jesus did not “beat around the bush.” Jesus directly focused on the woman’s problem—sin. Jesus intentionally said to the woman, “Go and call your husband and come here” (John 4:16). The woman responded and said, “I have no husband” (John 4:17a). Jesus retorted, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly” (John 4:17b). How’s that for political correctness? Jesus exposed the problem. The woman repented, accepted a new life found in Christ’s grace and truth, and was even used as an spokesperson who helped bring the community to faith. Jesus broke down the barrier of sin, but He ultimately broke down the barrier of sin when He died upon the cross for the sin of the world. The apostle Paul notes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). Paul also denotes that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus broke these five barriers—and many more at that. Why then should a disciple of Christ seek to rebuild the barriers that Christ has torn down? Is such a one truly acting as a disciple of Christ? It behooves the Christian believer to tear down barriers of racism, expose the truth found in Christ (apologetics) and thereby tearing down the barriers of doubt and cynicism, to demonstrate impartiality to those more and less fortunate than ourselves, to keep from misogynist and feminist motifs that create unneeded strife between the sexes (note that egalitarianism and complementarianism issues are not being addressed here), and furthermore live with integrity and to preach the saving message of Christ. Like Jesus, we should be barrier breakers.

© May 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

Top Ten Challenges Facing the Church in 2015

In late 2013, I posted an article which has become one of the hottest articles on my website at https://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com. The article laid forth the top ten challenges facing the Christian church in 2014. Due to the interest sparked by that article, we will make the Top Ten Challenges List an annual offering to you the reader. 2014 witnessed some daunting challenges for the Church.[1] 2015 will also provide some distinct challenges which will need to be met with truth, integrity, and faithfulness. The following list will provide the top ten challenges facing the Church in 2015 and will offer a proposed method of handling the problem.

Challenge #10:           Racial Issues

Problem:         Some may find this a bizarre issue to place on the top-ten list. When the reader discovers that this writer is Caucasian, this may provide an extra bit of surprise as Caucasians do not traditionally address race issues as African-Americans. However, if there is one thing that can be learned from the issues from the latter part of 2014, that is that race relations in America are not as good as everyone might like to think. The issues surrounding Ferguson has demonstrated the lack of trust that some of African descent have towards those of European descent, and vice versa. Couple that problem with the fact that Sunday mornings is among the most segregated time in America, and one finds a real problem. Adding to the mix is the level of distrust that Latino (or Amerindian) individuals possess with those of African and European descent, and vice versa, due to problems surrounding immigration. The sum total of the problem equals a big, grand, ol’ mess!!!

Solution:          The Church can provide a solution. In fact, many churches are already helping to correct these issues. The solution is to focus on the value of human life, all human life. Jesus placed great value on human life and was not divided over socio-economics, race, or gender. This value was demonstrated when Christ met with the woman at the well, a Samaritan woman at that.[2] In addition, the church needs to stress, as Paul did, that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).[3]

Challenge #9:             Holiness/Integrity

Problem:         In 2014, the Mars Hill Church of Washington decided to disband their multi-site complex once Mark Driscoll stepped down. Among many other things, Driscoll was accused of plagiarism within his works. Many of his publishers removed his works and Driscoll was left in the cold. Christianity Today’s Morgan Lee reports that,

In a statement, the church’s board of overseers accepted his resignation, but emphasized that they had not asked Driscoll to resign and were surprised to receive his letter.

They concluded Driscoll had ‘been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner,’ but had ‘never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.’[4]

Regardless of Driscoll’s leadership style, the origin of the problems at Mars Hill stemmed from a lack of integrity on Driscoll’s part. It is easy for one to condemn Driscoll, but the cold-harsh truth is that many modern church leaders, as well as many modern congregants, lack integrity in their Christian walk.

Solution:          First of all, each Christian needs to be reminded that they are not responsible for their salvation. For it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, each Christian must stay focused on Jesus, which can only be conducted by regular private and corporate worship.

Challenge #8:             Technology Addiction/Individualization

Problem:         The eighth challenge is not only a challenge that the Church faces, but is one that all modern people face, at least those who have the means: that is, addiction to technology. Messaging has replaced phone calls, instant messages have replaced visits, and emails have replaced cards. Whereas this is not all bad, there has been an increased emphasis on individualization. Technology addiction may have something to do with such a problem. However, can one blame technology for the modern individualization, or is technology addiction the byproduct of a culture that is possessed with “having it your way”? Either way, sympathy, empathy, and compassion are being lost in the “world of me.”

Solution:          It is recommended that Christians set boundaries as to their time spend with technology. Technology fasts may be a good disciple to practice. In addition, families may desire to have “technology free zones;” that is, times where iPhones, iPads, iPods, and computers are not permitted. Good “technology free zones” include: supper time, family time, vacations, and et cetera.

Challenge #7:             Solid Male Leadership

Problem:         The seventh challenge may seem a little bizarre. Nevertheless, the modern Church is increasingly finding itself without an abundance of male leadership. Perhaps part of the problem is due to the breakdown of the family. It could also be that men find Christian principles to be feminine in nature (i.e. love, compassion, etc.). While many denominations have stressed female leadership, much is lost in such a drive. This article is not arguing from either a complementarian or egalitarian standpoint, but is simply noting that many men fail to see their role in the local church. Several families suffer from fathers who have given up their roles. The children especially suffer from the lack of a fatherly role.

Solution:          The Church needs to revitalize its focus on male leadership. If a denomination accepts female leadership, well and good. However, such an acceptance should not come at the expense of the denomination’s focus and training of men in order that they might take leadership roles. Men have a place in God’s house. Men should not expect women to perform all the work at church; neither should they think that their role in the family is unimportant. Perhaps leadership conferences could be held with a focus on male leadership. Churches could focus on masculine attributes of the Christian walk, such as truth, justice, and standing tall in the face of adversity, while also demonstrating that it takes a “real man” to love and show compassion as such disciplines are often difficult. While it is certainly healthy that the Church places its attention on women (and unfortunately many churches in history have failed in this endeavor), such a focus should not be done to the neglect of the men. Both sexes are important to the family of God.

Challenge #6:             Negativity

Problem:         The modern Church has lost its joy! Every Christmas churches sing “Joy to the World,” but do so with a melancholic and defeated temperament. Perhaps the strains of modern ministry have taken its toll on Christians. Nevertheless, the Church must not be bogged down with negativity, but must face uncertain days with the joy that only God can bring.

Solution:          A few disciplines may help the modern Christian reclaim their joy. First, the Christian needs to take time away from the news. If one constantly allows oneself to be bombarded by negative news, one will find oneself becoming more and more negative. Second, limit your time spent around negative people. It is impossible to avoid every negative person, but a person does not need to allow such a person to envelope one’s life. Third, take time with God!!! Even Jesus Himself was known to go “out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Take time with God privately and corporately! You may find your joy quickly coming back!

Challenge #5:             Love/Interpersonal Relationships

Problem:         Perhaps the eighth challenge listed in this article is what affects the fifth. Nevertheless, it seems that the Church, particularly the American church, faces a problem with Christian love, particularly interpersonal relationships. The Church is at its strongest when it is united. Unfortunately, churches have found themselves focusing on trivial matters which lead towards a lack love towards their fellow man. Because of this, the Church has seemed calloused and rigid to many who do not know much about the Christian message.

Solution:          In Revelation, Jesus has John write a letter to the Church of Ephesus. The church had done many things right. They had stood up against “those who are evil” (Revelation 2:2) and have “tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false” (Revelation 2:2). However, Jesus had one thing against them: they had “abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). Perhaps that is what has happened to many Christians. In our effort to stand for truth and to be salt, we have forgotten that we are to stand for love and are to be light. We must remember that all the law is found in two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) and to “love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Focus on the major things…loving God and loving humankind.

Challenge #4:             Secularization

Problem:         Secularization is something the Church must continue to face in 2015. The world is becoming more and more secular and the influence of the Church is becoming less and less in certain areas. Ethical values have been tainted and, in some cases, have been completely reversed. Most troublesome is the entrance of worldly values into the church, particularly the American and European churches.

Solution:          Values and ethics from a biblical perspective must be emphasized. No longer should the church leader expect individuals to automatically know right from wrong. In many cases, people have been so tainted by the culture that they may not realize the impact that it has had on the way they view the world. Christian teachers and preachers must stress values and be unafraid to speak on sin. One may lose a member or two, but great spiritual development will come to those who remain. As Isaiah denotes, one should “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).

Challenge #3:             Marriage

Problem:         Marriage is under attack in modern times, indeed and understatement. Not only has the definition of marriage come under assault, but traditional marriages are collapsing as well. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to this problem. I recently spoke with a woman who attends a church I previously attended. She told me that she knew of at least three couples that were either separated or facing divorce. Infidelity was the cause of the problems in all three of these occasions. She frustratingly inquired, “Does anyone remain faithful anymore?!?”

Solution:          One cannot offer an easy fix especially to couples determined to part ways. However, there are means of fixing the problem. First, individuals must ask what it is that they really want. Does one merely want a partner with whom to party? Or, does someone desire to find a faithful, loving partner? If the answer is the latter, then one needs to find a faithful Christian partner. Christians should marry Christians. If it takes a Christian several years to find their mate, so be it. It is better to wait and marry the right person, than to rush and marry the wrong person. Second, couples need to constantly work the make their relationships better. Many people will get married and then will stop trying. Continue to kindle the fire in holy matrimony.

Challenge #2:             Biblical Heresies

Problem:         The second great challenge facing the Church in modern times is that of biblical heresies. This year Victoria Osteen was blasted by evangelical Christian for spouting individualistic and unbiblical teachings. Victoria is not the only one offering a watered down form of the Christian faith. Megachurches and small country churches have fallen victim to erroneous doctrines and beliefs. The apostle Paul placed so much emphasis on right doctrine that he boldly proclaimed that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Solution:          The solution is relatively simple. Stay true to the Bible! Preachers should strive to preach expository messages, that is, allowing the Bible to speak for itself, rather than choosing topics and jumping around from text to text. Also, as Greg Koukl has often said, don’t just read one verse from the Bible, read Bible passages and keep them in proper context. I would say that it is important also for preachers to obtain at least some Bible training from an accredited Bible college or university. This will help one to abstain from straying from the truths of the biblical text.

Challenge #1:             Global Persecution

Problem:         While the other nine challenges will be debated by many, it should be beyond dispute that the greatest challenge the Church faces in 2015 is persecution. With the rise of Boko Haran, ISIS, and the continued efforts of the Taliban, 2014 will go down as one of the bloodiest years for Christians (and non-Christians alike).

Solution:          It is difficult to know how to respond to Christian persecution as this has been a problem since the inception of the Church. But, perhaps there are a few solutions that one may find concerning the problem. First, one must pray. Pray for those being affected by such ruthless persecution. Pray for the families who have lost their loved ones. Also, pray for the enemies and attackers. Pray that God would change their hearts. God has transformed people through visions, miracles, and near-death experiences. Pray that God would do whatever it takes to reach these individuals. Second, one needs to pressure their elected officials to protect the defenseless wherever the defenseless may be. The world has seen dictators and ruthless aggressors before in Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Finally, the Church needs to remember the end result. In the end, God wins. Evil will be defeated. As the Bible concludes, Jesus is noted as saying, “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). Along with John, I would also say, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)!

Conclusion

Many other challenges could be listed. Ebola, socialism, and countless other problems entered my mind as I prepared this article. At times, it seems that the challenges that the Church faces is overwhelming. But, when we feel overwhelmed, we must remember we serve and all-powerful God. Our problems are big, but our God is bigger. Finally, let me conclude along with Paul in saying “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Bibliography

Lee, Morgan. “Goodbye, Mars Hill: Mark Driscoll’s Multisite Empire Will Sell Properties and Dissolve.” Christianity Today.com (October 31, 2014) http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html. Accessed December 15, 2014.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Copyright 2014. Pastor Brian Chilton.

—————————————————————————————–

Footnotes

[1] When Church is capitalized, the global church is referenced.

[2] Racial tensions existed between Samaritans and Jews. The problems between the two races extended back for centuries. The problems originated when the Samaritans, who were originally of Jewish descent, interbred with Gentiles. Nevertheless, Jesus was unmoved by the racism of the day and sought to minister to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles alike.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Morgan Lee, “Goodbye, Mars Hill: Mark Driscoll’s Multisite Empire Will Sell Properties and Dissolve,” Christianity Today.com (October 31, 2014) http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html.

Has the Dream Been Realized? Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Has the Dream Been Realized? Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

Is God a Racist? An Evangelical Pastor’s Response to Anthea Butler

Is God a racist?  According to Professor Anthea Butler, God is a violent racist.  Butler, a professor of African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, stated, “God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.”[1]  In lieu of the Zimmerman case, it is necessary to address this issue from a theological perspective.  In this article, we shall first address the issues brought forth by Butler while addressing the issue of God’s relation to various races.

Butler probably brought forth more claims.  However due to space, we will address the three claims that Butler made of God from the brief discourse above.  Is God good at all times?  Is God favorable to any particular race?  Does God hate a certain race?

Anthea Butler, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania
Anthea Butler, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania

Is God Good At All Times?

            Butler claimed that God is not good at certain times.  What basis does Butler give for this statement?  Is she blaming God for the death of Trayvon Martin in the Sanford, Florida shooting?  It appears so.  However, Butler makes a statement that transcends just the Zimmerman/Martin case.  She seems to be saying that God is sometimes bad.  Can this be the case with the God of the Bible?

Certainly there are some who would claim that God is bad at times since God allowed for slaughters in the Old Testament, henceforth called the Hebrew Bible.  We have addressed some of those issues in a previous article.[2]  But, what does the Bible tell us of the character of God?

Paul writes in Titus 1:2, “This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began.”[3]  God does not lie.  It is not that God does not choose to lie.  Paul shows that God is incapable of lying.  Why is this so?  It is due to the moral goodness of God that transcends eternity.  Does the morality of God change?  Absolutely not.  There may be ceremonial laws which are given.  There may even be things that God permits due to God’s love for humanity.  Jesus seemed to indicate this much in relation to the issue of divorce.  Jesus said, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.[4]  While the issue of divorce is not on the table, the permission of God is.  It can be found that God may permit something even though it is not God’s ideal plan.  There even seems to be a case in the Hebrew Bible where God lets the people have what they desired even though it was not what the people needed.  God told Samuel, “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.”[5]  Was the goodness of God affected by the sinful actions of humanity?  Of course not.  God is still good despite the depravity of humanity.  We can tap into the goodness of God when we open our lives to God’s direction.  God calls.  God stirs.  Are we open to God’s moving?  The psalmist writes, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.  May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.”[6]  Butler addressed another issue: God’s partiality of a certain race.

African child Prays to Jesus

Does God Prefer a Certain Race?

One of the more bizarre statements from Butler concerns the thought of God being a racist hunting down those of a different race.  It is especially bizarre when one considers the fact that God does not possess a race but is Spirit.  Butler’s statements show her passion in the Zimmerman/Martin case.  The bizarre thing is that Zimmerman is Latino.  But for the sake of argument, let us be honest.  Many Caucasian Christians have not been overly kind to those of darker complexions.  I am in my thirties, so I missed many of the racial tensions that existed in the 1960s.  However, I have picked up on much of the tensions that have spilled over to individuals today.  Not long ago, my family and I were at a Mexican restaurant in one of the larger cities in our area.  A white couple was waiting to pay their bill.  A black family approached the register beside the white couple.  Pleasantries were exchanged between the couples, but they were strained at best.  This is certainly not the mood of all white and black families.

When wounds are deep, they take much longer to heal.  With the inhumane treatment of slaves and racial crimes that took place in the 1800s and early 1900s, it will certainly take a long time to overcome.  That does not even take into account the stereotypical behavior that spilled over in the later 1900s.  I spoke with a black gentleman who served in Vietnam.  He told me of his return to America from the war.  A white friend of his wanted to take him to a restaurant in Mississippi.  The gentleman told his friend not to do it because he would not be allowed to enter the restaurant, but his friend was persistent.  Sure enough, he was asked to leave due to the color of his skin.  Are these actions what God supports and desires?

Jesus demonstrated by His actions and by His teachings that we are to love everyone despite of one’s nationality and skin color.  I will use two examples to prove this case.  The first example is Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus said,

A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.  A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.  “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.  The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”[7]

The racial issue in this story may fall on deaf ears until the reader realizes that the Samaritans were hated by the Jews of that day.  The Samaritans hated the Jews just as much.  So, Jesus’ presentation of a Samaritan being the hero would have been revolutionary in Jesus’ time.  Racism was not approved by Jesus.  He even used the racism between Jews and Gentiles to bring forth a point to a woman in need while commending her faith.[8]

Another example of Jesus’ anti-racism is found in His healing of a Roman’s servant.  Matthew records,

Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”

7        Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”

8        But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 9 I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

10      When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! 11           And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.[9]

Again, the Romans were hated by the Jews.  Quite frankly, the Romans did not care too much for the Jews either.  Yet, Jesus transcended the racial boundaries to heal the Roman officer’s servant even boldly proclaiming that many Gentiles from all over the world would sit down at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven!!!  This does not sound like a racist to me.  Running with this thought, Butler’s thought of God hating black people needs to be addressed.

Does God Hate Black People?

Honestly, typing the question above just seemed bizarre, because some of the godliest people I know are black.  Even using the terms “white” and “black” seem so trivial.  Are we not more than colors?  My wife met a woman at a previous place of employment.  This woman and her husband are of African descent and are both wonderfully filled with the Spirit of God.  I can say that I earnestly trust this couple because they are such godly people.  There is a local officer in our community who is a godly, Christian woman.  I would trust her anytime.  She is of African descent and filled with the Holy Spirit of God.  The sheer notion that God hates black people, or any race for that matter, is ludicrous.  Take for instance the Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in the Book of Acts.[10]  The Ethiopian was dark-skinned and African, as Ethiopia is in Africa.

Many godly Christian people in entertainment are black.  Take for instance, Tyler Perry who produces movies with great moral integrity.  There may be some questionable material from time to time, but overall there are great moral themes to his movies.

Take also the fact that the Spirit of God has brought forth a great revival in the heart of Africa.  The revival has become so great that many ecclesiastical statisticians are claiming that the center of Christianity in the future will be found in Africa, South America, and in Asia.  Does this fact indicate God’s disdain of dark-skinned people?  Certainly not!

God loves all people

Taken from the Christian Post
Taken from the Christian Post

Conclusion

To find the heart of God, one needs to only glance at the most famous verse in the Bible.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.[11]  The world means just that…the world.  Butler  may claim that since God allowed dark-skinned people to become enslaved during the early years of America that God must not care about those people.  But, may we remind Butler and those who hold this radical view that the people chosen to write God’s Word, and the lineage from which the Messiah would come, were in fact enslaved (as found in the book of Exodus).  It was from a people who were enslaved (the Hebrews) that God brought forth the first prophet Moses.  It was from a people who were mistreated that God brought forth a life manual (the Bible) for people of all walks.  The challenge that we have as genuine believers in Christ is to allow God to break down the barriers which keep us from loving God the way that God deserves to be loved; and also allowing God to break down the barriers which keep us from loving others the way God has commanded.  If you have racial tendencies, give them over to God.  You might just find some exciting new friends in Christ.  May you find the favor of the God of all nations and peoples through God’s Son Jesus Christ.

hands shaking

Keeping the faith while loving people of all colors and nationalities,

Pastor Brian Chilton

 


[1] Anthea Butler, quoted by Cavan Sieczkowski, “On George Zimmerman Verdict: ‘American God’ Is A ‘White Racist,'” HuffingtonPost.com. Accessed July 19, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/17/anthea-butler-god-white-racist_n_3610342.html.

[2] See the article “Why the Violence in the Old Testament?” here on pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com.

 [3] All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Titus 1:2.

 [4] Matthew 19:8, NLT.

[5] 1 Samuel 8:7, NLT.

[6] Psalm 143:10, NLT.

[7] Luke 10:30–38, NLT.

[8] See Matthew 15:26-28.

[9] Matthew 8:6–11, NLT.

[10] See Acts 8:27ff.

[11] John 3:16–17, NLT.