It’s been a while, but I thought I’d hop back up on the porch and add some commentary to the recently posted video from the Urban League on the State of the Black Church. While the guests offered great insight into the ills and misunderstandings of the black church, there was one point in particular that pushed a button of mine.
Sister Onleilove Alston at minute 9:22 in the conversation gave us insight into the mentality of some of the young leaders organizing movements in Ferguson. Commenting on the leader’s interaction with clergy, she said, “What the clergy fail to realize is that these young people believe in God, they just don’t go to church.” She cited the resistance to change and the infatuation with sagging pants exhibited by the older generation as reason for their absence.
I was tracking with and even enlightened by much of the conversation. However, that statement was quite troubling. I am not sure if those are her personal beliefs, so this is no attack on Sis. Alston. In fact, she expressed a desire not to bash the church. However, it appeared as though this was a valid excuse for these young leaders neglecting the church. The mentality was not challenged or confronted. My unease is that until we confront such thinking much of our other conversations around the ills of the Black Church and the church at large will be futile and merely temporary fixes. What you believe about God is vital to the discussion regarding the State of the Black Church, both for those inside and outside her walls. Your beliefs inform your actions. And so that is where the conversation must begin, with belief, if it is to move forward.
The Christianity that the Bible describes is indeed about belief, but it is not solely about belief. The demons as well as Satan believe in God (James 2:19). And if that isn’t enough, they recognize his authority (Mark 5:10). But that belief is altogether different than the belief in God held by the Christian. For true believers, belief in God leads to action. Our belief leads us to trust Christ; it leads us to follow the commands of God (John 14:15). Those who rightly believe in the God of the Bible love what He loves. So to say you believe in God and yet neglect the church, which He loves, more accurately reveals your belief in the god of your imagination rather than your belief in the God of the Bible.
So here’s my challenge to these young leaders: Perhaps your issues aren’t with the church but they’re with God. Perhaps if your beliefs rested in the God of the Bible you would see the church differently. Perhaps you should search the Scriptures and get to know the God in whom you say you believe. You might just start to love what He loves. You see, it is only in the Bible that one begins to make the connection between your belief in God and its practical import in your life.
But let us not be deceived into thinking that this is not a two-way street. Those of us in the church reflect our beliefs by our actions as well. James alludes to it in his address to the diaspora (James 2:18) and John equates love of God with love of brother (1 John 4:41). If we in the church say that we believe in the God of the Bible, we need to demonstrate it by reaching out and pursuing those who think they can believe in God and not go to church. It looks like going to where they are, making disciples, getting to know them, with the hopes of showing them the joy and benefits that proceed from the gathering of the saints. We should want to help them connect the dots between belief and action.
I can sympathize with those who don’t feel the need for the church. Early on in my Christian walk, I too was unsure of her benefits. I perhaps unknowingly bought into the same idea, believe in Christ and neglect his bride. But over time, by his grace I began to love what God loves. I realized that His bride was by no means perfect; that there are many accusations and charges that can be levied against her. I learned that she is made up of broken people who often succumb to hypocrisy. She is sometimes blind and often slow to respond to the injustices around her. But she is Christ’s bride. He purchased her with His own precious blood. To him, she is a royal priesthood, a holy nation. If you say you believe in God, you ought to see her as Christ sees her and strive not to neglect her.