Editor’s Note: I’m at the #Thriving/Frequency conference in Philadelphia this weekend. Lord willing, I’ll bring some live blogging (is that still a thing?) to The Front Porch. These will be raw notes and something approaching rough transcripts. They won’t be edited and the reader is cautioned to check out the audio when it’s available so that context and meaning can be maintained.
The conference has just kicked off with Pastor Eric Mason giving us a thematic address for the conference entitled “I Dream of a Woke Church.” Here are my notes from the talk. Again, keep in mind context is key for meaning. But I hope it’s helpful in some way.
Text: Ephesians 5:13-14—“But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
‘Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you’.”
Ethnic minorities feel like molested children. We feel as if Christianity—our evangelical white brethren—have watched us for 400 years get molested from 1619 to 2017. Many of us are made to think that we are crazy, that the horfific things that have happened are but a dream. Many of us are broken. Many of us are frustrated. Many of us are rightly angry at what we have seen, heard and experienced.
It’s not that we think our rescue comes from white evangelicalism. It’s just that in our context many point to white evangelicalism as if we’re stupidly functioning on a white rubric.
The Bible does not allow me to segregate my communal commitment based on my cultural hurt. Now we have to wrestle with reconciling with a black community that thinks we’re in the white religion and fighting to do apologetics in the white evangelical church. Why do we have to fight with white evangelical brethren about the reality of the brokenness we’ve experienced and hear them say “just preach the gospel.”
We have to fight on three hands with two arms—our souls, whites we don’t agree with, and a culture we look like spiritual bastards in. We gotta get some hope from somewhere.
I don’t just want to talk about it but be about it. Consciousness didn’t begin in the world; it began in the church.
Paul is in prison, but he didn’t let imprisonment get in the way of understanding where liberation came from. The prison epistles were therapeutic to Paul while he was in prison. Ephesians 1 is a theological tour de force on his theology. Then he works out his soteriology in chapter 2. In chapter 3 Paul moves to his ecclesiology. The church came into existence like a right hook to the world because it was a mystery hidden until Christ. God has called us to prophetically not pathetically speak to the principalities and powers, the demons behind the fools we’re trying to engage. Chapter 4 begins some liturgy. Real theology makes you excited. Paul put his pen down in Eph. 3:20-21 and began to rub his head. Theology should get you to the point where it is not just making your head big but making your heart expand.
Chapter 4 is the practical layout of chapter 2’s dividing wall being broken down. Chapter 4 teaches us that we have to deal with each other. Chapters 4-6 lay out orthopraxy. Chapters 1-3 are doctrine; chapters 4-6 are duty. Our verses lie in the “do” section.
“Everything exposed by the light.” “Exposed” is a present passive participle. Unless God is acting we can’t do it. Everything exposed by the light means when believers shine a light on anything it’s God’s providential and sovereign responsibility to reveal the things in the light.
The theme of light runs through the scripture. Genesis 1 teaches us God brings light to darkness. Psalm 119 tells us the word of God is light. John teaches us that the light and word is a Person (John 1:1-14). Christ is the Light. Jesus as light shows us what the Father looks like (John 1:18).
Christians are to be micro-lights to the light we have in Jesus Christ. We point to the Jesus who points to the Father so the world knows what God is like.
Verse 8 says “we were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth.” We are light and the fruit of our lives is light. Goodness, righteousness and truth are the crops of light. This is what light looks like in the world to people. Good = generosity. Righteousness = intrinsic and extrinsic justice. Truth = seeing things as they really are based on how God sees them.
In order to be biblically woke means Christians should be the “wokest” people on the planet. We have been imputed with the righteousness of Jesus through the gospel to be generous. We live sacrificially lives constantly to put Jesus at the center of everything. Righteousness and justice are two sides of the same coin. Privileged people often like “righteousness” but not “justice.” Not knowing they are the same thing. One is what you have, the other is what you do. You can’t say you have righteousness but you deny justice. Truth means not just having Bible but how we use it. David says God desires truth in the inner being. Truth is the Bible helping us see things for real for real.
Is this what the world sees from the church? Is this our brand? Does the world see as generous or as pimps? Do they see us as only on board with what’s close to our hearts and unable to see what’s important to the hearts of others?
“All things are made visible”
This means we put stuff on blast. Pathetic means apathetically silent. If we are going to be a prophetic community, we must make and expose things that get ostracized by people we respect. We are branded as those who connect ourselves to privilege but not to people who are broken.
To be woke you preach the content of the gospel but also the nature and power of the gospel to change things. The gospel gets stuff done. It loves to get stuff done and make us uncomfortable. Sometimes the gospel frees people in relationships and situations that we want to put behind us.
Verse 14: “For what makes everything visible is light.” Goodness, righteousness and truth makes everything visible—even issues of justice.
“Awake, O sleeper” / “Get up sleeper”—this is where we get “wokeness” from. If we don’t have this as your “wokeness” then you’re still sleep.
DuBois wrote about the double-consciousness of African Americans in order to function in America post slavery. Slavery caused an identity crisis. On the one hand, you have to know how whites view you. On the second hand, the personal ethnic identity of a person gets distorted and destroyed by slavery. God created ethnicity. We do not believe in “colorless Christianity.” We are God’s masterpiece as a unified masterpiece of God’s grace.
Bishop Alexander Crummell, Anglican bishop of modern-day Pan-Africanism, laid the foundation of DuBois’ double-consciousness.
How does the slave master get reparations for financial loss but the slave doesn’t get reparations for comprehensive loss?
Level 3 wokeness says the gospel takes care of every level of wokeness. We can be awakened by the gospel in our justification but asleep to the implications in our sanctification. It’s possible to say, “I’m going to heaven but I’m not going to do anything on earth.” But what if the church in America was always woke? What if the church in Columbus’ day had opposed his explotation? What if the evangelical church in 1619 had turned its back to the auction block instead of owning Africans? What if the church had stood in the midst of confederate warfare calling the south for its hypocrisy in calling Africans “nigger” while giving them guns to fight on the South’s side? What if during Black Code area the church opposed the one-drop rule and laws against vagrancy? What if during the Civil Rights era the church had opposed the curse of Ham fallacy gathered from Islam? What if when Trayvon Martin had been surrounded by the church opposing that public lynching? What if the church said with Eric Garner, “We can’t breathe either”?
My prayer for wokeness is not for a black revolution. That never worked. Asked Nat Turner. We need a church revolution. We need Latino, Asian and white brethren together.
There are so many blacks who are done with the church. I know you’re tired of the white-washing of Christianity. But please don’t leave the church. Count those errors to man, not Jesus. I pray we would pray and fight for the American church to functionally unify. When I dream of wokeness I’m not trying to make a cool word, but get us to stand together in every level of church culture to stand in opposition to everything that opposes the image of God.
We don’t get to call Puerto Rico less of a natural disaster than Katrina. People who haven’t been through anything always minimize other people’s suffering. But those who have suffered lock arms and say, “Let’s do this!”