God’s people gathered across denominations bound by a common theology, multiple sermons over a few days that are relevant and theologically robust, glorious music saturated with expressions of the sovereignty of God, great times of fellowship with other pastors over good food, being together in a room filled with a sense of the very presence of God… No, I’m not talking about #T4G2016, I’m talking about the 56th Annual Simultaneous Revival of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Gary and Vicinity. That’s how I spent last week – a wonderful event that God used in my life in a way every bit as powerful and meaningful to me as I anticipate T4G will be over the next two days. There’s no substitute for the gathering of God’s people together for the preaching of the Word of God and the praise of His name.
I could wax long about the similarities and differences in regard to the culture of the events. The same gospel being celebrated, the same Bible being preached, the same Lord exalted and yet the differences are as profound as Black and White. Musical genre and mood, preaching style and themes, audience participation and response – the two events certainly reflect the ethnic make-up of their attendees.
I have become in many ways bi-cultural and so I feel at home in both gatherings. I will reap a great spiritual benefit from each. What continues to bother me, however, is how mono-ethnic our expressions of Gospel unity remain. For their part, the Baptist Ministers’ Conference has truly welcomed their “vanilla brother” and have been a wonderful source of friendship, encouragement, and fellowship for me. There is no question, though, that it is an African-American fellowship with a white member. The T4G conference is equally welcoming to brothers and sisters of color, but there is no question that this conference is both by its cultural expression and make-up, a conference for white pastors.
Hear me clearly at this point. I am not criticizing either event for their mono-ethnic flavor. I value each of the cultural expressions of the Christian faith and find tremendous value in both. I do not fault the participants for being drawn to the particular events nor the organizers for putting them together in the way that they have. I just have a question that keeps recurring in my heart. When will reconciliation, particularly racial reconciliation, rise to the forefront of our concern for the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is not unity in the body of Christ across ethnic, cultural, and racial divides a central gospel issue?
Most of our talk about unity across race and culture never leaves the arena of the mind. Few practical and tangible expressions of such unity are pursued. We are still separated in our churches, in our institutions, in our denominations, in our conferences, in our gospel-centered celebrations, in our fellowship, in our relationships. We may at times feel a “holy discontent” about our separation, but few make any real effort to do anything about it. We acknowledge the need for reconciliation, but by no means do we make it a real priority. We certainly do not act as though we believe such unity is a gospel imperative. Unity remains a heavenly vision, and perhaps I will have to wait until the Lord’s return before such gospel unity is realized in its fullness.
In the mean time, I will attend and participate in these wonderful, spiritually rich events. I will sing and pray and listen and learn from both my white and black brothers. But I just can’t help but ask: Will there come a point this side of heaven in our evangelical, gospel-centered Christianity when we make it an earnest priority to truly be together for the gospel?