Original published in 2010.
A friend asked me about "black churches,” that is, churches which have majority black congregations and are, therefore, culturally black. She assumed that the church I attend is such and it is a fair assumption, just as it is fair to presume that I’m a Democrat. I no longer get mad at people for playing the odds if they are nice about it, as this great person was.
As it happens, however, the racial make-up of my church roughly reflects the racial make-up of the USA. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the most segregated hour of Christian America is at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning. That may still be true in some places, but not in my world.
But that’s not why I have attended this church for nearly 20 years. Below, you will find out why.
A while back, I started thinking about how we Americans -- especially those of us who attended urban inner-city public schools -- have been short-changed with respect to our formal primary and secondary education. From that train of thought, I began to muse on how many of us black Protestant Christians have been cheated in the same manner.
When God the Father drew me to Jesus Christ and indicated to me that the latter had died for all my sins and for those of all humanity, it was the result of reading the Living Bible cover-to-cover. And, in addition, it was a beginning: the start of a learning process.
Some people remember the day on which they were saved, but I do not. There was no lightning bolt of revelation. All I know is that, after being drawn to read the Bible, I began to believe what it said -- what God had done and what He promised. But, of course, I did not understand everything or even most things. However, it seems to me in hindsight that believing -- that having faith -- was the starting point. It is a point that many never get to because of bad childhood experiences both in church and out of it —experiences which are the fruit of ignorance, usually.
Most of us who are black and American were dragged to church as children -- if not by our parents, then by an older female relative, usually our grandmother. And, at best, it was an embarrassing spectacle. People would be screaming, sweating, and passing out. And when you asked your grandmother or your great-aunt what their problem was, she would say that they were having a “Holy Ghost experience.” (Well, my great-aunt would say that; some of my friends’ older female relatives were less patient with questions from children.)
I never stopped to ask my great-aunt what the scriptural basis was for having a “Holy Ghost experience” or whether that basis actually existed (it does), obviously because I did not know enough to ask such a question. All I knew is that I could not wait to get away from those crazy people.
Now I wonder whether the pastor of that church or any others of that day knew what a “Holy Ghost experience” really was or what it signified. Did they know what the precepts and principles were that under-girded their faith? Maybe. Maybe not. But if they did, they certainly were not imparting that knowledge to their flocks. Some may have tried and been told “hey, Preacher, if we want some of that book learning, we’ll go to school.” All I know is that, for me personally, the screaming, hollering, and falling out were off-putting. And let’s not even get started with the singing.
Many years later, after my gradual conversion, I went looking for a place to regularly attend church services, found the same types of environments, and found myself feeling the same way as I did when I was a child. But I kept plugging forward and trying to stay with it. One church -- lead by a nationally known “bishop” here in LA -- featured on average one hour and ten minutes of floor-showing…er, praise and worship and about fifteen minutes of hollering…er, sermon on average. (Yes, I timed them.) After about five or six visits, I began to loath the place. My spiritual side asked, “what part of this is for our souls?” My carnal side asked, “why am I getting up on Sunday mornings, putting on a dress, pantyhose and make-up for this?”
Finally, I prayed about it and decided to stay home and make more decisions. From the day of that prayer, I was led to a local pastor who turned out to be steeped in biblical history. In addition, one particular part of the pastor’s knowledge base pulled me in and that leads me to ask a rhetorical question: before the couple of decades or so, how many average, everyday American Protestant pastors mentioned, even in passing, that the Bible was originally written in three separate languages, none of them being English?
Not only did this pastor mention it, he was also fluent in them—Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament and Common (Koine) Greek for the New -- along with several other languages. Having been a German and Russian linguist in the Air Force, I felt like an idiot for never actively thinking about this before. However, the reason this pastor’s abilities piqued my interest is obvious.
I’ve been attending this particular church for 18 years now and, while the original pastor has moved on to his reward, the new pastor has carried on in the same vein. Word studies, translation corrections and conceptual corrections, debunking the need for modern, unbiblical traditions like public testimonies and altar calls, illuminating the concept of what Paul said about women in the church — they are all a part of the services of this church. There I have relearned what I found out while learning foreign languages at the behest of the U.S. military -- that sometimes ideas get lost in the translation and, in this case, ideas that can make or break one’s faith.
In addition, the history of the Church, its struggles and its foundation in Judaism sit at the forefront of the sermons. It’s more like being a student of the church—a student of the person who is God.
The following is a cursory list of some personalities, topics and source materials that the two pastors have used and discussed. It certainly is only the beginning:
- Proto Indo-European language patterns
- Pentateuch (aka the first five books of the Torah/Old Testament)
- The Tabernacle
- Jewish Feasts
- Day of the Pentecost
- Origen Adamantius
- Septuagint (translation of the Torah from Hebrew to Greek; 2nd-3rd Centuries B.C.)
- Nicene Creed (4th century A.D.)
- Augustine (354- 430)1
- Pelagius (ca. AD 354 – ca. AD 420/440)
- St. Jerome (4th-5th centuries A.D) and the Latin Vulgate
- Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
- John Wycliffe (c.1324-1384)
- About how the publication of the Gutenberg Bible changed the path of Christianity (1450s).
- The importance of the Protestant Reformation and, thereby, about Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his Ninety-five Theses.
- William Tyndale (1494-1563).
- John Calvin (1509-1564)
- Council of Trent (1545-1563)
- About John Locke, Natural Law and how the idea of such is reflected in the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. (1600s)
- Walton’s Polyglot
- John Wesley (1703-1781)
- E.M. Bounds (1835-1913)
- G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
- My beloved C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), who went from hardcore atheist to ardent Christian believer and one of its most convincing apologists.
- Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
- Harvey Cox
And, of course, how all of these people, these councils, these concepts and these documents relate to the Word of God as originally handed down by Him to His prophets and recorded by them and how these relate to our being saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
Yes, I learned all of these topics in church. Do you think that this is a lot for Sunday church services?2 Well, apparently, many Christian ministers do as well and are content to feed their flocks the religious and intellectual equivalent of candy. No wonder so many who still say they are Christians and who really do believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ are not willing to get up on Sunday mornings and go to church. Why should they for a little singing, a little dancing and little hollering?
My point is that it seems that, while American secular education has been dumbed-down for the masses, it is certain that the same has happened to religious education. I, for one, hadn’t even known that the Jewish Torah and the Old Testament were one and the same.
We as adults spend time and money mastering the concepts and use of the tools needed in order to make a living. Why is it that too many of us Christians can’t be bothered or don’t know enough to be bothered to learn about the history -- good and bad -- of our faith? If we say that we are Christians and we believe in an afterlife,3 then our faith is of the utmost importance.
Remember what eternity means? It means ‘never ending.’ When we learn about our faith, we are gaining knowledge about our forever. And while there is nothing wrong with getting emotional about one faith, Christianity is not emotional at all and is, in fact, very logical. But don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself.
My pastor asserts that a person need not leave his/her brain at the door when passing through the threshold of the church entrance. Well, thank God for that.
Thank you for your monetary and prayer support!
The great thing about doing what God wants you to do is that sometimes he has provided the tools for you to do it before you even ask. Twenty-five years ago, when I was a young USAF NCO/student at the Defense Language Institute learning the German language, an encyclopedia salesman was allowed to market to the troops, and I bought his wares. These included: the encyclopedia set, a huge three-volume dictionary (whose print has become smaller, strangely enough), a humongous Bible and the crown jewel…a fifty-four-volume set of the Great Thinkers, to include the works of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
Unfortunately, I lost the whole set when my storage was auctioned off in 2015.
About half of the names, etc. came off the top of my head from what I remember from sermons at my church. The rest came from a review of notes taken during the sermons just from the past two years.
A very perceptive Christian pointed out to me that the afterlife is this life—just not in this type of body. It’s reminiscent of a C.S. Lewis quote: "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body."