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The Black Church Matters

The Black Church is the single institution in the African American community that has historically administered its spiritual and social life.

Each February we reflect on the experiences of Black in the United States of America. There are some who bemoan the annual commemoration of the capturing, kidnapping, and enslaving of Africans from their land to the shores of a nation that would later declare: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[1] Yet, what America exclaimed to be self-evident became a blind spot when it applied to people of African descent.


Can’t We Just All Move Along?


Many people ask, “Why can’t we just move pass the evils of slavery and the scourge of Jim Crow?” Most acknowledge America’s troubled, racist past and suggest “That was then, but things are different now.” Still others protest the need to focus on race “because we are all Americans.” It is true that descendants of African slaves are no longer in chains or considered property under the law. It is true that slavery has been outlawed and Blacks are no longer denied access to public accommodations and polling places. It is also true that we are, in theory, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."[2]


Theologically, we understand that God instructed Israel to annually celebrate their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. For Moses declared, “‘Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance” (Exodus 12:14 NASB). Just as Israel was to perpetually celebrate their liberation, African Americans celebrate our liberation during the month of February. It is the month that we commemorate and celebrate God answering the prayers of our forefathers and foremothers to deliver our people from the hand of Pharaoh and his taskmasters—be it chattel slavery or Jim Crow. To ask African Americans to move on would be analogous to asking the children of Israel to do likewise.


Can’t We Just Preach the Gospel?


There are also those in the Christian faith who vehemently argue that “We just need to preach the gospel.” It is true that the Great Commissions, in all four Gospels and Acts, deputize us to be disciple-makers for Christ’s kingdom. But what my fellow just-preach-the-gospel colleagues fail to acknowledge is that Jesus shared the gospel and showed the gospel; He proclaimed the kingdom and provided the kingdom; He was prophetic and priestly. His both-and gospel is most expressly illustrated in His coming home sermon in Nazareth: ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).


Not only did Jesus minister the gospel in word and deed, but He sent His apostolates “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing” (Luke 9:2 NASB). So this idea that the gospel is proclamation only or liberation only is a false dichotomy. The gospel is and has always been the announcement of God’s salvation of humanity from the penalty and power of sin by faith in Jesus Christ AND the administration of Christ’s power and resources through the church to address the social ills of society (Matthew 25:35-40). 


Why Do We Need the Black Church?


This brings us to the Black Church. Now, I understand why well-meaning individuals would ask why we need Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Black chambers of commerce, and Black churches. But what they fail to acknowledge is that all these Black institutions were formed out of necessity because Blacks were denied access to White institutions and establishments. Thus, when it comes to the importance of the Black Church, Sandra Barnes explains: “In addition to providing a safe haven from discriminatory practices, the Black Church: helped adherents develop healthy racial identities; served as an arena for wholesome cultural, educational, and social activities; was the seat of Black-led activism and self-help initiatives; and, created a domain where political leaders and volunteers could be recruited and developed.”[3]


Consequently, the Black Church was, and still is, a spiritual response to the diabolical forces of racism and discrimination—forces that remain alive and well today. It is with this understanding that we have come to appreciate the spiritual and sociological function of the Black Church as providing the only sustained institutional support to the Black community from slavery until today.


Rev. Isaac Hayes is an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, Illinois, and author of Men After God’s Heart: 10 Principles of Brotherly Love. He is also a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @RevIsaacHayes.

[3] Sandra L. Barnes, Black Megachurch Culture: Models for Education and Empowerment (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2010), 19.

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