This time of reflection within the African-American community is sacred and even hallowed to some. Just as Black history seems to be an island of exclusive inhabitants, so it is with the "Black Church". Rich heritage, deep rooted traditions, and ethnic pride segregate this particular group of believers. But, should race trump an identity of faith?
The origin of this label, "Black Church", is neither certain nor relevant. The more pressing issue is one of acceptability. Although, this label is not derogatory as some ethnic labels are, why have African-Americans and The Church accepted this tag?
History's record of the fight to desegregate loses significance and depreciates in value within The Church. Public restrooms, restaurants, and public transportation are no longer plastered with way-finding signage for specific ethnic groups. But, evidence of silent segregation is clearly visible every Sunday morning with congregations throughout the nation.
The real tragedy is how believers comply!
African-American believers embrace this label that implies a cultured Christianity. Exuberant worship, soulful singing and charismatic preaching - the "Black Church". Men dressed in three-piece suits with a Sunday morning swagger. Women giving lessons, with visual aides, of how to accessorize any outfit: shoes, scarf, handbag, and hat - the "Black Church". The rest of the ecclesia is content with watching. Whatever happened to a church being identified by genuine faith in God and His infallible Word?
Jesus said to His disciples that if any man wanted to follow Him, he would first have to deny himself (Lk 9:23). Self denial is the willful abandoning of ones identity. Paul further emphasizes this self denial, when he explained to the Corinthian believers, they had been bought with a price and they were no longer their own (I Cor 6:19-20). They now belonged to God. Literally, Paul says that believers become slaves to Christ (I Cor 7:22). With Christ as Lord and master, Jesus now owns all rights to their lives and identity. This includes their rich heritage, deep rooted traditions, and their ethnic pride. Paul himself had come to this point. No longer a persecutor of the saints, now a believer, he once boasted of being Hebrew of the Tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee of Pharisees. Now, he counted it all loss to know Christ (Phil 3:4-8).
The scripture proclaims, "...there is neither Jew nor Greek...for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 2:28 NAB). The parallel application is obvious; there is no "Black" church, there is no "White Church", there is no "Hispanic Church" and so on. The act of faith by which one receives Christ and takes on a new identity, supersedes ALL pre-existing distinctions. The Apostle Paul states, "Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh (how they were once identified); even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whosoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Cor 5:16-17 NAB).
Culture and ethnicity have such an enormous influence on everyday life. There are "Black Colleges", there is "Black Television", and of course "Black History". All distinguished by color and ethnicity. Believers, however, share one heritage as joint-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). They share one tradition, the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42), and one ethnicity which is Christianity (Acts 11:26). They are not identified by race or color, but by faith alone; "for the just shall live by faith" (Rom 1:17). There is only one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Eph 4:5). Moreover, there is only one "Church" and it has no colors.