(Photo: The Christian Post/Napp Nazworth)
WASHINGTON – The pursuit of racial and ethnic unity is essential for the Church's witness, argues Lance Lewis, pastor of Christ Redemption Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pa.
Lewis was speaking at a Washington, D.C. event, called "The Future of Race in American Evangelicalism," announcing a new book on the topic of evangelicals and race called Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. The event, held at Calvary Baptist Church, was sponsored by Grace DC and Reformed African American Network. Lewis wrote one of the chapters for the book called, "Black Pastoral Leadership and Church Planting."
Lewis began by talking about his personal journey to evangelical Christianity. He grew up attending black Pentecostal congregations. His first experience with evangelicalism came with his involvement in Intervarsity while in college. From there, he "stumbled" into reformed theology and began attending a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church.
It was not until he sought to become ordained as a PCA pastor and was required to study church history that he became aware of the extent of racism in the denomination's history. He discovered that at one point the denomination was called the "Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States," and during the 1960s some of the founding members that led the PCA to break away from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., argued in favor of segregation.
Learning that history "began an inward journey," Lewis said, to better understand race in American evangelicalism.
In the 1960s and 70s, Lewis explained, the culture in America began to change with regard to issues of race. Evangelical churches went along with those changes, but followed silently.
"Rather than repent of our sin ... and examine, how did we get there? So we don't repeat the same thing," Lewis said. "We became indifferent."
And, because white evangelical churches did not engage in that repentance and examination, Lewis believes, "it's preventing us now, from the pursuit of unity."
If evangelicals fail to pursue that unity, Lewis worries that God will no longer use evangelicals for His work.
"If we do not begin this pursuit of unity for the sake of the Gospel ... I wonder if we will even have a gospel witness coming from the evangelical Church," he said.
Lewis clarified that would not mean that God would not have a witness: "Now make no mistake, the living God will have a witness. That is going to happen, no doubt about that.
"But I do wonder, if we fail to look up to and live out the calling that we've received to pursue unity, as a consequence and as a benefit and as a blessing of the Gospel, if we back off of that opportunity to show something beautiful about the Gospel and about Jesus Christ, will He work through us, or will we be simply passed by, to continue to play and worship in our own little shallow, private ghettos while God uses others to pursue his witness?"
The Christian Post will publish a four-part series, based upon the book, that will look at other aspects of evangelicals and race or ethnicity. Part one of that series interviewed the book's editor, Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College, who was also at the event.