Category Archives: By: Steven Brice

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 5)

By: Steven Brice

A Call to Repentance & Restoration

            Therefore my beloved heritage, I am calling you to repentance. I am calling you to turn away from the contribution we have made in defining Christianity as merely an event that people attend on Sundays. If Jesus’ life and ministry has its locus among the poor and the oppressed, then the heartbeat of our life should reflect Jesus’ ministry. When people were looking for Jesus, they didn’t contact Jesus’ secretary to schedule an appointment. Jesus was found in the streets of the poor, oppressed, and rejected. When people are looking for us, will they find us in a nice looking building or will they find us in the streets like Jesus?

            I am calling my beloved heritage to be restored back to authentic Christianity, to be a community of believers who are called family, exercise filial responsibility. The greatest calling that Disciples of Christ are called to is love. It is by our love that the world will know we belong to Jesus.[1] We are called, my beloved heritage, to be salt and light to those who are suffering within hopeless situations. We possess the hope that is within Jesus; therefore, let us exercise the hope we cherish. Will we be like Mother Teresa, who “grasped the depth of Jesus’ identification with each sufferer and understood the mystical connection between the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of the poor? Will we embrace her humble service and endeavor to ‘bring souls to God – and God to souls.’”[2]

Conclusion

            I am fully aware my beloved family members within the churches of Christ can read this letter and criticize the core of Christianity to which I hold firmly. I acknowledge those unsaid things, positives and negatives, which should be said. I am mindful of the things I have mentioned within this letter and the possible errors within my belief.  I welcome dialogue, corrections, and instructions. Such healthy, respectful, and loving conversation can be illustrative and expose the things we are ignorant about.  However, the purpose of this letter is to awaken us to the realities of God, Christianity, and this world. It is my intention to generate healthy dialogue which will challenge us to re-imagine the church in a postmodern society.  Therefore, my beloved heritage, let us all be humble, pray, discuss, and grow.

 


[1] John 13:35 – “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (New American Standard Bible).

[2]Ibid, pg. 43.

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A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 4)

By: Steven Brice

An Example of Christ

Once in the life of Christ, Jesus and John had a dialogue. It went like this,

“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.  For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”[1]

While this text has been refuted and redefine by some to argue against those who are not a part of the Churches of Christ are not with us and/or are not Christians, it is clear that Jesus is concerned about people who carry the name of Christ (whether in the churches of Christ or not) are doing good deeds. While the immediate context is referring to casting out demons, Jesus gives us a practical example and application by stating, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”[2]

Mother Teresa is a prime example of someone who does not have a Church of Christ heritage, but who has been a light of world to many who have lived in darkness. In her earlier years, Mother Teresa served as a teacher at the Loreto school in Entally, eastern Calcutta. She served this school for nearly twenty years. Although she was satisfied with her career at the time, she was highly disturbed by the growing poverty within her purview. She is believed that she received a call to leave the school and to serve Jesus among the poor. She writes,

It was a vacation to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets to serve the poorest of the poor. It was in that train, I heard the call to give up all and follow Him into the slums – to serve Him in the poorest of the poor … I knew it was His will and that I had to follow Him. There was no doubt that it was going to be His work.”[3]

Who reflect the story of the gospel more closely? Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to the poor or Christians or those who define Christianity as an event that all “faithful” Christians attend on Sundays? For her every human being carries the image of God. God can be seen within every individual. Therefore, not only do we, as Mother Teresa has done, carry the light of Christ to people, we, like Mother Teresa encounter Christ in the messiness of people’s lives. Kolodiejchuk writes, “not only did Mother Teresa bring the light of Christ to the poorest of the poor; she also met Christ in each one of them. Jesus chose to identify Himself with the poor and with all those who suffer…”[4] What kind of people did Christ identify Himself with? Who do we identify ourselves with in comparison? Are we a people accused of being among the poor, the rejected, and marginalized? Or are we people who are accused of being among people who think like us? Was Jesus not accused of eating with sinners? When was the last time we were accused of eating with outcasts?


[1]Mark 9:38-41 (New Revised Standard Version).

[2]Mark 9:41 (New Revised Standard Version).

[3]Kolodiejchuk, Brain, Mother Teresa: Come be my Light (New York: Doubleday, 2007), pg. 39-40.

[4]Ibid, pg. 43.

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 3)

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Our Reality

As I continue to remove the shield that protects my faith during my experience in the seminary and the world, I am beginning to see the many cultural shifts that are transpiring. The modern world is rapidly moving away from God. It is changing. Church and tradition are not as important in a postmodern world.  Indeed, why are we still attending expensive lectureships, flashing our cufflinks and preaching hell-fire and brimstone sermons while the worldly is ignoring us?

Why are we still fighting over worship preferences when the people in our pews are dealing with some deep existential crises? Have we forgotten that to be like Jesus means to walk the streets of ghettos? Have we forgotten that Jesus led His disciples to the despised and rejected rather than to the Pharisees and Sadducees? Are we not more like the Pharisees who viewed themselves as religious icons while acting hypocritically? Are we more like the Pharisees and Sadducees who spent most of their time in the temple arguing about doctrinal differences while lepers, homeless people, and others outside the temple were living hopeless lives? Does this sound more like us today?

Preachers in fact waste too much time at lectureships, conferences, preachers meetings wrangling over issues of church polity and finances while the marginalized people of today are despised and rejected and living in a world of hopelessness? When will the messiness and authenticity of the gospel become a reality within our churches?

Will we wake up and realize that the reason why the world has turned their backs on God is not simply because of sin, but also because of our hypocrisy? When will we realize that we were called to be light and salt of the earth? When will we realize that God is not primarily concerned with what we do on Sundays than what we do for those who are living hopelessly in the world? For instance, when discussing the judgment of Sheep and the Goats in the NT, notice what is stated about those who did not participate in providing hope, love, and care to those who are lost in the world,

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[1]

Dear brothers, I am a firm believer (and I am sure you are as well) that Jesus meant every word he mentioned in the passage above and the broader text. Jesus was serious about this just like he was serious at the end of the book of Matthew when he told his disciples to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.[2] Will we take Jesus as seriously as we take Peter when he told the mass audience to repent and be baptized?[3] Will we take Jesus as seriously as we do when we discuss how he will build his church?[4]


[1] Matthew 25:41-46 (New Revised Standard Version).

[2] Matthew 28:19 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (New Revised Standard Version).

[3] Acts 2:38 – Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (New Revised Standard Version).

[4] Matthew 16:18 – And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rockI will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (New Revised Standard Version).

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 2)

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By: Steven Brice

My Current Journey

Beloved heritage, I am currently at Abilene Christian University. It too is closely connected to our broader heritage of the Churches of Christ.  To be sure, among the African American heritage, Abilene Christian University had a reputation for being racist (as witnessed in past events); however, today it has a new reputation. It is much more inclusive, but Abilene Christian University is also viewed as a liberal school which has left the faith by a great number of African American Ministers, leaders, and members.   For example, during a lectureship at Southwestern Christian College, I remember discussing with one of our “defenders of the faith” my desire to attend Pepperdine University to complete a Master’s degree in religion.  This preacher informed me “to be very careful with schools like Pepperdine and Abilene Christian University – which have left the faith and whose teaching can persuade you to do the same. These schools have stolen some of our brightest young man, and since you are a bright young man with a promising future, I would hate to see you leave the faith.”[1] I informed him of my commitment to the faith. Subsequently, I decided to attend Abilene Christian University rather than Pepperdine University.

It was the year 2011, when I enrolled as a full time student at Abilene Christian University to work on a Masters of Divinity in Missions. Knowing the reputation of this school as a result of my heritage, I was determined to protect my faith. I held strongly to this endeavor to guard my faith until receiving numerous lectures from various professors during orientation day. At a certain point, a professor said something profound which challenged me to remove the shield buffering my faith. The professor said, “This education will deconstruct you, but one of the benefits of this deconstruction is that it will humble you.”[2] Humility, in my opinion, was rarely taught within my heritage, and I desired to be humble. I wanted to stop acting and believing that I mastered the faith and I had it all together. I desired to grow, to learn more, and I wanted to be a student of the faith. I desired to expose faith to those outside my heritage. After all, if faith is to be proven true, it must be tested.

As I journeyed throughout seminary at Abilene Christian University, I have learned many things which were not taught in my heritage; and perhaps some of these things have been hidden or obfuscated from me by African American Church of Christ preachers.  Perhaps I am being too strong here; nevertheless, I will mention one or two things as examples.  First, as a result of my studies here at Abilene Christian, I realize that the core of Christianity is not focused or centered on ecclesiology (the church). The core of Christianity is the story of God’s love for humanity expressed in the redemptive work of Jesus. The story of Jesus Christ, which was forecasted in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the writings of the New Testament, is the foundation of biblical faith.  In addition, human faith has God himself as the foundation. I have learned that the Bible is not God and God is not the Bible. The Bible shares glimpses of who God is and what He has done, and what He plans to do, but the Bible is not God.

If the above notion proves to be true, then there are countless things which need to be evaluated within our heritage. Still, in order to remain focused on the theme of this letter, I will only discuss the core of Christianity and elaborate how this core identifies us as the church.  In fact, what is this core?  I believe the core of Christianity is the story of God loving sinners to the point that God sacrificed His position in Heaven to dwell among us in a fallen world in order to restore us back to Him. This is the gospel my beloved heritage. This is the gospel we should preach!


[1] A conversation with a seasoned Evangelist preacher within the African American churches of Christ during the Southwestern Christian College lectureship in the year of 2009.

[2] This is a paraphrase quote from Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology department at Abilene Christian University, Dr. Mark Hamilton.

A Letter to the African American Churches of Christ (Part 1)

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Dear African American Churches of Christ,

I extend the warm peace and grace of God through Christ to you all. God has blessed us richly and continues to use us for His glory in this world. I praise God that God has and continues to use us for His glory through our efforts in sharing the gospel of Jesus. Our rich heritage has a reputation of being very diligent and passionate in sharing the good news to those who are not in a reconciled relationship with God.

My beloved heritage, it was you who birthed me into my spiritual journey and it was you who raised me while on the journey. Thank you for teaching me about Jesus. Thank you for being a firm foundation. Thank you for the investment you have made in the lives of many young people like me. You have taught me to study Scripture and have integrity with it. You have taught me in many ways to trust God at any cost. You have taught me to be a defender of truth at any cost. Thank you so much for the foundation that you have laid for me to walk in.

The Early Stage of my Journey

Throughout my journey, I have been in awe of the pulpit icons within our heritage. I have been impressed with the great defenders of truth, as well as the astonishing expositors within our heritage. And since I strongly desire to be a preacher, I have always patterned myself after the great pulpit icons. I remember quite vividly, attending many debates and gospel/tent meetings which were focused on “exposing truth and error, “ while calling those who were in error to leave their denominations and to join the “one true church.”

As a result, I have witnessed many people come to Jesus in response to such strong passionate sermons focused on the one true church.

I remember a few years after I accepted the call to preach.  I attended an event where a popular evangelist was preaching at a well-known African American Church of Christ in Dallas. The preacher was well dressed, covered with jewelry, and had a smooth persona. He spoke with a deep bass voice, words of scripture, and persuasive rhetoric all flowing of his mouth with regard to the churches of Christ. After about an hour and a half of preaching, ten people responded to his invitation and committed their lives to Jesus in baptism.  By the end of the gospel meeting, a total of forty-six people all decided to be followers of Jesus.  As a young man, witnessing such moments deeply impressed me and created a passion which likewise called me to be a strong and persuasive defender of the one true church.

I enjoyed many such remarkable experiences during the early stages of my journey of faith and benefited by sitting at the feet of outstanding expository preachers in churches of Christ. Eventually, I too was baptized and raised in a congregation of the churches of Christ which was led by one of the leading expositors in our heritage. In fact, when I informed him that I wanted to become a preacher, he personally mentored me and introduced me to expository preaching.  Expository preaching, at the time, was thought to be radically different from the style of older preachers who were considered defenders of truth whose style was more topical.  Indeed, these differences—between expository and topical preaching—led to real tensions between stalwart “defenders of truth.”  I entered the fray by accepting expository preaching as the most honest and rigorous approach to Scripture. I still harbor this belief today.

Throughout the earlier parts of my journey, dear churches of Christ, I have observed you carefully. Like a child committed to her or his parents, I have entrusted you to rear me in the ways I should go.  I have watched how you chastised nonbelievers using our interpretative style to send them to hell. I have seen how you invested money, attention, and time into gospel meetings, lectureships, and Southwestern Christian College. I have appreciated how you went door knocking and asked people if they believed in the Bible, if they believed that Christ has built one church, and if they wanted to be added to the church. In these things I witnessed your heart to save people and your courageous defense of the truth.

I also observed how preachers in our heritage fought against one another over worship styles and personal morality. I read letters, unloving letters, written by Preachers and sealed with the closing “said in love”.  Dear Preachers, I even noticed how some of you marginalized preachers’ sins, but magnified other preachers’ sins.  You played the game of favoritism with one another.  You isolated those who did not agree with your beliefs.  Consequently, you encouraged our heritage to speak truth with aggressiveness, conning persuasion, but not primarily in love.  My beloved heritage, I watched you, and I imitated you in so many ways.

The Life We’ve Been Called Into

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This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.

He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.

They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25