Friday, February 22, 2019

Neglected Christian history

February serves as a reminder of the deficiency in my education.

February is Black History Month. By failing to know black history, I not only have an inadequate understanding of American history. I also have fallen short in my knowledge of church history. My view of Christian history is more white-washed than the reality.

My personal experience demonstrates the poverty of my historical knowledge.

I grew up in a county seat town of about 15,000 people in southeast Missouri. Our community had several elementary schools, including one that was all black, Wheatley School. I am saddened and embarrassed to say only in the last year or two of my 66 years have I come to know why it was given that name.

Phillis Wheatley was a poet in the 18th Century who was a trailblazer for African-American and female writers. Only 7 or 8 years old when she was captured in West Africa and brought to Boston as a slave, she became a follower of Jesus. Though she was still a teenager, her poetic elegy to the Great Awakening evangelist George Whitefield brought her international recognition, according to the Poetry Foundation. With her poems published in New England and England, Wheatley became one of the best known poets prior to 1800.

She "applied biblical symbolism to evangelize and to comment on slavery," the Poetry Foundation reported. Her literary accomplishments motivated the early anti-slavery movement in America and later served for the abolitionists as testaments to the artistic and intellectual abilities of those bound by slavery, according to the foundation.

George Liele, whom I learned of only in recent years, provides another example of my deficiency in church history.

It is Liele -- not Adoniram Judson -- who was the first Baptist preacher to take the gospel from America to another country. Liele was the first ordained black Baptist preacher in this country and planted the first African-American Baptist church in North America, according to an International Mission Board (IMB) article.

Born into slavery in 1750 in Virginia, Liele became a Christian at the age of 23 in Georgia. Liele's owner freed him sometime after his conversion, and he began preaching to slaves in the Savannah, Ga., area before planting a church.

After an effort to re-enslave him failed, Liele and his family went to Jamaica with the help of a colonel in the British army. He preached to slaves there as well and planted a church. Liele faced persecution and imprisonment but continued to preach. He baptized 500 people in an eight-year period, and the church grew strong, according to the IMB article.

Leile's ministry affected Jamaica spiritually and socially. About 8,000 Baptists lived in Jamaica in 1814, a number that included slaves, freedmen and whites. By 1832, there were more than 20,000 believers as a result of his ministry, the IMB article reported. Liele's work as an evangelist and pastor helped produce an end to slavery in Jamaica in 1838, 10 years after his death, according to the IMB profile.

The church's history is a vibrant one not limited to the work of God in one ethnic group or skin color.

-- Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

'Lives not worth living' and the church of Jesus

The category of "lives not worth living" continues to expand to the grief of all who value human beings as image bearers of God. And its advocates seem to be expanding as well. They are at least in the openness of their intentions.

The last three weeks have demonstrated some Americans -- maybe a growing number -- believe babies who survive abortions are now included in this dehumanizing classification. At least some abortion rights proponents are committed to ensuring children who escape the lethal efforts of abortionists can be left legally to die without medical care. And a frightful number of lawmakers are devoted to protecting the right to kill until delivery any unborn child who could survive outside the womb.

For instance:

-- New York enacted a law Jan. 22 that legalizes abortion until birth for the mother’s “health,” which is not defined and has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include essentially any reason. It also permits infanticide by eliminating protections for babies who survive an attempted abortion and by removing fetal homicide penalties, according to Americans United for Life. Of course, Jan. 22 is the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide.

-- Virginia Del. Kathy Tran told a House of Delegates subcommittee Jan. 28 her bill to repeal abortion restrictions in the state would allow an abortion for “mental health” reasons even when the woman’s cervix is dilating and she is preparing to give birth.

-- Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia commented on Tran's proposal by affirming what can justly be described as infanticide two days later in a radio interview. He said, "The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

While Tran's bill did not survive the subcommittee, the sanctity of human life for babies who can live outside the womb will likely not fare as well in more liberal states. Abortion rights activists are pushing legislators to eliminate even the mild restrictions permitted by the Supreme Court, which they contend is threatening to reverse Roe.

What should be the response of those who believe in the sanctity of life for all human beings from conception to natural death? Yes, we should seek to elect pro-life officeholders. Yes, we should urge lawmakers to pass pro-life legislation, such as the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (S. 130). Yes, we should support pregnancy care centers that serve women considering abortions.

We should not, however, outsource our responsibility and opportunity as the church of Jesus. As the church created by our Lord, we have the message, the mission, the legacy and the community needed by mothers and unborn children in crisis, as well as abortionists and abortion's promoters.

As an evangelical Christian church, we have the true gospel message -- God the Son became an embryo in a virgin's womb and grew into a man who lived a righteous life, died on the cross and rose again to save the people of God. We proclaim this life-changing message to all sinners.

We have the mission given by Jesus to make disciples of all people groups, baptizing and teaching -- teaching that includes the message that every human being regardless of age, condition or location is a divine image bearer whose life is worth living.

We have the legacy of the Didache, an early document that condemned abortion and infanticide; the rescue of infants from the exposure walls in the Fourth Century; and the ending of child-killing in countries served by evangelical missionaries in the 19th Century.

We have the community -- we actually are the community -- of the redeemed, who love and serve all and are blood-bought brothers and sisters for those who are born again into the family of God.

May we faithfully follow Jesus and give ourselves for those whom our culture of death deems disposable.

-- Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash