An Unusual Counseling Session
A surprising response to a question I asked created in me a hunger to grow in biblical discernment in regards to race relations within the church. Almost forty years ago, I was confronted with a question that surprised me at the time. I did not have an immediate answer.
Seeking biblical answers to questions from people whose cultural groups have been treated unjustly in the name of biblical Christianity has been an area of study for me for decades. Sadly, many Bible-believing Christians are not aware of many of the issues.
Ignorance need not silence us indefinitely. As Christian leaders and biblical counselors, we must always be willing to learn, confess, and repent. Today I remain on a lifelong journey learning the cultural language of people different from me. Many are offended, but the grace of God can redeem and reconcile us in one body.
An Unusual Counseling Office (Matthew 20:19-20)
It was not a normal counseling environment. I sat in my “office chair”—the driver’s seat of my car—with six potential counselees. We were returning home after listening to an evangelist at a youth rally. All of us were teenagers, and I was the only Christian. I had invited them to the youth event so that they might hear a clear presentation of the gospel.
A Little Pre-counseling Session (Romans 10:1-2, 14-15)
The evangelist delivered a passionate and pointed message. He denounced many of the sins that seduced young people: alcohol, drugs, pre-marital sex, etc. He gave a clear presentation of the gospel and called upon any who desired to be saved to come forward. None of my friends responded to an invitation to hear how to accept Christ.
The ride home was unusually quiet for a car full of teenagers. It was well-known that I had recently become “religious” and was sharing with others. While driving, my mind was wrestling with how I should engage my friends in a conversation about the gospel. Fear of their possible rejection of the gospel and a breach of our friendship caused hesitation. Finally, I broke the silence with the question, “So what did you think about the meeting?”
Herein I Stand (Acts 20:24)
The minute of silence following my question seemed like five to ten minutes. “How could he say that?” an agitated and loud voice broke the silence. Knowing Tim’s (not the real name) lifestyle, my mind began to run through a list of his sins and prepare for a scriptural response to his anticipated defense of his sins.
My internal discomfort increased, as I anticipated the ensuing conflict. However, I wanted to stand for and suffer, if need be, for Christ. Everyone else in the car was quietly listening to our conversation. All eyes were on me. This was biblical counseling in the marketplace!
“How could he say what?” was my probing response.
“How could he say…” as he began to speak, my resolve to stand for righteousness and call for repentance intensified.
Surprised (Acts 10-11)
Then came my surprise! “How could he say, “Everybody should go to a Christian college when many of their schools would not even let us in?” Everyone in my car, including me, were black. We were probably the only blacks at the youth rally.
Wow! I was not prepared for this question. I was silenced. I am ashamed to say that I was not well informed about the historical fact that blacks were not admitted to some white churches, Christian high schools, and Christian colleges, simply because they were black.
It can be disarming when your counselee believes or know that the group you are identified with have not always behaved in a gospel-honoring manner. I must admit that I did not have a good biblical, or personal, response to the question raised. I shared my testimony of the power of the gospel in my life. Tim and I never continued the counseling session.
Since that time, I have studied the history of race relations within the church in the US. A coworker and I created a college course, Culture, Race and the Church, in the early 1990s. (The course is a required at Crossroads Bible College). As we taught this course together, I was enlightened as to why many minorities resist the gospel when associated with Christians who are white.
One enlightening fact is that normally the more biblically conservative the church group, the more supportive they were of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. Check into the split of the Baptists over racial policies. I am still on a journey seeking to reconcile these facts and how to counsel others struggling with church history in regards to cultural segregation.
Additionally, America’s multicultural communities continue to increase. We have cultural communities segregated by various ethnic backgrounds, age, economic, educational, geographic, disabilities, etc.
Grace (God’s Reconciliation At Christ’s Expense) relations provide a foundation to encourage us to discuss the past openly and to create a compelling model for the future (John 13:34-35). As we engage people of different cultures, let us keep the following in mind:
- Learn to pray for the humanly impossible: Ephesians 3:14-21.
- The Word of God is profitable: 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5.
- It is profitable to study cultural perceptions: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
- Be the first one to love: 1 John 4:10-11.
- Be humble and easy to approach: James 3:13-18.
- The gospel of grace saves: 1 Timothy 1:12-16.
- The gospel of grace transforms: Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:22-23.
- The gospel brings confession and reconciliation: Acts 10-11; Ephesians 4:1-6.We need to have honest and loving conversations. Remember we are on a journey, none of us have arrived yet.
The Rest of the Story (Added by the CBC Team)
For further insight into multiethnic relationships and ministry, we recommend that you consider the following books by Dr. Charles Ware and Dr. Bob Kellemen:
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How could you implement the 8 principles of GRACE relationships in your ministry—in particular in multiethnic ministry?