Thursday, February 25, 2010

Declaring His Glory - Among All People!

American Saint: Francis Asbury and the MethodistsCurrently I am reading American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists(which is a great book by the way). Today as I was reading I read how in 1790 African-American's made up 20% of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In some places there was an even greater percentage than this! In the district that Francis Asbury knew the best they represented over 30% of the members in 1787. What is amazing about this is that this was when slavery was very common. Yet the Methodists reached out to the blacks in order to win them for Christ.

In 1780 at General Conference the Methodists had declared that slavery was "contrary to the law of God, man, nature, and hurtful to society; contrary to the dictates of conscience, and pure religion, and doing that which we would not others would do unto us and ours."

In 1784 the Methodist Episcopal Church in America became independent of the Anglican Church and at the first Conference of the newly independent Church they put even further restrictions on slave ownership. The Discipline printed in 1785 stated the following about slave ownership:
We view it as contrary to the Golden Law of God on which hang all the Law and the Prophets, and the unalienable Rights of Mankind, as well as every Principle of the Revolution, to hold in the deepest Debasement, in a more abject Slavery than is perhaps to be found in any Part of the World except America, so many Souls that are all capable of the Image of God
Blacks joined the Methodist Church in great numbers. But, they not only joined in great numbers they also preached and led in the Church. One such preacher was a man named Harry Hosier who was known as "Black Harry."

Thomas Coke, who along with Asbury were the first Bishop's of the American Methodist Church, said this about Hosier's preaching: “I really believe he is one of the best preachers in the world, there is such an amazing power attends his preaching, though he cannot read; and he is one of the humblest creatures I ever saw.”

Henry Boehm, a Methodist preacher, said “Harry was very black, an African of the Africans. He was so illiterate he could not read a word. He would repeat the hymn as if reading it, and quote his text with great accuracy. His voice was musical, and his tongue as the pen of a ready writer. He was unboundedly popular, and many would rather hear him than the bishops.”

"Black Harry" became Francis Asbury's traveling partner. One nineteenth-century historian said this about Harry's travels with Asbury, "The truth was, that Harry was a more popular speaker than Mr. Asbury, or almost any one else in his day."

Obviously there were problems that would come in regards to the slaves and the Methodist Church which would lead to an eventual split in 1842 by a group of churches which became the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

The reason I have shared all of this is because I am troubled by the lack of outreach to, and the numbers of, African-American's in our "holiness churches." I am writing this post specifically in regards to the group I am a part of which is known as the "conservative holiness movement."

When I read of how the Methodist Church of 1790 was 20% African-American and then I think of the holiness movement I am a part of it troubles me greatly! Where are the holiness African-American's that should be part of us? Unfortunately there are very few, largely because I believe we have done very little to reach them. We believe we have the Message of the Bible - the Message of Full Salvation from sin - yet, we who claim to love God with all of hearts and our neighbor as ourselves have done very little (by in large) to reach our neighbor's in the African-American community! Unfortunately there are many "holiness" churches who frankly do not want blacks attending. Perhaps they may not come right out and say this in so many words but by their actions they show otherwise...

The Conference I am apart of is the Alabama Conference of the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches. As far as I know (and I hope I am mistaken) there is not one member of any of our churches who is African-American! Our Conference is located (for the most part) in the deep South where they are surrounded by African-American's and yet after 44 years of existence we have no black members? I am not trying to throw stones so please don't mistake this post. I am posting this to hopefully raise an awareness that it's time for us to open our eyes and see that the fields are ready for Harvest!

Thankfully there are many of our churches who are reaching out to the African-American's in their communities and in the last few years our annual youth camp has probably been nearing 30 to 40% African-American young people. This is extremely exciting to me!

However, it is time for all of the conservative holiness movement to catch the vision and reach out to those around about them - regardless of color. It is time for us to truly be "holiness people" and show the love of God to everyone around us! Surely we who claim to be entirely sanctified and filled with "perfect love" should be leading the way on this issue. I look forward to the day when I will attend the Inter-Church Holiness Convention and find it filled with blacks, whites, and Hispanics all worshiping God together in the Spirit of Holiness! The theme for this years convention is "Declare His Glory: Among All People" may God help us to do just that!

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