MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP) — A cross-cultural group of Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders received spiritual edification and practical knowledge about racial reconciliation, politics and personal holiness at the National African American Fellowship‘s Kingdom Symposium in Memphis, Tenn.
The March 2 meeting at Kingdom Center Ministries, the pastorate of Robert West, Sr., sought to encourage pastors and leaders in personal holiness and equip them to deal with contemporary issues from a Gospel perspective.
NAAF President K. Marshall Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, has long promoted obedience to the Lord’s greatest commandment as a foundation of implementing the Great Commission.
“Our theme, ‘Loving God by Loving Others’ is a clarion call, in its essence, that God will pour out His Spirit like a mighty purifying fire of deep conviction, confession, [and] spiritual brokenness with genuine fruits of repentance,” Williams told Baptist Press, “so that we as kingdom citizens can continue to cultivate and passionately pursue an unprecedented Greatest Commandment revival, exemplifying loving and implicit unity in the church, that will usher in a spiritual awakening in the land.”
About 50 attended the symposium which included sermons, seminars, prayer, praise and worship and fellowship. Theme scriptures were Micah 6:8, Matthew 22:37-40, and 1 John 3:14. NAAF held its spring board meeting the previous day.
“Our nation and our world are suffering from a plethora of systemic satanic strongholds,” Williams said, “so we are fasting and praying, seeking the Lord for His power and wisdom, so that His love, mercy and justice will rule in our polity and practicum, enabling us to fulfill the Great Commission as instruments of righteousness pushing back the darkness of this world.”
Speakers were NAAF Executive Director Elgia Wells, pastor emeritus of Simeon Baptist Church in Nashville, who presented “Personal Holiness: Practicing the Presence of God;” Mark Croston, national director of Black Church Partnerships for LifeWay Christian Resources, who presented “Racial Reconciliation and Beyond,” joined by Dennis Landrum of Hernando, Miss., director of missions of the X-tended Mission Network of the Mississippi Baptist Convention; Dennis Mitchell, pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., who spoke on marriage and the family; and Steven Harris, director of advocacy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who presented “The Gospel and Politics.”
James Noble, vice president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Memphis, preached the evening service focused on God’s love displayed in John 3:16. Willie McLaurin, a TBC strategist for leadership development and Southern Baptist Seminary Extension, preached the morning devotion after a prayer service.
Gospel and politics
Harris addressed the growing polarization of the U.S. political system that increases the Christian’s difficulty in choosing candidates and political parties.
“What comes with progressivism also comes the moral ethic and it’s not distinctly Christian,” Harris said. “Just like what comes with conservatism, as conservatism is articulated today, comes a whole host of interests that I don’t think are Christian as well.
“So don’t let the Christian mantle be captured by either one of those sides,” he urged. “I think that what you have is two flawed systems that are clamoring for your allegiance, so the Christian really has to do some honest thinking and reflection … to make the best decision.”
Harris encouraged Southern Baptists to let the Gospel drive their political perspective, but to realize the differences between the two.
“Your Christian identity and your biblical convictions ought influence your political preference, but don’t conflate the two,” he said. “And that’s what you see happening now. If I don’t agree with you on a particular policy, exactly the way you see it, if I don’t agree with a candidate exactly the way you see it … you have some folks say, ‘Well I don’t know if you’re a Christian.’ Are you that certain that he’s the Lord’s man, that you’re going to put my Christian identity on who you think should be commander in chief?”
Harris promoted a comprehensive Christian worldview that extends beyond one or two issues.
“What happens during election season, particularly presidential election season, is that people go to their political ideological corners, and they take their Christianity to their corners, and then you have the vitriolic debate about whose Christianity is right,” he said. “I think both of them are wrong. Sometimes I wish Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. And when He comes, He’s not taking sides; He’s taking over.”
Marriage and family
Pastors should make strengthening marriages and families a priority in ministry, Mitchell urged in his presentation, “Pursuing God’s Agenda for Marriages and Families: Travelling the Road Less Travelled.”
The deteriorating health of marriage and the family is a growing crisis that greatly impacts the church, Mitchell said, and strengthening marriages and families is a biblical mandate that offers an opportunity to reach the community through educational outreach and in turn grow the church. Strengthening marriages is not an option for the church, but a mandatory part of discipleship, he said, because a failed marriage can weaken the Christian’s testimony.
Unhealthy marriages lead to unhealthy families and unhealthy churches, weakening the church’s impact in communities and the Lord’s kingdom, said Mitchell, a father and grandfather married 41 years. An unhealthy marriage can destroy a person’s hope, he said, even causing division within the church.
“When people lose hope, that opens the door for Satan to do what he does best,” Mitchell said, “create that confusion and the chaos, and that doubt and the deceit in their lives. Unhealthy marriages will impact your church.”
He encouraged pastors, at a minimum, to shift the emphasis on marriages and families from a program emphasis to a discipleship priority, and to affirm God’s definition, boundaries and standards of marriage. He presented the major shift in societal norms regarding marriage, gender identity and gender attraction as symptoms of the abandonment of God’s agenda for marriage and the church.
Using the book “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Nicholas Herman (Brother Lawrence), Wells encouraged pastors and leaders to practice personal holiness by integrating their daily lives with God’s presence.
He referenced the story of Moses’ conversation with God in Exodus 33:12-16 to emphasize that God’s presence is essential. He urged pastors and leaders to be conscience of their dependence upon the Lord.
“Without His presence, you and I are just operating on our own strength,” he said, “and it’s not going to amount to very much.”
While God is always present, Christians must cultivate an awareness of that presence at all times and enjoy an intimacy with the Lord that flows from the heart. The heart speaks to God, he said, in an intimacy that transcends physical expression.
“My time of business is not different with me than my time of prayer,” Wells quoted Herman, who was assigned to monastery kitchen duty as a lay Carmelite monk in 17th century Lorraine, France. “In the noise and the clatter of my kitchen, while several people are at the same time calling for me for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were on my knees.”