NBEA: A LAMP UNDER A BASKET

A Testimony by Rev. Normal M. Dowe

When I attended The National Black Evangelical Association’s (NBEA’s) 54th National Convention in April, I discovered a lamp that is under a basket (Matt. 5:15). Years ago, I had heard that it existed but knew nothing about it. The convention’s theme, “Prayerful, Prophetic, Practical Intercession/Intervention for Communities in Crises” intrigued me. Black American communities are in a state of crisis from various trials. I believe that the only answer to the crisis is God. However, many African Americans, especially men and the young, have abandoned faith in God. Others, who still claim to be Christians have a personal theology that bears little resemblance to true Christianity. Holiness, faithfulness to the Word of God, and empowerment by the Spirit of God are not common topics in today’s Christian circles. I am Black, committed to the veracity of the Word of God, and baptized in the Holy Spirit.  I have started to wonder, where are the Black, Biblical, and Spiritual brothers and sisters.

In 1 Kings 19:14, after a major victory on the battlefield, Elijah tells God that he’s the only one left. The Lord spoke to Elijah that there were 7,000 who had not bowed. Like those saints of old, NBEA is a faithful remnant. I thank God for the remnant, the oasis in the dessert, that NBEA is in.

The conference was a surprise to me. I have never seen so many serious Biblical, studious, Black disciples of Jesus Christ. I was blown away by the depth of scholarship, the passion for Christ, the unity in diversity, as the participants embraced their Cushite roots. Some of the participants little knowledge about Black Christian history also surprised me, including how little these explicit Black Evangelicals knew about the implicit Black Evangelicals. It brought back to mind a far less scholarly observation that I made about the structure of the church. I divided it into the white Evangelical church, the Black auxiliary of the white Evangelical Church, and the Black Church.

Most members of the Black auxiliary of the white Evangelical church that I have met disdained the Black church, but the white church does not fully accept them. They have a commitment to the Word of God but, only through a Eurocentric lens. They have concerns about salvation and charity, but not social justice. Finally, they are assimilationists. Often, they are vocal proponents of an approach to multi-cultural ministry, a position that upon further examination is simultaneously mono-cultural and multi-racial. Thankfully, this does not describe NBEA. However, the lack of historical understanding coupled with the lack of knowledge of the Black church that I observed began to develop some personal ideas that God had been forming within me.

The ministry of reconciliation that I have always understood to be between a man and God and between the races has another component for Black Evangelicals. There is an urgent need for Black Evangelicals to reconcile with other Black Evangelicals. The self-identified explicit Black need to reconcile with the implicit Black Evangelicals. Implicit Black Evangelicals include members of the Black church, mainline churches, and African churches in America who are Evangelical in their theology but who would not identify themselves as Evangelical. The cause of Christ for Black people needs the various parts of the Black body of Christ to come into reconciliation with one another. We need each other. A lot of what we need already exists in other parts of the Black body of Christ but, we don’t know it. Many brothers and sisters have pioneer strategies for success and survival in a strange land, but we are unaware of their work. Our young people in the implicit and explicit camps are reinventing the wheel and flailing around without guidance because they don’t know their history, their culture, their hermeneutic, their power, and their theology and what God is doing in and through other Black Evangelicals.

I believe that the NBEA is itself a prayerful, prophetic, practical intercessor for communities in crises. Unfortunately, most of the Black Evangelical community is unaware of its existence. As the Jews faced genocide, a social activist informed an unlikely woman of her unique place in history. Mordecai told Esther, “who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14b NKVJ). Who knows whether God has sustained NBEA, founded 54 years ago, for such a time as this.

One could make the case that our forefathers made, that Black people in America share a heritage with Israel in Egypt. They sang, “Go down Moses…”. God heard Israel’s cry, set them free, and established a covenant relationship with them. If the abolition of slavery and success of the Civil Rights movement were divine responses to the cries of African Americans, we have a special covenantal relationship with God. Our current state of crisis has more to do with our whoring after other gods in violation of our covenant, than with the evil of those who oppress us. If that is the case, the true path forward is the pathway of repentance and holiness. NBEA is in a good strategic place to advance this important dimension of God’s agenda in this time of crisis.

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