Reflections from an AME Prayer Vigil

I mainly wish to express my profound gratitude to the loving Christians of Allen Temple AME church who so graciously and enthusiastically welcomed us

The glorious reminder that our sovereign God brings good out of evil and extends special grace in the presence of spiritual darkness.  There was nothing good about the savage murders that took place in that Bible study and prayer meeting in Charleston.  But how wonderful that our gracious Lord brings marvelous good even out of terrible evil.  The greatest evil ever committed was the judicial murder of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  Yet by his grace, God made the cross the greatest good that ever came into this world. 

 

Last evening I was greatly blessed, together with many members of the congregation I serve, to participate in a prayer vigil for the nine victims of the racist attack on Emmanuel AME in Charleston.  The service was held at Allen Temple AME Church about a half mile from our church in Greenville, SC.  I hope and believe that our presence played a positive role in ministering to our aggrieved fellow Christians.  I know that we were spiritually uplifted and encouraged both by our reception and by the service itself.  Nothing that happened in this service surprised me, since I have long held a high opinion of the spiritual vitality of gospel-centered black churches.  But it occurred to me that others may not have had many experiences of this kind, and that readers might be informed and encouraged by the following reflections:

  1. The importance and value of crossing boundaries that separate Christians from one another.  I have not had much interaction with AME churches and my many connections with African American Christians are mainly limited to those who share my commitment to Reformed theology.  I live in a part of the South in which blacks and whites generally get along but seldom interact, in part because of the distrust that African Americans have with good reason developed towards whites.  Sincere invitations to the African American community to attend our events have met little success, which has taught me that the burden is on white Christians to reach out personally across the racial divide.  Our attendance at the AME prayer vigil thus resulted from my driving over to their church on Friday morning to personally express love and sympathy and to inform them of our prayers.  The result was a warm, brotherly conversation with a pastor from the AME church, who expressed his thanks and offered to call me to confirm the prayer vigil’s timing.  I had missed a service the previous day – the morning after the murders – which had been terminated by an anonymous bomb threat.  Lamentable as that was, it did provide me with an opportunity to attend the rescheduled event last night.  I came, along with some members of our church, simply to join in worship and prayer.  What I did not expect was an invitation for me to speak and pray at the service.  What a blessing and reward I received for the simple act of personally driving over to extend Christian love, and how eager my fellow believers were to receive it!
  2. How much I learned by joining with my African American brothers and sisters in this service.  I say this not as something that surprised me, but it certainly blessed me.  I know that some Reformed folks do not think that members of a “liberal” denomination can be true Christians, but how wrong they are about the men and women with whom we prayed last night.  Of course there are differences between our theology and pastoral practice.  But most of the pastors spoke in a manner that was steeped in biblical scholarship and evangelical theology.  One of them made the insightful comment that 65 of the Bible’s books speak to us but the book of Psalms speaks for us.   He then prayed with great biblical eloquence and gospel power out of selected psalms.  What a blessing!  Another pastor made the comment that the problem of racism is not so much about skin as it is about sin.  He then prayed against the power of sin within us all that is redeemed by the precious blood of Christ and overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Naturally, a great deal of grief was shared at this service, and I did gain insight on the perspective of African Americans on the racial divide of our nation.

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