Why do you call me Lord?: Praxis and Foundations

 

In America, it is common to hear people comment on how hard it must be to be a Christian overseas where persecution is rampant. Unfortunately, in response many begin cheering patriotically because of our so called American rights and our supposed ‘freedom’ to gather in Jesus’ name. While we could explore the faulty label and deployment of the word freedom in relation to American life we will forsake that explicit task for today. But there is something to say about reflecting on the nature and character of people’s faith in places where there is an inherent cost in claiming the name of Jesus and the absence of such opposition here in America. To be considered a Christian in many places demands deep conviction because their decision comes with a high cost or risk in their society. On the other hand, here in America, if someone pursued the most powerful position in the American empire (the Presidency), it is still strategically wise to identify as Christian if one desires to have an ‘effective’ campaign. What I am pointing to is the manner in which Christian rhetoric and association in America provides social, political, and economic space (for some) to move, gain prestige, obtain resources, and be considered a good and respectable citizen within American boundaries. Some may read this as positive but here it is not diagnosed as so. Instead, the end result is an expression of Christianity in which our adherence is cheap, easy, and comfortable; a life contrary to a life of following Jesus, as defined by Christ himself (Luke 9:23). 

Popular Christian expression and sentiment here on our part of the globe are found deficient, leaving many in a terrible position because they are being bamboozled and hoodwinked in their own identification before God. On one hand we have many who call Jesus Lord within the United States but on the other hand it is hard to find anyone who practices what Jesus taught or are willing to live alternatively in the world with Jesus as their foundation. Loving one’s enemies, not hoarding possessions, confronting evil, lending without expecting anything in return, making solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed, sharing the good news of God’s alternative Kingdom with the poor, doing justice, being merciful, and confronting empire and evil forces to the point of laying down one’s life are not compatible with American life or reasoning. Yet the absence of the markers of a Christian life has not even slightly worried  or bothered the self confidence  of self proclaimed Christians in America.

While Christianity in America is on a decline, it certainly has not gotten to the point where Christians are disenfranchised for their faithfulness to Christ (despite popular sentiment from many American evangelicals who complain about Christian victimhood from contexts of comfort, wealth, safety, and security). What a miserable condition we find ourselves in. We all believe that we are Christians and are followers of Christ and have been conditioned by our Christian leaders to believe that everything is fine and that there is nothing to worry about. At the same time, there is no fruit of discipleship (defined by the life of Christ rather than American standards of what is expected and reasonable for our 21st Century American lifestyles). We think that somehow the call to proclaim Jesus as Lord meant that we just had to verbalize the words but didn’t have to truly reorient our lives thoroughly around the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his inbreaking Kingdom. This misunderstanding was something Jesus was fully aware of, warning his followers that true surrendering to Jesus’ Lordship demanded practicing what Jesus taught and emulated as the foundation of our lives. Here is Jesus’ teaching from Luke 6:46-49:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do what I tell you? “Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice – I will show you what he is like: He is like a manbuilding a house, who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the person who hears and does not put my words into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against that house, it collapsed immediately, and was utterly destroyed!”[1]

            It’s time to move beyond empty words and cheap adherence. May we make Jesus’ life and teachings the foundations of our lives taking them seriously and putting them into practice as we yield to Christ thoroughly in our own life. When we step back and revisit where it is hard to be Christian, it is recognized that the domestication of Christianity in America provides a near impossible context to follow Jesus because we are completely enslaved to our way of life and logic. Thankfully, all things are possible with God.


[1] Biblical Studies Press., NET Bible: New English Translation., 1st Beta ed. ([Spokane  Wash.]: Biblical Studies Press, 2001).

Dr. B. Sam Hart: A Tribute to my Grandfather

When I was little, I am told that on Sunday mornings after having been dressed up in my little suit and of course also wearing my clip on tie, I would find myself standing in the kitchen. There I would proudly hold my bible tight and proclaim “teachings of the gospel, teachings of the gospel”. I was imitating my grandfather, who happened to also be my pastor when I was a little guy. That story probably doesn’t surprise many who know me now, given my particular vocation and love for preaching. However, my current ministry ought not to be understood without considering my grandfather’s legacy. I stand on the shoulders of him, my great grandfather, as well as my own father as ministry is concerned.

My grandfather was born on April 8, 1931,  in New York City. He was named after B.M. Nottage and the prophet Samuel.  He attended Grace Gospel Chapel in Harlem, a church from the Plymouth Brethren movement, comprised of mostly Jamaicans and other West Indies populations who had immigrated from the islands to NYC. His own father who originally was from Jamaica, took his family back to the island to be a missionary and plant churches. My grandfather lived in Clowmill, Jamaica from 1932-1948.  His british and dignified preaching style can be rooted back to the british style schooling he received in Jamaica (Jamiaca was colonized by England).

Grace Gospel Chapel, Harlem, NY.

He returned to the U.S and to the assembly in Harlem as a teenager. In the 1950’s he attended Gordon College in Boston. My grandfather married my grandmother Joyce in June 1951. In 1953, while a junior at Gordon College, he had the idea to start the Grand Old Gospel Fellowship. His desire was to church plant strong biblically grounded black churches in urban centers. Roxbury Gospel Chapel in Boston was the first of many churches that he would plant. Upon invitation, he came to Philly to church plant. The first church was Calvary Gospel Chapel and was planted in West Philly. It continues to be pastored by Bro. Joe Ginyard who helped church plant that church alongside my grandfather. My grandfather would continue to plant several churches in the Philadelphia area and hand the leadership and oversight over to godly men. As Pastor Sam Butler (Montco Bible Fellowship) has mentioned, it was almost completely unheard of  at that time to plant churches and move on, and not have people call you bishop. The Grand Old Gospel Fellowship was officially formed in 1960 and was incorporated in 1961.

Dr. Tony Evans both responded to the call of ministry and served under my Grandfather as a young man. In many ways, much of the ministry he does now is directly an outflow of what he saw while working with the GOGF.

One of the notable accomplishments for my grandfather was that he started the first black owned radio station in Pennsylvania, WYIS 690 out of Phoenixville, and serving the black population in Philadelphia, PA.

Likewise, my grandfather was nominated to be on the Civil Rights Commission on February 9th, 1982. However, as I understand it, his views on homosexuality were too conservative, and therefore he was never actually elected onto the commission.

One of the people he partnered with in ministry and crusades was the late Tom Skinner, who also attended Grace Gospel Chapel in Harlem for a period of time. I know they had done crusades together in both Harlem and Jamaica, possibly other places as well. Skinner, is most notably known for being a black evangelical author and speaker who was outspoken on issues of race and justice as well as for being a great evangelist.

Tom Skinner (Back Center), Dr. B. Sam Hart (Back Right)

One of the ministries that were started by my grandfather was Hart’s Children’s Home in Jamaica, which cares for orphans from the island. Since then the GOGF has also started another home in India for orphans.

GOGF Ministries (current name) has a three-fold approach to ministry as an organization; Planting Churches, Preparing Leaders, and Proclaiming the gospel. There are currently 14 churches in the GOGF network. And the Grand Old Gospel Hour ministry continues to be broadcasted nationally, internationally, and online. While my grandfather has been declining in health, my dad Dr. Tony Hart has taken over the leadership of the ministry as President of GOGF ministries.

It was my grandfather’s crusades and the ministry of the Grand Old Gospel Hour radio program that put him onto the national stage. He was a long time board member of the National Religious Broadcasters and while he was still living he became a NRB Hall of Fame recipient for his national and global radio ministry. Thousands of people have been impacted by his ministry. Since his death I have had a lot of people sharing with me how my grandfather impacted their life.

While I am not as traditional as my grandfather was, I definitely stand on his shoulders. Likewise, I was reminded that my grandfather was actually not very traditional for his time, but rather was innovative in his ministry and vision. Similarly, his very calling and invitation to Philadelphia is the reason I am planted where I am. It gives me a different perspective on vocation and calling, and how I can take hold of the spiritual inheritance that has been passed on to me and make a difference in Philadelphia myself, in continuity with his original decision to move to the city, back in the 60’s.

I will miss my grandfather, but I will always remember my time with him.  I still smile when I remember seeing him eat pizza with a knife and fork, my grandparents taking my siblings and some cousins to The Ground Round to eat, and just spending time with him. He loved his Grand kids very much. We love you Grand Dad and we know that you are finally at rest in the Lord!

Picture with my grandparents with most (not all) of their grandkids and great grandkids

 

Funeral Arrangements:

The homegoing service will be held Friday, January 27, 2012, 11:00 am at New
Covenant Church of Philadelphia, 7500 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA
19119. An opportunity to view will precede the service from 9-11am. In lieu of
flowers, donations can be made to GOGF Ministries, the ministry to which he
dedicated his life.
If you need additional information, please contact the GOGF Ministries
office at 215-361-8111 or admin@gogf.org.  www.gogf.org