Letter from Dr. Joseph Tkach - Feb. 2016


February 1, 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I want to tell you the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. They were a remarkable group of individuals who used their God-given talents to overcome tremendous adversity to build a legacy that has burned bright for more than a hundred and fifty years.

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February 2016   

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The month of February is Black History Month here in the United States. It’s a time to celebrate the many contributions African Americans have made to our nation, as well as to recall the hardships generations have endured, from slavery to segregation to persistent racism. This month, I’ve been thinking about how there’s a history in the church that’s often overlooked as well – the significant role that historically black churches have played in the continuity of the Christian faith.

Rembrandt, The Baptism of
the Eunuch, c. 1626

African American worship has truly been here since the beginning! The first black church in America dates back to 1758, before the Revolutionary War. These early churches began under the ugly yoke of slavery. Slave owners were suspicious of any organized gatherings among their slaves; but despite terrible persecution, many found a community of strength, hope, and healing in the teaching of the gospel.

Another piece of rich heritage that arose from the resilience of faith under slavery is gospel music. As can be heard in many lasting spirituals, enslaved Christians found a powerful metaphor in Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. These black Americans remembered that God’s chosen people had also been enslaved, and that God led them into freedom as a faith community. These believers knew firsthand what the Israelites had experienced, and placed their hope in the same God for eternal salvation.

African American churches have remained a sanctuary of Christian celebration and community to this day. Black Christian leaders were in the vanguard of the Civil Rights movement, and continue to advocate for powerful change rooted in Christian principles. Although we often celebrate the accomplishments of individuals during Black History Month, it’s worth remembering as well the great gift these church communities have offered for so long. While historically black U.S. churches carry on a lasting heritage of worship, advocacy, and community, they're also part of a much grander tradition of faith within Christianity, going back to the first Christ-followers.

One of the very first converts after Jesus’ ascension – even before the Apostle Paul! – was the Ethiopian eunuch. The story can be found in Acts, chapter 8. Philip was led by “an angel of the Lord” to take a desert road, where he came across a high-ranking official in the Ethiopian royal court. This man was already studying the book of Isaiah, when the Spirit prompted Philip to start a conversation. He “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” The eunuch immediately asked to be baptized, and “went on his way rejoicing” (NIV).

Scholars look to this passage as a beautiful picture of the gospel being spread to the ends of the earth. It also is an early and clear demonstration of different ethnicities, nations, cultures, and backgrounds being equally welcomed into Christ’s Kingdom. Although we don’t know for sure, some of our earliest Christian tradition holds that the Ethiopian eunuch was the first to spread the good news of Jesus in the continent of Africa.

I love learning about the diverse and vibrant history of Christian worship worldwide, because it reminds me of our rich and varied heritage. And we here at GCI are part of that lasting tradition, too. Grace Communion International benefits greatly from the unity-in-diversity of our membership. We have churches all around the world and are experiencing miraculous, God-led growth globally.

In the last few years, we have welcomed 5,000 new members and 200 new congregations, including churches in the continent of Africa! It's amazing to see how people of all different ethnicities, national identities, and life experiences can be united in worship of the same Triune God. It truly strengthens the church when we acknowledge the different gifts and histories within one Body.

Within GCI, in the United States, and around the world, Christians of all races and backgrounds share one baptism, one faith, and one God and Father of All. Our God is one who calls us to break down barriers and work for unity within the church on the basis of our new life found in Jesus Christ. When you give to GCI, you join in the many-faceted worship of God around the world, and our participation in his story – a story much bigger than any one of us, but which draws each of us deeper into God’s loving kingdom.

Grateful for the gift of my brothers and sisters in Christ,

Joseph Tkach
President – Grace Communion International

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