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The Future Of The Negro Church


Secretary Church Extension Society, A. M. E. Church

[Note 51: Delivered at the Celebration of the Emancipation
Proclamation, Philadelphia, September, 1913.]

There is only one safe way to judge the future of the Negro Church, and
that is by its past. And the past of this Church, despite its
shortcomings, is safe.

To the curious it would seem strange that the Negro Church as such
should exist at all. But in the light of its history, covering almost
the entire history of this Government, its existence has been proved a
necessity, as its records abundantly testify.

Until we had the Negro Church we had nothing of which the race could
boast. We early discovered that it was religious rights which first
opened our eyes to all our rights, but until we were secure in the
enjoyment of our religious liberty, we were not fully aroused to the
importance and value of civil liberty. We had not learned that they were
twin blessings often dearly bought, but of inestimable value.

The Negro Church, therefore, became the basis upon which would be reared
the superstructure of all our subsequent achievements. The men who laid
the foundation for the Negro Church, whether of Methodist, or Baptist,
or Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or of Congregational predilection,
were wise in their day and generation, and paved the way for the best
work of Negro development ever undertaken in this country. Until we had
the Negro Church, we had not the Negro school, and the one was the
natural forerunner and concomitant of the other, opening up avenues for
the preacher, the teacher, the lawyer, the physician, the editor, the
orator, and the spokesman of and for the race.

* * * * *

The Negro Church has passed the experimental stage. It is no longer in a
stage of incubation. It is an actuality,--an active, aggressive, and
progressive reality. It has thoroughly established its rights to
existence and its indispensability as a religious force and influence.
Our religious fervor may at times appear to be unduly emotional and
lacking in solemnity, but even this is pardonable, and we are reminded
that this is an emotional age, and we must not forget that the great
Penticostal awakening, in the early days of Christianity, provoked a
similar criticism from the unaroused and unaffected unbelievers. The
Negro Church of the future may be less emotional, but if the Church is
to survive and throw off a cold formality which threatens to sap its
very life-blood, it must not get away from its time-honored, deep
spirituality, for without the Spirit the seemingly religious body is
dead. Our Church of the future as well as our Church of the present will
take care that no new dogmas of exotic growth will deprive it of those
eternal verities which constitute the fundamentals of our Christian
faith. These verities of our religion have their foundation in the
teachings of our Great Redeemer himself, who is the very embodiment of
all Truth.

The Negro Church of the future will address itself to the correction of
present-day evils in both Church and State. It will emphasize the
teaching that the highest form of virtue is the purest form of love. It
will demand that men and women, and Christian professors especially,
exemplify in their own lives and habits the religion they make bold to
proclaim. It will insist upon the remedying of great wrongs from which
countless numbers suffer,--whether these wrongs be unfair and unjust
discriminations in public places, on the common thoroughfares, in the
courts and halls of justice, in the Congress, the legislature or the
municipal councils,--everywhere the Church will condemn and protest and
fulminate against these injustices, until they melt away with the
certainty of April snow. The Church of the future will more fully
realize that where great principles are involved, concessions are
dangerous and compromises disastrous.

The future will disclose a Negro Church with men in all its pulpits
equal to the great task which the responsibilities thereof impose. They
will be qualified men from every viewpoint--deeply spiritual, well
trained, pious, influential, impressive, strong. They will lead their
people, and be a part of their life, their indomitable spirit, their
ambitions, their achievements. They will be absolutely trusted and
trustworthy. They will be an inspiration to our youth, to our manhood
and our womanhood. They will speak as one having authority and they
will boldly assert their authority to speak. They will take up where the
fathers left off, and they in their possession of so great an
inheritance of religious fervor and unshrinking faith, will arouse
Christianity from its lethargy, and start as a nation of believers,
arousing, as it were, from its spell of years. They will be as bold as
lions, wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. They will win their way
because the things for which they stand and the gospel which they
preach, will deserve to win. They will not seek so much to impress their
own personality, but their cause, and they will lose themselves in the
cause by magnifying the cause.

* * * * *

The Negro Church of the future will take greater interest in the young
people, will give greater attention to the Sunday-school work, to the
young people's societies, to the Young Men's Christian Association, to
the full development of all the departments of all the churches of
whatever denomination, to the end that the churches will be thoroughly
organized for work, and such work as will lead eventually to the
thorough evangelization of the world. The redemption of Africa, one of
the forward movements of the world to-day, must come largely through the
efforts, the service, and the personal sacrifices of our own churches,
our own ministers and teachers, our own men and women. Once fully
aroused to the importance of the obligation we owe to the land of our
forefathers, we will enter upon the task with all the zest and spirit
of David Livingstone, whose one hundredth anniversary we are celebrating
this year, as we are also celebrating the first half century of our
emancipation from human slavery. Livingstone sacrificed himself in the
heart of Africa in order to give life and light to the aborigines of the
Dark Continent. Our Church of the future must take up the task so
grandly undertaken by him, and cease not until the work he so nobly
began finds its full fruitage in Africa's redemption from heathendom,
superstition, and ignorance, that she may take her place among the
civilized and enlightened people of the world.

* * * * *

The Church of the future will have to do with the life of its
membership. It will take heed to its health, and will teach hygiene and
the laws which safeguard one's health in the home, in the Church, in the
public schools and public places, in the open air and where not. It will
impress the lesson of a sound mind in a sound body, and the great need
of a sound body in order to have a sound mind. It will not fear to
declare in favor of pure athletics as a means of developing the physical
system, which is so essential to sound health and a strong manhood. The
boys and young men will be urged to identify themselves with Young Men's
Christian Associations so as to have advantage of the reading-rooms, the
swimming-pools, the gymnasiums, and other young men's society, thus
eschewing the dens of vice and haunts of infamy which might otherwise
attract them and blight their precious young lives for all time, it may
be. It will take knowledge of human life and its means of existence
everywhere. It will seek to know what the man and woman in the alley as
well as those on the broad thoroughfare are doing,--whether they are
oppressed or distressed in body or in mind, and to go to their relief.
It will discover that man is his brother's keeper, and is largely
responsible for him and must seek to take care of him. The Church, yea,
will come to itself and be shorn of a great part of its pride, when it
fully realizes that its real growth and prosperity are dependent upon
the attention it pays to God's poor and God's neglected. Our churches
will re-echo with the sentiment of that song, "God Will Take Care of
You," but there must be a refreshing application of it, knowing that
caretaking reaches further than ourselves and extends to our neglected
brother, whom we, so oftentimes, have forgotten. If the Church is no
stronger than it is to-day it is due chiefly to the neglect of the
unfortunate many who have been unreached and need to be reached.

The Church of the future must humble its pride, buckle on its armor, and
cease not in its labors until this great army of unreached is reached
and helped, and impressed and convinced and saved. "Go ye into all the
world and preach my Gospel," does not mean to distant people merely, but
to people at home as well, many of whom know as little of the Gospel as
many others in distant Africa. There must be, there will be, a religious
awakening along this line, so that if the people do not go to the
Church, then the Church must go to the people, and there will be
thousands, in the next few years in answer to the question, "Who will
go?" who will answer in language which cannot be misunderstood, "Here
am I, send me."

The Church of the future will have to do with the greater problems of
every day life. It will have to aid in teaching the people life and duty
and how best to meet and battle with these. It will have to impress the
importance of home-getting,--whether in city or on farm,--and the
possessing of these in fee simple, by actual purchase, and we will
become more valuable as citizens as we acquire more in our individual
right in real and personal property.

* * * * *

The Church of the future will urge the starting of savings accounts with
the youth, and the organization of savings banks among our people in all
sections, and the opening, incidentally, of opportunities for our boys
and girls to get in close touch with business life and business habits.
We will thus make the Church an influence, as it has been in the past,
in paving the way for the future financial and substantial importance of
the race. The Negro Church of the future will be less fettered by
denominational lines and possessed of a broader Christian spirit,
recognizing denominational names of course, but laying greater stress on
Christianity, than on any church allegiance. Methodists, Baptists, and
Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, and Episcopalians will
interchange pulpits and preach one Gospel in the name of our common
Lord, Who is in all, and through all and over all. There will be
inter-denominational Sunday-school unions, Church conventions and
conferences, and the ministers and congregations will be in closer
union, praying for the same spiritual power, the same common blessings,
and the removal of the same great evils. Judah will not vex Ephraim, and
Ephraim will not vex Judah. Under the mighty influence of this
commingling and oneness of heart and purpose

"Error will decay and Truth grow strong
And right shall rule supreme and conquer wrong."

* * * * *

To Thee! God of our fathers, we render praise and thanksgiving for such
abundant evidence of Thy guiding presence during these fifty years of
freedom and civil liberty. We predict for the future on the basis of our
achievement during the past; and since the Negro Church has been a great
factor in lifting us up and enabling us to see the new light, in spite
of many obstacles, we are confident that by following the same
Omnipotent Hand, that never errs and never fails, we will, in the coming
years, prove that no sacrifice, either in war or in peace, made in our
behalf has been made in vain, and no service rendered us has been
without its subsequent reward. We rejoice, and are glad in our gladness
and rich in our wealth. In the midst of it all, the Negro Church
survives and is steadily moving on.

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