There are a lot of religious people that ride in your cab. They speak of their faith or beliefs openly. Sometimes they try to invite you to their way of thinking and worshipping. Most of the time, they just express gratitude to their version of the divine for the things in their life or speak of the beauty of their church or faith tradition. I have a regular who goes to her Catholic mass once a week and she loves to speak of mass. By the time she is done, I am half ready to attend CCD and convert. She is one for another day.
Old cities have some unique arrangements in zoning. There was a time when cities were not as regulated as they are today. In the older parts, you will see commercial and residential sharing spaces. One Sunday afternoon I received a page to pick up someone in a residential section of one of the cities older neighborhoods. When I pulled up to the address, it was a church in the middle of a block. It looks like it used to be a house.
I pulled up and an elderly african american came from the building. I instantly knew he was a pastor. It is hard to explain why. There is something about the old school black minister. Maybe it is the well cut suit of a cut that can span decades, the short brimmed hat, the very large black bible, the impossibly perfect posture with chin held high. There is just a vibe. If you have had the exposure to old school charismatics and baptist like I have, you know it when you see it.
He got in the back and he said,"Good afternoon young man,"
"How are you, Pastor?" I risked.
He chucked and said, "I'm retired, but I did preach the word today. How did you know?"
"Lucky guess. So I have never seen a church quite like this. Was it a church plant?"
If he could light up anymore, he lit up more. "Boy. That met in the garage years before anyone used the words church plant or house church. We grew. But we stayed there. Just took over the house. Used to be my house. Someone else runs it now. He's a fine young man. Holy Spirit knows what he's doing. But I preach the word sometimes. He has to deal with all the headaches."He chuckled some more.
"I've heard of the denomination on the sign, but I'll be honest, pastor, I don't know much about it. What's the elevator pitch?"
He told me in a few sentences their basic tenant of faith and the hook that they focus on. I reflected it back to him in different words to make sure I understood what he was saying.
"Seems I ain't the only preacher in this cab, boy. You a pastor."
"How did you know?" I asked.
"I could lie like you did and say lucky guess, but I know."
I gave him the readers digest version of my life. He was silent for a moment and made his thoughts known.
"So you're a quitter." He said firmly.
"You heard me, boy. You walked away."
Now my ire was up.
"No. Just because I am not doing parish ministry anymore does not mean I walked away. There are missionaries, teachers, chaplains and strange mixed up cab drivers that run a youth outreach. Yeah, I don't like parish ministry anymore but that doesn't mean I am not useful."
"I called you a pastor. Not a minister, not a missionary, not a reverend, not a chaplain. I called you what you are. So what's your problem, boy? What's your problem with the church? Why ain't you preaching anymore?"
"Because I see the night. I see the vacuum without us. We are so busy inviting folks to our temples and competing for market share while fighting a culture war we created and we are not doing jack to go among them. Jesus did not go out among people and help them find a synagogue home. He invited them to life together in the trenches. You would think that 500 years after the reformation, we would have a church that does that. No, the legacy of sola scriptura is forty thousand denominations with no end of the division in sight. I don't wanna play anymore. I don't want to pretend that is what Jesus had in mind and that I am right and they are wrong."
"Maybe if you were part of a Bible believing denomination you would think differently."
"Pastor, don't give me that line. I don't know any denomination that says they don't believe the Bible. They see it differently than the other denomination does, but I have yet to see a tag line that says NOT a Bible believing church. Have you?"
"No, but it is obvious that some don't."
"Obvious to whom? You? Some bishop somewhere? Who decides who has the Bible right and who has it wrong? Can you tell me, after a lifetime of service, that you have it all figured out and can you tell me with 100 percent honesty that your group has the market cornered on perfect understanding on the Bible?"
"Bull. What about unicorns?"
"Unicorns. They are in the King James Bible, but in some translations they are oxen and others they are beasts. We don't have unicorns anymore and we did not have them prior to the King James."
"We know more about the Bible now than we did."
"Will we learn more, Pastor?"
"Well....I suppose we will."
"Okay, pastor. Do you believe the apostles creed?"
"Of course I do?"
"So if we are one holy catholic church, how can you call some churches not bible believing? Doesn't that fly into the face of what Paul said in Corinthians about the body? Isn't that the hand saying to the foot I don't need you?"
"Keep going, boy."
"Okay, let's take the gay issue.." he stopped me.
"Let's not, use a different example." He was firm.
"Okay. Slavery. During abolition we had some churches that fought for freedom and others that defended the ownership of other human beings. Both used the same Bible. Now, if we are one holy catholic church and one body, what would you see if you were a slave and the church were a person?"
"I would see a man with a whip in one hand and a map to the underground rail road in the other."
"Would you trust that man?"
There was silence.
"Im sorry, pastor."
We pulled up to his apartment building in silence. He paid me with a very generous tip. He got out of the cab and walked to my window. I rolled it down. He said his peace. It went something like this.
"I used to think like you. During the King years me and a white priest tried to be one. No one else wanted it. I had to make a choice. Tow the line or quit. I towed the line. I spent decades hoping to see one and all we have is more division. More fighting. More hate. I used to have black muslim friends. I was told I had to stop it. So I did. What you say is dangerous. What you speak is prophesy. Prophets hear the Spirit and they die for it. Don't be an old man who kept his mouth shut. If you live to be an old man, you won't see any change either, but at least you spoke up. But I'm going to tell you this. I know a pastor when I see one. God bless you, pastor."