Okay, so this is Part 2 of my reformed journey. You can view my previous post here, and in this post I wanted to highlight what I did learn coming out of the Black church.
Basically, I feel like a baby in Christ, like I’m starting all over from scratch. I know I shouldn’t throw out my entire Christian life until this point, but sometimes it feels like the best thing to do because I’m always having to re-learn something that I thought I already knew, over and over again. It’s tempting to be frustrated, angry, and depressed. It’s tempting to be me-centered, rather than Christ-centered as I’m watching a good majority of my “work” be burned up in front of my eyes (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Nevertheless, I’m still here, and God has blessed me with another opportunity to continue to work and strive in this Christian life. So in the words of the Apostle Paul, daily “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I gained absolutely nothing from growing up in a Black church, or give you the impression that nothing good exists within Black churches. I actually learned a lot, and considering that Reformed people like to emphasize how historic Reformed Theology is, I think that there are a few things that I can see in common:
For instance, I learned about tarrying in prayer and the importance of prayer in the Black church. Now, we weren’t quoting from the Valley of Vision, but I learned that you can use Scripture as a guide for prayer and that God hears and works through our prayers. And this phrase was repeated often during the church service: He may not come when you want Him, but He’ll be there right on time.
Learning and memorizing Scripture was practically mandatory growing up. As children, we learned a lot through Sunday School and Bible Studies. But I specifically remember having to stand up every Sunday morning at the end of the Sunday School hour with the rest of my class in front of the entire church, and we were required to give an account of what we learned and the verse we had memorized. Not only did this make our teacher accountable to the entire church, but it also gave us a sense of personal responsibility to be diligent in our own learning and understanding of what was being taught. Thinking about it now, having to go through that for so many years is probably what has made me so comfortable with asking questions now when I don’t understand the things being taught at church.
I also learned about the importance of the Church, as a whole. The term “church family” was huge in my world because everyone literally treated you like family. We were trained to have titles for everyone who was older than us (i.e. Miss, Ms., Mr., Mrs., Sister, Brother, Aunt, Uncle, Deacon, Pastor, Minister, and on and on). And these people treated you like they were kin to you too! I can’t tell you how many times I was scolded and reprimanded by other people who saw me do something. Being taught that what goes on in the dark will always come out in the light just meant that someone was always going to see me, no matter what, and let my mother know what I did! And yes, I feared the one (my mom) who could destroy my body (with a butt whipping), as well as, the One who could destroy my body and soul (Luke 12:2-5).
Not only that, I learned that the church was larger than our building. We heavily supported other local churches in our county through fall and spring revivals, homecoming services, and other events. (My husband told me I grew up following a liturgical calendar before I even knew what a liturgy was). I never had the sense that my church was the only church I needed to be concerned about. Granted, as a child I probably didn’t care as much as I should have, but it did make me aware that I am a member of this larger, universal church that has a history and a future. I’m not exactly sure where I lost sight of “church history”, but I do remember hearing about my church’s history at least once a year. It helped me see that the church was important and had always been important to our community. With Reformed Theology I am seeing that church history is much broader than I previously knew, but at least I have a little groundwork on the topic.
Finally, the gospel was preached, and it was central to our church. From the moment you walked in the church, you saw the pulpit up front and center. The communion table was center too, with a giant Bible opened on it to Psalm 23 every Sunday, except for Communion Sundays. As children, we were taught to show reverence in the church. You couldn’t run up on the pulpit (we thought that God would smite us or something crazy would happen). The Lord’s Supper was a guarded and serious activity that went on around you, and all you were allowed to do was watch. There was no participation unless you had made a public profession of faith and were baptized, and even then, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 was read every time before communion started. So even then, I never approached the table lightly because I did not want God to judge me for being to casual. All in all, Christ was the center of everything that went on, and trust me, I knew I was sinner in desperate need of a Savior. I also knew that it was God’s mercy and grace that would keep me every day. My pastor always emphasized that no one knew the day or the hour that Christ would return, but we were exhorted to always be ready and look for him at every moment. And we would literally, as children, stand outside looking to see if we could see Him.
I will say, on a really positive note, that writing this section has really opened my eyes to how much I did learn growing up. Although a good chunk of Black churches have picked up the word of faith and prosperity gospel messages, in God’s providence, I was allowed to begin my Christian journey in a sound church. I know they didn’t have everything right, but it was sound. Now, many people have strayed from that over the years, and many people that I grew up with have nothing to do with the Lord these days, but God saw fit to keep watch over me all these years. And fortunately, these are really good things that I can build on as I’m learning more about Reformed Theology. But next time, I’m going to be pretty real about some things that I did learn in the Black church that I wish I had never known. Stay tuned!