As a Black Physics professor who is also Reformed Baptist, I usually get asked three questions:
Why have I chosen to join a church with no other minorities? This question is usually asked from other Black Christians and usually there are numerous undertones to this question. Sometimes it’s suggested that I’m abandoning the Black church or Black people in general. Other times, the question suggests that I’m under a theological imperialism.
How do I reconcile science with the Christian faith? When this question is asked by unbelievers (which is usually the case because of my vocation), it’s usually a statement of incredulity and thus the question becomes an apologetics question. When this question is asked by believers, it’s usually a question about the scientific method, the creation debate, and the claims of the modern scientific atheists.
However, the question asked by most Reformed people is: Why aren’t there more Black Reformed Christians? There have been numerous answers to this question and honestly, the answers are superficial or, at times, downright insulting. Some people assert that diverging musical styles are the reason that Blacks don’t attend Reformed churches (as if all Black Christians like gospel music and don’t sing hymns). Some people assert that it’s because of the lack of expressiveness (as if all Black Christians are charismatic).
My goal is to eventually answer all of these questions, but I want to specifically focus on the third question. I believe that the essential reason is because of diverging views of Christian spirituality. What are the marks of a truly spiritual person? How does one grow in their devotion to Christ? What are the marks of a godly leader? My experience convinces me that most devout Black Christians answer these questions very differently than devout Reformed Christians. This seems to imply that traditional Black spirituality is quite different than Reformed spirituality. In this blog series, I want to address the commonalities and differences between traditional Black spirituality and Reformed spirituality and then address the trends in modern Black spirituality.
Let’s start with the first commonality: a high view of the Lord’s Day. Chapter 22, Paragraph 8 of the 1689 LBCF states:
The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe a holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
It may be surprising to most Reformed people, but most devout Black Christians would completely affirm this statement. Most of the debates regarding the Sabbath that have occurred within the broader evangelical world and even within Baptist circles with those who affirm New Covenant Theology would be non-issues for devout Black Christians. Most black Christians believe that a person cannot truly be spiritual and grow in the Lord if they perpetually disrespect the Lord’s Day.
For those of us who have grown up in the Black Church, Lord’s Day piety was a central part of our life. For devout Black families, any extracurricular activity must be done on Saturdays because Sunday was set apart for the Lord. Moreover, many Black churches believed in an entire Lord’s Day, not just the morning of the Lord’s Day. As a child, when we woke up on Sunday morning, gospel music would play in the home so that our minds would be focused on Christ. We attended Sunday School at 9am, attended morning worship at 11:15am, had fellowship and lunch time within the church immediately following church (which usually lasted for a couple of hours), and then had evening service. It was firmly believed that God met with His people in a special way during corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. It was during our fellowship/lunch time that we mutually edified each other, found out what was going on with each other, and talked about what we were studying in the Scriptures. Sundays were also the day in which many members would perform acts of benevolence for sick church members (which we called the “sick and shut-in” ministry).
Consequently, it was considered sinful not to participate in the life of the Church on the Lord’s Day because you wanted to watch sports or do other worldly recreations. If a person would miss more than two consecutive Sundays, numerous people would call to see if something was wrong and at times, that would prompt a visitation from the deacons and pastor. Lord’s Day piety was also reflected in the attire that one would wear to church. It was assumed that you put on your “church clothes” when you went to church and if not, you had “disrespected the Lord and His house.” Some families would actually wash their cars every Saturday because in their view, “the Lord wants their best.”
For these reasons, many older Black Christians do not understand the casual and lax nature of many evangelicals, including some Reformed believers, concerning the Lord’s Day. No older Black Christian would believe the argument that “all of life is worship” means that the Lord’s Day is not a holy day. Very few older Black Christians would think it’s acceptable for people to come to church with flip-flops on and a T-shirt. Very few older Black Christians would think that the Lord’s Day ended by 12pm so that church members can watch the NFL on Sunday. All of these are innovations for the modern evangelical church, but this is a point in which Reformed and Black Christians both hold – Lord’s Day devotion is an essential and necessary component of the Christian life.
For the next blog, we will address another strong commonality: a high view of the sacraments.