Recently I tuned in to watch a live stream of a conference. The leader had given a welcome and began the time with prayer. As he prayed, members of the worship team walked onto the stage, cued up the songs on the MacBook, and got their instruments ready. Immediately after the prayer was ended, the music began.
This article is not to debate whether churches should have praise teams. This episode occurred at a conference put on by a para-church organization that advocates “gospel-centered principles and practices that glorify the Savior”, and not at a church. Conferences can be an encouraging and edifying time for Christians. However, several questions arose in my head from observing these “behind the scenes” actions:
1) What are these events considered to be? And what is the purpose of such events? There is prayer, song, and a talk on a theological topic. Would this be some form of informal worship service?
2) Why did the praise team not join in praying? Are they not part of the event, but merely “players”? Now I was watching this on the computer, but if I were physically there, as a Christian, shouldn’t I participate in the prayer? I could understand if there were an emergency, like my toddler had to go NOW or the baby was screaming. But if you’re on the praise team, can’t it wait? You may be praying while setting up the lyrics on your computer, but generally it is considered respectful to be still and wait for the prayer to be over. Does this not apply if you are part of the leadership?
3) How important is the “flow” of a service? Is a 10 second delay to be avoided at all costs? Will you lose your “congregation” if there is a pause between the end of prayer and the beginning of music? Or is this not a meeting of the church, but a performance? In a performance, timing is everything. Cueing the lights and music at the right time is crucial for the desired effect upon the audience.
4) So what is the intended effect on the audience? Is it to provoke some mood? Could this mood be recreated without such seamless transitions? Which is more important: the mood of the audience or allowing all people at the event a chance to join in prayer?
Much thought goes into planning such conferences. Yet a simple act of a praise band setting up during a prayer implies that this is entertainment, where the audience is a spectator and those onstage are not participants in a shared experience, but performers. It also demonstrates the priority placed on singing rather than prayer. May the organizers consider how to best glorify the Savior, and whether that means musicians forego joining in prayer.
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.
4. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father all power for the calling, institution, order, or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner;g neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.h
(g) Col 1:18; Matt 28:18-20; Eph 4:11-12
(h) 2 Thess 2:2-9
I would add that any man (or woman) that exalts himself in this manner is anti-Christ, including non-Papists, and Southern Baptists.
Lately, in considering the continuationist movement in Evangelicalism, I have begun to wonder if what lies at root of the movement is not a discontentment with the ordinary means of grace. One thing that is not often considered is the fact that such an emphasis on the extraordinary, emotions-based revelry that passes as worship in many churches today encourages in the mind of the average congregant a dissatisfaction with the means God has ordained for the edification and sanctification of His saints. Let me state this clearly: True worship is that which leads the worshiper to find his joy and satisfaction in God’s weekly, incremental, ordinary means of grace. Does God sometimes work through lightening bolts to jolt His saints into greater obedience and faith? Sure. Will God work outside of the ordinary means of grace to bring us to the places He wills for us to be? Certainly. Do we have any right to require anything more than His ordinary, week-by-week, incremental dealings with us? Absolutely not! Let us be content with the manna we have received for this day and repent of our longings for the food of Egypt.