Black Spirituality and Reformed Spirituality, a Comparison (Full)


Recently, I’ve finished a blog series which compared the spirituality of traditional, devout Black Christians to Reformed spirituality. The goal of this mini-series was to answer the following question: Why aren’t there more Black Reformed Christians? The central thesis of this series is that diverging views of Christian spirituality is the essential reason why devout Black Christians generally are not in Reformed churches. In other words, the mode and nature of traditional Black spirituality is quite different than Reformed spirituality. In the blog series, I addressed the commonalities and differences between traditional Black spirituality and Reformed spirituality. This post breaks up that series into six basic parts.

Part I: Points of Agreement

Part II: Points of Disagreement

The Local Church in Black Spirituality

In continuing this mini-series regarding Black spirituality, the third commonality with Reformed spirituality is a high view of the local church. In other words, a point in which Reformed and traditional Black Christians both hold is that a person cannot truly be spiritual and grow in the Lord if they neglect the local church. This means that church membership is necessary and vital for Christian growth. In regards to the formation of the Church, Chapter 26, Paragraphs 5 and 6 of the 1689 LBCF states

In the exercise of the authority which has been entrusted to Him, the Lord Jesus calls to Himself from out of the world, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those who are given to Him by His Father, so that they may walk before Him in all the ways of obedience which He prescribes to them in His Word. Those who are thus called, He commands to walk together in particular societies or churches, for their mutual edification, and for the due performance of that public worship, which He requires of them in the world.

The members of these churches are saints because they have been called by Christ, and because they visibly manifest and give evidence of their obedience to that call by their profession and walk. Such saints willingly consent to walk together according to the appointment of Christ, giving themselves up to the Lord and to one another, according to God’s will, in avowed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel.

This is a statement in which traditional Black Christians will give a hearty amen to. This is particularly the case since it has been well-established that the Black Church was formed out of necessity, not by convenience. The unfortunate reality is that the historical racism of mainline denominations in the 18th and 19th century established the legitimacy of the Black church. For the purposes of this blog, the necessary formation of the Black church had a very important consequence on how many traditional Black Christians view the local church – namely, that the gospel of Christ should nurture and proclaim the eschatological hope of Christianity.

churchBecause the Black church preached the gospel of hope and developed a robust theological view of suffering, the Black church (as an institution) became the center of the Black community. Historically, the local church was seen as a city of refuge and provided the true hope to those dealing with the numerous difficulties of life. Many Black Christians would agree with the Puritans that this world is a vale of tears, but they praised God that there is “an opening gate of glory at its end”. They realized that there truly was a better and more heavenly country and viewed this current life as a pilgrimage. This was the message that was proclaimed to the Black community and the surrounding world. For traditional Black Christians, the local church (primarily through its preaching and hymnody) nurtured this hope and proclaimed the hope of this gospel to the world. In this way, the local church is the city set on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth – it offers a glimpse of our eternal state and our eternal inheritance as believers. For a more thorough discussion of this, feel free to listen to Thabiti Anyabwile’s sermon on the contributions of African-American theology.

One of the most upsetting trends in modern expressions of the Black Church is that this richly biblical theology is being replaced by Word of Faith/Prosperity teaching. The theology of suffering, which served as a historical distinctive of Black theology, is being cast aside for such bad teaching, and the impact is that the Black community has grown distrustful of the Black church. In my view, the Black church will only remain relevant as an institution only when it returns back to its roots on the matter.

Another very important aspect of the local church is church membership. In regards to church membership, Chapter 26, Paragraph 7 of the 1689 LBCF states

All believers are bound to join themselves to particular churches when and where they have opportunity so to do, and all who are admitted into the privileges of a church, are also under the censures and government of that church, in accordance with the rule of Christ.

This is a statement that all devout Black Christians believe. Simply put, church membership is a must for any person who calls themselves a Christian. Because the Black church plays such a central role in the community, virtually all Black millennials with Christian parents were raised in the church. By and large, traditional Black parents insist on church participation by not giving their children an option. As children, we served as ushers, choir members, janitors, landscapers, and all sorts of roles, with the intention that we would understand how important the local church is. This helps to explain why Black churches continue to see stable participation from millennials, whereas millennials as a whole are completely abandoning the church as a whole. This also meant that those who did not attend church were considered godless and worldly. This produces a very strong church-world distinction within Black spirituality.

It is at this point where traditional Black spirituality meshes much more with Reformed Baptists rather than Reformed Presbyterians. The concept of covenant children and the purposefully mixed nature of the church fall on deaf ears for many traditional Black Christians. Black parents have no problem telling their children to pray to God concerning various matters, while also confessing that their children aren’t Christians. Black parents have no problem forcing their children to read their Bible, to go to church, or to participate in family devotion. As a child, the most often quoted passage to emphasize the distinction between the true church and the world was 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,” I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

Because the church is seen as the place that God’s people are strengthened and encouraged against the assault from the world, this meant that the Black church met multiple times during the week. When I was converted as a teenager, the church that I attended had morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day, Wednesday evening Bible study, and Friday evening prayer meeting – and it was expected that you attended (and properly prepared) for all of them. It was also assumed that we would visit churches in our local associations as well whenever important events appeared on the calendar. In a number of ways, a person’s active participation in these services was an indicator of their spiritual health. It was during these activities in which older, mature believers took an interest in young converts like myself – who taught me about the necessity of personal holiness and the significant of the local church. Moreover, the church-world distinction became more pronounced as Black preachers taught unashamedly on the doctrine of hell. We were taught to flee to Christ and His church to escape the condemnation that will occur to the world around us. Thus, the church-world distinction was very black-and-white (no pun intended!).

For these reasons, many modern arguments on the unimportance of the local church is nonsensical to those who grew up in my background. As a new convert, I was taught that it is foolish to separate our personal devotion to the Lord from our commitment to the local church. This is a point in which Reformed Christians and Black Christian can affirm with each other. For the next blog, we will begin to address the significant differences between traditional Black spirituality and Reformed spirituality. We will start with the divergent views concerning the means of grace.

The Sacraments in Black Spirituality

In regards to our previous discussion on traditional Black spirituality, the second commonality with Reformed spirituality is a high view of the sacraments. In other words, a point in which Reformed and Black Christians both hold is that a person cannot truly be spiritual and grow in the Lord if they perpetually neglect the sacraments. In regards to the sacraments, Chapter 28 of the 1689 LBCF states that:

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world. These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ.

Thanks to the writings of the 17th century Particular Baptists (as well as modern Baptist writers), many Reformed Baptists today have come to understand the importance of the sacraments in the life of the Church. Moreover, due to rediscovered writings from 17th century Particular Baptists, many Reformed Baptists have developed a covenantal view of the sacraments, which sees the sacraments as a means of grace. As a consequence, many Reformed Baptists understand the deep connection between Christian growth and faithful participation in the sacraments. Naturally, this leads to a deep reverence and respect for the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.


This deep reverence for the sacraments is also a key mark in Black spirituality as well. Traditionally, most Black churches take communion once per month (typically on the first Sunday of the month) and for many congregations, there is a sense of expectation for Communion Sunday. In the church that I grew up in, a significant portion of the service on Communion Sunday was dedicated to preparing for the Supper. There was a heightened sense of seriousness as everyone knew that something very importance was about to happen. The solemnity of the event was particularly on display as the deacons distributed the elements with white gloves, which was always meant to be a symbol of respect for the ordinance. Before the congregation partook of communion, there were serious warnings given to those who took the Supper in an unworthy manner. After these warnings, the congregation partook of the elements together, as a symbol of their unity.

As many Reformed writers have written, there are many facets and layers of meaning which pertain to the Supper. In my experience, the two dimensions that are most prominently displayed in many traditional Black churches are the Eucharistic dimension and the covenantal dimension. In the Eucharistic dimension, we see that the Lord’s Supper is a holy and solemn feast of praise and thanksgiving to God for His lovingkindness. Here the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is intended to bring us to the adoration and praise of God; it moves us to render thanksgiving to God for his infinite goodness and helps us to recognize the grace which God has so generously poured out for His people. In many Black churches, this dimension of the Supper has led to the composition of various hymns that have sometimes been called “blood songs”

I Know it was His Blood – Mahalia Jackson

The Blood Will Never Lose its Power – Andrae Crouch

Calvary – Richard Smallwood

The Blood – James Hall

These above songs also indicate that another central aspect of the Supper in traditional Black churches is the concept of a memorial. Here, it is understood that the recipient should do more than simply remember what Christ has done, but the recipient is making a public confession and commitment to Christ at the Supper. In essence, these “blood songs” are a recounting of the saving acts of God. This fits very much with Calvin’s understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:26

But this knowledge [of the saving acts of Christ] ought to move us to praise Him openly, so as to let men know, when we are in their company, what we are aware of within ourselves in the presence of God. The Supper is, therefore, if I may say so, a kind of memorial which must always be maintained in the Church until the final coming of Christ. John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:26, Commentary on First Corinthians, p. 250

In many Black churches, there is also a sense of the covenantal dimension. A very popular African-American spiritual called Let Us Break Bread Together on our Knees (lyrics) which is typically sung on Communion Sunday illustrates this. Here the stress of this hymn is the mutual fellowship that we have with other believers at the Table. It’s at the Supper that we understand how we are united to Christ and to each other.

The ordinance of baptism plays a similar role in many Black churches as well. Article XIV of the Articles of Faith from the National Baptist Convention states that Christian baptism is “prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation.” In the churches that I grew up in, this meant that a new convert was sufficiently questioned before baptism by the pastor. After being sufficiently questioned, the new convert made vows based on the membership covenant of the local church (here’s an example) and was baptized. After being baptized, the new convert was given the right hand of fellowship, which emphasized the covenantal union of the member to the local church. Thus, a “true Christian” is one who was properly baptized and received the right hand of fellowship into the church. This pattern is observed not just from Black Baptist churches, but also AME and Pentecostal denominations as well.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a sharp distinction between the modern trends in Black churches and the traditional black church in which I grew up. It has been well established that modern evangelical churches are de-emphasizing the role of the sacraments in the life of the Church. This trend is entering the more modern, non-denominational Black Churches in which the role of the sacraments are often underemphasized, neglected, or at times, completely disrespected. Few modern Black churches “guard the table” from unbelievers and give no sense of warning towards those who receive the Supper with an unbelieving heart. In other cases, there have been churches that baptize virtually any child that attended a vacation bible school (which has been described as a position of de facto infant baptism). There have been numerous conversations in which older Black Christians have complained and have been offended by the casual (and at times, disrespectful) attitude of many churches regarding this sacraments. This attitude is also shared with Reformed believers who understand the significance of these ordinances. Thus, traditional Black spirituality and Reformed spirituality affirm the necessity of the sacraments in the life of the individual Christian and in the life of the Church.

For the next blog, we will address another strong commonality, particular with Reformed Baptist: a high view of the local church.

Another Reformed Newbie: Part 3

In my last post, I reflected on great things that I learned from my Black Baptist church upbringing that have benefited me as I’ve become more reformed in my faith. But, I unfortunately learned a lot of things (I’ll call it ‘Black spirituality’) in the Black church that I am still unlearning at times. So I want to highlight some of those things here, and I know for sure that my husband will be writing on this topic soon. So, this will be pretty brief.

Hearing God and Personal Maturity

I have plenty of stories I could tell you that fit under this category, but I won’t amuse you with the details. Basically, in my church, it was normal for people to hear the audible voice of God (yes, I did say audible) and have visions and dreams. It was so normal that it gave the impression (and verification) that you were truly a child of God and were more mature in your Christian walk. So if you couldn’t readily say, “God told me……..” or “God revealed to me that………” then you were not really progressing and you may want to check if you were really His child.

As you can imagine, I questioned my salvation for years because I didn’t really have those experiences. I knew it wasn’t right to fake it, and I always prayed for God to reveal Himself to me. But I never seemed to have the same experiences that other people I knew had. So in my mind, I was an ‘inferior’ Christian, or at least a really immature one. Eventually, I did learn (influence of Reformed theology from my future husband when we were friends) that those things were not normal at all to regular Christians, and if they are normal to a person, then they may need to change their diet and get their blood pressure checked more regularly.

Being Called to the Ministry

Long story short, my Black church experience taught me that virtually anyone could be called to the ministry, which isn’t bad in itself. The bad part is that my experience also taught me that you could not refute or disagree with anyone who felt personally called to the ministry because you don’t know what God has told them.

Now, witnessing my mom feel personally convinced that she was supposed to be in ministry and eventually become ordained though plenty of people disagreed is probably what brought this to my attention in the first place. But the effect of my mom’s ordination was that I saw countless women (and men) become “ordained” for lots of things in the church because they felt they had inward calls. And basically, it appeared that there was no verification process to that at all.

Unfortunately, this worsened when I went to college in Atlanta. I saw all kinds of 18 and 19 year olds ordained as ministers, bishops, and even apostles! (That’s what happens when you attend a historically Black college in the South) And you could not tell them that they were not called. Even as they engaged in sexual sins and other obvious transgressions, they were “anointed” by God to walk in their calling. We were just exhorted to pray for them and continue to “speak life” to them.

Worshipping God

The last major thing that I want to mention here is on the subject of worshipping God. Growing up in the Black church, I never saw anything wrong with a “praise break” in the middle of service. I mean, in my mind, God is just that good that sometimes you should literally stop everything to praise Him. I remember as a child seeing my cousin’s grandmother take off running almost every Sunday whenever she couldn’t hold it in any longer. We would make bets amongst ourselves on how many times she would run a loop around the sanctuary in her 4 inch heels all the time!

And then, you would also have those who could speak in tongues busting out all over the place. From lay people in the middle of service to the soloist and my mom, you could find handkerchiefs waving, random utterances of tongues that all strangely sounded similar, people doing their little praise jigs, and people falling out across the floor under the anointing every Sunday morning. I guess if I could sum up the theme of the worship service that everyone seemed to hold, it would be Jeremiah 20:9:

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

Now, we all know that this verse was taken way out of context, but it was the justification I’ve heard all of my life. So I hope you were able to have a good laugh on this post. Fortunately, this is about the end of my own Reformed journey. I am still learning a lot every week, but as I mentioned, I am still working on reconciling a lot of things that I learned over the years with the Reformed faith. As a Black woman, I can tell you that systematically rejecting your religious traditions, especially when they are held closely by your family, is not an easy task. So, hopefully I can write a little more on what I’m coming to understand better in the future. Thanks for reading!

Black Spirituality vs. Reformed Spirituality – Part 1

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.

churchIt 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.

Another Reformed Newbie: Part 2

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!