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 Mind in Black Spirituality

In the last blog, I mentioned that syncretism was perhaps the largest barrier between Reformed and Black spirituality. The final blog post in the series is perhaps the most personal for me and has been the reason that I have not been able to be a member at a predominately Black church for over ten years. In addressing the question of how a believer may become more spiritual, I’ve rarely heard any Black Christian even comment on the role of the mind and intellect in Christian spirituality. At times, the impression that one can get from Black Christians is that spirituality is completely separate from the mind. This means that the general mode of Christian spirituality for many Black Christians is thoroughly anti-intellectual.

It’s important to note that this problem was not present historically among Black Christians. This argument has been demonstrated very well in The Decline of African-American Theology by Thabiti Anyabwile (the first chapter of this book can be read here for those who are interested). Historically, Black theology could be characterized by simple words which convey deep meaning. This means that older Black preachers emphasized double meaning language to convey theologically rich ideas. This is seen in many of the classical Negro spirituals such as Were You There? or My Lord, What a Morning. It can be seen by this poem from Phyllis Wheatley

Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too

Once I redemption neither sought nor know.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

“Their colour is a diabolic die,”

Remember, Christian, Negro, black as Cain,

May be refin’d and join th’angelic train.

A more anti-intellectual approach to the faith by African-Americans seems to be paralleled with the growing anti-intellectualism within American evangelicalism in general. As mentioned above, this is something that I’ve experienced personally. For a large portion of my high school days, I was an atheist. After my conversion, I was mentored by older Black Christians to which I remain personally indebted to this day. However, as I began to ask more questions about the scriptures, I was generally told that I’m thinking too much about these matters and I need to “catch the spirit” of the text. When I asked questions on how I should study the scriptures, I was told that I needed to read a passage of scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to tell me the meaning of the passage. I was told that thinking about hermeneutics was an academic, unspiritual way to approach the scripture and that I would only learn “head-knowledge”. They warned me that people who attempted to know God in this way would end up walking away from the faith. At one particular instance, I was told that intelligence was a handicap towards true spirituality.

romans12This view was reinforced up through my college years and I believed this for many years until I heard a sermon named Modern Spirituality and Your Mind on Romans 12:1-2. This sermon greatly edified me as I began to devote my mind to the study of scriptures and it introduced me to the role of the mind in Reformed spirituality. In order to truly know God and to know His will, we must devote ourselves to a diligent study of the Word so that our minds may be renewed. This means that the mind plays a central role in Christian development. We are exhorted to discipline our minds for the purpose of godliness and to devote our mind to His Word so that we may become wise for salvation (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15). We are told that our sanctification is based upon our understanding and apprehension of the truth of scripture (cf. John 17:17). Hence, true spirituality is done not by circumventing the mind, but it’s done through the active engagement of the mind.

This emphasis on the mind also explains how Christians develop wisdom. The Bible is clear that all people should seek after wisdom. Proverbs 9 is a single exhortation to see this gift. The question becomes how do we obtain this wisdom? For many Black Christians, this is done primarily through personal experiences. In Reformed theology, wisdom is divinely produced in those, and those only, who apply themselves to God’s revelation in the scripture (cf. Psalm 119:98-99; Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). This means that our ignorance of God’s revealed will is a grave sin. According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, one of the sins forbidden in the First Commandment is “ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions, unworthy and wicked thoughts of him”. Moreover, in the Westminster Larger Catechism, one of the sins forbidden in the Third Commandment is “misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it, to maintaining of false doctrines”.

Another question that can be asked is what effect does God’s gift of wisdom have on a person? Here is a place in which the differences in spirituality become quite apparent. For many Black Christians, the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what He has done in a particular circumstance, and what He is going to do next. Some feel that if they were really walking close to God (so that He could impart wisdom to them freely), then they would discern the real purpose of everything (and perhaps even discover the hidden will of God). In this view the Holy Spirit is the one who gives this hidden insight and it’s reserved for those who diligently seek Him.

In Reformed spirituality, the wisdom of God enables us to know the revealed will of God and to know how to respond appropriately to the providential situations in our lives. In particular, Christ is the divine Wisdom in Proverbs 9 and through a saving knowledge of His Word, believers are brought from darkness to light. It is this approach that places a high value on teaching and preaching in the life of devotion and this is the view that is consistent with both the Old and New Testaments. The Judaism in which Jesus was brought up gave a tremendous amount of time to the study of the sacred text, the scholarly exposition of the Scriptures, and the hearing of sermons which applied this scholarly work to the life of the community. Thus, there was a very genuine scholarly piety that is engendered by this approach. The same was true of the early Christian church. Studying Scripture, memorizing it, meditating on it, and interpreting it were regarded as the most sacred of task. They were among the most essential devotional disciplines. Delighting in the God’s law, which is most clearly seen in the diligent study and meditation of Scripture, was understood as worship in the most profound sense. This is consistent with the wisdom psalms, such as Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119, and this approach is also reflected in Reformed spirituality. In Calvin’s commentary on the prologue of John, he says

For knowledge of God is the door by which we enter into the enjoyment of all blessings. Since, therefore, God reveals Himself to us by Christ alone, it follows that we should seek all things from Christ. This doctrinal sequence should be carefully observed. Nothing seems more obvious than that we each take what God offers us according to the measure of our faith. But only a few realize that the vessel of faith and of the knowledge of God has to be brought with.

Therefore, in Reformed spirituality, there is an emphasis upon obtaining a true knowledge of God which comes through a dedicated use of the mind. In other words, God is honored when believers dedicate their affections and their minds to know Him. This explains why there is an emphasis on creeds, catechisms, and confessions within Reformed churches. The anti-intellectual approach of many Black Christians also tends to make many Black Christians anti-confessional as well. Thus, the pursuit of doctrinal precision is an irrelevant and useless endeavor for many Black Christians.  For many Black Christians, you can still be considered deeply spiritual and godly, even if your doctrine is borderline heretical. This is the only way to explain why ordinarily sound Black Christians will also listen to Word-of-Faith/prosperity gospel teachers, like T.D. Jakes, Juanita Bynum, Eddie Long, Creflo Dollar, Jamal Harrison Bryant, Frederick Price, etc.

For these reasons, it is very difficult for many devout Black Christians who grew up in this background to accept this “bookish” form of piety as legitimately spiritual. This approach (and the accompanying theological jargon) sounds too academic for many because in their view, the true mode of spirituality is through internal intuition and through personal experience. Hopefully, this mini-series has helped to shed some light on the differences between Reformed spirituality and traditional Black spirituality. Even though many similarities between these traditions, there are significant divergences that continue to prevent many devout Black Christians from embracing full-orbed Reformed theology. I will end this blog series with a quote from Anthony Carter

Today, we find ourselves in a dark place, yet the light of the truth of the Scriptures continue to shine brightly. All over this country, and indeed around the world, men and women, particularly those of African descent, are falling out of love with the world and the worldliness of popular television-driven Christianity, and falling in love with the biblical, historical faith that was and is found in Reformed theology… We are witnessing the rise of a new generation of African-American Christians who see through the fading glory of the empty way of life advocated by the false prosperity gospel, and are seeing more clearly the faith that has once and for all been delivered to the saints – the faith rediscovered during the Reformation and being re-energized in our time

Syncretism in Black Spirituality

In my last blog, I mentioned that Reformed spirituality places a strong emphasis on our inseparable union with Christ and our abiding communion with Christ. A classic statement of this concept can be found in Calvin’s Institutes, Volume 2, Part 16

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is ‘of Him’ [1 Cor. 1:30]. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in His anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in His dominion, if purity, in His conception; if gentleness, it appears in His birth. For by His birth He was made like us in all respects [Hebrews 2:17] that He might learn to feel our pain [Hebrews 5:2]. If we seek redemption, it lies in His passion; if acquittal, in His condemnation; if remission of the curse, in His cross [Galatians 3:13]; if satisfaction, in His sacrifice; if purification, in His blood; if reconciliation, in His descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in His tomb; if newness of life, in His resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in His entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in His Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to Him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in Him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other.

This is probably one of the best paragraphs that a Christian can read. However, it raises an important question: How does one “drink our fill from this fountain”? How does one have true abiding communion with God? For Reformed spirituality, this is usually done through the means of grace. However, it is here where we have another major difference between traditional Black spirituality and Reformed spirituality. In regards to this question, it is my contention that there is much syncretism associated with many forms of traditional Black spirituality. In particular, communion with God is usually synonymous with personal worship experiences and personal encounters with God for many Black Christians.

Now, this is not a trend that is unique to Black Christians. Multiple books, such as Christless Christianity by Michael Horton, discuss this overemphasis on subjectivism, but in most mainline denominations, this is relatively recent phenomenon (within 1 or 2 generations at most). For traditional Black Christianity, this emphasis seems to have existed from the very beginnings of the Black Church. In the book Experiencing the Truth: Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church, Ken Jones posits that the new spirituality of Black Christians (as well as the old spirituality of traditional Black Christians) has its roots what is called the “invisible institution”. In short, the invisible institution refers to the secret gatherings of slaves on the plantations, away from the watchful eye of the master (for a more exhaustive discussion of this topic, see this page). There were many things worth appreciating about the invisible institution. In particular, the slaves took what they learned from their masters, and in the confines of the invisible institution, contextualized it to nurture a deep-rooted faith and hope. However, there were many other issues that were deeply concerning – the chief of which was a deliberate syncretism between the Christian orthodoxy (promoted by their slave masters) and the elements of their native religions. Thus, the invisible institution probably contained genuine Christian converts as well as practitioners of the altered forms of older religions. W.E.B DuBois, in his work The Souls of Black Folk, made a similar conclusion as well:

Thus, as bard, physician, judge, and priest, within the narrow limits allowed by the slave system, rose the Negro preacher, and under him the first Afro-American institution, the Negro church. This church was not at first by any means Christian nor definitely organized; rather, it was an adaptation of mingling of heathen rites among the members of each plantation, and roughly designated as Voodoism. Association with the masters, missionary effort and motives of expediency gave these rites an early veneer of Christianity, and after the lapse of many generations the Negro Church became Christian.

What made Black Christians flock to public visible Church was the revivalism of the First and Second Great Awakening. In describing revival meetings in the First Great Awakening, Ken Jones writes

The zeal sometimes manifest in great emotional displays associated with the revival meetings, including bodily convulsions, caught the attention of the slaves. Edwards, Whitefield, and Tennent were all surprised to see Negroes attending these meetings. This emotionally charged atmosphere was not typical of what took place in the white churches they attended with their masters, but it was reminiscent of worship in the invisible institution. This made the black slaves feel (perhaps for the first time) more a part of what was going on. Shouting and crying out loud, which would have been frowned on in the white church proper, as now done openly, as black and white listeners were moved by the praying and preaching.

The spontaneous expressiveness fostered by the revivalist preaching led to an enormous increase of African public commitment to the Christian faith. The ecstasy experienced in traditional slave worship could now be publicly affirmed as authentically Christian at the same time. This helps to also explain why Black Christians traditionally clustered to Baptist and Methodist denominations. The Anglicans and Presbyterians usually taught the slaves the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, whereas the revivalist preacher (usually in Baptist and Methodist denominations) helped them to feel the weight of sin, to imagine the threats of hell, and to accept Christ as their only Savior. The revivalist atmosphere and preaching style of the revivals in attracting slaves to openly embrace Christianity cannot be overstated.


This historical backdrop helps to explain the particular style of Black preaching and Black worship, but most importantly, it helps to explain how the mode of Black spirituality differs from Reformed spirituality. For many Black Christians, communion with God becomes synonymous with “encountering with God and His presence” and “getting into the Spirit”. Communion with God becomes synonymous with our personal worship experience and feeling His presence. For many Black Christians, the mark of true communion with God is that “I come to the garden alone… and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” There are some very popular gospel songs that illustrate this point such as My Worship is for Real and Let the Lord Minister to You. This also means that the truly “deep and spiritual” Christian is the one who has had the most extravagant divine visitations and the one associated with “signs and wonders”.

Therefore, when a Reformed Christian criticizes this approach to worship and communion with God, this is not simply a matter of doctrinal differences. Rather, this is a collision of spiritual worldviews. The approach of centering our communion with God based on our mountaintop encounters with His presence is at odds with the Reformed mode of spirituality. This means that Reformed spirituality is foreign to and a direct challenge to this worldview. This contrast is particularly exaggerated within the Black Pentecostal tradition. Many Reformed believers ask me why African-Americans seem to flock towards various strands of Pentecostalism across the globe. To me, the chief reason why is because Pentecostalism has always fit this spiritual worldview. As Conrad Mbewe has stated in multiple occasions (see here and here), various forms of charismaticism do not critically challenge this worldview and thus permits (and at some times promotes) syncretism among Black and African Christians.

Because communion with God is emphasized without paying sufficient attention to how we are united to Christ, many Black Christians also hold superstitious views concerning the “spiritual realm”. In this worldview, a demonic realm sits in between the believer and God and unless the believer knows how to “gain victory” over the demonic realm, they will not have true fellowship with God. This type of doctrine is expressed in multiple different ways, such as in the doctrine of soul ties, generational curses, and pleading the blood of Jesus. Ultimately, this means that the Christian does not rest and rejoice in the union with Christ, but it means that the believer must “tap into the spiritual realm” to find their rest in Christ. To me, it is this syncretism that stands as the largest barrier between Reformed and Black spirituality. For some, addressing this issue is the same as asking Black Christians to accept “Euro-American theology”. We can debate various individual doctrines one by one, but until this gap is addressed, there will still be a separation between the two communities. In the next blog, I will discuss the last significant difference between Reformed and traditional Black spirituality: the role of the Christian mind.


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.