Black, White, and Reformed

carterblackandreformedWhen this post first appeared in January 2008, there was an interesting discussion at the now-defunct Reformingchurches.org on what it means to be black and Reformed. As a white guy with a long interest in black culture (my grammar school and Jr High had a significant black population and I spent an unusual amount of time in the “black” sections of Omaha as a kid playing ball) and an even greater interest in seeing the Reformation spread to every tongue, tribe, and nation, this is a question of great importance to me.

More significantly, this is a question of great importance to the Reformed churches. 11-13% of the population of North America has African roots. After a long hiatus between reconstruction and the civil rights movement, Reformed theology is beginning to penetrate this community again—this time voluntarily. How it receives the faith now will likely determine the relations between the African American community and Reformed theology for a long time. For example, if Reformed theology is received and understood primarily as being “the five points,” then the Reformed movement among black evangelicals will become just as truncated as the Reformed movement among white churches has been for most of a century. Reformed theology is much more than the five points of Dort.

Of course this is part of a dialogue stimulated by books by Anthony Carter and Thabiti Anyabwile and now by a number of websites and blogs. All of this is encouraging. One of the central questions raised in the discussion linked above is how to relate North American, urban “black culture” to Reformed worship. That discussion leads to conversations about how and what Reformed congregations in black should sing.

In one review, by Eric Redmond, black Reformers are called “neo-radicals.” Here’s an even more radical idea than some of those put forward in the discussion at Reformingchurches.org. Rather than discussing which traditional “white” and “black” hymns and songs to use in black churches, why don’t black and white churches together abandon ALL the extra-canonical hymns? I told you it was a radical idea.

Every non-canonical hymn is just that, non-canonical and bound to a particular post-canonical cultural setting with all its assumptions and baggage. There is a divinely inspired songbook that is also situated in a time and place. but that songbook is canonical, and inspired, and not bound up with the post-canonical history of oppression or reaction to oppression. It reflects the experience of all of God’s people in all times and all places. There isn’t a single worthy objection that can be made against it because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is the Word of God, and it is intended for use in public worship. Where do you find this amazing, divinely inspired songbook? It’s in the Old Testament just after the book of Job and just before the book of Proverbs.

You want songs about deliverance from oppression? Come to the Psalter. You want songs of ecstatic joy? Come to the Psalter. You want reflections of the deepest and saddest and most tragic human suffering? Come to the Psalter. You want songs about the Savior? Come to the Psalter. You want songs about his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension? Come to the Psalter. You want to sing the name of Jesus? Come to the Psalter (every time we sing the name Yahweh, we sing the name of Jesus. His name means, “Yahweh saves.”). You want to sing the songs of the people of God in all times and all places? You want real catholicity? Come to the Psalter!

The way beyond the impasse presented by the necessary culture clash created by trying to choose between your extra-canonical hymns and “their” extra-canonical hymns, between the “good” contemporary songs and the “bad” ones, between the old hymns and the new, between the fast songs and the slow, is to sing the Word of God to appropriate tunes from yesterday and today.

We did it last Sunday morning in the LA metro. We had a precenter (someone who starts the song) who had perfect pitch and an amazing voice, and we sang the Psalms the way Reformed people did 450 years ago, a capella, and it was glorious. I wasn’t imposing my culture on anyone and they weren’t imposing their culture on me. We were all joining in with God’s people, using God’s Word, to praise the one Savior who has united us all in one body, with one baptism, confessing one faith and we did it representing more cultures than I can report here. White folks were not the majority. It was glorious. It was semi-eschatological. We really were every tongue, tribe, and nation praising the one Savior and anticipating glory.

Yes, we sang using tunes that have a cultural setting. Fine. Pick different tunes. I don’t care, so long as they are appropriate to congregational singing. African tunes? Great! Go for it. Celtic tunes are no more sacred than Booker T and the MGs. I don’t know if we could set a Psalm to “Green Onions” (doubtless the coolest song of all time) but if it can be done, do it and let’s get on with it.

This comment from Lawrence prompts further thoughts:

We are splitting hairs. My point is that continually berating our society for something we aren’t doing anymore is foolish. Every society on earth had benefited in some way from slavery. And slavery continues to exist. Trying to make this into a hate American argument just fuels the segregation debate. And if I am not being clear. You, sir, are just as much a race baiter and segregation enabler as anyone else with this nonsensical argument about slavery issues that no longer exists.

Let me begin with the last claim, that “slavery issues” no longer exist. I think only someone who hasn’t been on the receiving end of deeply embedded prejudice can think that the “issues” are “over.”

Things have improved dramatically. The upward social and economic mobility of black Americans has never been greater. The opportunities have never been more plentiful, but if you ask a black person if the “issues” are gone, you’ll probably get a funny look.

For the purposes of this blog, however, I’m less interested in the general social question as I am interested in how the visible, institutional church deals with this complex of issues. To be sure, the issues are not hermetically sealed. What happens in the culture affects the way we think about issues in the church and the influence of the culture doesn’t suddenly drop off when we walk into the narthex. Suspicions we hold about people who are different from us cling to us as we hear the call to worship.

Black leadership in the civil kingdom is more or less commonplace now, but as I was reminded recently by This American Life, it was only 20 years ago that white democrats actively opposed Harold Washington’s run for mayor in Chicago despite the fact that he was part of the “machine.” More to the point, however, is the fact that there is very little black leadership in confessional Reformed churches.

All things being equal, would a predominantly white congregation call a black man to be their minister? That’s a tough question.  Still, it’s a real question. Could a predominantly white, middle-class congregation overcome their fears to call an African-American minister if he was the best qualified candidate? It’s a hard test because, as has been noted here before, there aren’t very many African-American confessionally Reformed pastors (because there aren’t many black seminarians at WSC and the other confessionally Reformed seminaries) and changing that fact will probably take a long time. The confessional Reformed (NAPARC) movement is still so tiny and culturally cut off from the black community that it’s probably easier to send missionaries overseas than it is to bridge that gap, so that’s what we do.

The rest of the post is bizarre. I wouldn’t comment on it except that I think it illustrates where a lot of folks are in our churches. I have listened to Rush and the other conservative talk shows (Laura, Medved et al)—though lately, since I’ve discovered how to listen to podcasts I’ve been listening to a sports-talk show from Omaha—so I think I understand why this fellow says what he does. I don’t “hate” America. This isn’t about “blaming” America. I think the post confuses the two kingdoms. I’m not proposing any great “social” change to the civil kingdom. I’m talking about the visible, institutional church that represents the kingdom of God and I’m talking about what needs to happen within the visible church for it to begin to fulfill part of the mission to proclaim the gospel to every part of the earth. I’m not proposing any “social gospel.” If, however, we were going to reach an unreached people group (as the missiologists say it) we would study that group, its history, circumstances, language etc. Further, if the church seeking to reach that people group had a history with them and was regarded with suspicion by the people group, that would also have to be part of the accounting.

That’s all I’m talking about here: making an honest accounting of the issues that a mostly white, mostly-suburban movement (NAPARC) faces in reaching black Americans with the Reformed faith. This hardly constitutes “race” baiting. This isn’t about white folks feeling guilty. This isn’t about manipulation of feelings at all. Repentance isn’t really about feelings at all. It’s about a change of attitude, stance, and a change of action. It is a dying to self and a living to Christ.

Those groups (of whatever ethnic background) who have not heard the Reformed faith do not need us to “feel” anything. They need for us to do something. We need to train Latino and African-American pastors who can plant churches in those communities and they need for us to examine our own hearts to see if we’re ready to receive them when they do come into our churches. Will we look at them and wonder what they’re doing “here” or will we receive them as we receive everyone else. Further, we need to break down, in our own congregations, the remaining racial tensions and barriers just as we need to overcome our idolatry and covetousness and other sins. I’ve been in groups of Reformed Christians (ministers) where racist jokes have been made.

As to benefitting from “slavery,” the claim begs the question. It assumes that what British and North Americans did was morally, economically, and socially identical to other forms of slavery. As far as I know, it wasn’t. That’s why it was called the “peculiar institution.” It was man-stealing and Reformed Christians were complicit in it. The more we try to justify our complicity in it the less credibility we have with those we’re trying to reach.

Exodus 21 clearly sanctions certain forms of slavery. Exodus 21:16 also just as clearly prohibits man-stealing. It’s a violation of the law of God to do what we did. 18th and 19th century-Brits and Yanks were in receipt of stolen people! It’s not just an “Old Testament” thing. 1 Tim 1:10 lists “slavers” (man-stealers) in a list of gross sins: “sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine… ESV).”

A few blog posts aren’t going to change anything, but I hope it’s helpful to think, pray, and talk through some of the issues.

Related Post: The Legacy of Dr Martin Luther King

[This post first appeared in 2008 on the HB]

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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39 comments

  1. How do you get around the fact that almost all of Reformed theology is done by Europeans or people of European extraction? Like it or not, Reformed theology was done by white people, so I guess you could say its an expression of white (European) culture. I’m not sure just singing from the Psalter will help.

  2. It’s true that Reformed theology has European and British roots but I hope that it’s not so hopelessly ethnocentrically European that it cannot be proclaimed to all nations, tribes, and tongues. That it is presently being proclaimed in all the world gives me hope. I am aware of Reformed congregations in Africa who observe the RPW so it doesn’t seem impossible.

    The great thing about the Psalter is that it isn’t European! When I say “the Psalter,” of course, I mean the 150 Psalms. The Psalmists weren’t European. They were ancient Jews. They were middle-eastern. Yes, they’re part of a culture, but it’s the culture in which God chose to reveal himself and in which to give us the songs of Zion. We don’t really have a lot to say about it. That choice has been made for us.

  3. You said you sang the Psalms the way they did 450 years ago. So, you were singing Genevan tunes? 🙂

    (I know: you said “a cappella”, but I couldn’t resist)

  4. It’s true that Reformed theology has European and British roots but I hope that it’s not so hopelessly ethnocentrically European that it cannot be proclaimed to all nations, tribes, and tongues. That it is presently being proclaimed in all the world gives me hope. I am aware of Reformed congregations in Africa who observe the RPW so it doesn’t seem impossible.

    This is definitely a discussion worth having.

    I noticed on one of your earlier posts, you linked a 9 Marks forum on race. I added the link on my blog and the general consensus was that it amounted to a “blame whitey” session, even though there’s a pretty wide disagreement on issues of race amongst the commentors on my blog, most of whom are Christians.

    One of my other observations is that Reformed churches seem to be composed racially based on educational achievement of the congregants. In other words, you see plenty of Northeast Asians and whites, but few blacks and Mexicans, which is pretty much what you see in universities around the country. There again, the racial problem won’t simply go away, whether we change the liturgy and music or not. Of course, anecdote is not data, but whites and Asians are the minority in California, and I sure don’t see a proportionate amount of Mexicans in the Reformed congregations I’ve been to in California.

  5. We sang from the Book of Psalms for Singing so I expect some of the tunes were Genevan, but not all.

    I know that you’re kidding and as Reformation scholar I appreciate the history and beauty and importance of the “Genevan jigs.” Nevertheless, if we really want folks from other backgrounds to sing the Psalms we need to be willing to have them sung in a variety of tones and meters and to a variety of tunes.

    ps. I don’t think anyone could really sing to “Green Onions.”

  6. No the racial problem won’t go away, but we do have to face up to it. There’s a lot of reason to “blame whitey.” White folks are guilty of oppression and we continue to benefit from it.

    That said, at this juncture, it’s a little more complicated than simply blaming one group for oppressing another.

    Yes, most NAPARC congregations are middle class (which is a diverse group) and because of the heavy intellectual content we tend to be self-selecting. We attract folks interested in intellectual things. This isn’t universally true and the Reformed faith isn’t inherently nerdy but we do need to be conscious of the fact that we tend to be a little nerdy by disposition.

    There is a small but growing number of Hispanic/Latino/Chicano and mixed race congregations in So Calif. I’m hopeful the trend will continue. I’m especially hopeful for the development of multi-ethnic congregations.

  7. No the racial problem won’t go away, but we do have to face up to it. There’s a lot of reason to “blame whitey.” White folks are guilty of oppression and we continue to benefit from it.

    Could you expand on this?

  8. Well, it seems pretty obvious when white folks stole Africans (with the assistance of African slave traders) and hauled them to North America and enslaved them, that they benefited from cheap labor. When white folks segregated the towns and cities, taking tax revenues from the descendants but refusing to provide the same civil services (separate but equal wasn’t equal) or employed African-Americans and benefitted from their labor but weren’t forced by the market to pay market wages for the same services, there was oppression and economic benefit. That said, it seems clear to me that the economic benefit of the post-reconstruction abuses was short-term. White folks benefit much more from the full involvement of black folk in the market economy. The more folks of all races are producing wealth the better off we all are. As a free-market guy I’m convinced that a rising tide lifts all boats. People have to be free to go swimming, however! That’s changed, but it wasn’t long ago that there were a lot of jobs for which African-Americans weren’t eligible simply because they were African-American. I saw it with my own eyes. Black kids couldn’t walk down my street (I know, because I was there) without receiving screaming racial epithets. That has an economic effect. It tends to segregate people and keep them from competing in the open market of goods and services.

    Any reasonably intelligent history of the USA will provide lots of examples of the sorts of oppression and short-term economic exploitation to which I refer.

  9. You’re referring to Jim Crow in the post-Reconstruction period South. I’ll agree that that has had an effect, especially in the past. I’ve not encountered an American under 40 who has much experience with things under Jim Crow, which was still a Southern phenomenom. As far as I know, there was still know codified discrimination laws in the North. Am I wrong?

    Nowadays, I’d argue that the biggest influence on the amount of segregation in our society stems from the difference in crime rates amongst blacks and whites, and the rate of black-on-white crime. This is also true with the segregation amongst Asians and Mexicans and whites and Mexicans. Most Asians and whites tend to move out of heavily Hispanic areas because of the crime differences and gang activity. The schools also tend to be terrible in the heavily hispanic and black neighborhoods. LA unified is probably the best example of this.

    This leads, in some respects, to the problem you’re addressing in this post. Segregated neighborhoods tend to generally lead to segregated churches as simple matter of geography and distance to church.

  10. Modern segregation is at least partly the result of poor city planning, or in some cases, the intentional segregation of minority neighborhoods. Giant freeways destroyed neighborhoods and cut them off from the rest of the city. Concentrated low-income housing (much of it federally funded) gathered large concentrations of impoverished, under-educated, and under-skilled people together with the promise that it was temporary. At the same time these things were happening the Federal war against poverty created generations of families and folks addicted to subsidies. In other words, urban poverty was the result of a lot of factors (including massive migration from the South to Northern urban jobs) – more than can be mentioned here.

    Legalized Jim Crow was mostly confined to the South but actual, de facto, Jim Crow existed all across the USA. Chicago was and remains quite segregated. Omaha and Kansas City are terribly segregated to this day. Black and White middle class folk don’t even live together in the same neighborhoods.

    If you haven’t met folks who experienced much of this you probably don’t know many minorities! My middle-class, professional Asian friends tell me that they still get funny looks when they walk into a restaurant and it’s not because they’re so good looking. They get looks because they’re Asian. Folks compliment them on being so “well spoken” (which is code for, “You defied our expectations”)

    Let a black man drive through the wrong suburban or upscale white neighborhood (or let a middle class white guy get lost in Compton!) and see if he doesn’t get pulled over for driving while black (or white as the case may be — no it didn’t happen to me).

  11. Legalized Jim Crow was mostly confined to the South but actual, de facto, Jim Crow existed all across the USA. Chicago was and remains quite segregated. Omaha and Kansas City are terribly segregated to this day. Black and White middle class folk don’t even live together in the same neighborhoods.

    I think that largely agrees with Robert Putnam’s findings: diversity creates mistrust. The more diversity, the more distrust. Diverse societies are inherently unstable.

    If you haven’t met folks who experienced much of this you probably don’t know many minorities! My middle-class, professional Asian friends tell me that they still get funny looks when they walk into a restaurant and it’s not because they’re so good looking. They get looks because they’re Asian. Folks compliment them on being so “well spoken” (which is code for, “You defied our expectations”)

    I’d imagine I’d experience the same thing if I moved to China and became fluent in Mandarin. I daresay I’d experience much more social exclusion there though. The Chinese are much less tidy with their racism.

    Concentrated low-income housing (much of it federally funded) gathered large concentrations of impoverished, under-educated, and under-skilled people together with the promise that it was temporary. At the same time these things were happening the Federal war against poverty created generations of families and folks addicted to subsidies. In other words, urban poverty was the result of a lot of factors (including massive migration from the South to Northern urban jobs) – more than can be mentioned here.

    Whatever the causes, the wealth and crime disparities appear to be largely racial, which means that even if we manage to integrate on Sunday mornings, Sunday evening is going to be pretty darn segregated.

    The education gaps amongst the different races, most notably between whites/asians and blacks/hispanics make getting a lot of the latter into an M.Div program at Westminster, where they’ll study the writings of Kline and Warfield, pretty difficult. In the case of the Mexicans, they are now a numerical majority in most places in California, but still have difficulty even getting through high school. Something like 50% of them in LA Unified drop out. This is probably why I’ve noticed more Asian surnames amongst notable minority Westminster grads than anything else: they simply have a higher level of educational achievement. This fact is further delineated by the scholarships available to non-Asian minorities at Westminster that you discussed earlier.

    Now, whatever the reasons for these disparities, they are probably going to remain stable (given the fact that we’re a segregated society now) or increase (given the influx of hispanics). In the case of the hispanics, the solution so far has been simply to make the congregations Spanish. The racial divide is only reinforced in this case, but at least they’re getting Reformed theology. I think the bilingualism in the Southwest is also going to increase, if anything. You can see it in stores and advertisements everywhere you go, and I don’t think whites are going to switch over to Spanish, but I could be wrong. I think black Reformed churches will stay black and Reformed, but I think the segregation will remain. Simply the fact that Anthony Carter entitled his book “On Being Black and Reformed” reinforces this. There are even black Reformed conferences. I also know of a couple of Korean PCA churches in SoCal, though obviously not exclusively so, yet they’ve still become racially segregated.

    The racial/cultural issue in the Reformed community can’t simply be erased by changing the tunes or the hymns, or the liturgy. There are too many other factors at play. I would think it would be kind of a travesty to get rid of the hymns because they were written by Dead White Males (or Females).

  12. Dear PRCD,

    I can’t tell whether you think the de facto segregation is a good thing or not. I trust that we agree that it’s not a good thing.

    You say, “even if we manage to integrate on Sunday mornings….”

    To be clear, I certainly think that visible church (our congregations) ought to be racially diverse. As I read the NT, the congregations were racially or ethnically or linguistically diverse and that’s a good thing. Whatever the segregation in our society, and it’s real, the visible, institutional church ought to overcome it. It can. I’ve seen it done.

    As to what happens on Sunday evenings, after the second service, well, we live in two kingdoms. I don’t expect utopia in this world, but the visible church can reflect a different model where race/ethnicity/language is not the final defining factor of who are, but rather our baptism is the defining factor.

  13. Great post, Dr. Clark. What a great source of unity the Psalter would be for Reformed Christianity.

  14. I can’t tell whether you think the de facto segregation is a good thing or not. I trust that we agree that it’s not a good thing.

    I think if you want to have a discussion on any controversial issue, it’s important to avoid impugning the other’s motives, or attributing things to the person that weren’t said by the person. Of course, it’s your blog so if you don’t want me raising these issues on it, just say so and I’ll leave.

    Looking through the photos of some recent Westminster Cal event, it looks like my assessment was somewhat accurate. The faculty and students are composed largely of Asians and whites, with some African foreign students. I had a hard time locating any Mexicans flipping through the photographs, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

    As to what happens on Sunday evenings, after the second service, well, we live in two kingdoms. I don’t expect utopia in this world, but the visible church can reflect a different model where race/ethnicity/language is not the final defining factor of who are, but rather our baptism is the defining factor.

    Too bad that’s not the case, isn’t it? I understand we should integrate, but it how should we fit the writing of various race-based books such as “Black and Reformed” and “The Decline of African American Theology” into the colorblindness of the church? How do we fit the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ into the Campus Crusade for Christ at UCLA? Wouldn’t telling raced-based Christian groups to disband and integrate into the majority be inherently racist? Food for thought.

  15. PRCD,

    I don’t mean to impugn your motives. I’m trying to understand your intent. There are people (of all races) who think that segregation is a good thing. You said that integration is inherently unstable. That might be code for “segregation is good.”

    How am I to know unless I ask? If you read the HB then you know that we talk about controversial things all the time.

    Yes, WSC is not as diverse as we hope to be. We reflect the Reformed community on the W. Coast. We have a few African national students and a small number of African-American students. We’ve had more Latino students in recent years.

    I think Carter’s book is useful. People come from real backgrounds that have to be addressed and that make a difference to the way they see things. There are lots of studies of Dutch (Reformed) identity in the USA. Why not a study of Black Reformed identity? I don’t see that as any more racist than Bratt’s book about modern CRC history. Ethnicity and culture are realities to be embraced where possible but they ought not be finally definitive.

  16. “Well, it seems pretty obvious when white folks stole Africans (with the assistance of African slave traders) and hauled them to North America and enslaved them, that they benefited from cheap labor. ”

    And this is my fault? Back then my family was fighting the same people who had put the Blacks up for sale.. the Muslims.

    If the Muslims weren’t sell Blacks then perhaps the Europeans wouldn’t have bought them. i dont see the Europeans enslaving other peoples of the world to the extent that happened with Blacks.. which the Arab Muslims controlled. The arabs sent far more slaves to the Middle East than what ended up in North America.

    But you want to blame Slavery on us? UK and US ENDED slavery.

    I’m so tired of this Blame-the-US for everything mentality.

    It’s not our fault there was slavery.. blame Netherlands and blame the UK for forcing us to inherit it.

  17. Dr. Clark,
    Excellent post. Thank you for sharing your insights on this discussion. You should join the conversation over at CRC if you haven’t already. Thanks again for pointing us to the Scripture and the rich resources for worship in the Psalter.

    Grace and peace,
    Thabiti

  18. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for delving into this thorny topic of race.

    Anthony Bradley posted a very interesting article a few days ago about upwardly mobile blacks in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. For years he’s been trying to get whites to see that all blacks do not live in the inner-city. Unfortunately he senses that neither whites nor blacks who occupy the same socio-economic niche want to interact about anything (including church and theology).

    His article can be found at this link:

    Atlanta, Black Professionals, Femininity, and BMWs

    http://bradley.chattablogs.com/

  19. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for this. I’m subscribed to Anthony’s blog and read that with interest. I think he’s got an important point. There is a burgeoning black middle and upper-middle class as represented by the Beemer-driving yuppies he describes. Economically speaking, that’s fantastic! That’s the “American dream.” That’s the part of the picture that the social libs can’t or won’t see because it doesn’t fit their paradigm, that market economics work.

    The lack of communication is grounded in mistrust. I just listened to an edition of This American Life where they re-broadast/podcast the story of Chicago mayor, Harold Washington. The theme of the show was the struggle Washington had in gaining the trust even of fellow Machine-Democrats. They ran some clips at the end of the show from folks who had hated HW 20 years ago and while they might not yet count as “enlightened” their attitudes had changed. They were more open minded and even (perhaps because they knew this was going on-air; but there was a time when they wouldn’t have mattered) confessed that they would vote for an Obama. That’s a real change. This isn’t an endorsement of Obama or HW or any politician (of whatever color or party) but an interesting note that they would vote for a black man. They said that they were less afraid now. They still sounded racist to me but, if you will, they were chastened racists. They seemed to doubt their old racism. This is because, I guess, they are less afraid than they were 20 years ago.

  20. Vince,

    The complicity of black, African slave traders in the European and American slave trade (which I affirmed to be historical fact) doesn’t erase the other historical fact that we live in a society which benefitted and continues to benefit from the effects of slavery.

    I agree that the “blame game” isn’t very helpful. I’m not proposing reparations or anything of that sort, but we do need to reckon with the realities and the obstacles of communicating the Reformed faith to a community that has been oppressed, isolated, and is suspicious of what we have to tell them about God, man, Christ, salvation, and the church. As we train black (and white) pastors and other minorities to reach the African-American community (which is not as heavily churched as it was 30 years ago) we have to face those realities. Just as we would have to face analogous realities if we were doing missions over seas.

  21. Listen, every non-canonical hymn is just that, non-canonical and bound to a particular post-canonical cultural setting with all its assumptions and baggage. There is a divinely inspired song-book that is also situated in a time and place. but that songbook is canonical, and inspired, and not bound up with the post-canonical history of oppression or reaction to oppression. It reflects the experience of all of God’s people in all times and all places. There isn’t a single worthy objection that can be made against it because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is the Word of God, and it is intended for use in public worship. Where do you find this amazing, divinely inspired songbook? It’s in the Old Testament just after the book of Job and just before the book of Proverbs.

    I’d like to add, by way of further discussion, that it seems you could say the same thing about the WCF. It’s extra-canonical and takes place in a post-canonical (white) cultural setting. This sounds like the same thing argued by those who say, “No creed but Christ.”

  22. If you wanted to uphold the CRC’s social ethics, Scott, you really out to have stayed there. This segregation in the church stuff has everything to do with white guilt and nothing to do with Scripture. You talk all the time about two kingdoms, but here you are willing to confuse egalitarianism ideology with a Biblical Mandate.

    This statement, “White folks were not the majority. It was glorious. It was semi-eschatological.” is both silly and dangerously tending toward social gospel. And what is this whining about how “we live in a society which benefited and continues to benefit from the effects of slavery?”

    You are willing to strain the neocalvinist gnat, but swallow the egalitarian camel. You need of re-examine some basic ethical considerations, if it is not too much of an intrusion.

  23. Joey,

    I was never in the CRC.

    It is glorious to see folks from other races embracing the Reformed faith! I won’t apologize for that.

    Nevertheless, I was thinking more about singing psalms a capella than I was about the race of those folks present. You didn’t really put the sentence in its context.

    What do you make of “no Jew, no gentile, slave, nor free”?

    I can’t see what this has to do with egalitarianism unless one assumes that one race is superior to another.

    Social gospel? Nonsense! The gospel has social consequences. That’s plain on the face of the NT. That’s why Paul has to remonstrate with the Corinthians to speak a language that can be understood. That’s “social.”

    The Social Gospel is something else entirely.

  24. PRCD,

    All your comments have gone through. I can’t comment on every comment. I’m on a tight deadline.

    My main concern is that the RPW requires us to sing only canonical songs. In that case it doesn’t really matter what anyone’s preferences are.

    As to the Reformed confessions, well, that’s a different matter. There’s a distinction between adopting a confessional document and the principle by we worship. That principle is contained in our confessions! HC 96 and BC 7 and WCF 21 all teach the RPW. I don’t think that argument works.

  25. I know this is a post about hymns, but I can’t let this comment go:

    “Well, it seems pretty obvious when white folks stole Africans (with the assistance of African slave traders) and hauled them to North America and enslaved them, that they benefited from cheap labor.”
    January 3, 2008 at 10:03 pm
    R. Scott Clark

    I believe this is what is called a canard. Using this argument just encourages racism and segregation from our side of the debate.

    We as white people really need to move beyond our politically correct “white guilt” about slavery, and black people really need to move beyond their politically correct “perpetual victimhood”. We may be coloring the debate in terms of racism and segregation, but in the end it really is all about our human weaknesses of prejudice and envy.

    White people (as in white Europeans, especially early white settlers of North America) didn’t steal African slaves. White Europeans in North America, and many non-white peoples in Central-South America, purchased slaves within the legal constraints of the laws of the time. Any slaves who where “stolen” and then sold where generally taken from one black African tribe by another black African tribe, all within their legal forms of inter tribal conflict. I’m not saying this was morally right, just pointing out that this is not stealing.

    The truth is there were then and continue in the “modern” day more black Africans taken, sold, and held as slaves by other black Africans then were ever bought as slaves by white Europeans in North America. Furthermore, different forms of slavery were well accepted by native populations in North-Central-South American before White Europeans every crossed the big pond.

    White Europeans in North American didn’t invent slavery. We dabbled in it for awhile, and then quit. But slavery still exists in all it’s forms in other global regions, especially black Africa.

    >>>

    On the issue of songs in Divine Worship:

    The “tune”, with regard to “style” of music is just as important. There is a distinct difference between church music and non-church music.

    Canonical Hymns = Good.
    Non-canonical make-me-feel-good songs = Bad.

    Singing a praise song that makes us feel good but doesn’t articulate the Gospel message sends the wrong message.

    Singing the Psalms to a rap tune with a good back-beat sends the wrong message.

    Singing the Psalms to an arrangement intended for respectful and humble worship is just fine.

  26. Lawrence,

    Go back and re-read my post. You must have missed several lines or you wouldn’t have written as you did.

    Did you miss the phrase “man-stealing”? There’s a great difference between indentured servitude or conquering a peoples in war and theft. The Brits and Americans practiced the latter. Theft is just that and it is forbidden by God’s Word.

    I agree with Shelby Steele and others who’ve argued that “white guilt” is used to manipulate folks. If we are to reach the black community with the Reformed faith, we will not be able to do it without first reckoning with certain realities. Just as we would study the history of a culture before we tried to evangelize them or just as we would study before training indigenous people to plant churches and do evangelism, so we must do in this case. That means reckoning honestly with the history of American racism. I don’t think Steele is counseling us to ignore the past but he is counseling us not to let phonies like Al Sharpton hustle us for their own personal gain.

    As to tunes, please re-read what I wrote. Did you miss the adjective “appropriate”? OTOH, do you think that the tunes used by the Jews in the 1st century would have sounded like the 19th-century tunes we often use today? I doubt it!

    We have to be careful not to define “appropriate” to mean, “European” or “Western with classical influences.”

    For one thing, rap music is not meant to be sung by groups. The very nature of it is to focus on individual performance. Rap music began as a way of highlighting an individual DJ during a more traditional group, vocal performance. Much contemporary music is inappropriate, but that’s not true of all contemporary tunes. We cannot rule out, a priori, the possibility of contemporary tunes that are useful for congregational worship. Indeed, we would do ourselves a great favor by commissioning artists to write them for us.

  27. I agree with Shelby Steele and others who’ve argued that “white guilt” is used to manipulate folks. If we are to reach the black community with the Reformed faith, we will not be able to do it without first reckoning with certain realities.

    That’s sort of the problem I have with Anthony Carter. Did you see this statement of his on the 9 Marks discussion on rac?:

    Is there a race problem in the church? Indeed there is. The unfortunate truth is that there is a racial divide in evangelicalism. The issue primarily lies in our inability (particularly our white brothers and sisters) to live according to Philippians 2:3: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” White privilege makes it difficult and even unnecessary for our white brothers and sisters to submit to those who are not racially or culturally like them. This lack of submission does not necessarily stem from a racist attitude, but it does demonstrate that we do what is most comfortable and causes the least tension in our cultural identifications. It also tends to make talk of racial diversity empty and fruitless.

    Most of my white evangelical and Reformed brothers and sisters speak positively and eloquently on racial diversity. For this, I commend them. However, until we see white men and women doing what black men and women have long learned to do—namely, sitting under and submitting to the leadership and authority of those who are ethnically different—we will not see real diversity.

    Most of the diversity we presently see is black men and women going to where white people are. Even when predominantly white churches call a black man to be the pastor, it is black people going to where white people are most comfortable. Real diversity will happen when we see white people regularly and joyfully going to where black men lead, preach, and teach. We will see real diversity when white people learn to submit to the minority culture as black people have had to submit to the majority culture.

    Mutual submission is an undeniable evidence of the Spirit’s work (Phil. 2:3-4). It is particularly evident when the majority learn the worth and joy of submitting to the minority. It demonstrates that they fear God more than men. Where there is no mutual submission, there is no real fear of God. Where there is no real fear of God, there will be no real diversity. God has long given us the solution to the racial problem. Besides a racial problem, however, it appears that we have an obedience problem as well.
    Anthony Carter is the assistant pastor of Southwest Christian Fellowship, author of On Being Black and Reformed, and an organizing member of the Council of Reforming Churches.

    He’s pretty much using “white guilt” here. This is a much more reasonable statement to make, from your link above:

    They have a culture and you can bet (in a hypothetical sort of way) your bottom dollar that neither the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church nor the historic Capital Hill Baptist Church has any intention of ever changing their church culture to accommodate black folk. So what? What about white people? Last time I checked (and I have a bible software program with 18 different translations) Jesus declared that He had all authority so that we’re directly accountable to Him and responsible to carry out His mandate, not that of our culture.

    Finally, any ineffectiveness we detect within the black church to connect with and disciple black folks today has little or nothing to do with our style of worship. Does that mean we should try and look like somebody else just to be reformed? May it never be!
    However neither does it mean that we’re necessarily duty bound to replicate every aspect of ’Down Home Church of God in Christ Baptist AME Zion Temple’.

    For Christ, His Church and the Truth
    Lance Lewis

  28. Did you miss the phrase “man-stealing”? There’s a great difference between indentured servitude or conquering a peoples in war and theft. The Brits and Americans practiced the latter.

    Africa was much more resistant to being conquered by outside forces because of malaria (Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” explains this better), which they possess a certain degree of immunity to and white people don’t. If you were a white ship captain and didn’t want your crew to die in droves, you’d anchor offshore and keep your crew out of the reach of the mosquitos. We weren’t very successful in conquering and colonizing Africa until anti-malarial drugs, such as quinine, came on the scene. By that time, slavery had died off:

    Large scale use of quinine as a prophylaxis started around 1850, although it had been used in un-extracted form by Europeans since at least the early 1600s. Quinine was first used to treat malaria in Rome in 1631. During the 1600s, malaria was endemic to the swamps and marshes surrounding the city of Rome. Over time, malaria was responsible for the death of several Popes, many Cardinals and countless common citizens of Rome. Most of the priests trained in Rome had seen malaria victims and were familiar with the shivering brought on by the cold phase of the disease. In addition to its anti-malarial properties, quinine is an effective muscle relaxant, long used by the Quechua Indians of Peru to halt shivering brought on by cold temperatures. The Jesuit Brother Agostino Salumbrino (1561-1642), an apothecary by training and who lived in Lima, observed the Quechua using the quinine-containing bark of the cinchona tree for that purpose. While its effect in treating malaria (and hence malaria-induced shivering) was entirely unrelated to its effect in controlling shivering from cold, it was still the correct medicine for malaria. At the first opportunity, he sent a small quantity to Rome to test in treating malaria. In the years that followed, cinchona bark became one of the most valuable commodities shipped from Peru to Europe.

    Quinine also played a significant role in the colonization of Africa by Europeans. As the dawn of modern pharmacology, Quinine was the prime reason why Africa ceased to be known as the white man’s grave. According to Clifford D. Conner in “A People’s History of Science”, “It was quinine’s efficacy that gave colonist fresh opportunities to swarm into the Gold Coast, Nigeria and other parts of west Africa and seize fertile agricultural lands, introduce new livestock and crops, build roads and railways, drive natives into mines, and introduce all the disruptions to traditional lifestyles that cash economies brought.”(Conner pp 95-96) also cites Porter, “The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, pp. 465-466)

    Of course, slavery ended here around roughly 1865. So it wasn’t us going in and getting the slaves. They were brought to the coast by other Africans. We provided the demand, which fueled the trade, but the Arabs had still been trafficking in African slaves long before we ever did. Indeed, they still do. Slavery ended very early in Britain, but even in the US, it was still practiced by the South, not northerners. So the statement that, “We still benefit from the effects of slavery” is probably a bridge too far.

  29. Mr. Clark,

    We are splitting hairs.

    My point is that continually berating our society for something we aren’t doing anymore if foolish.

    Every society on earth had benefited in some way from slavery. And slavery continues to exist.

    Trying to make this into a hate American argument just fuels the segregation debate.

    And if I am not being clear.

    You, sir, are just as much a race baiter and segregation enabler as anyone else with this nonsensical argument about slavery issues that no longer exist.

  30. I love the Psalms, and I agree that more Psalm singing in the church could indeed be one way of helping to bring black and white brethren together in the confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches. But I, along with many of your fellow confessional Reformed & Presbyterian brethren, am simply not convinced by the exegetical case for exclusive psalmody. (Yes, I’ve read works defending EP, such as Bushell’s “The Songs of Zion,” which I found to be filled with weak exegesis, emotional argumentation and such logical fallacies as begging the question, genetic fallacy, slippery slope, etc.) From my own study of the Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 passages I am convinced that a careful contextual exegesis of these texts not only does NOT support EP; indeed, in the context of the Eph. 5:19 passage (which speaks of the filling – not the inspiration – of the Spirit), “spiritual songs” seems to refer to songs that arise out of the new covenant fullness of the Spirit (which all believers – not just prophets & apostles – can experience), not canonical songs produced by the special inspiration of the Spirit. (If Paul had wanted to make it clear that he was intending to restrict the church’s worship to the canonical Psalms, he could have expressed himself much more clearly by simply referring to them, with the article, as “the Psalms”.) I.E., I believe a good exegetical case can be made that God’s Word actually requires the composition and singing of non-inspired (though theologically orthodox) songs that reflect the full revelation we have in the new covenant and the completed canon of Scripture. (If I am correct in this conclusion, then ironically EP would actually be a violation of the RPW.)

    Striving for greater unity among black and white brethren by giving greater prominence to the Psalter in our common worship is an excellent idea. But unless a more compelling exegetical and theological case can be made for EP, resulting in more of said “separated brethren” being convinced of its biblical warrant, then it will not of itself remove the barriers to white and black worshiping together in the Reformed communion.

  31. Geoff,

    I believe a good exegetical case can be made that God’s Word actually requires the composition and singing of non-inspired (though theologically orthodox) songs that reflect the full revelation we have in the new covenant and the completed canon of Scripture.

    In your view, who is required to compose these songs? All believers? (In which case it seems a great sin of omission is being committed.) A particular class of officers? (Has God gifted His church with composers? If so, where are they?) Why are the Reformed churches not actually composing these spiritual songs? These are a few things I’ve wanted answers to from those who hold your position.

  32. David R. wrote: “In your view, who is required to compose these songs? All believers? (In which case it seems a great sin of omission is being committed.) A particular class of officers? (Has God gifted His church with composers? If so, where are they?) Why are the Reformed churches not actually composing these spiritual songs? These are a few things I’ve wanted answers to from those who hold your position.”

    GW: David, those are excellent questions, but not directly germane to the point I was making. The central point is that EP teaches that God commands us only to use the inspired Psalms of the Psalter in our worship song; and hence those who use other song materials (uninspired hymns and songs) in worship are guilty of false worship (offering “strange fire” before the Lord) and violating the RPW. The issue is, Do the Scriptures support this position? Is EP a biblical teaching? Based upon a contextual exegesis of relevant passages (such as Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19) I believe that EP is unscriptural, and hence its practice an unbiblical binding the Christian conscience, an adding to scriptural requirements of worship, and hence a violation of the RPW.

    In terms of questions such as who should compose such songs and how should the church determine which songs are appropriate for public worship, “good and necessary consequence/inference” from other biblical principles and commands kicks in. For example, the principle of spiritual gifts: those with recognized spiritual gifts to compose such worship songs may appropriately do so, accountable to the church’s leadership. And as Divine worship is to be regulated by Scripture, it is also to be supervised by the ordained rulers (Ministers and Ruling Elders) of the church. Thus the worship song of the church (outside of the inspired Psalter, which obviously is appropriate for worship) is ultimately to be decided by the “courts” of the church (especially by those called to the teaching office — the Ministers of the Word in particular).

  33. I should add that what I write above about the Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 passages would apply equally not only to the EP position, but also to the “inspired hymnody” position which states that we may only sing the inspired songs recorded in Scripture, whether of the Psalter, or songs such as Mary’s Magnificat, the Song of Moses, etc.

  34. Geoff,

    The central point is that EP teaches that God commands us only to use the inspired Psalms of the Psalter in our worship song; and hence those who use other song materials (uninspired hymns and songs) in worship are guilty of false worship (offering “strange fire” before the Lord) and violating the RPW.

    This doesn’t seem to me to be the same thing you were arguing before. Before, you were clearly arguing that Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 teach that we are conscience-bound to compose and sing uninspired songs (or perhaps that only a few gifted ones are bound to compose them) and by implication that the Reformed churches are bound to ensure that these songs are composed and sung. I can certainly respect this position, even though it would not only indict the entire period of classical Reformed orthodoxy, when only the Psalms were sung, but it would also indict all Reformed Churches of all times, since to my knowledge there has never been a mechanism in place to ensure that such songs are being composed and sung. (Almost no one is composing them, and the singing of them is generally considered optional, eg., in the OPC Directory of Worship.)

    But now you seem to be arguing that Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 teach that we are allowed (not commanded) to sing uninspired songs, a position which seems to me to be impossible to prove for one who holds to the RPW.

    Which of these is your actual position, or is there an option I’ve missed?

  35. David R. wrote: “This doesn’t seem to me to be the same thing you were arguing before. Before, you were clearly arguing that Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 teach that we are conscience-bound to compose and sing uninspired songs (or perhaps that only a few gifted ones are bound to compose them) and by implication that the Reformed churches are bound to ensure that these songs are composed and sung.”

    GW: My apologies, David, for communicating in a confusing manner. Let me see if I can try to clear up the confusion.

    As I argued in my first comment, I believe that Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 require that we sing worship song as an element of NT worship (as I’m sure you would agree). The required content of such worship song is described by Paul as “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”. My EP brethren believe that terms are used together as a pleonasm describing the fulness of the inspired Psalms. Some EP advocates, such as the late Dr. John Murray, have argued that the term “spiritual” (pneumatikais) means “inspired” and qualifies all three terms; in effect, he seemed to argue, Paul was saying “speak to one another in Spirit-inspired psalms, hymns and songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.” While Dr. Murray was way beyond my league in terms of intellectual gifts, academic attainments, theological acumen and godly piety, in my humble opinion I believe this giant in the faith erred in his exegesis at this particular point.

    While the term “spiritual” (pneumatikos) can mean “inspired” if the context demands it, the context of the Col. and Eph. passage is talking about being filled with the Spirit/Word of Christ, which is something all believers may/should experience; it is not speaking of the gift of the inspiration of the Spirit which only apostles and prophets received. Thus, contextually, “spiritual” songs would seem to refer to “songs” that are evoked out of the new covenant fullness of the Spirit/Word of Christ, not songs given by the gift of inspiration. (As another evidence that “spiritual” does not always mean “inspired,” in Eph. 6: 12 speaks of “spiritual (pneumatikos) wickedness in high places.” Obviously he is not speaking of “Spirit inspired wickedness in high places.” Context determines how this word is used.)

    So, yes, I believe these passages “require” the church to include in its worship song “spiritual songs” — songs evoked out of the new covenant fullness (not the inspiration) of the Spirit and in view of the complete canon. I realize my EP brethren disagree, and I also realize that many great lights in past Reformed orthodoxy would not agree. I respect the desire of my EP brethren to adhere to the RPW and to restrict worship practice only to those elements that have Divine warrant. I am simply not convinced by EP exegesis of these passages.

    David, on an emotional level I must confess that I have tired of some EP advocates accusing those of us who hold the position I do of being guilty of “false worship,” “offering strange fire,” and not really believing in the RPW. I realize not all EP advocates are that extreme, but those who are do much harm to the unity of the Reformed churches, in my opinion.

  36. Geoff,

    Thanks for the interaction.

    Thus, contextually, “spiritual” songs would seem to refer to “songs” that are evoked out of the new covenant fullness of the Spirit/Word of Christ, not songs given by the gift of inspiration.

    It’s possible, but I’m not fully convinced and so I choose to err on the side of caution. And your “would seem to refer” does not seem to demonstrate great confidence in your view, such as to establish a worship practice.

    So, yes, I believe these passages “require” the church to include in its worship song “spiritual songs” — songs evoked out of the new covenant fullness (not the inspiration) of the Spirit and in view of the complete canon.

    I can respect this, and I’m open to being persuaded. I’m just not there yet.

    David, on an emotional level I must confess that I have tired of some EP advocates accusing those of us who hold the position I do of being guilty of “false worship,” “offering strange fire,” and not really believing in the RPW.

    I would never say that you do not hold to the RPW, since clearly you do. But since you do, surely you recognize that those who are convinced of EP, if they are consistent, necessarily must view your position as “false worship,” “offering strange fire,”etc. Personally, I would not accuse you in those terms because I admit the possibility that your view is correct, and I’m just not yet seeing it. Since I am not persuaded of your view, however, I choose to refrain from what I personally am not confident isn’t strange fire.

    I realize not all EP advocates are that extreme, but those who are do much harm to the unity of the Reformed churches, in my opinion.

    I agree that some perhaps state the case in overly strong terms. That said, if non-inspired songs are in fact false worship, then it’s not the EP advocates who are primarily guilty of disrupting unity. On the other hand, if your view is correct, then EPers are the ones who are deficient in their worship practice. So the knife cuts both ways. In the OPC, of course, EP is for the most part a moot issue, and those who hold your view have a much easier time of it I think. Thanks again for the discussion.

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