How Historic Reformed Worship Is Multicultural

Racial division is reality, and it’s a tragic reality, when it isn’t necessitated by language barriers. During the Apostolic era, Jews and Gentiles joined hands and worshiped alongside one another. The cultural gulf that had separated them was every bit as extreme as what has existed in America. Before Christ, a Jew was not allowed to eat with a Gentile. The Gentile was considered “unclean” and could not be part of the people of Israel without undergoing circumcision and becoming Jewish. They had different diets, cultural backgrounds, and customs. Even more, there was hatred and violence between the groups. This did not lead the Apostles to establish Jewish churches and Gentile churches, though. They believed that Gentile-inclusion was part of the glory of the gospel itself (Eph. 2:11-3:7). To separate Gentiles or to make them become Jewish would actually contradict the gospel of grace (Gal. 2; 5:1-6; Acts 15). If it was so important for Jew and Gentile to become part of the same local church, we should pray and endeavor for that today, that our churches would express the full diversity of its geographical community.

Practically-speaking, this is one reason WRC uses a liturgy that was not created by white men. Its broad contours come from Jewish synagogues and were used in the Ancient Church (North Africa, Syria, Greece, and Rome). This pattern was recaptured during the era of the Reformation and is used across the world today – by Reformed churches in the Congo and Nigeria and by Presbyterians in Brazil and South Korea. The predominant content of our singing is the Psalms, which were of Jewish origin and inspired of God, and we seek to use tunes that transcend generations. Regardless of your race, you will not find your cultural music here. It will be uncomfortable for you, but that is part of the joy of finding our unity in the gospel alone.

—Zac Wyse, “What Does This Church Think About Racism?

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  1. I appreciate Rev. Wyse’s words, but I would challenge him. He stated, “you will not find your cultural music here…” Unless I’m missing something, this seems like an overstatement. If Rev. Wyse accompanies the Psalm singing with a piano, what “tune” is he using to accompany his singing? Since we do not know the “tunes” associated with Psalm singing in Israel, we are bringing our own cultural musical settings to those biblical lyrics. Even if we are not using a piano (i.e., a cappella), we are still singing to some familiar tune. What is that familiar tune? Therefore, I submit that, although the lyrics are biblical, even Jewish, we are bringing our non-Jewish culture to the singing when we sing the psalms to a certain tune.

    • I can’t speak for Rev. Wyse but we can solve one of these problems easily! Let’s just get rid of instruments as Calvin taught and as the Reformed practiced until the 18th and 19th centuries.

      Tunes, of course, will come from some cultural background but they are adiaphora. I know that some of the older, pre-19th, century tunes are still used across the globe so that they have become transcultural. I am happy to seeing appropriate tunes from any culture.

      If we can agree to sing God’s word, as the apostles did, as the early church did until the sixth or seventh century, as the Reformed did in the 16th and 17th centuries, then we shall have gone a great way toward achieving transcultural worship.

    • Hey Leon – I appreciate your interaction with this. My point (obviously not as clear as it could’ve been) was intended to be that no one sits around listening to hymn/psalm tunes during the week (“their [common] culture”). If I were to choose tunes that suit my fancy, those we find in our Psalters and Hymnals certainly wouldn’t be at the top of my list, and I think it’s fair to say that you wouldn’t find a significant number of people of any background that would choose them. We’re all laying preferences aside, though I don’t imagine that we’re doing it perfectly.

  2. I agree with Dr. Clark with taking out the instruments. I do not see any biblical support for keeping Old Testament shadows alive today, we do not do animal sacrifices, we don’t have alters, we don’t use incense so why do we insist in keeping instruments? Where in scripture outside Old Testament liturgy does God command us Christians to use instruments? Give me atleast 1 verse. You do not see it in Corinthians or in the letter to Timothy when Saint Paul gives a guide on how a church should operate, no mention of how instruments take place in worship no command to sing man inspired songs. And no I am not an old man that hates music, I am in my early 30’s and my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are in their early 20’s have come to understand and agree with the reformers on the Regulative Principle of Worship. Great Article Dr Clark.

  3. Thanks so much, once again, Dr. Clark. Your writing on the regulative principle, especially your clear stand on singing Psalms and the use of musical instruments, is so very encouraging and a breath of fresh air. I hope many, many more will hear this message and take it to heart.

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