Recently, I gave my testimony as a part of my new church’s membership process. It is a Reformed Baptist Church. The congregation is really diverse, having almost every country represented. I am one of perhaps a handful of blacks.
I closed my testimony by sharing with the congregation, that being there has been a total counter-cultural experience for me, but the very reason that I wanted to become a member and grow together with them.
The counter-cultural experience is not just because I’m black; although, that is a part. That most are white is very different from my church going experience because I have always, always attended Baptist churches where the congregants were black.
But as I reflect on my life, even as a child, I have always had white playmates, friends, from my early years through my teen years. We would play until dark after school and all day long during the summers. I knew some of the parents and they knew me and my parents. So, my only segregated life has always just been my church, besides elementary school.
Perhaps it might be helpful to define cultural. Merriam-Webster defines cultural – of or relating to a particular group of people and their habits, beliefs, traditions, etc. Google’s is like it – of or relating to the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a society. I am no anthropology student, merely an observer of what has been my own personal experience.
So what’s different? At my new church, we sing hymns, most which I’ve never heard. Most are either about the Sovereignty of God, or the depravity of man and our absolute need for him. The whole congregation sings. The congregation sings the songs just as is written. A lot were written in the 16th and earlier centuries. There have been times, I would get excited because I see the title of a scheduled song that I know; but sometimes even those songs are different.
I do love that the whole congregation sings, young and old. Sometimes I see couples sing and the husband will place his arm around his wife. How beautiful to worship together. So, I love it! I understand the importance of singing together, because as a former Minister of Music, getting the congregation to join in singing sometimes was difficult. But perhaps there are reasons for that, which we won’t get into here. It’s been covered a lot. Check out blogger Ed Stetzer’s: A Letter to My Worship Leaders.
I went to church where there were choirs, praise teams, praise dancers and the services were lively. There were shoutings of Amen, waving of the hand in agreement to what was being sung or preached, the raising of hands praising God, sometimes dancing in the aisles and lots of tears. We passionately worshiped our God with reckless abandon, much like David upon getting the ark back to return to the city of David.
In the black church, our music, black gospel music is sometimes loud and moving, but sometimes somber, reflective. We usually have full bands, with a minimum of piano, organ, bass guitar and drums. Musicians are paid staff. We aim to produce the sound closest to the recording. We take seriously Psalm 33:3b “….play skillfully with a loud noise”. Many of the songs we sing testify to what God has done for us, how he’s brought us through trials, or simply thanks and praise to him, much as described all through the Psalms and Exodus. Our songs have strong melodies and beautiful harmonies. Sometimes there are lead singers who sing the message of the song and the choir will sing the chorus. The choir sings following a conductor/director who directs as he or she is led by the Spirit. The gospel music, the uninhibited praise that flows through the congregation is what made it hard for me to leave.
At my new church there is currently a piano, acoustic guitar, and sometimes a violin, and the musicians volunteer their services. There is no choir. There is no worship team.
Large portions of scriptures in the Old and New Testament are read every service, while at the black church, we may read no more than six verses during the Scripture Reading portion of the service, and a lot of times, less.
Prayers are different at my new church. God is Sovereign, Holy, revered. Prayers begin in recognition of who God is. Prayers may be filled with scripture references. The prayers are deliberate, specific and expansive going around the world to missions supported by the church. At the black church, prayers are filled with emotion as we cry out to God for mercy, guidance, for healing, strength.
The sermons at my new church are mostly expository versus topical, and distinctly God-centered versus man-centered. The preacher provides the scripture text, then will usually read scriptures immediately preceding the selected text to provide context, and expound and exhort from the text. The sermons are longer, usually about 50-65 minutes long. But after the sermon, there is a short prayer that the Word will accomplish what God purposes. There is no invitation or call to the altar. The service ends after the sermon, with a quiet period of reflection on the Word, while music is silently playing. Afterwards, members turn to each other and just talk, discussing what was heard, openly admitting their sin, connecting. This connecting can go on for a while. I do love this about my new church.
At my new church, it’s not unusual for people around my age to have had more than four children, some up to ten to eleven children, and a lot of them attend with their parents. There are also a lots of young couples with babies. Now I know it wasn’t preached from the pulpit, but the culture from which I’ve come two children were enough. It appeared frowned upon to have more. Although I have since repented and sincerely regretted it, I was one who decided two were enough. I wonder if I had come up in a church like this whether I would have had more children.
There are other peripheral things that makes my new church a counter-cultural experience, but most impactful to me is knowing what we believe and why we believe it. Before I attended my new church, I checked out their website; this, after having gone on about two years of deep study in the Word. I saw that this church had a detailed church constitution, used the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith to codify what it believes. I so needed that. I was already familiar with the Confession of Faith and believed in the Doctrine of Election, God’s Sovereignty. At my old church, I wasn’t certain whether our church supported the articles in the Confession, I just knew that we believed the Bible.
So my new church being counter-cultural to me, is not just because I’m black. It is the viewing God as Sovereign. It is hearing his sovereignty confirmed through all the teachings and preaching. It is the praying, the singing, the sermons. It is the appreciation of church history. It is the confidence in knowing exactly what we believe the Bible teaches. It is having what we believe drive how we worship, fellowship, love.
And while I still love gospel music and the uninhibited praise found in the black church, I like being a part of what it will look like in heaven.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9 ESV