The Songs That We Sing

THE SONGS THAT WE SING

by Wayne S. Walker

     As I was growing up, I loved to join in the singing of hymns and gospel songs during church services and other occasions where people gathered together to praise God in song, and through the years with my general love of music I have maintained an active interest in the songs that we use in our worship, not only leading singing whenever possible but also extensively studying and writing about hymns. It is no secret to those who have read much of my writing about worship in song that I am not a big fan of the modern “praise and worship song” genre. These songs have become extremely popular in denominational churches which promote “contemporary” and “blended” worship and are rapidly finding their way into churches of Christ. My concern with such songs is not because I object to having, learning, and using new songs. Both while a teenager and during the time of my preaching work I have constantly encouraged brethren to learn hymns with which they are unfamiliar, and, in fact, I have even composed a few “new songs” myself. Sometimes it has been difficult for me to put my finger on what troubles me about many of the modern praise and worship songs, and thus it has not always been easy for me to explain the questions and doubts that I have about them. However, a recent experience has provided me some additional insight.

     Not long ago, we attended the lectures conducted by Florida College in Temple Terrace, FL. During our week in Florida, we attended three church services at two different congregations where nearly all the songs used were of the modern “praise and worship song” variety. However, at the lectures the three nights of singing which preceded the speeches consisted mainly of the grand old hymns and gospel songs of Zion that brethren have known, sung, and loved through the years. The rather stark contrast between the two kinds of songs channeled my thinking again into why I prefer the one and not the other. And let me say right here that I recognize that much of what I have to say is personal preference. I cannot, and therefore will not, say that all who sing the modern “praise and worship songs” are sinning or that Christians must use a particular musical style of religious song (that I happen to like) in worship to be right with God. However, I would also like to think that my preferences have been honed and tuned by years of studying God’s word about acceptable worship and my experience in seeking to apply its principles.

Subjective nature

     I have decided that my basic trouble with the modern praise and worship song style is that for the most part it tends to be much more subjective than objective. Now, the difference between objectivity and subjectivity in religious songs is sometimes a rather fine line, but I believe that there is a distinct, if not always easily identified, difference. The older style hymns were primarily objective in that they centered upon Deity as the object of our praise and devotion. The gospel songs that developed during the nineteenth century were largely somewhat more subjective in their nature, but even in their subjectivity they focused upon what should be our appropriate response to Deity as taught in His word, so there was still a sense of objectivity about them. However, the impression that I am left with after singing so many of the praise and worship songs is that their main emphasis is on how we feel or what we think about certain aspects of our relationship with God. They remind me of the “touchy-feely” kind of religion that is so popular among the denominations today.

     This observation brings up the subject of emotionalism in worship generally and in singing specifically. Surely, if we love God with all our hearts, that will include our emotions, and singing is one of the ways that we can rightly express our emotions in our worship. “…Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). I certainly do not advocate an emotionless kind of worship. Rather, I encourage fervent and wholehearted participation in singing as well as all other acts of worship. However, I am concerned about things becoming too emotional and thus tending toward being emotionalistic. It is a fact that the vast majority of these modern praise and worship songs come from a background of highly emotionalistic worship services and other religious activities. That does not necessarily make them wrong. The old-style Holiness camp meetings often turned the singing of many standard gospel songs into toe-tapping, foot-stomping, hand-clapping hoedowns. Yet, when I hear some of the praise and worship songs, the picture that comes to my mind is of a group of people closing their eyes, holding up their hands, and swaying back and forth in an emotionalistic worship service. It is interesting that at the church services we attended in Florida, the singing of the praise and worship songs (yes, I actually did sing them) really did very little for me. Yet when we were singing the older hymns and gospel songs at the lectures I found that I would occasionally have a catch rise in my throat or a tear come to my eye. I have to wonder which kind of song really stirs genuine, godly emotion and which kind is merely emotionalistic.

Repetitious words

     Another concern that I have about most praise and worship songs is the nature of their lyrics. We are to “teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). Teaching and admonishing, at least in a scriptural sense, requires words. The purpose of words is to say something, but the fact is that the typical praise and worship songs simply do not say very much. Some have referred to them as “7/11” songs–seven words sung eleven times. Aside from their subjective, emotionalistic characteristics, they also tend to be very repetitious. Of course, all repetition is not necessarily wrong, and some is even helpful to the memory. However, we need to be careful about “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7). One of the criteria that I use in evaluating a hymn is to read it over as poetry without thinking of the tune (admittedly, this can sometimes be rather difficult). Does it say anything? Does it make sense? Consider this example of an extremely popular praise and worship song. If you are familiar with it, try to read it simply as poetry without thinking of the tune.

1. Father, we love You, we worship and adore You;

Glorify Thy name on all the earth,

Glory Thy name, glorify Thy name,

Glorify Thy name on all the earth.

2. Jesus, we love You, we worship and adore You;

Glorify Thy name on all the earth,

Glorify Thy name, glorify Thy name,

Glorify Thy name on all the earth.

3. Spirit, we love You, we worship and adore You;

Glory Thy name on all the earth,

Glorify Thy name, glorify Thy name,

Glorify Thy name on all the earth.

It is amazing that something which, purely as poetry, would likely be considered practically as trite doggerel almost magically becomes a “spiritual song” when set to a catchy tune! Yes, it is true that many of the older style gospel songs, and especially some of the earlier twentieth century southern variety, are also rather repetitious. One that was brought to my attention years ago is “The Glory-Land Way.” If we sing all three stanzas, we will have sung the phrase “I’m in the glory-land way” (or its equivalent) some fifteen times by the end of the song. Yet compare this to “Glorify Thy Name,” again reading it simply as poetry without thinking of the tune.

1. I’m in the way, the bright and shining way, I’m in the glory-land way;

Telling the world that Jesus saves today, Yes, I’m in the glory-land way.

I’m in the glory-land way, I’m in the glory-land way;

Heaven is nearer and the way groweth clearer, For I’m in the glory-land way.

2. List to the call, the gospel call today, Get in the glory-land way;

Wanderers come home, O hasten to obey, For I’m in the glory-land way.

I’m in the glory-land way, I’m in the glory-land way;

Heaven is nearer and the way groweth clearer, For I’m in the glory-land way.

3. Onward I go, rejoicing in His love, I’m in the glory-land way;

Soon I shall see Him in that home above, O I’m in the glory-land way.

I’m in the glory-land way, I’m in the glory-land way;

Heaven is nearer and the way groweth clearer, For I’m in the glory-land way.

It seems to me that even this somewhat egregious example of gospel-song repetition at its worst comes across as nearly “classic poetry” when stood side by side with some of the praise and worship songs.

Style of music

     Still another question that I have about the praise and worship song is the suitability of the music. While it is the words which praise God and teach and admonish one another, God apparently felt that there was some benefit in having the words set to music and sung, or else He would have just told us to recite poetry together in worship. Some have called praise and worship songs “new age church music” because their melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structures do seem to be taken from that genre known as “new age” which appears to be a blend of light jazz, modern folk, and pop styles, with a little rock and roll thrown in, and perhaps some Oriental influence. Obviously, people are going to differ in their opinion of what constitutes appropriate music for religious expression. Many who held to the eighteenth-century hymn tune decried the bouncier melodies of the nineteenth-century gospel song, and even those who liked the nineteenth-century gospel song often derided the sentimentality of the early twentieth-century southern gospel song music. Yet, through the years, one standard that many have used to determine a truly good religious song is whether it is simple enough for the average congregation to sing it. And, brethren, I must say that while a lot of the praise and worship songs have very catchy tunes, with their highly syncopated rhythms and unconventional harmonies they are not easy to sing at all! Even I, who have had a good deal of musical training, sometimes have trouble figuring them out. And I have been in places where people actually like the songs and even seem to know them but still appear to have great difficulty in getting them straight too.

     It is for this same reason that I ultimately came to object to a large number (though not necessarily all) of the “Stamps-Baxter” type of songs as well. When I was growing up, the congregation where we attended used Christian Hymns No. 1 and then Christian Hymns No. 2. These were good hymnbooks with standard hymns and gospel songs. We first obtained Sacred Selections, with its change of emphasis to more of the country/southern style gospel songs, when I was a teenager, and attending area singings where these songs were sung with gusto, I eagerly jumped into them and tried to introduce them where we worshipped. However, they usually “fell flat” simply because the congregation did not have the ability to follow them with all their special parts and other musical intricacies. I eventually came to understand that such songs were never intended for use in congregational worship services but in country music singing conventions with trained quartets and choruses, which is why they are out of the reach of many congregations. And most of the praise and worship songs were not written for congregational worship services but for “praise bands” and “gospel” concert groups. Admittedly, some of the older hymns, especially the German chorale tunes, can be difficult too, but they still use standard melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic structures common to Western music which can be easily learned. However, while the style of praise and worship songs may be familiar to young people who have grown up on a steady diet of rock and roll, I sometimes find it very difficult to keep up with them.

Conclusion

     It is not my desire to make my personal likes and preferences the standard for everyone else. I understand that many of the observations that I have made concern matters of judgment, and not all brethren are going to agree with my judgment. We are not told precisely what style of music the early Christians sang in worship other than it consisted of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). Within those parameters, each generation of God’s people will find its own form of expressing praise to God in song. My intention is not to say that all the modern praise and worship songs are necessarily evil. In fact, I think that some of them are salvageable and can be used for good. However, at the risk of appearing as an “old fogey” who is “out of step with the times” and thought of by some as simply being “born in the objective case and the kickative mood” (which I try not to be), I would just like to warn us that we use discernment in choosing the songs that we sing in worship which will actually praise God (not just say “Praise God, Praise God, Praise God” a dozen times) and edify our minds with teaching and admonishing from God’s word. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

     —This article may also be found at:

http://www.christianlibrary.org/authors/Jeffrey_W_Hamilton/LVarticles/SongsThatWeSing.html

http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/SongsThatWeSing.html

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Apostolic Reaction to the Resurrected Lord’s Appearance unto Them

WHAT THE APOSTLES IN ACTS DID WHEN THE RESURRECTED LORD APPEARED TO THEM

(Acts 1:4)

By Wayne S. Walker

At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus chose twelve men from among His disciples to be apostles so that they might be trained to accomplish His mission for them.  The book of Acts is the historical account of how the apostles went about doing the Lord’s will in revealing His word to mankind.  The author, Luke, begins this historical account by pointing out that even after His resurrection Jesus appeared to the apostles for forty days.  The purpose of these appearances was to give them further commandments and to provide infallible proofs of His resurrection.

“And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me’” (Acts 1:4).   This appearance evidently took place just before Jesus led them out to the Mount of Olives and ascended into heaven.  Or this conversation may have occurred on the mountain.  But the purpose of this article is to look at what the apostles did when the resurrected Lord appeared to them.

They were assembled

Of course, this was a specific assembling together of the apostles.  However, the New Testament is clear that Christ generally wants His church to gather together on a regular basis.  “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

We have several approved apostolic examples of the disciples assembling throughout the book of Acts.  In Acts 2:42 it is said generally that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,” and verse 47 specifically tells us that they were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple,” which I am convinced refers to their public assemblies for worship.  In Acts 4:23-31, when Peter and John are let go from the Sanhedrin, they went to their own companions and prayed, and “the place where they were assembled together was shaken.”  Acts 11:26 says that Barnabas and Saul (Paul) assembled with the church at Antioch for a whole year.  In Acts 14:27 we find that when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from their first preaching trip, they gathered the church together.  And Acts 20:7 tells us, “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. “

Why does the Lord want us to assemble?  The primary purpose of our assembling together is to worship, but He could have just had us worship individually or in our homes, so still the question remains, why does God ordain that we do so together?   Obviously, part of the answer must be because of the benefit of being with one another.  “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).  Therefore, the Hebrew writer went to say, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Thus, just as the apostles were assembled on this occasion, so all Christians need to assemble regularly with the church.

They were commanded

God has always given mankind commandments by which people could know how to live the way that the Creator wanted them to live.  In the very beginning, God gave a very specific command to Adam.  “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).

God also gave commandments to Israel, and not just the Ten Commandments, to remind them that because He made us He knows best how we should live.  “And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day.  Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25).

While we do not live under the Old Testament and its commandments, God still does have commandments for us today that He expects us to keep.  “If you love Me, keep My commandments….You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 14:15, 15:14).    Christ gave some specific commandments to the apostles that do not apply to us, but He does have commandments for us that we must obey to be acceptable in His sight.   “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

They were told not to depart from Jerusalem

It was prophesied throughout the Old Testament that the Lord’s church was to be established in Jerusalem.  Isaiah predicted it thus: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.  Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3).  In like manner, Joel, whose prophecy Peter said was fulfilled in Acts 2, said, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:32).

Therefore, the Lord told the apostles to remain in Jerusalem because they were to be an integral part of the church’s establishment.  “Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high’” (Luke 24:46-49).

So, that is exactly what they did as the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of the Messianic kingdom.  Immediately after Christ ascended from the midst of the apostles, we are told, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.  These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:12-14).  God does not command us to go and stay in Jerusalem, but we and all mankind can benefit from what the apostles did as they tarried in Jerusalem.

They were asked to wait for the promise

The specific promise that Christ had in mind was the promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles.  Do you remember that Jesus had told them that they were tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high in Luke 24:49?  This is the same promise that He had made to them the night of His betrayal.  “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).  He repeated this promise just before His ascension.  “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  And that promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost a few days later.  “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

This specific promise was made only to the apostles and was completely fulfilled to them, so it does not apply to us today.  However, God has made many wonderful promises to us.  “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4).  One of those promises is that Christ will return someday and usher in the eternal reality for us.  “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Since we just do not know when the fulfillment of this promise is going to happen, we need to wait patiently for it.  “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).  No, we are not going to receive the promise of the Spirit made to the apostles, although we still benefit from it through their revelation of God’s word, but we do need to wait for the reception of the promises that God has made to us.

Conclusion

Sometimes we might wonder what it would have been like to live in the days of the apostles, to have seen Jesus with our own eyes and heard Him with our own ears.  The fact is that we were not, but we can still have a firm faith based on the many infallible proofs which they recorded by the power of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

However, someday every one of us shall see Jesus and hear His voice when He comes again. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).  Again, we just do not know when that will be, so the question is, are you ready?

—from Expository Files; December, 2012; Vol. 19, No. 12; pp. 12-15

 

Neither Black Nor White

NEITHER BLACK NOR WHITE

By Wayne S. Walker

In a 1970 newspaper cartoon, someone is peering out the door of the “Lily White Gospel Church” at a black man who desires entrance, and says, “No.  But if you’ll go back to Africa, we’ll be glad to send you a missionary.”  The following story is taken from an article by Al Diestelkamp in Pillar and Support, a bulletin published by the Paris Ave. church of Christ in Peoria, IL (Vol. 1, No. 4; Nov., ’74).

A young man of high school age, with his hand gripped firmly to the small hand of his five-year-old sister, stepped up to the door of the church building.  He paused nervously, but after glancing down at the eager eyes of his little sister, who was listening to the melodious verses of “More and More Like Jesus,” he bravely opened the door and stepped in.  He was encouraged by the sign which read, “A Cordial Welcome to All.”  Besides that, he played ball with a boy who attends there, and he’s a really nice fellow.  But instead of receiving a welcoming smile and a handshake from the man who was attending the door, he was greeted with a cold, curious stare.  Disappointed and dejected, the young man left the building never to try again.

The young man and the little girl grew up.  He was always considered a “good man” by those who knew him, but he never heard the pure gospel, so he was lost!  The little girl became a wife and mother.  One of her sons became a denominational preacher.  But for the price of one sincere smile—several years before—perhaps these people would have been taught the truth, and today we would still be reaping souls for Christ because of the inquisitive young man and his little sister.

But they were black!  The sign on the building applied to all—if they were white.

This is a very sad state of affairs.  Not only is this kind of attitude true of some denominations, but it is also found among some so-called New Testament Christians, in whose hands the gospel has suffered much because of their bigotry.  Our nation has been plagued by racial prejudice in politics, industry, education, and, no less, religion.  It ought not so to be, especially in the Lord’s church.

Brother Diestelkamp went on to say, “The story is fictitious, but the attitude is not.  For years brethren have been sending black people to the other side of town to hear the gospel.  And even today, if a faithful black family moves to an unfamiliar city, they are faced with the dilemma of where to worship.

“Thankfully much progress has been made in recent years, and there are many, many congregations of the Lord’s church which welcome all, without regard to race or color, or any other God-given characteristic.  In reality, any church which would discourage attendance of anyone who is seeking the truth could not be considered a ‘sound’ church of Christ.”

In Jeremiah 13:23, we read, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?  Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to doing evil.” Jeremiah is saying that Judah was so far in sin that it was now as impossible for her to repent as for an Ethiopian to change his skin or a leopard to change its spots.  The reference to an Ethiopian changing his skin obviously indicates a difference between the Jews who were Caucasian and the Ethiopian who was Negroid.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “Critically Ethiopia may refer only to the Nile valley above the First Cataract, but in ancient as in modern times the term was often used not only to include what is now known as Nubia and the Sudan (Soudan), but all the unknown country further West and South, and also at times Northern, if not Southern, Abyssinia….Prehistoric population of Northern Nubia was probably Egyptian, but this was displaced in early historic time by a black race, and the thick lips and wooly hair of the typical African are as well marked in the oldest Egyptian paintings as in the latest….The Negroes, though brave and frugal, were slow in thought, and although controlled for centuries by cultivated neighbors, under whom they attained at time high official prominence, yet the body of the people remained uninfluenced by this civilization….There are many communities of mixed races in Ethiopia, but the ancient basis is invariably Negro, Semitic or Egyptian” (Vol. 2, p. 1031; article “Ethiopia”).

Thus, the term “Ethiopian” was commonly used in ancient times to denote a black person.  J. M. Fuller in his Bible Commentary on Jeremiah noted at this place, “This verse answers the question, May not Judah avert this calamity by repentance?  No: because her sins are too inveterate.  By the Ethiopian (Heb. Cushite) is meant not the Cushite of Arabia, but of Africa, i.e., the negro.”

Can the Ethiopian change his skin?  No, and no one should expect him to.  Why?  Because in the sight of our God, there is neither black nor white so far as one’s spiritual status is concerned.  We’ll be citing some passages later from which this conclusion may be drawn.  But in general, we want to look at the sin of racial prejudice.

1. Jesus was not subject to the racial prejudice of His day.  A great enmity existed between the Hebrews and the “half-breed” people of Samaria, so much so that the apostle John wrote, “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).  Yet this did not stop Jesus from speaking to a Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob near Sychar and offering her, as well as other Samaritans, salvation (John 4:6-42).  In fact, Jesus used the good deeds of a compassionate Samaritan to illustrate what it means to love one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).   And when ten lepers came to Jesus to be healed, He did not turn them away because one of them was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19).  Interestingly enough, only the Samaritan was grateful enough to return and express his thanks.  Furthermore, Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ unto them in Acts 8:4-5.

Beyond the Samaritans, one of the worst cases of racial bigotry in history was between the Jews and Gentiles.  The Jews considered the Gentiles as dogs, though such was not Jesus’s attitude (see Mark 7:24-30).  Notice the Jews’ reaction when Paul mentioned his mission to preach among the Gentiles (Acts 2:21-22).  Yet the book of Romans tells us that “there is no difference” (Romans 3:22).  Certainly it is true that the Gentiles had forsaken God and were rejected by Him (Romans 1:18-32).  But the Jews were just as displeasing to Jehovah because of their hypocrisy and formality (Romans 2:17-29).

Therefore, it was God’s desire to reconcile both to Himself and to each other.  This process began in Acts 10 (note vs. 28, 44-48).  We need to have the same attitudes towards people of other races that Peter here expressed towards the Gentiles.  The reason that Gentiles can be saved as well as Jews is found in Ephesians 2:11-19.  Jesus “came and preached peace to you which were far off, and to them that were nigh” (cf. Acts 2:39).    In dying upon the cross He “abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.  And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”  Because He did this, “He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us,” and “through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”  Now, if Jesus could do this for Jew and Gentile, why cannot it be true for black and white?

2.  There is no spiritual difference between black and white. There are a couple of passages in the New Testament which might refer to racial characteristics.  In Acts 8:27 we read of the Ethiopian eunuch.  There is disagreement over whether he was black or not.  The ISBE, quoting W. Max Muller, says the eunuch was probably “no black proselyte but a Jew who had placed the business ability of his race at the service of the Nubian woman” (p. 1033).  However, others disagree with this conclusion because of the way the term Ethiopian was understood in the ancient world.  R. H. C. Lenski wrote in his commentary, “He was an Ethiopian, a black man!  AITHIOPS, from AITHO, ‘to burn,’ and OPS, ‘countenance,’ points to race and nationality and not merely to residence.  Thus the idea of his being a Jew who had risen to great power in Ethiopia is at once excluded.  In fact, the entire narrative points to the fact that this man was a Gentile,” although still others suggest his being a proselyte of the gate.  Thus, it is highly probably that he was a black man.

Also, in Acts 13:1 we read of Simeon that was called Niger.  Again, there is disagreement as to what this implies.  Albert Barnes said, “Niger is a Latin name meaning black.  Why the name was given is not known.” J. W. McGarvey wrote, “Symeon, as his name proves, was a full-blooded Jew; and though his surname Niger (black) can scarcely justify the conclusion that he was an African Jew [a footnote here refers to a quotation from Alford, ‘From his appellation, Niger, he may have been an African proselyte’], it could scarcely have been given to him without complexion.” So it is at least possible that Simeon here may also have been a black man.  Anyway, we can all agree that there are differences of a physiological, sociological, and historical nature between races.

But there are no differences of a spiritual nature.  Why?  Because Galatians 3:26-29 tell us that God does not view people as they come to Him for salvation in terms of nation or race, class, or even sex.  As the Lord told Samuel, “For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  We must remember that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11).  An application of this principle is made in James 2:1-9.  Verse 9 is the reason we can speak of the SIN of racial (or any other kind of) prejudice.  If God is perfect in His love for all men, we also must be perfect in our love for all men (Matthew 5:43-48).

3. The gospel is for all mankind and is not limited to one nation or race. The gospel is to be preached to everyone (read Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:23).  Why?  Because all men are sinners and need the gospel to be saved (Romans 3:23).  That includes both black and white.

Some people try to excuse their prejudice by claiming that Negroes are the result of the cohabitation of white men with baboons (which is ridiculous), or by saying that they don’t need preaching because they don’t have souls.  Much of this foolishness is prompted by the supposed “curse of Ham” in Genesis 8:22-25.  It is true that the black race is the descendants of Ham (cf. Genesis 10:6).  However, the curse was not actually given to Ham but to his son Canaan.  Noah was not referring to all Hamitic peoples, but prophesying about the Canaanites.  In any event, the Negro race deserves a chance to hear and obey the gospel just like anyone else.

As we think about the gospel call, everyone is included.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  Jesus pleas for all who are heavy-laden to come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).  God loved the WHOLE WORLD (John 3:16).  “WHOSOEVER will may come” (Revelation 22:17; emphasis mine, WSW).  Both white and black, as well as all others, are invited.

Conclusion. We sometimes sing the hymn “The Gospel Is for All,” but do we really mean it?  What are some practical implications of these principles?  Suppose a faithful family of black Christians moved into the community.  Would we invite them to worship with us and accept them into the assembly?  Many would rather buy a run-down old hovel in a poor section of town and proclaim to the brotherhood, “We have started a ‘colored’ congregation.’  I am always glad to hear of black and white brethren who can meet together in peace and harmony.  Or what would you do if a local church, predominantly white, brought in a black preacher to work in a gospel meeting?  I am afraid that even many of the members might be bigoted enough not to support it!  Some churches are now beginning to have black preachers for meetings to reach into the black community, and this is good.

Brother Al Diestelkamp, in the afore-mentioned article, concluded: “Racial discrimination has found its way into almost every area of life.  Christians (?) are sometimes heard to say, ‘I have to work with them (referring to people of other races) but I don’t have to worship with them!’   But they have completely reversed the matter.  If one doesn’t want to, he doesn’t have to work at a job next to, or with those he doesn’t want to (he can quit), but in order to please God, he must be willing to worship and work with other faithful Christians without regard to their God-given ancestry.  Division simply for the separation of races is as sinful as dividing into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ congregations, or ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’ churches.  Until we remove prejudice from our lives, which has caused this unscriptural split in the church, there will continue to be an unsightly blemish on the Bride of Christ.”

Brethren, let us remember that Christianity is not a white, Anglo-Saxon, middle-class suburban American commodity.  There should be no national, economic, sexual—or racial—in short, no class distinctions whatever between Christians, or among those to whom we preach.  Since God loves every human being on the face of this earth, let us emulate His good will and show our love for all mankind by preaching the gospel to whomever we can and by accepting those who obey, whether Jew or Gentile, black or white, rich or poor, native or immigrant (and that includes Polish, Mexican, Italian, Irish, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.), old or young, urban or suburban, white-collar or blue-collar, and anyone else.  There must be unity in the body of Christ.  “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of all them that observe thy precepts” (Psalm 119:63).

—taken from Torch; January, 1983; Vol. XVII, No. 1; pp. 7-15

[Editor’s note:  I wrote this article back in 1983.  The congregation where I was working at the time had a young black couple from a faithful church in a nearby city move into our community and visit with us.  However, they didn’t come back.  But they had filled out a visitors card and we had their address, so a couple of us visited with them.  They informed us that they had decided to worship at another area congregation.  It was not until several months later that I found out why.  Some of our members were friends with some members of the church from which the young couple had come.  When our members were talking with them about the black couple, their friends told them that the couple had told several in the other congregation that when they had visited with us, someone—I was never told who it was, though I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew—came up to them and said something like, “Your kind really aren’t welcome around here.”  When I heard that, I was simply flabbergasted, so, after waiting a little while longer for things to settle down, I gathered this material together for a sermon and then worked it into this article which I later sent off for publication.  WSW.]