Theology Christian Living

Pridefully Reformed?

Cyril Chavis, Jr.

Leaving a black church and entering into the world of a predominately white reformed church is a hard transition as a black person. Pride, bitterness and loneliness can consume one in such an environment where you might be challenged, misunderstood and alienated, often times unintentionally. To help prevent this, we must remind others going through these transitions that our deepest identity is found in Christ.

My Story

I am a black man. Two Christian parents, who are still married, raised me. When I was eight years old, the suburbs of Virginia Beach, Virginia became our home. And a few years after moving there, my family officially joined a traditional, black Missionary Baptist Church, and I became a Christian.

Long story short, I enrolled at the University of Virginia at age 18. And after three years at this school, I discerned the call to pastoral ministry and was licensed in the Missionary Baptist Church. At this time, I wasn’t part of a local church, but through a campus ministry, I met a pastor of a local, reformed, nondenominational church.

When I met him, I was Arminian. But after months of reading Wayne Grudem, John Piper, John Calvin, and most importantly, the Bible, I began to describe my theology as reformed. The truths I was learning deeply impacted my walk with God. Months later, I became a member and a church planting resident at this church.

A Different World

Challenges confronted me as I entered into the life of this predominately white reformed church. This was a world I barely knew existed. Yes, I had white friends, but only rarely had seen them worship on a Sunday morning. The songs, community life, conversations, senses of humor, values, experiences, spiritual discipline emphases, theological emphases, preaching, family dynamics, etc., were different.

Staying Grounded

Knowing my roots was crucial as I faced these challenges. I am a black man, and I am reformed. But more importantly than either of those, I am a child of God.

Find your identity in the esteem of God. Your worship preferences don’t give you worth; your race doesn’t give you worth; your theological tribes and cliques don’t give you worth; and the approval of any church, white, black, or multiethnic, doesn’t give you worth. The infinite worth of Christ has already been given to you through faith. Rest in that.

Effects of Forgetting Your Identity

The times when I was most prideful or discontent was when I lost sight of my identity in Christ. I quickly realized that I was different from everyone around me and at times reacted defensively with passive bitterness. I also developed a pride in my worship preferences and cultural identity, especially when I positively reflected my perceived cultural ideals of the black church.

On the other hand, I sometimes found myself pridefully reformed. My theological cliques and newfound knowledge made me feel superior towards my loved ones in the black church. I developed an arrogant resentment towards the black church because I falsely believed they didn’t teach me enough theology. But in reality, the black church nurtured me in unique ways that I didn’t appreciate until I was outside of that context.

The Measuring Tape

This experience has similarities to what W.E.B. Du Bois would call double-consciousness. I understand that the situation Du Bois found himself in, in the early 20th century was much different than many of our own. But see if you can notice some similarities. Du Bois, in his book, The Souls of Black Folk, says:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

I am a reformed male and a black minister. And both worlds can have the sinful tendency to look upon the other in amused contempt and pity. If you measure yourself by the tape of cultural expressions, worship preferences, and theological histories of either of these worlds, you are already torn asunder.

God measures you by His tape. And you fall short. But through Christ you meet the mark. Once you are blown away at how thoroughly and harmoniously loved, valued, and accepted you are by God in Christ, you can both critique and appreciate the circles you find yourself in without feeling like you are boosting or damaging your own self-worth in the process. Continually cling to who you are according to God.

Challenge and Be Challenged

When you are secure in your own identity in Christ, you can challenge the ignorance of your white brothers and sisters and be teachable when they challenge you. W.E.B. Du Bois says, “He [the Negro] would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world.”

The largely white, reformed circles, with their theological and cultural traditions, have much to teach the world and the black community. But never despise or be ashamed of your cultural lens and background as a black person. The black experiences in America and the black church circles, with their own theological and cultural traditions, also have a message for the world and reformed circles.

What are some insights that have helped you or unique challenges you have faced as you have found yourself as a minority in a new Christian community?

32 thoughts on “Pridefully Reformed?

  1. Marlowe

    Any suggestions for African American Pastors on sermon audio? Our family has been truly blessed by Voddie Baucham through the site. Hoping to find more like him – sound theology, familiar style, intellectual, but not lacking in passion for the Lord. If you really want to make my day – dig up that one in a million sermon that captures the sound of waving paper fans and the organist cracking her knuckles, getting ready for the preacher to bring it on home!

  2. Joshua Waulk

    For a myriad of reasons, RAAN has become one of my favorite sites. The thoughtfulness of this post is an example of why. May God continue to use this resource to spread a passion for His glory among all people.

  3. Ashley Brown

    Since I grew up in a white neighborhood I’m used to being the only black one among a ton of white people. But the hardest challenge is not having black role models. I want to see black married couples, black children, and black leaders. Seeing them help me be able to envision myself being in one of those positions in the future.

  4. Jason Evans

    I can relate to this article in many ways. I was actually introduced to the reformed theology through an African American pastor. However it was while attending Dallas Theological Seminary that I got a grasp on reformed theology. I too read the books of Grudem, Piper, and the works of Calvin. Being reformed has led me to embrace the black church tighter. I love being able to float between both worlds and dialog in both circles. The challenge often for me comes in the white circles. At times I feel there is a need to prove to them, not to myself, that I am well able to minister and serve. Yet even then that has open up doors for me to explain the Christian African American experience and what we bring to the table. Ultimately some of my friends view me as a double anomaly, I am reformed and I am called to missions. How does that happen? Only God!

  5. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Hey Gerre thanks for your question! What would be your motives?

  6. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thanks for your comments, brother! Your experience in your homiletics class is encouraging! It is good to know that different preaching styles and traditions are valued within reformed seminaries. I am currently a seminary student as well. I am in my first semester, so I have not taken any homiletics courses yet. I am looking forward to how God continues to shape me as a preacher in light of my initial homiletical training in the black church. I pray God continues to shape you as well. Keep preaching, brother!

  7. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Hey Ezra thanks for your thoughts, brother! I can relate in the area of feeling ill-equipped to minister to a certain group of people, even those with which we identify. I believe that it is helpful to be identify with those to whom we minister. But you are right; at the end of the day, the gospel is the power of God for salvation. We trust in the power of God’s Word!

  8. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Joe! It is good to hear from you, brother! Man, thank you for the encouragement and prayers. I hope all is well with you and Jamie!

  9. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thanks for your comments, sister! I am glad that the church you are a part of is sensitive to these issues. Thank you for the encouragement and prayers, Tia!

  10. Tia Joy

    So sad I am just now discovering this! I truly identify with your story (even down to growing up in VA Beach – smile). I just had this discussion about double consciousness with a fellow believer, and I do agree that it is often the paradigm for many black believers moving towards reformed theology. And most definitely, recognizing my Cross-centered citizenship ahead of my race or community has been essential towards my humility and pure understanding of the character of God. I’m really blessed to now be a member of a pretty diverse and sensitive reformed church, so we bring these issues to light during service, in small group, and genuinely in our community service. We keep each other accountable and grounded, which is such a blessing. Again, I think you hit the nail on the head with your essay. Blessings to you for sharing, challenging, and encouraging us. Will definitely keep you in prayer!

  11. Joseph Stringfellow

    Cyril! Brother I can’ tell you how encouraged I am by your post. I’ve only been able to watch your journey from the outskirts, but my heart leaps over your growth in Christ. We’re walking with you brother, absolutely, relentlessly, and prayerfully. Blessings!

  12. Ezra J. Washington

    So many shared experiences! I have been a Minister of Music at a non-denominational/reformed church for about 10 years now. Sometimes I used to feel ill-equipped to even minister to most blacks because I saw/see myself more as a “double-agent” than an actual black person. It’s silly but Gods Word and Truth are more than enough to lead us all and yet we stay divided. The thing is, if we’re not standing on the Word, we are standing on our own. I feel you brother. This article is timely and encouraging. Thanks for writing.

  13. Brian B.

    I agree with Chris, this article speaks to about 90% of my experience at a reformed seminary. I am the only African American at my seminary. I grew up in the black Pentecostal church. And it is a long story but somehow I became a Presbyterian and I am now at one of their seminaries. I am reformed but I do struggle with differences between the black church I grew up with and the predominately white experience I am getting at seminary. However, I agree with the article in that we should keep our identity because the black church has something to offer to the world. I was nervous to preach in my homiletics class because I did not think my class would like my black style of preaching (black preaching tends to be more scrappy, direct, or prophet like). However, all of my white peers loved my preaching including the professor. People actually spoke back to me and said “Amen!” Basically, they loved hearing my reformed theology in a black preaching style. Reformed seminaries are use to sermons that sound more like lectures and pleasant thoughts. But they were highly intrigued by an educated, passionate, black style of preaching. So this is one thing the black community offers the reformed circles– we add soul or passion to our preaching.

  14. Gerre Adams

    Another comment well question..would you all say it is wrong to leave a predominately white reformed church and seek out a more diverse reformed church or predominately black reformed church?

  15. Gerre Adams

    Great read!Glory to God for you sharing your experiences as I was beginning to think I was the only one going through this transformation.Coming from a prosperity church and seeing your brothers and sisters still underneath that leads me not to “pity” them anymore but more so pray and lovingly tellingly them what the word of God says .Unfortunately,most have responded negatively and have evenaccused me of being a extremist but no..the word says we ought to test everything in light of scripture..

  16. Riley

    Don’t get me wrong. I selfishly would love you have you and others at OUR church. But it’s exciting to think about the possibilities of black men of God like yourself working for Reformation in the black churches, or, if you find yourself unwelcome among them, to plant churches. I might do it, if I could!

  17. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Joe! I am glad that you have not had any negative experiences and that you have had fellowship within the reformed community. My experience within the reformed church was amazing as well. The greatest struggles that I faced in regards to racial and cultural differences were within myself and with my own pride. Christ had to change my heart much more than he had to change my environment.

  18. Kellus Hill

    I definitely can relate to this article heavily, thanks for taking the time to write this out. My family has now been a part of a church that would fit the description of being reformed and white. I never have felt uncomfortable or out of place, partially because the Holy Spirit is without question guiding this local body.

    As far as the efforts to foster tangible diversity, their arms are wide open but a lot of my black family and friends remain in a standoff stance. Sure the worship is different, the website is devoid of black faces on the leadership page, the teaching is not as emotionally charged as many are accustomed to…but I found that unadulterated truth was my appetite.

    I was actually encouraged the most when sitting down with the pastor for lunch one day. We talked family, sports, vocation…and race. THe thing was, it was forced by neither and discussed in a way that featured not a ounce of awkwardness. He mentioned his friendship with black pastors, church members, and refusal to put anyone in a “token” elder role.

    All in all, my wife and I have grown tremendously in the few years we’ve been attending, praising the Lord the whole time. We just pray that one day our friends and family will put away their preferences for at least one visit to see how the Lord works in a slightly different context.

    Great work here Cyril, keep writing!

  19. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thanks for the encouragement, Pastor Matt! I am grateful for the ways God used you as a friend and a mentor. Miss and love you too, big bro!

  20. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thank you for the thoughts and encouragement, Riley! The idea of the reformed black person’s responsibility to his or her race and the black church is definitely something that is worth pondering, given that there are relatively few reformed black believers. I myself, given my experiences and passions, have a strong desire to help fuel reformation among African-Americans. That’s why I am grateful for networks like RAAN.

  21. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thank you for your observations and insights, Kelvin! Since reading through the Psalms recently, I have actually been meditating on the relationship between sound doctrine and expressive and hearty praise in the life of both a local church and the individual believer. I have found that as I continue to seek God and learn more about Him I am more motivated to praise and dance for Him in joyful and expressive ways, both in the worship gathering and in a room where it is just God and I. Sound doctrine should lead to joyful praise and worship!

    That’s an amazing experience. I hope that different worship strengths, if you will, associated with certain cultures and denominations would cease to be contained within those cultures and denominations. I hope that we would be open to learning from each other and yielding our gifts and cultural flavors to Christ’s lorship and purposes

  22. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thank you for the prayers and encouragement Rev. Christmas. Love you too!

  23. Ronald Eugene Christmas Sr

    Cyril, Great Article…. I’m humbled and, by the grace of God, I truly believe you’re going to be ok….. I should’ve been getting books from you!

  24. Kelvin Tarver

    Great article, highlighting a few sinful tendencies “we” face going and coming. Great observations and well articulated. What I have found, and continue to find, is that my journey is far from over. When I first began enjoying the rich teachings of the reformed traditions, I was content to just listen to them on the radio. But as time moved on, it became necessary to find a church that would more fully nurture these teachings as I understood them. The intellectual component was great, stimulating my desire to know more about the God of all grace. But my confusion/frustration came in wondering why, with such wonderful truths, would my new found brothers and sisters offer such seemingly pitiful praise. I shamefully thought if my Pentecostal brothers and sisters had these rich teachings of the reformed tradition they’d be shouting the place down. On the other hand, when in none reformed circles, my heart was equally saddened when those with great passion and fervor for praise did so having eaten very little of substance. Both extremes can be bastions of self delusion and neither offer immunity to sin. Both can be excellent places to hide what is really going on.

    Somewhere around my 7th year, I was able to worship with a church that had a great worship leader, from the black tradition, and a pastor/teacher from the reformed tradition who was white. Each had honed the their particular skill set/gift over the years in their respective traditions and sacrificially yielded such to the gospel, despite their own tradition. In that setting, I found that God has for more in mind than we could ever imagine. Rich teaching and rich fellowship and rich praise and worship with diversity in culture and class is an amazing taste of heaven! But even in that we have much growth ahead. A taste of heaven is not, of course, heaven. The fruit yielded so far, after 15yrs, for me is that I better understand that we are all but mere men. Strengths? Yes. Weakness? Yes. Each of us? Yes. As we lock arms, and let iron sharpen iron, perhaps our children will have no first hand knowledge of the challenges you’ve written about

  25. Riley

    She should really be following your lead on this decision, as her spiritual head. Brother to brother.

  26. Riley

    Insightful thoughts, Cyril. I revel in the unity that we have in Christ which transcends cultural and racial boundaries. Any predominantly white church should be happy to have you. At the same time, I wonder if much good could be done by men who have become Reformed staying in the predominantly black churches and making an impact there. Something to ponder.

  27. Matthew Murphy

    I am “proud” (?) of my boy Cyril. Great post sir. It was fun watching you go through the process that the Lord took you through. Love you man, we’ll miss you in C’ville.

  28. Joe Goosby

    My reformed church experience has definitely been positive for me and my family. The church we belong to is “Reforming”, and the ethnicity reflects the city that we live in. I have gone to different churches and conferences where I have been the only black person but I haven’t had any negative experiences. I am more self conscience of my appearance because I have full sleeve tattoos but so far it hasn’t seemed to affect my fellowship within the reformed community even though I thought it would. Thank you for your article.

  29. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thanks for the encouragement, brother! I am encouraged that God is using similar experiences to challenge and grow others. Praise God for His desire to continually and compassionately use and teach His children

  30. Cyril Chavis, Jr.

    Thanks for the comment, brother! That is great that the church has been friendly and that they aim at being multi-ethnic; the church I transitioned into was the same. Having a divided home on Sunday’s can be a challenging situation, brother. I pray that the Spirit gives your family wisdom, strength, patience, and eyes for the Lord’s glory in the midst of your transition. Amen.

  31. M. Hodges

    Good post Cyril! I can relate to your experience brother. I have the joy of serving on staff at a church that has reformed leanings and is predominately white in membership. The LORD has used this season of my life to show me own blind spots and to be used by him to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is amazing how God can use anything thing and any experience to conform us into his image. Good word DOC keep posting!

  32. Chris Hendricks

    So this is about 90% my experience having recently crossed over to the mainly white reformed world. Everybody has been super friendly so far and the church has aims at being multi-ethnic from day 1. All though I have crossed over my wife has not, so we have a divided home right now on Sunday… trying to reconcile that and making sure my family understands the gospel fully are my default priorities at this time…

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