Monday, August 08, 2005

That Ol' Time Religion

I remember growing up in a small church in Woodland Park, MI. One of my favorite songs was, "Gimme That Ol' Time Religion." I don't know why it was. Maybe it was the melody, or may the simplicity of the words. Maybe it reminded me that what I believed was the same thing my mother believed and that gave me comfort. Whatever the case, I really liked that song. Well, today that song would not be found on my "Most Requested" list. Nevertheless, the sentiments found in the song continue to ring in my mind and heart. If there has ever been a time for a reclamation of the "Ol' Time Religion" or as the Bible puts it the "old paths" (Jer. 6:16), it is today. And if we were to search and find the "old paths" we would find them paths marked out by a faithful theology and preaching that was mostly Calvinistic.

The history of Christianity in America, and the African-American Church in particular, is that of Calvinistic distinctions. E. Brooks Holifield, in his book Theology in America, has a chapter entitled Roots of Black Theology. In it he asserts that when early African-American Christians "gave expression to theological ideas, they spoke most often as Calvinist or evangelical Arminians. Among the few surviving theological essays written by black authors, statements of Calvinist thought remain prominent." This is echoed by John Saillant in Black Puritan, Black Republican when he asserts that Calvinism was the accepted theological thought of the first generation of serious Black Christian authors (see pg. 4). From such men and women as Jupiter Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, Phyllis Wheatley, George Liele, Andrew Bryan, Andrew Marshall, and many others, we find a refreshing and viborant faith expressed in biblical Calvinism. In fact, Bryan, a Baptist, was commended by a local presbyterian minister for "giving so clear and decided a testimony to the precious though unpopular [Calvinistic] doctrines of grace" (Holifield 310).

Today we would do well to heed the voice of God saying, "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16). Maybe we need to find "Gimme That Ol' Time Religion" among our most requested once again.

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