Sunday, February 28, 2016

African American Church Of Christ Worship Practices (Excerpt From Lamont Ali Francies' 2013 doctoral dissertation)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series on African American Church of Christ (CoC) music traditions.

Part I features an excerpt from Lamont Ali Francies' 2013 University of San Francisco, School of Education's doctoral dissertation entitled "An Exploration of Worship Practices at an African American Church of Christ." This excerpt focuses on church traditions and possibly changing attitudes regarding hand clapping, foot patting, and the display of emotions in African American Church of Christ congregations. This excerpt also addresses attitudes regarding the a cappella singing, praise and worship teams, and song leaders in African American Churches of Christ.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II showcases several YouTube examples of African American Church of Christ a capella singing, song leader, and praise team singing. Selected comments from some of the discussion threads of these videos are also included in that post.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III provides an excerpt from a discussion of beatboxing and handclapping in Church of Christ congregations. That discussion also referenced two videos which are included in this pancocojams post. Part III also showcases two videos of African American Church of Christ praise singing which includes beatboxing. Selected comments about handclapping and beatboxing from those discussion threads are also included in that post.

Additional examples of Church of Christ singing will be showcased in other pancocojams posts. Click the "Church of Christ" tag below for those posts.

The content of this post is presented for historical, sociocultural, and religious purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Lamont Ali Francies for his research on this subject. Also, thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Note: The designations "Church of Christ" ("CoC" or "CofC") isn't the same as the designation "Church of God In Christ" (COGIC).

"Churches of Christ are autonomous Christian congregations associated with one another through common beliefs and practices. They seek to base doctrine and practice on the Bible alone in order to be the church described in Scripture. They believe that any individual (from the time Christ established the Church on the Day of Pentecost until now) can be added by the Lord to His church when they hear and believe the truth, repent of their sins, confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and are baptized for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-47).

Churches of Christ in the United States have their roots in the American Restoration Movement. The movement began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century under the leadership of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and Barton W. Stone. Those leaders had declared independence from their Presbyterian roots and the traditional creeds, seeking a fresh start to restore the New Testament church. They did not see themselves as establishing a new church, but rather sought "the unification of all Christians in a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament."[2]:54 The names "Church of Christ," "Christian Church," and "Disciples of Christ" were adopted by the movement because they believed these terms to be biblical, rather than denominational"...

A cappella worship

The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship[2]:47[16]:237–238[55]:415 and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church's worship service[6][16]:244–246 to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.[6][14]:240[15]:124

The use of musical instruments in worship was a divisive topic within the Stone-Campbell Movement from its earliest years, when some adherents opposed the practice on scriptural grounds, while others may have relied on a cappella simply because they lacked access to musical instruments. Alexander Campbell opposed the use of instruments in worship. As early as 1855, some Restoration Movement churches were using organs or pianos, ultimately leading the Churches of Christ to separate from the groups that condoned instrumental music.[68]...

There are congregations that permit hand-clapping and a few that use musical instruments in worship.[14]:240[55]:417[69] Some of the latter describe themselves as a "Church of Christ (Instrumental)".[54]"...

Members: 2,034,338 worldwide; 1,367,859 in the United States[1]"...
Informal references are made online (including in the dissertation that is the focus of this post] to White American(or Caucasian American) Churches of Christ and to African American Churches of Christ. However, some American Churches of Christ are racially integrated.

Delta Bay Church Of Christ (Antioch, California) is the African American Church of Christ that is the focus of Lamont Ali Francies' doctoral dissertation. As per the videos that I've seen of that church's praise and worship team, it appears that the congregation's worship service includes hand clapping, but doesn't include musical instruments. That said, the praise and worship team utilizes finger snapping and/or beat-boxing.

From is Praise and Worship Music? by Kim Jones, Updated July 27, 2015.
"Question: What is Praise and Worship Music?

Answer: Praise and Worship could be any type of music that glorifies God regardless of the style. However, "Corporate Praise and Worship Music" is commonly found in contemporary churches of today. Lyrically, it features generally short and easy to sing (and remember) choruses that repeat several times. This is part of what makes the style perfect for corporate worship because even people who aren't familiar with a particular song can sing along with ease after hearing one or two repeats of the chorus."

Lamont Ali Francies, Doctoral Dissertations, Paper 76 University of San Francisco
"Page 69
...handclapping is an issue with which some Black congregations still struggle. For a long time it was seen as a violation of the scriptural mandates for worship because it was thought clapping was another form of instrumental music. Clapping is also done in both secular and denominational settings which made it forbidden during the worship. Clapping is seen as done for entertainment purposes and showmanship, and those practices could not be done during the worship. Jen, who has been a member of Churches of Christ for over 60 years, stated that she was taught not to express herself emotionally ing worship.

Well, I get emotional because every Sunday I look around. I get very emotional at Delta Bay because I’m so happy that God’s presence is there, the spirit of God is with us, and I see it and feel that, okay. And I was taught not to.-that everything about the church is built on faith, and that’s true, too, but there are some feelings, and I express myself tearfully a lot because I feel happy that I am in the church, that I got up in the morning and got myself together and I’m sitting here praising God. Sometimes you may see my hands up. That’s what I’m happy about and I will shed tears about that.

Page 70
After coming to the Delta Bay Church of Christ, Jean felt liberated to express herself culturally. She was taught early in her upbringing that hand clapping was a sin. She no longer believes that, but her liberation was not without a cost. Many of her peers who have grown up in the Church of Christ over the years do not agree with this stance. She candidly stated
And when I share that information and clapping of hands and patting my feet, you know, you don’t pat your feet in the Church of Christ. And when I do that, I had a sister, my older sister, in fact, told me she was going to withdraw from me because I sound like a Baptist. And when I try to bring up- I have learned to enjoy gospel music and denominational churches like the Baptist Church and others would sing them. And I enjoy that. I see how that music has a lot to bring about freedom and help Black people to pull their culture together and I appreciate that. But when I talk to my family, it’s like we’ve gone Baptist. I mean, we’re not supposed to listen to that kind of music. And that’s how I grew up, you know, listening to the little school sounds, that the kids would tease us about when we were going to school, when we were all in school. But I have learned to appreciate African American music and not feel it’s the wrong thing to really do, to sing.

Jean admitted that she felt pressure from other Blacks in Church of Christ to leave the Delta Bay Church of Christ because of its violation of Church of Christ Norms. She was told that the Delta Bay Church of Christ was no really a Church of Christ because its atmosphere of emotionalism mirrored more the Baptist church. Jean knew, however, that the message was the same but the Delta Bay Church of Christ employed a worship methodology that would better engage the community....

Page 71
A new generation of African Americans believers are beginning to reject the Anglo-Saxon cultural norms of the 1940s in huge numbers...

[Dr. Jack] Evans, president of Southwestern University (the only historically Black college in the United States associated with the Church of Christ) cautioned members of this fellowship about excessive emotionalism (2002).
There are things we do in worship with members of our physical body that are not intrinsically such as “patting our feet in time to the tune” but are made .wrong when such emotionally expressions become a superficial rite orchestrated by time-repetitiveness t hat has been proscribed (and pre-planned) by the worship leaders. (p. 6)

Evans, who since has been described as one of the most influential leaders of the African American Church of Christ, believed that clapping in the worship service is not wrong in itself when it emanates from an individual’s joy, but when orchestrated, with everyone will clap on cue, it becomes ritualistic and superficial….

Page 72
Evans (2002) admitted “When one tries to tell another how to express his joy, he is as guilty as the one who orchestrates the clapping ‘on cue’ of others who have made the clapping a proscribed ritual.” Worship should not be culturally regulated but too often it has been under the guise as scripture.

This practice of cultural regulation began as White brethren shaped their Black counterparts. Clear evidence exists of cultural regulation as Black Churches of Christ regulate each other using Eurocentric standards to measure faithfulness. African American congregations who worship “too Black” or demonstrate too much emotion are castigated in this fellowship as apostates…

Page 74
Praise Teams
A praise team in Churches of Christ consist of men (and sometimes women) who stand before the congregation to lead the congregation in song. The praise teams were not designated to serenade the congregation but to lead its section in its parts. For 3 years, the Delta Bay Church Of Christ has employed praise teams in its worship to enhance singing. The Delta Bay Praise Team consists of men and women (Black and White) singers in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. These individuals lead the congregation in weekly praise. Praise and worship at the Delta Bay congregation has been described by participants as moving and inspirational. Although, the congregation has chosen to remain a capella, the decision has not had a negative effect on members...

After the praise team was implemented, reaction from the congregation was mostly positive, however, reactions from other local African American Churches of Christ were mixed.. Other Black congregations opined that because praise teams are not specifically prescribed in scripture, the practice is sinful. Other congregants believed that praise teams were acceptable as long as they didn’t include women...

Page 75
As praise teams are not mentioned in scripture, neither are song leaders, which are used by the majority of African American Churches of Christ. If Churches of Christ uses the same argument that the silence of the scripture prohibits, then many of the most beloved practices and possessions in that fellowship would be outlawed. These practices include Sunday School, multiple communion cups, hymnals, and even church buildings, all of which aren’t mentioned in scripture."
This excerpt is given "as is" with the exception of my inclusion of the title and name for Dr. Jack Evans that I placed in brackets.

This concludes Part I of this series.

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