An Unexpected Link to the Reformation
One of the most exciting times at the church where I grew up was the day our pastor introduced the New National Baptist Hymnal by R. H. Boyd Publishing. Our church selected the red one with gold lettering. The new hymnals were absolutely beautiful.
Ours was not a hymn-singing church per se. Normally the choir did the lion’s share of singing, with the exception of what was called “Devotion,” when deacons would lead us in well-known hymns. However, with the arrival of these new hymnals, worship in singing was going to change. Immediately the senior pastor charged the musicians and choir directors with teaching our congregation a new hymn each month. So congregational hymn singing with everyone using the nice new hymnbooks became the norm during Sunday morning worship.
We also put these new hymnbooks to use each Sunday when we read the “Responsive Reading.” These readings were found in the back of the hymnal in a section titled “Scriptural Readings.” “Devotions” and “Responsive Reading were the only times the congregation handled those new books.
Yet, there was another very important and useful section in the back of the new hymnbooks. It was titled “Articles of Faith.” Every week we held in our hands eighteen weighty theological subjects, like The Scriptures, The True God, The Fall of Man, The Way of Salvation, Justification, Regeneration, Repentance and Faith . Truth filled those short doctrinal paragraphs.
Even though I’m one for preaching entire books of the Bible, I can still envision a sermon series on these great doctrines. Wouldn’t it be great to sit under the instruction week after week on subjects like, God’s purpose of Grace, Sanctification, Perseverance of Saints or The Law and Gospel? Or how about weekly Bible Studies, Sunday School series or B.T.U. (Baptist Training Union) for all ages on these wonderful truths? You could even use it for family worship without having to print song sheets. What a magnificent way to get our churches and our families rooted and grounded in the truth. Those hymnals are great tools!
Now here comes the surprise, at least it was for me. The Articles of Faith in the back of The New National Baptist Hymnal is none other than the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833! And a wonderful confession it is. Here is a brief history of it:
“This Confession was drawn up by the Rev. John Newton Brown, D. D., of New Hampshire (b. 1803, d. 1868), about 1833, and has been adopted by the New Hampshire Convention, and widely accepted by Baptists, especially in the Northern and Western States, as a clear and concise statement of their faith, in harmony with the doctrines of older confessions, but expressed in milder form.”
Many Black churches using hymnals with this confession are likewise founded upon “the doctrines of older confessions.” Confessions like Westminster, Heidelberg, Belgic, and of course The London Baptist Confession of 1689 (also known as The Second London Confession).
Here’s what one pastor wrote regarding the London Baptist Confession of 1689 when his congregation was about to adopt it as their official confession:
“This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby you are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.
Be not ashamed of your faith; remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which all the gates of Hell cannot prevail. Let your lives adorn your faith, let your example adorn your creed. Above all live in Christ Jesus, and walk in Him, giving credence to no teaching but that which is manifestly approved of Him, and owned by the Holy Spirit. Cleave fast to the Word of God which is here mapped out for you.”
Now imagine that — many Black Baptist churches across the United States possess a theological/doctrinal Statement of Faith in the back of their hymnals that has its roots in historical Reformed Confessions. Sometimes people act as if Reformed theology is foreign to the black church. They ask, “Why do you think churches have not embraced it?” But that’s the wrong question. The real question is, “Why have our churches forgotten it?” For, in truth, this is part of our heritage. As much a part of our heritage as the hymnals we’ve loved so much.
I am grateful R. H. Boyd Publishing has given us clear and present access to these great and lasting truths of the faith while at the same time providing a link to the Reformation. Now may the Lord move us in the same way He did that great African Church father Augustine to once again, “tolle lege” (pick up and read).