Hezekiah Walker & The Love Fellowship Crusade Choir
“Christ Did It All”
Live From Atlanta At Morehouse College, Verity (1994)
So here’s a fun little experiment. Go to any black-owned barbershop, predominantly black church, or inner-city parachurch organization. Head into the office, conference room, or other common gathering place. Then play this song. And count how many people stop whatever they’re doing, and say, “THIS IS MY JAM!!”
(I’m guessing the over/under here is five.)
Now, for as long as there have been black people filling churches and singing in choirs, there have always been uptempo songs that make people move, jump, and clap. But this one always comes to mind for me when I think about about classic choir jams, and I think some of the following attributes combine to make this song and recording excellent.
First, there are two complementary, essential pieces – the choir enunciates its consonants well, and the mics are properly placed to pick them up. It might seem like a little thing, but without proper enunciation and mic placement, “Christ did it all” sounds a lot more like “rice did it all” (which I suppose could be a great parody version for the US Rice Growers Association, although, if I were them, I would go with the brilliant standard in misheard lyrics, “We Bring the Sacks of Rice On Trays”)
Also, the excellent blowing of Kim Waters on alto saxophone. This might’ve been the first contemporary choir recording where the saxophone was so front-and-center, featured prominently in the B-section of the chorus. (It’s a shame that this was excluded from the video, but it’s there in the commercially recorded audio.)
But mostly what makes this song such a jam is the infectious energy of the choir. In a lot of today’s contemporary gospel, the choir is simply there in support of a lead singer (or in some cases, a worship leader shouting exhortation).
But here, the choir itself is the star – which is great, because such a group of people singing in such spirited praise with so repetitive a chorus creates a sense of critical mass, not unlike the gravitational pull of a singularity, which then creates a reverse-supernova effect, where everyone in immediate range gets sucked in and starts singing along. Even Christopher Hitchens, if he were in the building, would’ve gotten swept up and singing along, even if only ironically. This galvanizing effect is one of the reasons why so many unchurched liberal white people love seeing African-American choirs sing gospel music (after all, such a singularity is also known as a black hole… okay, this analogy has officially gone too far).
“Christ Did It All” is proof that songs need not be wordy or full of lofty language in order to be theologically significant. Just like “Snakes On A Plane,” the whole point and concept of the song is embedded in the title. This is probably why so many black churches were able to have church services for so long without having printed hymnals or projected lyrics. You just stand up, watch, listen, and sing along. (Try doing that with “Lord When We Praise You with Glorious Music”… never gonna happen my friend.)
So while singing this song every service for a year might get old, and you might not want all of your songs at church to have this quality, it’s still true that songs like “Christ Did It All” can be an essential part of a churchgoer’s musical diet, because the lyrics are immediate, simple, and personal:
Christ did it all, all, all / Christ did it all, now I am free / Christ did it all, I’ve got the victory / And most of all, I have eternal life / Christ did it, He did it all
The vamp is driving, the band is kicking, it doesn’t change keys 47 times, and it’s only four minutes and twenty seconds. This makes “Christ Did It All,” a classic gospel throwback in my book. Just make sure, if you pull this one out at church, that you explain what “it” is.
One of the realities of being a white Protestant in America is the historic freedom from needing a theological framework to confront structural and institutional forms of injustice due to race. Race continues to be a heavy burden for people of color in America. As such, a theological framework primarily oriented toward issues of personal salvation and morality is sufficient to address the questions of the dominant white culture. However, for blacks and Latinos, who not only have to wrestle with personal questions regarding sin and salvation but also evil from the outside because of their race, they need the Cross to provide hope that God intends to relieve the burdens and liabilities of being a subdominant minority. These burdens range from stereotypes and racial discrimination to issues of identity in light of Anglo-normativity and sociopolitical wellbeing. Blacks and Latinos need a comprehensive theology that deals with the cosmic scope of God redeeming every aspect of the creation affected by the Fall through the work and person of Christ.
Dr. Vincent Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College and an UrbanFaith contributor, presents a comprehensive theological framework in his chapter in a new book I edited titled Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation. Bacote introduces the themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Renewal (CFRR). CFRR reminds us of the following: God created the world good, it was corrupted by the Fall introducing sin and brokenness into the world, but God has a unique plan to renew the entire creation through the work and person of Jesus Christ. That is, the entire creation formed and shaped by Christ will also be renewed by Christ and reconciled unto Him (Col. 1:15-23).
CFRR not only tells us who we are, it also gives Christians a vision of the implications of the kingdom of God. Christians are not passive bystanders but are called to be leaders in the business reconciliation until Christ returns to bring finality to the renewal process inaugurated at his death and resurrection in ways never before realized in human history (Rom. 8:12-25).
For those seeking to preach the Good News of what was accomplished in the work and Person of Jesus Christ to blacks and Latinos, the application of biblical texts cannot be limited to personal issues of salvation and sanctification. Subdominant minorities who are immersed in a world of white privilege need to hear hope that God also intends to relieve them of the complex burdens of being a minority — burdens that whites do not encounter in their day-to-day lives in America. This is one reason why minority teachers are vitally important in ethnic church contexts. Otherwise, applying the gospel to the realities of white privilege will likely not be addressed regularly. Now, by white privilege I simply mean the privilege, special freedom, or immunity white persons have from some liability or burden to which non-white persons are subject in America.
A team of authors led by Fordham University psychology professor Celia B. Fisher provides an excellent list of issues that blacks and Latinos need to reconcile with the Truth. In an article titled “Applied Developmental Science, Social Justice, and Socio-Political Wellbeing,” Fisher and her team remind us that when evil entered the world it created a context for the following burdens experienced by Native Americans, blacks, and Latinos in America: (1) societal structures, policies, and so on that limit access to minorities, (2) the persistence of high-effort coping with the reality of marginalization that produces high levels of stress, (3) psycho-political wellbeing and validity concerns which address the ways in which minorities apply human dignity to themselves within a context of Anglo-hegemony, (4) communities that accept dysfunctional behaviors as behavioral norms in the shaping of one’s personhood, (5) institutional racism which examines the “institutional structures and processes passed on from generation to generations that organize and promote racial inequity throughout the culture,” (6) proactive measures intended to dismantle racism, and (7) contexts to provide healing for those who have experience major and minor encounters with racist attitudes, beliefs, or actions.
The revivalist impulse by many evangelicals rightly understands that ultimate social change comes when members of society become followers of Christ. However, American history has clearly proven that personal salvation does not stop people from being racists nor from setting up social institutions and policies that deny others access to the means of liberty and human dignity. If evangelism alone were effective for social change, Christians would never have participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, been slave owners, created apartheid in South Africa, or allowed Jim Crow laws to come into existence.
Theologians like Abraham Kuyper remind us that, because of God’s common grace, evangelism is not necessary to persuade people to treat others with dignity and respect — after all, the law of God is written on the heart (Rom. 2:15) even though it merits them no favor with God. Therefore, work at both. We must morally form individuals and dismantle cultural norms of racism that become structural.
I suspect this is one of the major reasons why many whites are unsuccessful at reaching blacks and Latinos. If the gospel is not being applied to issues of the heart and issues that require outside, structural justice, we will miss areas in need of biblical application. Blacks and Latinos in America do not have the privilege of not talking about the issues addressed in the Fisher article, because all minorities experience aspects of those issues in various ways.
If we believe the Bible speaks to the questions of the day, then we have to do a better job of developing the cultural intelligence that applies the Truth to issues of the heart and to the cultural spaces minorities inhabit as subdominant races.