Reference Note

I don’t think the full lyrics of Washington Phillips’s “Denomination Blues” appear anywhere online; three or four sites have a version of Ry Cooder’s performance of it, but that leaves out a number of verses, and I disagree with some of the interpretations of Phillips’s lyrics. So I thought I’d list the lyrics here, and we can refine my hearing of them, and perhaps you can nominate a few more verses.

I want to tell you the natural facts
Every man don’t understand the Bible alike
But that’s all now, I tell you that’s all
But you better have Jesus, I tell you that’s all (repeat after each verse)

Well denominations have no right to fight
They ought to just treat each other right

The Primitive Baptists they believe
You can’t get to heaven less you wash your feet

The onliest Primitive that has any part
Is the one that does the washing with the pure heart

Now the Missionary Baptists they believe
Go under the water and not to wash his feet

Now the A.M.E. Methodists they believe
Sprinkle the head and not to wash the feet

Now the African Methodists they believe the same
Cause they know denominations ain’t a thing but a name

Now the Holiness people when they came in
They said “Boy you can make it by living above sin”

Now the Church of God has it in their mind
They can get to heaven without the sacramental wine

You’re fighting each other and you think you’re doing well
And the sinner’s on the outside and going to hell

Now the preachers is preaching and they think they’re doing well
But all they want is your money and you can go to hell

Now, another class of preachers they’re high in speech
They had to go to college to learn how to preach

But you can go to the college, and you can go to the school
But if you don’t have Jesus you’re an educated fool

That kind of a man’s hard to convince
A man can’t preach unless’n he sin

When people jump from church to church
You know the conversion don’t amount to much

When Jesus come on that Divining Day
Gonna call the sheep to enter, turn the goats away

It’s right to stand together, wrong to stand apart
Cause no one’s gonna enter but the pure in heart

The fact that I begin teaching my summer preaching course next week does not, of course, have anything to do with the fact that I was particularly interested in the lyrics to this song. Perish the thought! (If anyone helps with the Phillips lyrics, I’ll edit the text in the main entry; additional verses will stay in the comments, unless I can’t resist).

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