Archive for December 28th, 2008

“But the would not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclination of their hearts. They went backward and not forward.” Jeremiah the prophet, chapter 7, verse 24

In the May 2008 issue of Touchstone journal, there was an essay titled, “The Way We Weren’t: Churches in the Fifties Were Filled, But Were They Faithful?” (pp 24-28). The author, William Murchison, asks a very important question in this essay by quoting a character, Jack Burden, from a novel by Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men. He asks:

What you mean is that it was a fine, beautiful time back then, but if it was such a God-damned fine, beautiful time, why did it turn into this time which is not so damned fine and beautiful if there wasn’t something in that time which wasn’t fine and beautiful? Answer that one. (As quoted by Murchison.)

Many lament the days gone by although Solomon warned us that is not a good idea when he wrote, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) (I had a woman ask me the other day, I kid you not, ‘why don’t we sing more of our songs [meaning hymns accompanied by the piano and organ] on Sundays?’) Still, it’s one thing to look back and learn, and quite another to look back and lust.

I’ve been thinking about all the ‘oh, the way things used to be’ lamenting I hear from the mouths of people (and especially from the two generations just ahead of mine who think it no small thing to run preachers out of town until they find one who will say what their itching ears want to hear or sing the songs their great great grandparents wrote while sitting around Ellis Island or while still back in the mother-land) and I’ve concluded that it is just so much that: Lust. But if those days were so wonderful, so well done, what happened?

Return to Spurgeon! Return to Luther! Return to Calvin! Return to the Peter! Return to Paul! Return to Campbell! Return to Stone! Return to…how about we press on to Jesus?

Murchison concludes by writing:

Are the 1950s in any way a useful model for American Christians of the twenty-first century? Would we like to go back? Would it be better, for instance, if the movie moguls returned to producing religious epics like The Ten Commandments, with their earnest depictions of the power of God? Would the renewal of prayers before football games in any way strengthen the fabric of public life?

In weighing such considerations, we could take a cue from Jack Burden: If all these occasions, these commitments, made for such a fine, beautiful time, what happened? (Not, as we certainly understand, that any one generation ever wields power enough to bind the next generation.) What happened was society’s silent withdrawal of consent from propositions—the sanctity of unborn life, the importance of church attendance, the scandal of illegitimacy, among others—once regarded as self-evident, now seen as irrelevant to the good life.

As we continue sorting out the church in our day, or in common parlance as we are ‘Reformed and always Reforming’, we can learn from them (previous generations of church folk) what humility is and is not, what justice is and is not, what faithfulness is and is not, what church is and is not, what service is and is not,  and in so doing we will find ourselves moving forward, not backward, as the church. Even Paul said: Forgetting what is behind and pressing onward. (I thought about all this while reading Isaiah 58 this morning.)

If the church of the fifties wasn’t precisely the kingdom of God on earth, even less so, in various ways, is the church that followed it. A church—any church—unduly proud of its position and achievements is a church ripe for remaking in the image of its Sovereign Lord. (Murchison, 28)

In this thread, I am asking: What do you think a future generation will say about our generation of the church? What is good, what is bad, what will be left, what will be retained? When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith among us? Why are some so hell-bent on returning the church to the days of yesterday instead of pressing forward, ‘further up and further in’?

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