The Church is perfect, because Christ has made her perfect. But, the local church functionally? I would be the first to admit there is no such thing as a perfect local church, because there is no such thing as perfect people or leaders. While there are some not so great things I remember from my traditional baptist upbringing and have been happy to have seen reform in my own life and in my local church philosophically, there are some things I miss about good old fashioned church that I remember from my childhood days.
1: Clear black and white preaching and teaching
Maybe it was because of a more Judeo Christian culture, maybe preachers felt more secure. Maybe it was actual urgency, or maybe it was the result of polished professional training. Maybe it was an extension of generational influence from turn of the century fireball preachers, maybe it was the normal way of a pastor before the tolerance and politically correct sensitivities had crept through the tunnels of social media and internet and into the fabrics of the minds and hearts of a nation. Whatever the case, I miss it. I miss Bible literal preaching. I miss red faces and passion. I miss heaven or hell, those are your choices. I miss the high standard of holiness. If we ever needed more step on your toes and punch you in the mouth messages about the urgency of mission in a lost culture and the Glory of God in this nation, it’s now.
2: Participation and community
Softball, classes, parties, get togethers, weddings, out to eat after church, sitting around for hours with friends and family, just to be with one another, these are a few of my favorite things. Pot luck dinners, older ladies with insane ability to cook irresistible food, baby showers, visitation, taking care of each other, making sure no one in the church family was in need, I miss it. It seemed that people weren’t too proud to let their brothers and sisters know when they were struggling. People would share very personal testimonies in the public gathering and ask for prayer, and the church would respond. On days when the church planned for extended fellowship and eating, those were the best attended Sunday’s. Now, it seems when we plan to eat together, it’s too taxing, it’s out of rhythm, it’s asking too much, and a day on the lake seems the better choice. I miss loud amen’s and responses in church, I miss interaction. I miss the feeling that every male in the church was a father figure and ever female a mother, and that children in general had respect for other adults. I miss the lady who would pass out gum to little kids during the hand shaking time, and the “no hats” lady that would scold wayward kids for accidentally walking in to the sanctuary without reverence.
3: Constant invitations to the Gospel
If I remember one thing about church as a child, it was Jesus on a cross and resurrected to glorious life. It was the fact that every human MUST.DECIDE. for themselves who they will follow, Jesus or the world? In the old time religion I grew up in, there was no greater thing to talk about than that. Every lesson pointed back to it. All my grandparents sung about it, it was mentioned in every prayer, it was the theme of the beginning, middle, and ending of every service. It seemed that folks I went to church with had a real burden in their soul for neighbors who didn’t go to church and who didn’t know Jesus. There was a lot of going and telling, a lot of inviting to church, a lot of visiting and evangelism/outreach, altar calls, and all around focus on “getting people saved.” I miss that, I miss churching with 100 other people who’s priority in life is the salvation of their neighbors. Can anyone tell me what happened?
4: Reverence and priority for church gatherings
While philosophy and methodology surrounding church is not a level 1 theological concern of mine, I do miss parts of the traditional understanding of “going to church”. I’m glad for the departure of “going to church” robotically and the advent of more “being the church” incarnationally types of teaching and swirl that we are now seeing. But even now, if you will venture into a local, older church near you, you might find people actually on time, and even heaven forbid, early! You would find sweet people, sitting at 5 minutes til start of service, reverent with their bibles in their laps, and hearts of expectation and reverence. You might find people who believe there really is something holy, something special, a kind of holy ground experience when a group of believers are gathered together to worship Jesus: whether its 5 people or 500. In the 80’s, three to thrive (three services a week) is what it took in that culture and context to fulfill Ephesians 4 “equipping saints for ministry”. It now looks more like Sunday morning and a small group, but in ways we chunked the baby with the bathwater. In tossing out what we believed to be excessive amounts of church meetings, we also demoted reverence and priority around gathering period. I miss that child like excitement and anticipation I had when my parents said, “Little Bobby, let’s get ready for church!”
You could add more, and again, I could provide an equally long list and helpful theological shifts and reforms that have also taken place in our ideas about church since the “good ole” days. But, when Pastor Bobby reflects on church as “Little Bobby”, he misses things he doesn’t get to see a whole lot of anymore. Change starts with you and me, can you help me recover the greatest parts of “that old time religion” that were so instrumental in shaping who we are in Christ today?