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Stop Wishing for “the Good Old Days” of the Church

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Sometimes I hear people talk about the “glory days” of the church. They typically don’t call it that, but that’s how it comes across to me.

It goes something like this.

At some point, typically around the 1950’s & 1960’s, the church was booming. Churches of Christ were recognized (among people who get into statistics and demographics and stuff) at one time to be the fastest growing “religious body” in the United States. We were constructing new buildings (which is why it seems most of our buildings look like they were from the 50’s & 60’s). We were having an inordinate number of baptisms. We were in the news. We were using filmstrips and bus campaigns. Those people just had it figured out.

And the reason the “good old days” stand out is because we are evidently no longer in those days. Today, as the conversation usually goes, the church is only a shell of what it used to be during its “heyday.”

But maybe we need to stop being so soggy with reminiscence. Let’s not wave the white flag just yet.

1) The “good old days” weren’t always all that good.

Don’t misunderstand, I miss how we were once known as “a people of the Book.” I long for the day when we are once again a unified voice in the call for the departure from man-made religion.

But why does the human mind tend to over-romanticize the past? Sure, the so-called “good old days” had some good qualities, but they were far from perfect.

One of the big weaknesses of the “glory days” mentality is that it blinds us to weaknesses of the past. There were problems back then – big problems.

Congregations were splitting over what should have been purely matters of judgment; things like who should be funding benevolence projects and eating meals together in the church building – all because the church had gotten lazy in thinking critically about Bible doctrine. False religious ideas (like the “rapture” and the literal coming of the “1,000-year reign” of Christ) were drawing away thousands. Whole churches left the faith. Attitudes were often ugly about these issues. And then many churches of the 80’s and 90’s started wanting to be just like their denominational counterparts, “loosing” many of the plain teachings of the Bible in order to justify their digression.

I don’t want to go back to that.

Where are all the children of that generation? If the large number of baptisms “back then” represented genuine conversions, where did they go? Today I find countless people who were raised attending worship services of the Lord’s church but now have rejected their parents’ faith. The “glory days” generation in large part didn’t instill a love for the truth in the next generation. Today, we are lucky if the church retains 40% of our young people.

There are other things we could mention. But we certainly aren’t missing out.

No one living in the “glory days” thought they were living in the “glory days.” They weren’t trying to be the church of the 1950’s or 1960’s – they were just trying to be like the New Testament church. Today, let’s not forget we are still trying to restore 1st century Christianity, not mid-century Christianity.

2) The “not-so-good-old days” aren’t all that bad.

Today’s generation of Christians isn’t as bad as the “good old days” mentality paints them.

There is still an unquenchable thirst among many Christians today to continue returning to beautiful New Testament Christianity. I love the attitude that declares everything to be on the chopping block if it isn’t in the Bible. As more and more people are searching for “undenominational Christianity,” the church of Christ looks all the more appealing with her offer of “pre-denominational Christianity.” We need to tap this potential.

Thousands of Christian parents today are getting smarter when it comes to raising their children. The church today is full of parenting workshops, homeschooling support circles, and resources to help ensure our children become faithful to Christ.

We are graced with many faithful preachers, brilliant thinkers, and dedicated missionaries. God has blessed our churches with rich treasuries so the Lord’s work can be facilitated. There is a wealth of tools and information available to growing Christians today. Websites, books, and seminars are available to help supplement personal spiritual growth like never before.

Even if the church isn’t at its peak today, the Lord’s church is still the Lord’s church. Despite being scarred and scattered, it is still the Bride of Christ.

3) The “good old days” mentality is self-centered.

Why are we licking our wounds when the church is growing by leaps and bounds in other parts of the world? A problem with the “golden age” mentality is that it causes us to focus on only a small section of the church. Praise God that His church is thriving in Africa and Asia and South America – perhaps they need to send missionaries to the United States!

We need to stop looking at the generation of yesteryear, and start thinking about the generation in our own neighborhoods today. Let’s put down our yearbooks and start focusing on converting lost souls!

Sin is alive and well in the world. Postmodernism has convinced people that truth cannot be known. Families are broken. Not only is there an abundance of false religion, but there is a growing number of people who do not identity with any religion. I say all of this to say that there is a massive opportunity to teach people the gospel today! People need the hope of Jesus Christ and His church more than ever before.

4) The “good old days” mentality is pessimistic.

Don’t get me wrong, the generation in the church today is far from perfect. We need to do a better job teaching the Bible. We need to do a better job following Christ faithfully. We need to be more concerned about our lost world. We need to stop tolerating sin among our members and false teaching from many of our pulpits. There is work to do.

But the “good old days” mentality tends to create pessimism, blinding us to our promising future. In the last few decades, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of church growth in developing countries. We have more resources at our disposal than ever before. Many of the apathetic members have already left, leaving a core of Christians that are zealous to get serve the Lord all the more faithfully.

Let’s not let the “glory days” shine so brightly that every other time in church history is swallowed in the shadows. We are sitting on a powder keg of potential.

The Best Days Are Here!

Why is it that no one is saying that the best days of the church are in the 2010’s or 2020’s? One thing is guaranteed: God is using His church today to accomplish His purposes. He always has, and He always will.

The Lord’s church started off small before (see Acts 2), only to grow by leaps and bounds! We can do it again! Let’s restart our God-glorifying movement by returning to the pure, simple, beautiful teachings of the Bible. Let’s renew our passion for the gospel and start once again teaching our friends, family, and neighbors the always-relevant, always-challenging New Testament of Jesus Christ!

If there were such a thing as “the good old days,” we’re still in them!

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8 Responses to Stop Wishing for “the Good Old Days” of the Church

  1. Traz December 7, 2016 at 6:42 PM #

    Ecc 7:10 Don’t say, “Life was better in the ‘good old days.’ What happened?” Wisdom does not lead us to ask that question.

  2. Ronald Tubbs December 7, 2016 at 6:51 PM #

    Ben, you’re too young to know where of you speak.

  3. Rick Raines December 7, 2016 at 7:21 PM #

    Ben, this is a great article that all members should read. We all need to be more zealous for the word of God and focus on today and who we can share the word with. Thank you so much for all of your writings.

    Rick Raines

    • Ben December 7, 2016 at 7:38 PM #

      You’re much too kind. I appreciate your encouragement.

  4. Bill Butterfield December 9, 2016 at 11:18 AM #

    Rick, I am a product of the church in the 50s and 60s as I was born in 1945! Now, I know in the minds of some, I am “old” 71 year old retired preacher, but this “old” guy is not a “defender of the past” nor a “proclaimer of the virtue of the present.” I am a brother in Christ who would love to see God’s church blossom into the beautiful flower He always intended!

    I think you are a bit harsh on the church of yesteryear and I understand why as you look “back”, but for those of us who experienced those years, I must say we were not as wonderful as we remember, nor as foolish as some would like to paint us! I remember loving the church and spent most of my early years with the church! My friends were Christians…my playmates were children who went to church with me…the preaching was not faultless and drove many of my contemporaries away…but, in our crude kind of way we loved each other greatly! I do miss the demonstrations of love that existed throughout the church despite the silly differences we shared! Our differences did not make us “choose sides,” but a spirit of toleration was evident!

    Since I retired in 2014 I have spent much time listening to those who fill the pulpits in today’s churches of Christ! Two things stand out! One, there is much drivel being shared with dead or stagnant churches! It may be “sound” doctrine, but it is emphasizing things not a part of the average Christian’s experience. The encouragement for a daily existence with God is lacking seriously! Maybe those doing the proclaiming each week do not recognize this, but step down, sit back and listen and you will see folk are walking out of the building starved for help with their daily life! Secondly, I noticed there are many standing in front of hundreds with very little ability to communicate the Word with any degree of success. The preaching seems to be more from presenting it well rather than an overflow of the speaker’s experience with the Word in daily life! I walk away many times asking, “How did that sermon help me in my daily walk?” The answer being, “Not at all!” Hear me, I believe these men are good men…educated students of the Word…but they lack the desire and ability to make the trip from the pulpit to the pew! Presentation is lacking and substance has disappeared!

    I do not long for the church of the past, but my heart goes out to the church of the future if present trends continue!

  5. Rebecca December 14, 2016 at 7:08 PM #

    Excellent post!!!!! I agree the best days are here!!! There are three other things I want to add though that I feel make it as though today is the “best days”.

    1. Sexual abuse in church families and within congregations back then were sometimes ignored, and when a child made an outcry about abuse, they were usually not believed. This wasn’t just at churches though, also at schools and in society as a general. Sexual abuse was SO much more prevalent then. I know someone who was molested by an elder at church and at first no one believed her, then when they did believe her she was basically told she needed to get over it and he continued as an elder. There are many, many, many more cases like that. In fact children are LESS likely to be sexually abused at churches today and wihin church families because of the laws, sex offender registry, and our society has become less tolerant to sexual abuse.

    2. Racial tensions were even worse as they were today! I know you may find it hard to believe but there were many churches of Christ that would not allow black Christians to attend. And I know of a white preacher who encouraged a black family to come to church and he was fired!!! Also Christian colleges like Freed-Hardeman did not allow black students. It always confuses me when someone says that only those who go to a church of Christ are gong to heaven – because there are many Christians who were never allowed to go to a church of Christ because of the color of their skin. They had no choice but to go to Baptist church or another church that would let them come. (There were some Churches of Christ that did of course welcome all people, it was not all churches.)

    3. In today’s church, if you have special-needs child with autism, sensory behavioral disorders, Down Syndome, etc, they have programs, classes, ministries etc. And he familes are welcomed to come!!!!! In many of the churches of the 50’s and 60’s ,kids with special needs were either basically shunned (many were placed in institutions), and definitely NOT welcomed at church .(Some were though but not all). If I understand correctly, some families couldn’t come to church because they had a special needs child.

    Just some thoughts that people seem to forget about……..feel free to comment!!!!

    • Ben December 15, 2016 at 8:55 AM #

      Rebecca –

      Thanks for your comment. I would add to your comment that while the past is not always as romantic as we make it seem, it is also often not as bad as we make it seem, too. I understand that it is en vogue to give a blistering review of how our ancestors treated the maligned, the disadvantaged, and those of different races. Of course, like any political, secular, or religious group, members of churches of Christ don’t have a perfect track record of these things. Yet, at the same time, members weren’t as universally debased as one might get the impression from reading your post and others like it. In my studies, I have found that Christians have usually been ahead of the bell curve of these social issues. First, I would say that children have always been unlikely to encounter a wicked, evil, sexual abuser who has managed to infiltrate the church unawares (and sexual predators are monsters, not Christians). Second, I would say most congregations have always been welcoming of black visitors & members – and most of our colleges were ahead of their times. Lipscomb University is the only college in relatively recent times, that I’m aware, that perhaps has a poor racial record (regarding how they swindled money away from Marshall Keeble’s preaching school upon his passing. For that they should be sternly rebuked.) Third, Christians have always been known for their compassion towards the poor and special-needs — to the extent that they understand the problem at the time. As fields of medicine and psychology have better understood behavioral disorders, Christians have likewise better learned how to treat those individuals.

      The church has always erred when she allows society to dictate her policies. Regarding the few times through the years when individual, isolated congregations made sinful choices concerning racism and tolerated sexual sins, the problem was not with the church of Christ, but with her members who were unfaithful to Him. Let us all the more vigorously oppose sin in the camp.

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