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