I’m writing this article to a generation that might never have heard the old song, Old Time Religion (so I included a clip from an old movie for you). I grew up in an old-fashioned church. We had an old building, built in 1833, and an old cemetery with civil war era headstones. We sang old songs on old instruments and most of the old people that were my heroes when I was younger have gone on home to heaven.
You may be preparing yourself for one of those “we need things to be like they were in the old days” articles, but that’s not what is on my mind. In fact, I think we need churches to ignore the opinions and criticisms of their surrounding Christian subculture and do whatever it takes to communicate the gospel in the context of the present generation. This will, in most cases, require louder music, fewer pipe organs, and a big surge forward in the area of living with integrity and character.
In that song, however, is a lyric that keeps ringing through my mind today… “makes me love everybody.” My wife read a quote to me this morning from Greg Surratt (the book is coming soon) that caused us both to pause and think. He said that “spiritual growth shouldn’t be measured by how much we know, but by who we love.” And if we’re really growing, we’ll love more people.
Before you assume we need to return to an early-American, westernized version of Christianity we often think of as the “old time religion,” let me remind you that it was in the name of that old time religion that we “churched” (and old word for kicking people out) people for dancing, segregated God’s family by race, and chased the “savages” away from their homes to steal their land. In other words, while the song had some great lyrics, I’m not so sure we really understood what we were singing. I’m not sure we understand it today.
Think of that phrase for a second… “makes me love everybody.” If that phrase were to describe a maturity church, what would the dynamics of such a church be? Could we really grow in such a way that we came to love everybody? Could we love the terrorist as much as the victim of the terrorist’s plot? Could we love the homosexual as much as the traditional family? We could if we were really growing in our love for Jesus.
Jesus once met a woman at a well and loved her in a way that five of her husbands hadn’t. He rescued a young lady from a stoning and loved her into a changed live when some rock-carrying legalists were ready to mete out justice by angrily pelting her to death. Jesus promised a crucified thief a spot with Him in paradise while his partners in crime mocked him.
I often wonder what the church would look like if it really accepted the challenge to love everybody. I don’t have all the answers, but I think we would…
- Give until it hurts so that the gospel could be proclaimed to all the nations.
- Find a way to stand for moral absolutes without declaring a verbal war on those with whom we disagree.
- Open our doors to people of every race and socio-economic status and practice for the day when people from “every tribe, tongue, and people group” gather to offer praise to God.
- Pick up the pieces of broken marriages and help restore families.
- Create a safe place for addicts to come for honest confession, support, and forgiveness.
- Weep when tragedy strikes the human family, even on the other side of the globe.
- Remember that everyone has a past, and that our present unhealthy choices are often the result of deep, leftover pain.
- Sit with the sick and dying.
- Give up the closest parking places, help carry groceries, and give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.
The “old time religion” we need to emulate isn’t the Ozzie and Harriet era “golden age” of the 1950’s when western culture was experiencing a new level of prosperity. It isn’t the 1920’s, the frontier era, or the time of the Great Reformation. The old time religion worth emulating is found much further back, in the era of the New Testament when Jesus was recruiting, discipling, and commissioning His church to go, teach, and baptize.
How would your church look different if it really embraced that old time religion?