Saturday, November 19, 2022

The imaginary good old days. . .

Ever since the 1960s there have been Christians longing for the good old days.  You know, the good old days when there was no rigid doctrinal confession, when the communion table was open and welcoming to all, when people were more forgiving of diversity, when worship was casual, when there was no real priestly or sacramental ministry, when the Word was fluid, oral, and spontaneous...  I could go on but it is making me sick -- literally.  The good old days that some have been thinking about are imagined and not real.  It is not the medieval church that complicated what was simple, easy, free, and fun.  The early church was itself the paragon of doctrinal controversy, rules for who may or may not commune, insistent upon uniformity of doctrine and practice (if not quite in the words of the liturgy), reverencing the office and the liturgy, when the sacramental life of the Church was paramount for the Church and all the faithful, and when the Word of the Lord was unequivocally seen as the words of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and evangelists (in other words, the Old and New Testament as we have them).  There was much less room for a conversation and preference than there is routinely today -- even among the most stringent of Christian traditions.

Read the discourses between the apostles and Jesus throughout the Gospels.  Read through the Didache.  Read through the sermons of the early fathers (pre and post Nicene).  Read the proceedings and findings of the great councils (including one in Jerusalem reported in Acts).  Open your eyes, people.  You who long for the simple and easy days of yesterday will not find them in any era of the Church.  That is because the Church is made up of sinners (redeemed sinners but sinners still) and the leaders of the Church have always been sinners (some publicly worse or better than others).  This is because Satan is always near our churches (remember the old saw about Satan building a chapel where we build every church?).  This is because the world which did not welcome Jesus will not welcome or approve or accept or tolerate those who believe in Him, confess Him, and walk in His ways. 

The Church has not necessarily complicated what once was simple as much as the Church has faced the limitations of her sinful leaders and members and been caught in the waning crossfire of the battle between God and Satan.  Instead of spending our time longing for a day that never was, let us let go of the imagined pristine day and focus our attention on remaining faithful now before the challenges before us.  Frankly, I am wearing of pleading the imaginary good old days when such nostalgia does little more than increase our misery and may contribute to our difficulty in finding a way forward amid the challenges thrust upon us today.

What I will say is this.  The Church of the past endured not because she found a compromise or a path around the obstacles placed in the road ahead.  She endured because she was faithful.  I wish that things were not so complicated all the time but, as my grandma said, if wishers were horses, beggars would ride.  We cannot wish our way out of the complicated present or the cloudy future but if we are faithful and willing to pay the cost of faithfulness and risk being unpopular or rejected by our enemies, we will endure and we shall be saved and we shall be found worthy when Christ comes again in His glory.  In the end, that is really all that matters.  We can make things easier on us by compromising and acquiescing to the tenor of the times but God will hold us accountable and in the end it is only His judgment that matters.  Good old days?  Maybe.  More complicated and demanding than we remember, probably.  One more thing, some day somebody will think of this moment and long for it as if it were the good old days when life was simple, faith was easy, and truth was certain.

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