“…seal up the book until the end of time; many will run to and fro, and knowledge will increase.” (Daniel 12:4)
The only constant, they say, is change.
I remember this so vividly. I was seated in a meeting alongside the president of the local college. Jim Strobel was always perfectly dressed, and today I noticed how sharp and crisp were the cuffs on his white dress shirts.
I said, “How do you get your cuffs like that?”
He said, “Like what?”
I pointed out the starched stiffness and white brilliance of his cuffs. And then showed him mine.
My cuffs were soft and looked as though they had hardly seen an iron.
Jim said, “I don’t know. They come back from the cleaners this way.”
The cleaners! Of course. He sends his shirts to the cleaners!
For years–ever since Margaret had started back to college and everyone had to pitch in on household chores–I had done my own dress shirts. Not that it was that big a deal: spray something around the necks, toss them in the washer with detergent, move them to the dryer, and run an iron over them later and put them on hangers in the closet.
Anyone could do that.
For the past quarter-century, I have sent my shirts to the cleaners. Even the ones I wear around town have those stiff cuffs I once admired so much.
These days, I rarely give the cuffs a thought.
In just so tiny ways, life changes.
I’m 72 years old. That’s hard to say and harder to believe. Last year I hit 30. And the week before that, I was in college.
Life moves on.
I bought a car last week–a Honda CR-V, which is some kind of an SUV or hatchback or something. Nothing about it was intended to be lavish or luxurious but something occurred to me.
In 1955, a family relative who was co-owner of a soft drink bottling company in the next town showed up at our family reunion driving a new Lincoln Continental for which, rumor said, he had paid $5,000. That was more than a year’s salary for most people, and twice what you would pay for a Ford Fairlane, which was a pretty decent car.
Want to hear what I paid for this 2013 Honda? Well, let’s just say it was several times what that ’55 Lincoln cost. (Had you told me years ago that I would someday pay this for a car, the only logical conclusion would have been that I was going to become ghastly rich. But as a retired Baptist preacher, I’m not even close. However, the price was not even half a year’s salary, so perhaps it’s still in a healthy range.)
Life moves forward. Today’s computer will be obsolete, they say, in four or five years. People line up to buy the latest telephone gadget and toss away the one they paid $200 or more for just last year. And the i-pads and i-pods and various boxes—I cannot begin to keep up with it all.
I have something called a Bamboo tablet which I can plug into this laptop and have my drawings thrown on a large screen so everyone in the room can watch. Truly amazing.
I’m delighted to have lived long enough to see this. (My grandkids and their children will someday laugh at this. They’ll say that I was just on the front edge of this revolution and had not seen anything compared to what followed. But that’s all right. What I’ve seen thus far is pretty wonderful.)
I love what we can do in church with technology. We can Skype with missionaries on the other side of the world in our worship services. We can pause the sermon and run a film clip (an obsolete term, as is “video”) that pertains to the point the pastor is making. And what is as amazing as anything, I can visit a church website and after a few clicks, sit back and watch the pastor’s entire sermon. Thousands of pastors are waiting to preach to me, without my leaving the room.
As an itinerant preacher these days, the churches I’m in most Sundays will have worship music provided by keyboards and digital drums, guitars and violins, a piano and sometimes an organ. I still smile at the memory of the time in the late 1990s when my church brought drums into the service and some folks were scandalized. These days, almost a full orchestra sits behind the pastor.
I love it.
Before I leave home for a revival in a distant city, I email the pastor, “What’s the dress code next week?” The answer is almost always the same: “Coat and tie Sunday morning, sport shirt thereafter.” I take along one white shirt and one necktie. (But I always wear a blazer or sport coat over the sport shirt. Just a personal preference.)
I love the mixture of choruses and hymns, the casual dress of the worshipers and leaders (so long as good taste prevails), the technology in the production and the wide range of instruments in the music.
But not all changes in church have been for the better.Before listing several negative changes, let me make a point. I hope by the above that I’ve established sufficiently that what follows is not the rant of an old curmudgeon who wishes we still lived in 1955, that Harry Truman were president, or that choirs all still wore robes.
I’m well satisfied to be alive and kicking in the amazing year of 2012, thank you.
That said, here are four trends in modern churches which give me concern for my grandchildren’s churches:
1) Church members who do not know their Bibles and expect the Sunday sermons to provide all the teaching they require.
Less than 20 years ago, churches counted attendance more by Sunday School participation than warm bodies in the worship service. Fewer and fewer churches are even having Sunday School. Not good. Not good at all.
The result is biblical illiteracy. And the result of that is devastating in a hundred areas.
2) Pastors who want to grow their churches through their dynamic preaching and refuse to knock on doors or teach their people to witness.
There is no substitute for getting into the homes of members and seekers. There has never been and will never be a substitute for believers telling outsiders about Jesus. Nothing grows churches–particularly the kind of church that will endure for the ages–like evangelism.
The result is frustrated preachers, confused Christians, and empty pews. And the consequence of this is fewer and fewer people coming to Christ.
3) Christians who will fight to the death over personal preferences in religion which they believe strongly but cannot defend biblically.
They will not call these “personal preferences,” but “strong convictions.” But press them for why they hold onto them, why they insist on these doctrines, and you find out in a heartbeat that scriptural authority means nothing to them. I find that alarming.
The result is entrenched ignorance, and the end of that is enthroned immaturity.
4) With the increasing casualness of our culture, church members are becoming more and more casual in their devotion to their church.
If something comes up for the weekend they would rather do, they’re gone. If they find a more attractive use for the Lord’s offering, it’s gone. Preach to them that “The Church is the Body of Christ, and whatever you do to it, He takes personally,” and it goes right over their heads.
The result is weaker churches and worldlier Christians. The fruits of that are enormous, particularly as we see the cause of Christ suffering worldwide.
I am optimistic. I have great hope for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lord promised that “I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Whenever we acknowledge that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Owner of the Church, and the Operator of the Church (“what shall we do, Lord?”), we are Overcomers through Him who loved us.
I rejoice at the young dynamic pastors who are getting it right, who see things I never thought of, who find ways of connecting with our increasingly pagan culture, and who write engaging books that cause my generation of preachers to say, “Wow. Sure wish I’d read that 50 years ago!”
I am so glad to have lived long enough to see a thousand good things happening today for the cause of Christ that were unthought of a half-century ago. Honored, even.
But we must always keep our bearings, stay focused on the Lord Himself, and remain a people of the Book. Every generation must get it right if the next crop of believers is to be reached and to do the reaching.