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Faith of Our Fathers

May 19, 2010

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately – I would welcome feedback. I hope it doesn’t come across too strongly – just an opinion that has been on my mind.

It seems like in some blogs, articles, and conversations, I hear individuals talk about the church in years past in a very negative way. I hear things like, “The church in years past was so bound by tradition…” or “We haven’t really understood ________” (fill in the blank with grace, the teaching of the Holy Spirit, etc.) It almost seems like a sport to make fun of the church, as if we are competing to see who can come up with the funniest jab at the church’s expense.

I’m not advocating a selective memory, where we picture the halcyon “good ole days” of the church as a time when no one was making mistakes. That idea can be just as damaging. Obviously, we need to be intellectually honest and realize that if we look at the history of the Church of Christ in America, we can find mistakes. But I don’t think that is all we find.

If you had a friend that kept telling you how he or she always did everything wrong in the past, you would probably tell that person not to think in absolutes – none of us have “always been” a certain way or “never get anything right.” As we talk about the church in years past, if we use those kinds of absolutes (“the church was always this way or that way”), aren’t we making the same mistake?

A couple of years ago, Jim Bill McInteer was speaking at a Preacher’s meeting, discussing his ministry experience over the years. He was asked the question, “When did the Church of Christ start teaching about grace?” for a speaking engagement at a local congregation. He paused for a moment, with tears in his eyes, and said, “There was not a single sermon I preached that did not include the grace of God.” It reminded me of how dangerous it is to make those blanket statements about what the church has “always” taught.

When I think about the faith of my grandparents, I am impressed with the way they served. My grandfather drove a church bus for years, picking up children for Bible class and a group of mentally challenged men for worship services. He did this for years. My grandmother taught Bible classes, and she was always interested in studying the Bible, even when she was in poor health. My grandparents on the other side of the family were charter members of a congregation planted in Memphis. They knocked doors asking for pledges to build a Christian school in Memphis. And I know there are many more stories like theirs. Before we make negative statements or sarcastic jokes about the church in the past, we need to ask ourselves if that is the kind of faith we want to denigrate.

Here’s what I remember about growing up in the church. I remember growing up in a church full of imperfect people, sure. I was (and still am) one of them. But I also remember people who served others gladly. I remember teachers who invested an incredible amount of time and energy in studying and sharing God’s Word. I remember sermons that were Biblically-centered. I remember watching Elders shed tears and pray with individuals who came forward to confess and ask for the support of the congregation. I remember people bringing comfort to those experiencing loss. I remember singing at the top of my lungs as a friend was baptized. I remember realizing how valuable it was that God had given my family a spiritual family to support us.

I know those things are not true for everyone. I’m sure some had negative experiences that left a sour taste in their mouths. But that doesn’t have to be the case. And it has not been the case everywhere. Maybe we should stop a moment and thank God that we are standing next to fires we did not build.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Westley Hazel permalink
    May 24, 2010 10:06 am

    Great, great, great thoughts.

  2. May 27, 2010 5:00 pm

    I always respect your respect for the past. It has shaped us.

    • andrewdphillips permalink
      May 28, 2010 10:46 pm

      Thanks guys – I just get frustrated when I feel like there isn’t a balanced view of the past. Not saying we should go in the other direction and pretend like nothing was ever wrong, but just to be balanced.

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