My wife and I often approach things differently. I know that’s a really shocking admission, likely to stun our family, friends, and neighbors. 🙂 We even like different styles of worship services. She tends to embrace new things quickly. I’m rather conservative. I can be persuaded, but you need to prepare a good case first! We knew this when we were going out together. For the most part, it has been one of the strengths of our marriage. It could be a weakness, something to fight about. We’ve learned, however, to balance our approaches, and we find that at different times and circumstances each of our approaches works for the best. Don’t get me wrong, though, there can be some substantial debates along the way!
Today while I was looking around at some things on the web and waiting for time to go to church (I’m an early riser, she gets up later), I came across an article in Christianity Today, Four Words that Make Me Cringe: What’s so great about their old church back home? And why should I care?. The author, Marilyn Yocum, tells of an encounter with those stories of a parishioner’s “old church” and how it became a positive thing. Go read it. It will make you think about how you respond to suggestions.
Now “in my old church” can be used as a critical, progress-stopping phrase, just like “we ain’t never done it that way before.” There is a certain desire for the “old ways” when everything always worked so much better than it does now. It’s amazing how our memories filter out the things we’d rather not remember. Once we have survived a situation, we tend to remember surviving, and not the struggle that went into it!
One of my college professors used to require students of church history to read the book The Good Old Days–They Were Terrible, which presents a much more realistic picture of what it was like to live “back then.” I am always amused, as a student of the ancient world when people talk about what is traditional. Inevitably, what they’re talking about is what their church or community was like when they were a child. And a glowing picture it always is for them. When some want to go back to the 50s, they often forget that life expectancy was much lower, that treatments for cancer and heart disease that we now take for granted were unknown, and that communications that we would find hard to live without were nonexistent.
There can be an advantage to looking back. It involves learning from experience and being challenged by the accomplishments of the past. But there can also be a deadening disadvantage: We can be held back by what they did not accomplish and what they did not know.
More than once I have been told by an elderly church member that multiple generations (the number varies) of his or her ancestors were buried in the church cemetery, that they had built the church, and that they would not approve of what was being done with it. It’s really very safe to invoke the dead as support for an argument. They have better things to do now, and we’ve probably forgotten exactly what they were like in any case.
Let me commend two texts to you:
“Don’t remember the former things, don’t think about the past.” — Isaiah 43:18
“Remember the former, ancient things, for I am God and there is nobody like me! I am God, and there is no other!” — Isaiah 46:9
Classic Biblical contradiction? Go back and read each of those passages. Try reading both chapters from start to finish. I think you’ll see the point when you get the verses in context. And at the same time you’ll see what we have to look for in order to balance the “good old” and the “bad old” and mix in the “good new” and the “bad new.”
The church is the church of the living. Let the living take all the available ideas from the past, all the experiences, all of God’s leading, and then add all the creative new ideas and excitement of the present, and select the things that will best accomplish God’s work in the present, listening to the Holy Spirit all the way.