I am not advocating the repristination of by-gone days, where we pine for an imagined era, in which we reclined by the pots of meat and ate bread to the full. There are things I miss, but many more that I still squirm over. More often than not, our sermons were like lectures; didactic monologs drawing precepts from Pauline epistles and directed at the intellect. Another was that obligatory time in worship known as the “pastoral prayer” – typically a sermon recap more for the congregation’s hearing than for God’s. Sunday School sought to ground and grow worshippers in biblical truths, although the curriculum could be a bit stodgy. The relevance of an hour learning the dynasty of the Northern Kingdom – with their unpronounceable names – was pretty much lost on a squirmy 10 year-old like me. We knew John 3:16 by heart, which imbued within us a genuine concern for sharing the Good News – although at times it assumed a sort of awkward “plan of salvation” sales pitch. Then again, neither did we knock on doors hawking Republican voter guides.
church is ever in need of reforming, and the attempt to recapture some Golden
Age of evangelical piety would be a disillusioning fantasy. Ours was a faith
suffering its own fair share of morbidity, and we can offer thanks for windows
opened by the Spirit to let in some fresh breeze. But we strove to be holy – a practice one rarely hears about
today. We were a “dry” church; at least formally. Whatever “moistness” that went
on at home was best kept private. We may not have been better Christians then –
perhaps only more self-consciously parochial – with what Barth called the “odor
of sanctity” thrown in.[i] We
live with the tension between what we claim and who we are. Paradoxically,
evangelicalism is both an expression of faith and a human project. As such, its
adherents in each generation strive to do God’s will, but often fail miserably
along the way.
[i] Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, New York: Harper and Row, 1957, p. 229.