Recently, I have been listening to some of my favorite music from one of my favorite bands, Jars of Clay. As I listened to their self titled debut album, my mind was filled with the memories of being a care-free teenager who loved this music. Most of the memories were quite pleasant; memories of school, church, friends who I hung out with at this period of my life. Life was simple then. And then I thought of something: as much fun as it was to look back to this time in my life, my life was far from perfect. I still struggled with sin, still immature in so many areas, how could I enjoy thinking about this one might say? Well, let me be so bold as to say, the Church does this exact thing all the time.
It might look different than what you and I may think, but the Church loves to live in the past, especially churches that are presently stagnant and attain to the status of what Pastor Mark Driscoll calls "an institution". I have witnessed several churches celebrate their glory days by having a luncheon for their elderly saints, singing nothing but their favorite hymns in the morning service, and cater to no one under the age of 60. I have no beef with celebrating the elderly saints in our churches. We need them in our communities of believers, and they are of great value to younger generations, but there has to come a point where we stop idolizing what God used to do in our churches and focus on what He will do!Honestly I think the local Church can/does get so wrapped up living in this manner that mission is not lost, it's just not the biggest priority in the community or in the world.
The New Testament Church The problem with this idea is obvious. It's not based on the Gospel. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see the churches longing for their early days of conversion. They wouldhave had the most evidence to support their case no doubt. Imagine the church at Ephesus if you will. They could have recounted stories of miracles, riots, being ministered by the apostle Paul, and that's the short list! They weren't the only church Paul wrote to, but you get the point. These churches didn't look back to the good ole days, they pursued God and the Scriptures, and the Gospel spread with great success.
Hear, O Israel The nation of Israel, however, did remember their glory days once they got out of Egypt, remember? In Exodus 16:2-3 Israel was bemoaning the past by wishing they were back in Egypt! How ludicrous is this idea? Israel just got out of Egypt! How can they already be complaining? Israel has a very short memory in a very bad way. And in the context ofIsrael's history, this is before they are forced to be in the wilderness for 40 years, but what happened there? God made their clothes not wear out, provided food morning and evening, and provided water from rocks. You know how this story goes; Israel is ungrateful and wishes that they were back in Egypt.
Conclusion So what's the point of this? Shouldn't we remember the past to a degree? Yes. Does it contradict what I just said? No. Here's how. For you as a person to look back to times in your life when God was at work or moving is totally acceptable. Just please don't live there. He hasn't finished His work in you yet. You are still in the process of sanctification, and you're not done until He calls you home. For the church, it's the same message. Remember the past, just don't live there. When you have a trophy case that people constantly point to, that's not a good sign. No one cares how many people you baptized in 1961. It's great that it happened, praise God. Just please for the sake of the generation that has to clean up some of your mess, don't live in the past. For the glory of the Gospel don't live in the past.