I have teenagers. The differences in their world and the world in which my father grew up are as different as night and day. The cultural milieu of the twenty-first century is as different from the forties and fifties as one country is from another. Consider my own upbringing. At the time of the writing of this article, I am approaching my fortieth birthday. As a child we did not have a computer in our home. I can only remember one student in college who had a computer, and he was a geek. We had no cell phones. There were no CDs or DVDs. The Internet and social networks were non-existent. Respectable citizens wore suits to church. Strangers and seniors were always addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” First names were reserved for intimate relationships. The Cold War was raging. Our senior citizens had survived World War II. Americans felt a sense of election; they were better than the rest of the world and their ways were the preferred ways. Islam was a strange belief system somewhere in the Middle East. Gasoline was twenty-five cents. Only gang members and former military men had tattoos. People were often identified by the institutions to which they belonged. They kept the same jobs for twenty, thirty, or more years. As a child I played outside a lot. I rode my bike a considerable distance to school. And by and large, secular society supported the same values as the church. A good, upstanding citizen generally exhibited the values supported by the church.
Church was different too. Church was a refuge from a hostile Christianity where people made fun of Pentecostals. Speaking in tongues was not cool. It was of the devil. Our primary approach to spirituality and evangelism was one-, two-, and three-week revivals. Sometimes they were much longer in larger churches with big budgets. Talented young men were expected to enter the ministry. They could be self-supporting before they were old enough to vote. Talented young women were expected to marry young preachers. College was off-limits. The highlight of every month was a regional fellowship meeting. The highlight of the year was a full week on the campground, going to church all day. No one was more than a generation away from “the merger.” We had no video projectors. We sang from hymnals under the direction of a song leader. Anyone could request a hymn during “song service.” Our choices for Christian music were Black Gospel, Country, Southern, and The Imperials. (There were around ten bands who went by the name The Imperials.) Once a year we would get a filmstrip from Home Missions. We manually changed frames when the accompanying tape beeped. Drums were questionable. Facial hair on a white man was a certain sign that he was in rebellion against something. Men did not wear sandals. Television was a box, and it was bad. Video rental stores were on par with bowling allies and night clubs. Little League was the gateway to worldliness.
That’s the way I grew up. Honestly, I like that world. It was simple. We knew who was in and who was out. Lines were clearly drawn. Right and wrong were not negotiable. We sought to put biblical principles into practice in meaningful ways. Faith was not abstract. And though some of the positions that were taken back then do not make much sense to young people today, we had very good reasons for making the decisions we made.
But my world has changed. My apple cart has been turned upside down. Whether I like it or not is not the point. Whether I am comfortable with it does not change the fact.
I thankfully display my ministerial credentials on the wall in my office. My first license was a general license. The certificate was signed by N. A. Urshan, C. M. Becton, and E. L. Holley. As far as I was concerned, these were holy men. I will never forget how N. A. Urshan manhandled business sessions in his white, three-piece suit, or how C. M. Becton adorned the platform with dignity and grace, or the last time I heard E. L. Holley speak—he had cancer and he shared with us how his ankles had swollen like “stumps;” he talked about “zigging” and “zagging” and knowing when to do which. I wonder how many people under thirty know who these men are?
I remember hearing elders say while preaching, “I would give my life for the UPC.” I don’t think I have ever heard anyone my age or younger say that. I am not sure anyone should say that.
I am not certain what is coming next. But I somehow feel that I am part of the interlude. What I know certainly is that doctrine matters. It is the foundation. Sound doctrine will outlive any cultural shift. The faith that was once delivered to the saints still works. Join me April 6 for “What Do You Believe? The Priority of Theology.”
The next post in this series, “What Do You Blieve? The Priority of Theology,” will be posted on April 6.
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