This blog is about trends in the church. It is not a judgment, but rather general observations of how the “rules” of the church have been a moving target over the centuries and especially in recent decades and years. Not all apply to all churches or denominations, but there are trends that are telling and I believe it is important for us to consider the how and why of trends in Biblical obedience especially as it relates to us today.
Not to put 100 years ago as some “benchmark” of holiness, but rather as a point on a historical time line of trends for which there was relatively little change prior to and significant change since.
Here are some generalities which applied across a wide berth of Christianity 100 years ago. Divorce was almost unheard of and had a very negative stigma attached to it. Virginity before marriage had a high value and those who fornicated were considered unclean, spoiled or “easy”. Preaching on the doctrine of sin was a dominate subject from the preacher often with pulpit pounding “hell fire and brimstone” sermons. A pastor wasn’t and didn’t marry a divorcee. There were no questions relating to the acceptability of homosexuality. Same sex marriage was not even on the horizon. Acceptance of gay preachers was not a possibility. Modesty, especially among those on the platform, included longer, looser fitting dresses for women and suits or ones best “Sunday go to meeting” clothes for men. Make-up, fancy hair styles and lots of jewelry were rare. Getting a tattoo was not an option. People didn’t work or shop on “the Lord’s day”. Even in my lifetime, if there was a store open on Sunday, there were “blue” laws prohibiting the sale of most non-food items. Elders or deacons and their wives were held to the highest of Biblical standards. Young people were included in “big church” right alongside their parents. “The rod” was not spared in both church and home discipline. Drinking was very much frowned upon ultimately influencing prohibition.
Almost without exception, all of the above practices of 100 years ago had their roots in specific scriptures which prohibited or commanded certain activities. For example: Lev. 19:28 ..you must not tattoo your body.., Prov. 23:13 …do not withhold spanking from your child.., 1 Tim. 3:11 ..a deacons wife cannot be a gossip.., Eph. 5:8 ..don’t be drunk with wine (alcohol).., Mal. 2:16 .. I the Lord God hate divorce & Jesus in NT Matt. 19:8-9 ..you divorce because of evil hearts and if you remarry except for adultery you are also guilty of adultery.., Lev. 21:14 ..a priest must not marry a divorcee…, Ex. 28: Those who serve around the alter were to dress extremely modestly – least they die. I could go on, but you get the point that common practices of 100 years ago (and largely the previous 1900 years for that matter) had their foundations in scripture.
What has influenced such significant change in the last 100 years? And although I don’t want to write more than necessary, here are examples as to why I ask. Again, I am not making judgments here but rather objective observations. Divorce is largely a non-issue in churches today. Young people do not highly value virginity and most have little resistance or hesitancy to fornicate (and most parents are oblivious to this fact). Immodest dress, by comparison, is not only common in church in general but even on the platform among ministers (short, tight, leggings, etc). You can be arrested for spanking your children. Young people have their own “age appropriate” services. Everything is open on Sunday and many are required to work on Sunday. We have same sex marriage and full acceptance of homosexuality not to mention male and female gay pastors and priest. I recently witnessed the installment of a deacon/elder whose wife does not meet the wifely requirements found in scripture. Many pastors are divorced, married to divorcees or have been caught in adultery with little if any consequences to “their ministry”. I think it would have been in the mid 80’s when I last witnessed a pulpit pounding sermon on sin accompanied by shouts of how God hates it interlaced with God’s love for us as the reason we shouldn’t sin (thank your Brother Bill).
Because of the variety of scriptures being from both the Old and New Testaments, we cannot simply say, “well that was the OT”. I also feel it is too convenient to say “well that was for an older time” since it is primarily “modern” history in which the greatest change has occurred. Did the industrial or computer age affect God and His standards? And although I picked a point 100 years back, most of these changes I have personally witnessed in my lifetime. Can we really, with a straight face, say that we know better today what Godly modesty looks like than they did 50, 100 or 4000 years ago? Has divorced somehow become sanitized and thus acceptable. Do we no longer need pastors, elders and deacons to be of the absolute highest moral character? Have scientist revealed some revolutionary DNA discovery that supersedes God’s laws on gender and sexuality?
I would love to hear your thoughts as to why it is you think we have had such an editorial view of scripture of late. I suggest that pop culture with the aid of the information age has led to these drastic changes in the church. And we are not without scripture itself warning against this. In 1 John 2, the author gives a list of people to whom he is writing. Old, young, fathers, little children, basically everyone; and he gives the clear exhortation to not follow all the popular cultural things that are happening in the world because they are simply not from God.
Give me your thoughts and where you think the next scriptural editing might take place.