The Church Of Yesterday

Richard Vanhorn

It was a little white building with a bell tower, nestled in a valley between two hills with a small stream meandering close by. There were about 50 members made up of farmers, storekeepers, miners, and loggers.

Lighting was furnished by kerosene lamps, and heating was provided by a pot-bellied stove in the center of the room. Air-conditioning was just a matter of raising the windows. Facilities were two shacks and a path. Classes were broken down into four age groups and met in each corner of the building.

The small congregation had few financial resources but gave half of the contribution to the mission field both at home and abroad. The church was devout and studious, realizing how important the Word was. There were midweek Bible bees and memorization contests just to sharpen knowledge. The men always knelt when they prayed and expected the boys to do the same. Horseplay before, during, and after services was anathema. Everyone understood why he or she was there.

That was a different time and a different place for churches of Christ.

They knew what they believed and could defend it. They accepted the Bible as God’s inspired word and took it for absolute truth. While the Old Testament tended to be somewhat neglected, the doctrine about Christ was firmly planted into the hearts of its members. 

They knew what they believed and could defend it strongly, maybe at times to the point of being belligerent. They were the New Testament church, teaching that there was only one way to gain entrance into the kingdom of God, by way of the five steps of salvation: hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized.

After the completion of those steps, God then added them to the church.

Humble roots. As a general rule, they were found meeting in out-of-the-way places or in rural settings. They were of the lower or lower-middle class of people with limited resources. Not many leading citizens could be found associating with them. They were a constant target of ridicule – “just those folks who believe they are the only ones going to heaven.”

Rapid growth. Yet, they grew. According to the media, during the 50’s and 60’s the church of Christ was the fastest growing religious group in the United States. During the post World War II years they increased their domestic and foreign outreach. Along with their growth, they upgraded their locations and the quality of their buildings. The church of Christ became somebody and was slowly accepted by the communities and other churches.

How is it today? Today churches of Christ of yesterday would be dismissed as being totally out of touch with the modern world. We have become sophisticated with modern technology. Our buildings are lighted and can be dimmed for every situation; our pews are padded for comfort; and we have air conditioning to keep us cool on those sweltering days. We have all the modern conveniences to save us time.

Spirituality is dying. We have all the technology the world can offer, and, yet, we are dying spiritually. We do not have the time to study so we can defend our faith. We do not have time to worship almighty God in order to receive His blessings and promises. We have allowed unhealthy appetites to enter the church in the name of physical growth. We have become “us-centered” in order to get more out of worship. We are demanding to leave worship with a feeling of exuberance, a high emotional level. Then we ask ourselves the question, “Why are we dying spiritually?” Maybe it is because we have strayed from the church of yesterday. –517 Dogwood Ct., La Plata, MD 20646.

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