“It was good enough for my mother and its good enough for me, give me that old time religion, give me that old time religion.” My earliest memories of church include hearing that song at home prayer meetings, little country churches, and the front porches of rough wooden houses in the Blue Ridge hills of North Carolina.
But do we really want that “Old time religion”?
I fear that most of what was experienced then, and much of what is experienced now, is just that, “religion”. In my view religion is a series of attempts to find favor with God. In other words, it is trying to do some act, or several acts with a view of getting God to like us, or perhaps to even love us. The opposite of religion is Christianity which is God’s perfect work of setting undeserving trangressors right with Himself and entering into a loving relationship with them through Christ and wholly upon Christ’s merit.
Are you religious or are you in a loving relationship with God through Jesus? What is passed off as Christianity in many places is nothing more or less than “that old time religion”. What motivates your Sunday morning attendence at church services? Duty or love? If you attend and sing 3 to 5 songs, give some money, listen to 2 or 3 prayers, participate in the Lord’s Supper, and listen to the preacher, have you really worshipped? Is that what worship is about, doing things? I will readily admit that all of these 5 things can be worshipful, but the simple doing of them is not necessarily worship.
You see, a lost person can do those things quite well, and even more according to Jesus’ own words. (Matthew 7:21-23) Jesus made it quite clear that not everyone who says he or she is a Christian really is. (Matthew 7:21)
Paul’s letter to the church at Rome made it clear that worship is much more than tagging the bases on Sunday. He characterized worshippers as “living sacrifices” whose lives are marked with holy living. This he says is “reasonable” acts of service, or a better translation is “spiritual service of worship”. (Romans 12:1,2) Worship is spiritual according to Jesus. (John 4:21-24) He said God “is seeking” people to worship Him who will worship in “spirit” and in “truth”.
We flesh bound humans tend to go to one extreme or the other. We either lean heavily on the “spirit” part of the equation, resulting in many of the problems Paul addressed in the Corinthian church related to giftedness and the use of spiritual gifts, or we put far to much emphasis on “truth” at the expense of “Spirit” and go through the motions “having
a form of Godliness but denying His power”. (2 Timothy 3:5) The context Paul was addressing to young Timothy was false teachers but the principal applies to all of us. Jesus made it clear when He spoke of those who honor Him with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him. (Matthew 15:8; Mark 7:6) I ask this, are the people who only go through the motions on Sunday morning with hearts far from God in any better standing with God than the ones who are moral, don’t use bad language, raise good kids, and do good works through a civic club like the Lions Club or some other?
It is clear that many do think so, and not only do they believe they are right, but also believe they are far superior to everyone else, even other “Christians”. Now, let me quickly add that I can’t see a persons heart as Christ can. But an honest, casual observer can spot a sham with little effort.
Christ died in your place and mine, not to make actors but to give everlasting life to spiritually dead sinners whose lives were an offence to a Holy God. He did not come to offer a new start but rather a new heart.
How sad to be religious but lost. Jesus gave a parable about a sheepfold and the way in by “The good Shepherd” (John 10:1-16) Those who try to enter by their own faithfulness, their own “doing”, will be lost. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by me”. (John 14:6).
All of the religion of a thousand worlds, the good deeds of every person, and the faithfulness of the best of human history can not give life to the dead. (Ephesians 2:1-4)
“Give me that old time religion”? No, give me Jesus!
Grace to you,
Wonderful post. Love the thoughts. I worship on Sunday with SO many religious people. I’m not being criticial, but the feeling is I’m there to do my duty: sing, pray, listen to a sermon, eat a cracker & drink some juice and that gets me a check mark by my name in the Lambs book of life.
There’s so much more.
I thank that the old time religion has changed. The method on how the old time religion was tought to others has changed over the years because society has changed. The good news is still the good news. Hell, Fire, & Brimstone sermons don’t work every sunday anymore. Preaching guilt every sunday. There has to be a balance. I believe we must preach Christ and Him Crucified. We must preach the grace of Jesus but we must not water down the grace either. We must not teach legelism but a reactionism of love to the grace in which we have recieved instead of what was tought in a lot of the old time religion churches of Christ in the past. I believe that grace is the motivating factor for know God. I believe that Christianity is all about knowing God, not knowing about God. There is a real difference between the two and grace causes us to hunger for that relationship of knowing who God is and wanting to know Jesus and Him Crufied.
Great post as always.
Royce, I’ve had the same misgivings about “that old-time religion.” Like “the good old days” it wasn’t all that great, at least not all of the time.
The phrase makes me think that the singers are longing to go to some sort of religious “Walton’s Mountain,” a place that never existed or, if it did, you couldn’t go back to anyway.
Each generation of believers must bear the responsibility of determining what the body of Jesus should do here and now. Retreating to old forms and sentiments and styles, simply because they are comfortably familiar, is a failure of faith.
Excellent word, Royce. I plan to link to it soon at TS. Not to nit-pick, but as a former editor I noticed a typo or two on the word “religious.” Your “tagging the bases” imagery is especially apt. Peace.
Thanks Milton. WordPress spell check missed that one. I appreciate you reading and promoting my blog.
Grace to you,
It is a matter of words, I know, but we have erred in calling what we do on Sunday a service. Our service isn’t what we do inside the building for an hour or so one day a week. Our service is what goes on after we walk out the door and as we live our lives the rest of the time we are living throughout the week.
I have read about someone who wants to create a bumper sticker that says simply,
“I’m not like this on Sunday.”
I am sorry to say that I know many a ‘Christian’ who could honestly make that claim. Sadly, most wouldn’t even think it was a problem. Currently preaching in a rural part of western Carolina gives me a front seat to a number of men and women who seem to believe that what they do on Sunday cancels out the rest of the week’s sinful living. It is a mockery of God to think that we can separate Sunday from the other six days in our Christianity.
That old time religion, had it been as great as we want to remember it to be, shouldn’t have given birth to the Godless generations that it has born. We got too caught up in Sunday and have lost our way the rest of the week, in essence, the rest of our lives.
Rely on God, not tradition…
I don’t understand it but it is true. If only we could leave that old time stuff in the past but it seems that to often it is not old at all.