As churches across the country and around the world wrestle with the question of opening up their in-person worship gatherings, I think we all need to take some time and ask ourselves three questions.

  1. What are some things that we need to leave in the past?
  2. What are some things from the past that are worth bringing into the future?
  3. What are some new things we need to focus on or implement?

There is value in remembering and honoring the past. There is a legacy of faithful men and women on whose shoulders we are now standing. We each can look back and think – if it weren’t for this person / these people, then I wouldn’t be where I am today in my journey of faith. Last time we looked at beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that we need to leave behind in the past. Today I want to think for a bit about what from the past is worth bringing into the future.

TL;DR – 1) family, 2) serious Bible study, 3) confession/forgiveness, and 4) big-T Tradition

Olive Garden had such a good slogan. I really hope that we can carry this into the future of our churches. Jesus redefined family when he said, “Whoever does the will of my Father is my brother and sister and mother.” People have been in varying degrees of isolation and separation for a long time. I think people are going to be starved, not just for human contact and socializing, but for belonging and love. When someone is a part of our church, they are family. Period. Families are there for each other through thick and thin. We laugh together and cry together. For too many people, church is something they do once a week. But church is a family we belong to, no matter what.

I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m disheartened at the decrease in biblical literacy over the last few decades. It’s not just in society as a whole, but specifically in the church. Committed church members can’t list the 10 Commandments, the books of the Bible, the apostles. They don’t bother memorizing Scripture. They have to reference their table of contents when turning to any given book in the Bible. This may seen trivial, but there is a reason we have the Scriptures – “so that the man of God may be complete, not lacking anything.” They are there to help us “correct, instruct, and train in righteousness.” We are told that “[God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” I don’t think we need to deify or idolize Scripture, but neither do we need to shrug it off as unimportant. We need to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17 who “searched the Scriptures daily” to see if what Paul told them was true. We should be doing the same to see if what our preachers and teachers are telling us what is true – or our TV talking heads and politicians and Facebook “friends” for that matter.

We need to wrestle seriously with the mistakes of the past. We need to own them and make restitution for them. The church has not always been blameless. Every local church has a checkered past, and the church universal has committed atrocities under the banner of Christ. I think we should know our history, warts and all. The world is looking for people to be genuine. They are looking for authentic disciples. They aren’t going to listen to anybody who pretends to be holier and more righteous than others. But if we confess our sins and truly face down the muddied past (crusades, support of slavery, pro-segregation, oppression of women, etc.), then we can move into the future to really reach the world with the love of God. Paul did this all the time. He recounted his conversion story to whomever needed to hear it. He would own his sin and his past mistakes, holding himself up not necessarily as one to follow (although he did that once or twice in his letters – but even then it was “follow me as I follow Christ”), but as an example of how great the grace of God was to sinners – even sinners like him. We are not perfect, but we are forgiven. As as we own our own failures and accept the forgiveness of God through Christ, we can then offer that same hope and grace to the world around us.

Ok, hear me out. I think there is a difference between big-T Tradition and little-t traditions. I’m good with Tradition in that it gives us roots, keeps us grounded, and reminds us that we are a part of something bigger and older than ourselves. That Tradition of the church is to be honored and celebrated. So much in our lives right now is temporary, single use, throw away – even relationships. People are less committed to family or jobs or colleges or civic clubs than they were a few generations ago. And while little-t traditions (“this is the way we’ve always done it because reasons”) can be a big turn off for many younger people, I think that big-T Tradition can be a major draw. We don’t have to pretend like we’re reinventing the wheel here. Just because our own local church may be autonomous doesn’t mean we should be disconnected from the larger Christian Tradition that spans two millennia and encircles the globe.

So what do you think? What are some things from the past that are worth bringing into the future of the church? What is good and worth holding on to? Let me know in the comments and feel free to share this with others.

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