“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
(Written in 2015) Since 2004, I have had the very great privilege of directing this unique ministry at Christ The Way Bookstore here in Canada. God has been very good to us and, so far, and has allowed us to continue providing the very best in Bibles, books, audio, video, and soul-winning materials that remain true to the doctrines as taught by God’s own Word. Through this time, we have been able to garner much information from our customer base and, since I love mashing statistics, part of the blessing I receive here is extrapolating information that helps me to be a discerner of the times we live in. After all, the Bible tells us to, “watch ye therefore”, so it is my desire to try be as the children of Issachar, to have an understanding of the times. I have the very unique opportunity to gather data on many fronts, from cults and world religions, to the wide world of Bible versions, from music and entertainment, to the amalgam of philosophies within each. What do I see so far? I confirm that Bible believing Christians and their churches are rapidly changing with the times and that the times have flown completely out of control. With my ear to the rail, I notice that each system continues to morph from long-held immutable beliefs to worldly compromise. The data I have gathered about the modern tendencies in our churches show a great and growing concern. How is the church doing during this end time? I am continually hearing from those who report of churches closing in their areas, that they have nowhere to go but to a local unnamed gathering or some deeply compromised mainline denominational church, or worse. These have all but given up their stands in one way or the other and when inquired of about their traditional beliefs, their answers waver and are hardly conclusive. I hear from others who tell me that they must travel long distances, in some cases hours, to get to go to a Bible believing church and that even then they find humanism, the love of self-entertainment, firmly entrenched. Music and modesty are being compromised, good hymns replaced with pop-rock CCM (contemporary “Christian” music); and the good old King James Bible challenged with weak excuses and replaced with a doubtful text.
From the information that I have gleaned, and comparing that to scripture, I have concluded that we have forgotten how to do church. We have compromised and left off our good traditions and stopped showing each other God’s acceptable standard. We have allowed the deception of moral relativism in, thereby leaving the door open to a, ‘do what thou wilt’ type of mentality. The pastors are refusing to take a stand and when they do, they refuse to correct those who are disobedient and living in error, leading to the church’s decline. What if we got back to what the Bible tells us about our roots? Why are our traditions being abandoned with such disdain by so many churches? With your permission, let me take you back to the Book of Nehemiah, in chapter 8, where we can begin to refresh ourselves about how to do church and review the basics.
What We Do Pretty Well
Please open your Bibles and read Nehemiah chapter 8. As compared to the way we do church today, we see many similarities in this chapter. At the beginning, we read of a people who bid Ezra, the scribe and priest, to bring the book of the law of Moses and read it to them inside the newly completed gate surrounding the city of Jerusalem. On the first day of the seventh month, which is the month, Tishri, he brought the book and men and women came to hear the word expounded unto them from morning until midday and all the people were attentive. It is explained that Ezra stood up upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for that purpose, which raised him up above the people as he read. To the left and to the right stood thirteen other men with him and, when he opened the book, all the people stood up. Then, Ezra prayed, after which all the people said, “Amen, Amen”, lifting up their hands and bowing their heads with their faces to the ground. Then, after the scripture was read, certain appointed men, Levites, making sense of the scriptures, caused the people to understand the reading. Then, the people wept and mourned at the understanding of the law, to which, seeing their contrite hearts, the elders bid them not to be grieved any longer, but to go their way and eat and drink and share their victuals one with another;
“…for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Neh. 8:10b
Clearly, we see similarities between our centuries-old, traditionally-held church customs and the church service held on that day in Jerusalem. If we are to look at the more traditional Bible churches of today, they appear to be much like this description. I think it is interesting to note that this tradition is nearly 2500 years old dating as far back as c.445 B.C. Now, most of our own old-time churches from recent memory still gathered together before a pulpit mostly made of wood. Of those churches, those who have called the man of God to come and read them the scriptures, we hear the Bible read aloud for the people to hear and have men at the ready to expound God’s Word to the waiting ear and heart. Many old path pastors will still ask the people to rise, to stand up, with respect to the reading of God’s Word, and, in prayer, bowing the heads and hearts facing the ground in reverence to our Lord. However, many times, today, we are abandoning these traditions. Just for example, wood is being traded for plastics and metals, which could be construed by some as a symbol or standard raised to the modernism and haughtiness of our scholarly modern church times. I may not completely agree with this, but, it could be seen to conjure up the sense of ‘we have arrived in the now and have determined to shed our old skin’ or, ‘we have earned the right to be different than those old timers’. You may ask, what does it matter? Well, since the Bible says, ‘the heart is desperately wicked’, we have to ask, what is our heart position on the matter? For starters, check which other good old path traditions have been replaced with modern and worldly changes, beginning with your Bible. The preachers of old time were merely following the scriptures rather than making their own ideas. They followed men of old, rather than doing what they wanted. Their hearts were more akin to humility, saying, they did not know what to do except to respect their elders, and so, followed after what the Bible calls the “old paths”. Consider this prophetic verse:
“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” Jer. 6:16
So, if the Old Testament account is good and correct, acceptable unto God, I would say, those who stand by the old traditions still do that pretty well. However, this begs the question: are we still holding to these millenia-old traditions or falling away from them? These traditions seemed right in the sight of the Lord in those days and if, “He changeth not”, then it should still be good enough for us to perform them today as well. Now, being honest with ourselves, what could we do better?
What We Could Do Better
Given that we, in these modern times, have the tendency to fall away and to remake or completely abandon age-old traditions for our own blueprint, it would seem that we can see what we can do better if we look back to traditional ideas. If we are to take the old-path philosophy of scriptures at face value here in Nehemiah 8, then what can we do better? How about drawing closer to God in our own personal lives? Do we take inventory on a regular basis during our busy lives to see what is important for our personal and family’s spiritual needs?
“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Eph. 5:16
In our scripture text, these people meant business with God. They heard, listened, and repented in tears. Their priority at God’s house was clear. For instance, have we placed our employment in a greater position of priority to God’s Word and to his house of prayer? After we finally get home from our responsibilities and we finally have a second to sit down, is the first thing we do to turn on the television or internet, pretty well ignoring those who should be looking forward to seeing you? Would you demand better from your families? Or, are you unable to because your own standard has fallen? Could it be that since you have set the modern standard, your family has followed your lead and they are doing life as you do and are nowhere to be found? I am speaking to the fathers, now! This is on you. Do not give up! Set up the fallen standard and try again, both for yourself and your family! What if we set an old fashioned standard as it was before this age of electronic inundation of information to balance it better. Do it, monitor it, and you will find your family begin to come back to life, communicating better, and becoming better restored day by day. We would then be, ‘redeeming the time’ rather than wasting our time with things which, in eternity, will not amount to eternal reward. Let us stop wasting our time and get back to putting the family in priority.
What We Do Not So Well
One thing I do not read of in our scripture text from the example of the Jerusalem church with the wooden pulpit is unholy worship. Many a modern church and their idol shepherd pastors will ‘give a talk’ with little or nothing of the Bible being read, if it is even the Bible at all; with this modern style of irreverent and self-centered worship music, this style of business oriented church outreach. My friends! What we witnessed in Nehemiah’s day was decent and good. The fruit was proof of that fact. It was set apart and sanctified and, make no mistake, it was all about God, and not all about them! Their tear and dirt stained faces proved that. This was not humanist entertainment and, “worshiping worship and praising praise”, as Dave Hunt once so eloquently put. This is the worship of a Holy God who deserves all obedience, praise and glory and honour! Worship in the church should be sanctified and pure, and not putrefied with the world. It means church should be done humbly, historically, respectfully employing tradition, so that when the trumpet sounds, there will be no uncertainty as to what that sound means – a call to battle and worship of our Sovereign, and it IS a battle. Understand that in an earlier chapter of our scripture text, Nehemiah’s men had a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other as they rebuilt the wall. They stood side by side, working on their section, from all walks of life, from the goldsmiths to the pharmacists, one after another working, labouring, and all done decently and in good order. Does that describe the modern church today with its’ people sauntering in wearing their gym clothes sipping from their designer coffee cups? Not a contrite heart in the bunch. There was nothing wrong with the old path traditions, except, of course, to the wolves that crept in. At the time they were not able to get their jaws clamped down on solid rock but, little by little, they got people to soften. It is time, people! The hour is too far spent for us to waste anymore time deciding whose side you look like you are on.
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15
Finally, this is not about worshiping tradition, it is about holding to an acceptable standard from times past, from a present God who does not change. If these “old-fashioned” traditions were not described in the Bible, there would be nothing more to say, but, there it is, held for nearly 2500 years. Should we be letting go? Traditions are good in that they will help hold us fast, particularly in the tough times. It is said that when we suffer crises in our lives, we look to history to anchor us and to serve as context so we do not lose our bearing, proving who we are and where we came from. Similarly, we have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviours love! Let us not make a wholesale unhitching of the anchor that holds us so well or we will see our churches, and with it, us and our families swept away, perhaps for eternity. Is it worth it? Should we stay or stray? May God be with you as you decide whom you will serve. ~R.
© 2015 Remi Fernhout