27 January 2023
When you die, your intellect does not go with you into Eternity. Your human accomplishments remain here, for however long the effects are noticed by anyone. What goes with you is your standing with God, in terms of His Covenants. You'll remember things, but not as historical facts. Rather, you'll remember the moral truth behind all of this.
Some of those old "little country church" hymns from previous generations came very close to the ultimate truth for our lives in this world. Singing about someday seeing Heaven as a salve for the sorrows of this world is the right approach to living. If you aren't experiencing significant sorrow, then you are morally compromised. Thus, the only risk in singing from those old hymnals is that some of them envision Heaven from western mythology. Most of the time it's just little things, like "Jordan's stormy banks" -- the image of storms is artistic nonsense, not part of the biblical narrative. The image of crossing into the Promised Land as a symbol for going to Heaven has limited value. But a lot of stuff in our hymnals now is downright evil.
I recall an ongoing debate from my college days that was provoked by a hidden agenda. Most of our Christian college professors made fun of "rural revivalist" culture. They were referring to the old idea of holiness as pulling away from the world. Yes, there had arisen a very lucrative market around what they called revivalism, but that was one of those things we used to preach about, and tried to avoid. We didn't like the showmanship of Southern Gospel quartet performances, but did like some of the songs. Our professors talked like the marketing schlock was the core value of people who clung to the old ways.
While the roots of this thing go way back into history, we can discern the manifestations in human memory when critical changes struck the American culture. It's not that such a great evil came upon us, but that one manageable set of evils was exchanged for a new collection of sins that produced something overwhelming. Prior to WW2, you could find a portion of the American church folks who were otherworldly in their orientation. They knew this world was doomed and that it was supposed to be unpleasant, that holiness would mean accepting some discomforts. Starting in the 1950s, there was a movement to crush that.
It wore many masks, so it's not easy to pin down as just one thing. Today it stands victorious. It's now altogether mainstream to make jokes about someone who is "so otherworldly that he is no earthly good". When did earthly good become so important? It's not in the Bible. The effect of this movement was to redefine holiness as some kind of "responsible program of action" to change the world, versus the biblical image of holiness as rejecting this world. The terminology of rejecting the world and taking up your cross has been hijacked; it's the language of partisan politics.
Have you lived long enough to remember when having the American flag in your church was a no-no? It was considered secularism, unforgivably political. That was a long time ago, but it was rather common in small churches across the countryside through the 1950s and into the 1960s. Sometime during the 1960s it became rather rare to not see one displayed up close to the pulpit. There are people alive who still remember that.
You can associate that with a lot of contemporary changes in America: the Vietnam War, the takeover of the Democratic Party, the vanquishing of public morals, etc. It was a revolution, openly admitted, but with secret fingers grabbing the system in all kinds of places. Today that revolution has become quite established, to the point of being The Establishment. Now it's revolutionary to talk about the otherworldly frame of reference.
We have seen a whole generation come and go, having wasted their whole lives fighting for something they never actually had in the first place, trying to reassert "conservative values" as the bedrock of American identity. The very large presence of folks who were not involved in the social and political battles is forgotten, as if they never existed. On a few occasions I was involved in activities that saw me traveling the US and visiting a lot of little churches. They don't even remember what the previous generation taught about staying out of politics and social activism. A tiny few here and there remembered, and they were marginalized in their own churches.
I wonder if anyone alive today remembers those times. We've lost a great treasure. It wasn't a golden time in any sense, but it was a whale of the lot better than what we have now.
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