You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
Ask the average church goer today what is celebrated on October 31 of every year. Halloween will probably be the answer. Reformation Day – at least for Protestants – is what should come to mind first. This ignorance of history of points to another reason why the church has become irrelevant. It has no idea from where it has come, and hence has no clue as to where it should go.
Upon exiting from Egypt, God established yearly festivals. These appointed times commemorated or celebrated the great work that God had accomplished for the people of Israel. The Feast of Booths, for example, reminded the Hebrews of their time in the desert when God lived with them in tents. The weekly Sabbath called them to remember the creative – and restful – works of the Lord. Passover told them of their history as slaves and their great exodus from Egypt. These and other observances were holy times to the young nation. God’s people were constantly reminded of where they had been, how God had redeemed them, and how He had been with them through every struggle. Because they were rooted in the past events of God, the Israelites could confidently move forward.
These observances were always the first to go when Israel – established as a nation with a government in place – would start straying from God. As kings faithful to God would turn their hearts back to Him, time and again we see from Scriptures that they had to restart Passover and other rituals that were so vital to Israel. There was an inherent link between these memorials to the past and Israel’s effectiveness as a witness to the Lord in the ancient world.
As the church has tried to fit in and respond to today’s culture, it has mistakenly believed that it must abandon the practices that has made it unique. Evangelicals rarely pay much attention to Reformation Day – and so have no idea that our reliance on Grace Alone through Scripture Alone comes from one very dedicated monk in Germany. Pentecost is forgotten as the great commissioning day of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers gathered in the upper room. The Sabbath that Christians celebrate on Sundays is no longer a holy day, but a free day to come to church “as you are” and then get on with other things. The creeds and confessions of the church – forged at times of crisis and trial – are either revamped to be more modern or are left out together. The church has forsaken its history in favor of a “New Church”.
The church is irrelevant because it has no past from which to draw wisdom, and therefore has no idea how to handle the needs of today. Indeed, only by understanding and celebrating our past do we find the strength and knowledge to move forward. The stories of how God has worked in the church – and in the lives of its people – can only encourage us as we labor today. As the church faces the new challenges of morality and faith as a result of advances in science culture, ironically it is the creeds and confessions that will help steer us toward a resolution. The great hymns of the church might not lend themselves to today’s praise music bands, but within them is found great theology and even greater comfort. The church has been an incredible force throughout the ages – both good and bad. Only by knowing our history can we seek to avoid the mistakes of the past but move forward with the understanding that the church has a vital role in the proclamation of the Gospel.
Why can we not see that?
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.