Recently, I read an interesting account of life in a New England country church well over a century ago, in The Old White Meetinghouse; or, Reminiscences of a Country Congregation, written in 1846. Much of what it described would be familiar to most of us, but the changes are also apparent here and there, not many, but a few. The author objected to the new custom of church choirs; he preferred the old-fashioned congregational singing under a precentor. His list of old favorite hymn tunes was very interesting. “Old Hundredth” is still a favorite, as is “St. Thomas” (“Come, we that love the Lord”). “Dundee,” “Silver Street,” and “Wells” are still in some hymnals, but they are no longer the old favorites, and “Tamworth” and “Uhear” I could not locate. Some of the old favorites of 1846 would be objected to by congregations today as “new” and strange tunes.
In spite of this, the differences between the “Old White Meetinghouse” of 1846 and a true church of today are very small. Members of yesterday and today would be at home with one another after a very brief time. The one basic and unchanging fact in the “Old White Meetinghouse” of 1846 and any true church of today is the Bible. Take this away, deny its absolute claims, and you have not church but only a counterfeit. But, with that unchanging faith, the church of 1846 is as fresh and timeless as the church of today. It proclaims the everlasting gospel of the God who declares, “For I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6).
Does the church need to change with the times? Not if the church holds the truth; the unchanging truth of God needs to be applied to man’s changing times as the measure or yardstick whereby men and events are to be judged. Where the truth is declared to be man’s standard, change then is progress towards the truth, it is purposeful growth. Without the truth, change is no longer progress; it is merely change.
Today our world is changing, but it is not progressing. There is much evidence that it is in many ways declining. The reason is that our change has no standard of truth to it, because the Word of God is no longer applied to man and nations as the yardstick and standard.
The “Old White Meetinghouse” proclaimed the word of truth, the Word of God in its day. Our need today is for churches which will do the same.