The Spirit of Change

In my early days, the worship service of the Baptist church I grew up in could barely be distinguished from that of Presbyterians of the same class. Their ministers in our section of the country wore business suits in the pulpit; the preaching had some different emphases, although the doctrine was the same in essentials. The Lord's Prayer was recited, but the humiliating "altar call" was passing away among Evangelicals in the North. Probably eighty percent of the hymns were the same, all sung from hymnals using four-part harmony (which parts the congregation sang). Communion was celebrated monthly with grape juice and broken crackers.

A consistent difference in regular Sunday worship was that the Presbyterians repeated the Apostles' Creed and the Baptists didn't. Not that my kind of Baptist didn't believe every word of the Creed, but they were suspicious of creeds in general, their faith having found a better Resting Place, "not in device or creed." I won't argue about that here.
A few years ago my wife and I decided to visit the church of my youth on a Sunday morning when we happened to be in the area. (She was raised an Episcopalian, and there was no use in revisiting her old church.) Mine was no longer "First Baptist," but had moved from the city to a suburb to become a satellite congregation of a volvoxian megachurch with a name like "Living Waters Friendly Seekers Church That Helps You Apply the Bible to Your Life." Or something.

We opted for its "Traditional Service." Just which "tradition" it hearkened to was hard to say, but it wasn't a Baptist service of, say, before 1970 or so. No telling what C. H. Spurgeon, E. Y. Mullins, or even Harry Emerson Fosdick would have made of it. It began with a minister of music introducing the opening song by bellowing "A-one-two-three-four" at a praise band, with the congregation bawling "Celebrate!" in response, the song being projected, without harmony, on the wall behind him. The organ (a very good one) was long gone. The sermon contained less dogma than it once did, but more pragma to be applied to "our lives today"—well, at least the lives of people with certain religious sensibilities—than the gospel of old. We had clearly experienced Change in all this, the noisy, juvenile, acculturated wraith of my childhood church, and confirmed that You Can't Go Home Again.

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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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