Recently I attended the church I spent my young adult years at. The reason was a bit sad because Deacon Fred Berry was called to glory by his maker, God Himself. Deacon Berry is one of the significant legacies of New Hope Baptist Church, 2301 Rhode Island, Gary, Indiana. He was in a sense the Shepherd for over 50 years in the official office of Chairman of the Deacon Board, but oh, he was much more than that. On August 13, 2016 he once again united New Hope Baptist Church’s membership as we gathered together in one place to say our goodbyes.
As I sat there taking in the joy of seeing and hearing my choir sounding like the choir of yesteryear, “my heart was glad and my glory rejoiced” and inside I almost burst I was so full. To put the icing on the cake was when our prized choir director, Michael Berry who was also one of Deacon Berry’s sons, upon the unction of the Holy Spirit, got up and directed the old New Hope Mass choir at his Daddy’s service! (Lord Do It!) And Oh the joy that flooded my soul!
Andre Crouch wrote a song and some of the lyrics said, “Take me back dear Lord, to the place where I first believed.” For about three hours, I went back. I took a journey to a time when “chuch” was church! When sermon series were unimportant, when every first Sunday you could hear the same sermon about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and not grow weary of the hearing it (Reverend Clarence Loddell, made it sound like music every time). I went back to the third Sunday musicals and I heard Mrs. Mary Barnes and Ms. Bertha sing,” There will be peace in the valley for me someday, and I’ll be changed from this creature that I am.” I remember, New Hope Mass Choir foot stomping and toe-tapping songs Mississippi style… “There’s a lily in the valley bright as the morning star.” It was here that I first got the “Holy Ghost” and “shouted.”
And I realized as I sat there soaked in the glory of the past that over the last several years this is what I’ve been searching for in today’s church. I miss the gospel of Jesus Christ in the church. The basics seem to have disappeared, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Too much emphasis is placed on entertainment, and trying to mirror how the world does it. The Gospel is the same, but we’ve changed. Yes, even though we’ve dug deeper and biblical scholars have researched, studied, analyzed, and taken apart the gospel, we’ve become so fixated with dissecting God’s word we’ve made more complex than it needs to be. It’s not. Remember, Jesus took unlearned, uneducated men, and solidified a relationship with them, so much so that they spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
In the new church, “Dr. Watts” songs and hymns are replaced with “praise and worship” songs lead by the best singers in the churches worldwide. But, I missed the Deacons praying as service began. What happened to those meaningful catch phrases of Dr. Watts?
I love the Lord, he heard my cry, and pitied my every groan
Long as I live while trouble rise, I’ll hasten to his throne
I’ll let you know, before I go, what shall become of me
I’ll wait until the spirit comes, and move at God’s command
These are just a few of the ones I remember. I am sure you can call out a few of your favorites too. Now many services are organized and timed to perfection. It’s a get in and get out mentality; worship should only take a specified amount of time. Letting God have his way during service might take too long.
Lately, I have been going from church to church trying to capture the spirit of what church used to be. I haven’t found it yet. I say that because I know it’s still out there somewhere, and I believe by the grace of God, it’s coming back. I don’t want to have to go a “homegoing” service just to have church again, and to feel that God is truly in the room.
There seems to be a thought process running through the Church: anything goes, this is inappropriate. Go ahead, somebody got to say it! The saying, “come as you are” to church has been taken to a whole other level. Since when did God say, it’s okay to sag your pants and show your underwear in church? Because it’s the style; it’s in vogue; air-bodi doin’ it? This goes to both men and women, wearing “skin tights” shirts, jeans, skirts, and whatever in church. Why does everyone need to know what God gave you?
It was once understood that “come as you are” meant once saved then you’ll learn better- NOT! Because the world is in the Church. In the effort to bring in the unchurched, we’ve become lost along the way. We feel the need to look like the world and be like the world. I say we, because I’ve been guilty too. But, the Word says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
The New Testament opened up with these words from Jesus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He knew us and He began with a strong message. Put away your foolishness, because I am here. I have come to save, heal, deliver, and set the captive free. Yes, you are allowed to be you, to live and have fun, and to have a life. Just remember, who you are in Christ Jesus. He promised us an abundant life (John 10:10).
As I end this long blog note, and keeping in mind that I’ve attended church maybe ten times this year and that’s including funerals/homegoings, I believe God may be calling some to minister differently or to seek other ways to impact the world for good. I ask myself now how can I impact God’s Kingdom as I go about my daily life? I think reaching, teaching, encouraging one person at a time is meaningful. Church today has changed so much to me, but that’s because I am old school and it’s hard to get with the new church. Anyway, staying close to God and his Word will, I believe, lead us to where we need to be. I want to be in fellowship with a church membership, but I can wait until God says when and with whom.