by Dr. Shelton Smith
“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall ﬁnd rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”—Jer. 6:16.
Make no mistake about it! While there seems to be an increasing fascination with what’s “new,” or with the current cultural whims, we do not think that should be happening at the church house. The “old-time religion” is the right brand.
The “old paths” are the Bible paths. They were not invented recently. They cannot be defined as “new.”
Some of us have been around long enough to remember the battles we fought when our convention or fellowship went astray.
When I came out of the Southern Baptist Convention (1976) to become an independent Baptist, you knew what to expect when you went to a national or regional meeting. Everybody was carrying a King James Bible, the music was good evangelistic music, and preaching was preaching! There was an emphasis on revival, soul winning, running bus routes and building strong New-Testament-style churches.
Standards of personal behavior were prevalent.
Men looked and dressed like men. Women looked and dressed like women. Even without 20/20 vision, you could successfully differentiate between a man and a woman from fifty yards away.
Here we are now in the 1st quarter of the 21st century and some independent Baptists are going down the same failed route as those other groups did years ago. It is sad to see, but the facts are what they are.
Before I go further, let me plug our National Sword of the Lord Conference, because we have not changed our emphasis. It is for that reason that our meeting continues to draw large crowds of people from all over the world.
Unfortunately, there are other winds blowing these days. Some younger men in independent Baptist circles have basically rejected the heritage they inherited.
They have looked across the fence into evangelicalism (Southern Baptist and elsewhere) and even into charismatic circles. Convenience has caught their eye. Pragmatism (whatever works) has been adopted. Accommodation to the current demands of a godless society has become their practice.
Under the guise of “doing anything to reach people,” they have lost their way. In several notable cases, great churches that had thousands in attendance now have only hundreds. Flying the flag of “we had to change to reach people,” they have totally changed their churches.
Reading the books and watching the videos of the Calvinists, charismatics, evangelicals and the like, they have adopted a new mind-set and radically altered their ministry.
Calling themselves “progressive” or “new independent Baptists,” they are quick to disavow their fundamental independent Baptist background.
Doing things the Bible way is work. We admit that, right up-front.
It is also true that the soft-soaping, compromising, we’re-just-like-everybody-else approach does appeal to a lot of people these days. It doesn’t make it right, but it is unquestionably popular.
Style Rather Than Substance Becomes Their Issue!
When some folks talk about “the old-time religion,” they’re talking about a style of worship. I think they are misdefining it when they do.
The faith of our fathers and the faith of the New Testament is, first and foremost, a matter of substance. The test of fellowship should not be about how we preach, but what we preach.
Do I have a preference in style? Sure I do! Some other men have a style that is unlike my personal preference, but their substance (doctrine and values) is one hundred percent scriptural, and, therefore, solid. Their style may be a bit more or a bit less starchy than my preference, but I can still fellowship with them, because we agree on scriptural substance.
Some Styles Do Run Afoul of Scripture!
Rock ‘n’ roll music with religious words does not meet scriptural muster—therefore, we reject it. Dead, dry, stilted, formalistic music does not measure up scripturally either; consequently, we do not commend it.
There is a solid ground between those two extremes. That solid ground has room for some variety of style.
Substance Is Never for Sale!
“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” —Cor. 16:13.
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”—Eph. 4:14.
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”—I Thess. 5:21.
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.”—II Tim. 3:14.
Numerous are the biblical admonishments which commend the solid substance of the Word of God. The tendency by the overly ambitious and undiscerning neophyte is to soften the substance while adopting the aforementioned unacceptable style.
We do have a mandate to reach a lost world, but we have no scriptural license to give one inch on what we preach and teach or on how we take care of business. Substance should never be negotiated. In terms of God’s truth, there are no discounts, and it should not be offered at a reduced price come this Sunday. Amen!
Substance and Style Often Impact Each Other
If you are willing to compromise style (going where you know you should not go), it will be easy (after a while) for you to compromise your substance too.
The contemporary mentality says, “We’ve just adopted a new style of worship, but our message is unchanged.”
The chances are very high (almost one hundred percent) that such isn’t the case at all. Let me explain.
When you change to a style that makes a worldly crowd happy, they will demand of you that you preach an accommodating message. You might as well face the obvious, because it will happen—and it won’t be long in coming.
Don’t Separate Over Your Personal Preferences
Be sure you have scriptural cause before you break fellowship! But if you do have substantial cause, then cut the cord, and do it now.
Doctrine (the substance of Bible truth) cannot, should not and must not be surrendered, compromised, adjusted or otherwise changed.
Style may vary from church to church. Style will be affected often by the personality and training of the leader. We cannot tolerate any and all styles, but we can live with some diversity of style. I’m not sure I can define this in a way that will explain all I have in mind, but let me illustrate it like this.
When I walk into an ice cream store, I can choose chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and a host of other flavors. They are not exactly the same, but they are all ice cream.
If you blindfolded me and tried to serve me a hamburger instead, don’t you think I would know the difference? I certainly would. Please don’t try to pawn something else off on me with the assurance that “it’s all the same” when it isn’t.
If I get to order what I want, I will order Rocky Road ice cream almost every time. However, if all you have is plain vanilla (not my preference), I can and I will still eat it. In other words, I won’t get mad and leave the table over the flavor of the ice cream. I will be quite insistent, however, that the ice cream be the real thing.
Just to be clear on this – you may march in with your choir or you may not. You may paint your buses with polka dots or you may not. What I’m saying is style can vary a bit, but substance should be steady and stable year after year.
The Old-Time Religion Is Not About Cultural Practices!
We would be foolish to try to construct a ministry to accommodate the demands of a Christless, wicked, unsaved world.
The New Testament church pattern of ministry runs headlong into the culture, confronts it, calls it to repentance and expects it to change.
When a church tries to get as much like its community as it can, it is off track. Our message to the community is that the community needs to change. It needs to turn from its worldly ways and become like the church!
The Entertainment Model Is Not the New Testament Pattern!
Entertainment has crept into many pulpits. Good Bible preaching by a man of God has been replaced with the wit and charm of a “speaker.”
I do not object to humor if it is used for spice and flavor, but I do not like to see the Gospel and the Word of God trivialized into a stand-up comedy routine.
Humor is an effective tool, but it is never a legitimate substitute for the meat of the Word of God.
The Sum and Substance of “Old Time” Religion
“The old-time religion” is a catch phrase that may mean different things to different people. We use the term because it draws a line in the sand. It helps us make our case for faith that is Bible based.
When a church, a college, a fellowship or a movement sets its direction with a “new philosophy” or “new methods,” you can predict that there’s trouble afoot. If we are a principled person with Scriptural truth as the bedrock of our convictions, then the “Neo” inventions which come along will not get a place at our table.
Because it is a popular but often misunderstood designation, it seems that some explanation is necessary from time to time.
New vs. Old
There are many areas where new is definitely preferred above old. For instance, I like air-conditioning (that’s new). I like automobiles and airplanes (they’re fairly new).
But when it comes to the sum and substance, the doctrine and the details of the Faith, old gets the nod and new gets the boot. Let me explain myself.
1. “New” has the wrong starting date!
We are looking all the way back to the Bible—that’s not new! Inventing or reinventing the details of our faith and its ministry practices is so unwise as to be absolutely foolish. We must anchor ourselves in what is so clearly laid out for us in the ancient Scriptures.
2. “New” displaces heritage and legacy!
When “new” gets in the driver’s seat, the heritage of our faith and the legacy of those who passed it to us get lost somewhere. In those settings, the neophyte proponents of contemporary ideology step up to dictate policy and practice. In such instances the churches and their people are forever evolving, changing from one day to the next into something yet to be determined.
3. “New” is not necessary to be current
When we talk about “the old-time religion,” we are not advocating a return to horse-and-buggy transportation. I like cushioned pews, spacious auditoriums and paved parking lots.
I like living in the twenty-first century. But I do not like corrupted Bibles, sensuous music, soft-soap in the pulpit, worldly behavior, catering to the culture and ecumenicizing our efforts under the guise of world evangelism. You can adhere tenaciously to the “old paths” while driving seventy miles per hour on a newly paved highway. Don’t buy the ”you gotta stay current” nonsense—that is most often a prelude to compromise.
4. “New” does not connote relevance!
Some of the green-behind-the-ears thinkers of our time are constantly talking about making the Bible “relevant.” Newsflash! The Bible is relevant! Just teach it and preach it!
The message of the Bible is more relevant to the issues of my life than today’s front page of USA Today.
5. “New” is all about now!
“Now” is where we live, but you can’t fix “now” with “now.” You must use your “now” to look back at “then”—otherwise there is coming a day when you’ll find the “now” doesn’t meet the need.
There is a “hereafter” coming beyond the “here and now.” When you live just in the “now,” you will not find what you need now or for the hereafter.
6. “New” gives little more than lip service!
If you don’t understand my message on this, you are going to wind up being only a lip-service-level Christian. Lip service is superficial. It is not real. It gives testimony, but it is not from the heart. You need something that runs deep, so deep that you are committed to it with your whole heart.
7. “New” lacks legitimacy for faith, doctrine and ministry structure!
The slippery slope of compromise provides a quick trip to apostasy and heresy. When contemporary holds sway, you will live to rue the day. The modern mindset wants to appease the human intellect and accommodate the flesh.
It wants to be friendly with the world. It gives the Devil little or no pressure. Such a mind-set results in neofaith, neofundamentalism, neo-Christianity, etc. What’s “neo” (new) in faith, doctrine and ministry lacks legitimacy and deserves no place with us.
The “Old-Time” Religion Is Both Historic and Principled!
The burden of this appeal is not a cultural argument. It is not an attempt to replicate how things were done in some recent generation. Furthermore, it is not a mentality of resistance against being up-to-date. We are not just against everything. We are opposed to a lot of things, but that’s not new. We’ve always opposed the world, the flesh, the Devil and whatever lined up with them.
What we believe and advocate has both a historic and a principled element.
1. The Historic Element! Christianity is upon the person of Christ and his death, burial and resurrection for our sin. It is a discipline of the Holy Scriptures. Neither the Saviour nor the Scriptures are of recent origin.
When we decide on issues of our faith, we must reach back to the record of Scripture. The opining of our heroes may be well spoken, but it is not the basis of truth.
2. The Principled Element! Far too often decisions are made with unprincipled deliberation. What will my friends think? What will it cost me? What is everybody else doing? Emotion, economics, politics and such things are not the makings of principle.
Turn to the Bible, find the declared statements of revealed truth and make your case on that truth! That is principled behavior!
The Old-Time Religion Is About Doctrine!
1. The Eternal God is the Creator! We offer no concessions at the altar of pseudoscience. The artistic hand of the omnipotent God created the world and all that is in it. We are creationists and, consequently, we are adversarial toward evolution. Evolution is atheistic nonsense disguised as science.
2. The Triune God! Father, Son and Holy Ghost are the three Persons of the Godhead.
3. The Authoritative Text! The Bible is the Word of God! Everything hinges on the authenticity and the authority of Scripture. Our experience must always be tried and proven by the authoritative text. The evidence continues to pile up—the Textus Receptus and the King James text in English are the authoritative Word of God.
4. Eternity Is Real! Hell is hot and Heaven is real! This message gets shelved in many places now. A lot is said about the love of God, but the emphasis on sin, repentance and judgment is woefully missing. The reality of both Heaven and Hell must be made plain.
5. The Gospel Truth! Man is a lost sinner in need of a Saviour! Jesus came to earth, died on the cross and arose from the grave (I Cor. 15:3,4). In so doing, He purchased our redemption, paid our sin debt and secured salvation for us.
6. The Church! The local church is God’s great idea for His people! We are not left to shift and drift on our own in the rough seas of a Hell-bound world. The Lord designed local churches for evangelism, discipleship and fellowship. This is the plan.
7. The Great Commission Is Our Great Assignment! We surely cannot miss the fact that we live in a lost world. The Lord gives us life so that we can carry His message to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8). From our own doorstep to the doorstep of people half a globe away, we are commissioned as ambassadors of Heaven.
8. The Historical Jesus! The Lord Jesus was virgin born, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death on the cross for us, triumphantly arose from the grave and then miraculously ascended to Heaven. The coming of Jesus is the historic fact around which all of history is built.
9. The Lord Jesus Is Coming Again! With urgency we view the unfolding of world events. Anticipation is building among the servants of God, because the Bible promises that Jesus will come a second time (John 14:1–3; I Thess. 4:13-18). We do not know now, nor can we know (Matt. 24:36), when He is coming; but the fact is—it could be any day.
10. The Behavioral Codes of God Are Moral Absolutes! The Ten Commandments, the book of Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount, and the New Testament epistles are filled with hundreds of concepts to guide both our thinking and our behavior. These concepts are not negotiable! They are absolute truth! In every generation, they are the bedrock upon which all of us should build.
You may want to lengthen this list, but we have given enough detail here to establish the agenda for the “faith…once delivered” (Jude 3).
When that Faith is challenged by trends, fads and polls, you and I need to rise up and “contend” on its behalf (vs. 3).
The “old-time religion” refers to matters of substance. It is the very character of all we hold dear and we must not allow its contamination by the new and novel ideas of this day.
When I sing, “Give me that old-time religion,” it means I’m standing on the solid rock of the eternal Word of God. Truly, we are bucking the tide when we stand on that Truth, but there’s nothing new about that.
Jesus and the apostles were in the minority and faced all sorts of opposition. Dr. John R. Rice, Lester Roloff, Harold Sightler, Tom Malone and a host of others were pushed and shoved by a godless culture. All of their lives, they stood alone amidst a crowd of clamoring, compromising, cowardly opposers.
Today is no different! We too must “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Tim. 2:3).
Like the apostle Paul, we must “endure all things” (vs. 10) in order to win souls.
The “old-time religion” is where we stand.
The sum and substance of its truth are the realities, the eternal verities, of genuine faith! We commend it to one and all.
by Dr. Shelton Smith