I grew up on a farm in northern Illinois during the 1950s. The nearest town, with a population of only 1,100 people, was 6 miles away. My grade school had an enrollment of less than 300 students, and the high school had around 200 kids.
The high school band played summer concerts on Wednesday nights in the town square while the stores stayed open until 9 p.m. The busiest retail shops on those nights were the three barbershops. Farmers drove to town after finishing their chores and had their biweekly haircuts.
Free movies were shown on Saturday nights. A Francis the talking mule or a Ma and Pa Kettle film drew the largest crowds. Fresh popcorn cost a dime, and soda pop could be purchased at the dairy on Main Street for the same price.
Doors to homes were left unlocked. Keys jangled in auto ignitions. No one worried about kids playing outside or riding bikes across town to a friend’s home. The town was safe because everyone knew each other.
Stores closed their doors on Sundays. People went to church with only a few not attending. After church, it was fried chicken or roast beef for noon meals. Sunday afternoons were spent visiting grandparents or shut-ins.
All of this probably sounds like a scene out of the movie “Pleasantville,” but life was simpler back then. The pace was slower. Life’s pressures didn’t seem to overwhelm us.
Yes, I grew up as a white boy in rural small-town America, untouched by racial problems, gangs, drugs or whatever else Chicago and other large cities struggled with in the 1950s. But even so, I would guess it was a simpler time for large cities, too. Probably a yesterday that many would be happy to return to if they could.
What has happened to America?
The 1950s were followed by the 1960s. The Cuban Missile Crisis, assassination of President Kennedy, civil rights marches, Dr. King’s and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations, and the Vietnam War bombarded our living rooms with stress on a nightly basis via our televisions. Walter Cronkite’s words, “And that’s the way it is,” reached small towns and large cities alike.
The accelerated pace of events in the ’60s triggered young people to cast off cultural restraints and rebel. Their clothing, music, drug use, sexuality and anti-Vietnam War stances marked their disdain for social taboos. These young people resolved to change America’s culture in the shortest time possible. And sadly, they succeeded by default.
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (Proverbs 29:18)
The American church of the 1950s failed to notice that the prophetic season had changed in the ’60s. They continued onward with their dogmatic formats of an opening prayer, three songs, pass the offering plate, short offering prayer, weekly sermon, benediction and closing song. Their attitude of “give me that old-time religion, it’s good enough for me” had little effect on the spiritual atmosphere over our nation.
The greatest amount of zeal the American church mustered up during the ’60s was when the Supreme Court removed government-endorsed prayers from public schools in 1962 and banned Bible readings in 1963.
“They have removed God from our schools,” proclaimed almost every pastor from his pulpit in the aftermath of the two Supreme Court decisions.
Church members followed up the passionate messages by complaining to their neighbors, writing a few letters to politicians and not much else. They felt helpless before the panzer-like attacks by the kingdom of darkness against their cities.
The God who had swept the nation with a healing revival just a few years earlier seemed to have lost His strength. Was there no more balm in Gilead to handle America’s problems? Were the words of Friedrich Nietzsche a valid epitaph, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed Him”?
With a few minor facelifts, the American church has continued on its 1950s path until today. Yes, there’s more entertainment in the services with its ramped-up music, but cities remain untouched by the power of God.
Where’s the church that turned the world upside down in the book of Acts?
Almost 20 years ago, my wife and I left the traditional church because of a vision.
In the vision, I saw the American church lying paralyzed in an iron lung. The large cylindrical tube encased the church as if it were a polio victim, helping it to breathe via a pressurized airflow system. I knew the church was terminally ill because it gasped for every breath.
I saw a long power cord, attached to the rear of the unit, which meandered itself through other electrical cords to a unique source: bags and bags of money.
I stared at the strange sight and then a thundering voice interrupted my thoughts. “Pull the plug!” proclaimed the voice.
Carol and I prayed about the vision that night and felt we needed to leave the traditional church system.
At the time, we thought we were the only people in America who had left the traditional church system, but since then, we have learned that millions of Christians have done the same.
What does God have in mind?
“So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10)
I believe the Lord will soon raise up a radical church system, which is willing to fast, pray and go to war against the kingdom of darkness in our cities and nation.
Let’s pray it happens soon.