Oh, for the Good Old Days

by Roger Campbell

We often hear folks express the sentiment that “the old days” were better. It seems that the older we get, the more we tend to dwell on what we consider to be the good or positive things from our past. There are others, however, who will bluntly tell you in a heartbeat that they have no desire to go back to the old days. No, sir. To such people, “the old days” meant plowing behind a horse or mule, picking cotton by hand, no indoor plumbing, and, well, you get the picture. For them, “the old days” were a far cry from being good and pleasant days.

On the other hand, we can sympathize with an elderly person that, when recovering from hip replacement surgery, reflects on the time when he was in his youth and could work in the field for ten or twelve hours, then still have the stamina to play ball or swim in the creek for a couple of hours after his work ended. To his way of thinking, his good days are behind him.

We can feel for a woman that is saddened by the reality that her siblings have all scattered into different parts of the country (or world) and they never get together, unless it is for a funeral. She fondly recalls their childhood years together. Times were not easy for them, but they made it, and having a close-knit family really helped them persevere. Now, things have changed, and they will never be the same again. It is easy to understand why she would long for what she calls “the good old days.”

Take note, though, that there are some potential dangers in the spiritual realm when it comes to longing for what we count as “the good old days.” Take, for instance, the children of Israel in Moses’ generation. Even before they crossed the Red Sea, they were spouting out words of dissatisfaction with God’s plan to deliver them from slavery and into the Land of Promise. Hear them complaining to Moses: “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:12). Later, after they left Mt. Sinai and headed toward Canaan, the Israelites stepped up their rhetoric, saying, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick” (Numbers 11:5). Basically, they were saying, “It was so much better back in Egypt. Those were the good old days!” Better in Egypt? You have got to be kidding! Being a slave was better than freedom? Being restricted in their religious activities was better than freely worshipping Jehovah once they escaped Egypt? Somebody was not thinking rationally! Rather than whine about what they thought their lives were lacking, God’s people needed to get on with the business of loving Him with all of their being (Deuteronomy 6:5).

During our six years in what was part of the former USSR, it was not uncommon to hear people express the sentiment that things were “better” before the collapse of the Soviet Union. They did not use the term “the good old days,” but that was apparently what such people felt in their hearts. It was disheartening to hear a few members of the church chime in and say that life really was better under communism. Wait a minute! Under communism, you did not enjoy the religious freedoms that you now have. How could that situation have been better?! And, during your years under communism, you had not yet obeyed the gospel. You were still lost in your sins. After communism fell and the gospel came into your country, you received that saving message and were born again. You stopped being a slave to sin and became a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:17,18). You stopped being dead and were made alive (Ephesians 2:1-5). We understand that some in the former Soviet Union, as well as other places, had more money, more buying power, and in general, in former days were better off materially speaking, but we must never lose sight of the big picture. Enjoying religious freedom and being saved from sin outshines greater material blessings any day of the week! There is no way that any child of God should think of a system that is atheistic and wedded to evolution and other human philosophies as being superior to the privilege of receiving the gospel and being blessed by it.

How about this one? “Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the church was really growing in America. Those were the good years, as far as the church is concerned. It would be great if the church could begin growing like that again.” I was not a member of the church during those two decades when the church was growing so well numerically in this country. There is no doubt that the religious climate was different then. At that time, many more people had respect for what the Bible says. That is why great numbers obeyed it when they learned its message. Yes, we, too, would like to see the church be able to enjoy great numerical growth, provided, of course, that the means of achieving additions is scriptural.

There is another aspect of “the good old days” of church growth in the USA that we must not fail to see. While it is true that the overall environment in society in the 1950’s and 1960’s was more conducive to the spread and acceptance of the gospel, according to what I have been told, it is also true that the church was different in those days from what it is in many cases today. There are two things that quickly come to mind in this regard. First of all, in general, members of the church appear to have been more knowledgeable of the Bible “back then.” That gave them confidence to open the Bible and teach it to others. Second, it is also said that in those years when the church grew extensively in our land, a major factor was the evangelistic zeal of our brothers and sisters. They knew the Bible well and were frequently making an effort to teach it to others. We cannot force the religious climate to change in this nation, but we can make a better effort to know the Book and be more aggressive and outgoing in teaching it. What do you think?

There is one more wishing-for-“the-good-old-days” scenario that we should note. A few members of the church may carefully verbalize it in some private circles, but many others share the same sentiment in their hearts. What sentiment might that be? “Before I became a Christian, I had a lot more fun. I miss those (pre-Christian) times and the things I did back then. Being a Christian has taken all the fun out of life.” The Bible says that in the Christ, we are new creatures and old things have passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). The apostle Paul counted his pre-Christian days and all that meant something to him back then as “dung” (Philippians 3:7,8). You and I ought to share the sentiments that Paul expressed.

Remember that before we obeyed the gospel, we were living in a state of corruption (2 Peter 1:4). We were dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). We were without the God of heaven, without the Christ, and without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). It is true that sin has its pleasures (Hebrews 11:25), but having a desire to return to our old way of life and once again be what the Bible calls “our old man” (Romans 6:6) just makes no sense. Whatever we might have forsaken in order to follow Jesus, we can live without it! We do not need it. And, whatever we gave up in order to live for the Master, we need to leave it where it belongs, which is in the past, out of sight and out of mind.

As long as we are still living on the earth, the best is yet to come. Why is that? Because as long as we are still in our fleshly bodies, we have not yet departed “to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Let us stay focused on that place that is “far better” than anything we can experience in this world. Let us all be resolved to keep pressing toward the mark (Philippians 3:14), ever grateful for the blessings and lessons learned in the past, but ever conscience of the fact that faithfulness to God and being in good standing with Him is not about what we were/did, but about who we are/do. Our greatest concern is not, “What were we,” but rather, “What are we, where are we headed, and what is our battle plan for reaching our ultimate goal?” It is okay for us to take time to enjoy precious memories of the old days, but we must go past our reminiscing and accept the reality that we live in the present, not in the past.

— Roger D. Campbell

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