Last night, the show ran an episode from The Great Gildersleeve. It was an Easter episode, aired on April 17, 1957. In it, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, the Water Commissioner who was the series' main character, movingly tells the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.
It's almost impossible to imagine an episode like it happening on a network TV sitcom today. But that isn't what stunned me most.
A commercial break came and then, on behalf of the NBC network, the announcer told listeners what good things came to the lives of individuals and families who became involved in the life of a local church. He then mentioned a long list of radio shows that NBC would be running the following Sunday, Easter. It included The Catholic Hour, The Hour of Decision with Billy Graham, and The Lutheran Hour. But, he went on, none of that could possibly replace the blessings that would come to those who celebrated Easter in a local church. And, he added, listeners should, "Take the whole family with you."
Now, if you think I'm about to bellyache or rant about a secular mainstream media that no longer gives Christianity a preferred position, you'd be wrong.
Of course, as a Christian, I'm anxious for everybody to know that Christ died and rose for them and that through faith in Him, we can have our sins forgiven and live with God forever. (See here, here, and here.) I really believe the proclamation of the early church, as given to them by Christ and the Holy Spirit:
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)I also believe that we as Christians are called to share the good news of Jesus with others. Actually, Christians are commanded to do those thing. Jesus is cited giving this command--the Great Commission--in five different places in the New Testament. (See Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; and Acts 1:8.)
I'd be happy if major media outlets told the world about Christ and our need of Him. But those days are over.
Besides, I believe that something terrible happened to churches and Christians when the mainstream media promoted Christian faith: It got Christians off the hook when it came to sharing Christ or inviting folks to worship. Christian faith was "in the air." The culture could be counted on to carry the freight when it came to fulfilling Christ's command to make disciples. With that sort of "home court advantage," Christians became lazy about fulfilling Christ's Great Commission.
When, seventeen years ago, I was called to start the congregation I now serve as pastor, my then-bishop approached me during an informal get-together. He had been the founding pastor of a congregation in the Akron area back in the 1950s. "You know, Mark," he told me, "I had it a lot easier than you will have it. Back then, I just had to show up and announce that I was starting a new church. In no time, we had 500 members." Seventeen years later, our congregation has about one-third that number of members.
Personally appealing preachers and megachurches are able to attract vast throngs these days, it seems, and I don't begrudge them that. But their experience doesn't match that of most pastors and churches in what has been called a post-Christian era. Their experience certainly doesn't match my own. Christian faith no longer enjoys privileged status in Western culture, meaning that Christians intent on seeing the life-changing good news become part of their friends' and neighbors' lives must take on the responsibility of sharing Christ themselves.
In spite of the ascendance of the Religious Right, which I feel mostly distorts Christian faith and makes Christ onerous to a culture ignorant of what the Bible really shows us about Him, the position we Christians find ourselves in today is not entirely different from the position the early Christians were in fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, the day of Pentecost.
Then, as now, Christians lived in a pluralistic world willing to latch onto all manner of gods, idols, good luck charms, and karma. It was a world, like today, where Christians had to, through their love and service in Christ's Name, earn the right to share Christ with others.
Then, as now, Christians have God's Holy Spirit to guide them as they live and share the love, the wisdom, and the hope we have through our faith in Christ.
It would be easy for Christians to listen to the episode of The Great Gildersleeve I heard last night and fall prey to a sort of mournful nostalgia, pining for the "good old days."
But Christian faith isn't about nostalgia. Christian faith doesn't pull us to the past, but to the future. On the first Easter, according to the Gospel of Mark, one of the angels told the women who had gone to anoint Jesus' body, "But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7) Jesus, described by the New Testament book of Hebrews, as "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith," is always ahead of us, always calling us forward, always making us new.
Jesus Christ calls us away from the comforts of the past, to dare to live today in complete dependence on Him, certain that we belong to Him forever.
That means we can be confident as we ask others to turn from sin and follow Christ. The voice of Gildersleeve is only on recordings now. NBC isn't going to recommend that people worship with us on Easter Sunday.
- But Christ is still risen from the dead!
- The Holy Spirit still lives within Christ's people!
- The world still needs to know Christ!
- And followers of Jesus still can use their lives, their service, and their voices to tell everybody about our Savior!