Some time ago, Pr. Beisel wrote about Lutheranism’s struggle against “The Old Tyme Religion.” He wrote, “This is one of the most basic and fundamental aspects of American culture, and it is the reason why Lutherans, at least those of the Hypo-European bent like myself, will always be lonely, will always be unpopular, will always be “Roman.” (“What We’re Up Against”)
Old-Time Religion has a big family Bible on a stand right next to an American flag. Old-Time Religion boasts of “heart-warming hymns,” like “Sweet Hour of Prayer;” “I’ll Fly Away;” “Does Jesus Care;” “Love Lifted Me;” “Beulah Land” and so forth. Old-time religion is what passed for churchin’ on the radio before television, and what was church for many, a mix of God and Country, Morals and hard work, a heart-warming for the hard-working.
Old-Time religion hasn’t died. It changed stripes, it metamorphosed into Evangelicalism of some sort, transferring the heart-warming “over yonder in heaven” with “my dearest sweet Jesus” of the love songs for Christ. No longer about “that strand beyond,” but more of comfort today, the country twangs and sliding thirds replaced with soft-rock sixths and drum machines.
This is American Christianity, a Christianity founded upon the individual, upon emotions and escapism, upon the economic misfortune of the late 19th and early 20th centuries coupled with an ironic belief in the progress of man. It is a Christianity of me and Jesus alone, a Christianity of shedding behind this mortal coil and “flying away” to a land where we can fish and farm and hunt in the great zephyr beyond. A Christianity of sentiment but no sacrament.
Obviously it bears but some resemblance to the Christianity that existed for two millennia previously. It’s a folk expression of Christianity that all too often replaced genuine Christianity.