The Most Important Date in Church History?
It’s always interesting to see, every now and then on a webpage or something, “the most important date in church history.” I would say the most important date in church history - I think it was 1909, when Henry Ford designed his model-T. I think the invention of the motor car is probably the most significant event in church history, because it utterly transforms how the church operates. You can have your reformations, you can have your medieval church piety, but once people can jump in a car, and drive outside of their community to a church elsewhere, everything changes. Church discipline is almost impossible in the era of the automobile, because we live anonymous lives, and we have the ability to run away when our chuch comes after us.
I think I’ve told you in the past the process in Scotland. The first time you come under church discipline, you have to sit on a little shelf under the pulpit, facing the congregation, and it’s too narrow to be comfortable on (it’s specially designed to be uncomfortable), so you’re uncomfortable, you’re sitting under the Word, and you’re facing the congregation, who know you’ve done something wrong. Second time, you have to stand at the doorway of the church, just outside, so that people can process in, and you hear the Word, but you’re excluded from the community. Third time, they manacle you to the wall outside the church, so the people can see you. Can you imagine that today? People saying: OK, you’ve crossed the line three times, we’re going to manacle you to a pole in the car park. That person’s not going to show up to your church again, are they? Church discipline: it ain’t what it used to be.