I remember those theaters well. Across the river from our small town, an only slightly larger town boasted one that offered a double feature for $1 a carload. It was thirty years later so naturally the price had risen, but still, what a deal!
Our family usually arrived about fifteen minutes early to procure the best spot. If you were too close all we kids in the backseat could see were headless actors. But you certainly didn’t want to end up on the back row or next to the concession stand amid all sorts of distractions.
Once you found a decent spot, you checked the speaker before anything else. If it didn’t work, and some did not, you went on the hunt again. Once the speaker situation was in order you spent a few minutes edging up and down the hump to raise the front half of the car to just the right angle so the line of sight worked for everyone. (That first New Jersey drive-in did not have the hump. I am not sure how anyone actually saw the movie.) Then you had to deal with obstructions. Our rearview mirror could be turned completely vertical, but other cars had one you could fold flat against the ceiling. Headrests on the front seat would have been a catastrophe, but no one had them back then so we avoided that problem altogether.
Now that set-up was complete, we rolled down the windows so we could get any breeze possible in that warm humid night air. Along with the chirping crickets, the croaking frogs, and the traffic passing on the street behind the screen, we also had to put up with buzzing mosquitoes. My mother usually laid a pyrethrum mosquito coil on the dashboard and lit it, the smoke rising and circulating through the car all during the movies, the coil only half burned when the second “THE END” rolled down the screen.
At that price we never saw first run movies. Usually they were westerns with John Wayne or Glenn Ford or Jimmy Stewart, or romantic comedies with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Occasionally we got an old Biblical epic like David and Bathsheba or Sodom and Gomorrah, both about as scripturally accurate as those westerns were historically accurate, which is to say, not very. The only Disney we got was Tron, but that was back when it was a bomb not a cult classic. Still, we enjoyed our family outing every other month or so.
And we got one thing that I am positive no one born after 1970 ever got. When the screen finally lit up about ten minutes before the movie started, after the Coming Attractions and ads for the snacks at the concession stand—and oh, could we smell that popcorn and butter all night long—was the following ad, complete with voiceover in case you missed the point. “CH__ CH. What’s missing? U R. Join the church of your choice and attend this Sunday.” And that was not an ad from any of the local denominations—it was a public service announcement!
But this is what we all did—instead of being grateful that anything like that would even be put out for the general public, we fussed about its inaccuracy. We were bad, as my Daddy would say, about living in the objective case. When that’s all you see, you miss some prime teaching opportunities.
So let’s get this out of the way first. It isn’t our choice, it’s God’s. It is, more to the point since he built it and died for it, the Lord’s church. We should be looking not for a church that teaches what we like to hear, but what he taught, obeying his commands, not our preferences. And you don’t “join” it. The Lord is the one who adds to the church, the church in the kingdom sense, which is the only word used in the New Testament for what we in our “greater” wisdom call the “universal” sense. But that’s where we miss the teaching opportunity because for some reason we ignore this verse:
And when [Saul] was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple, Acts 9:26.
Did you see that? Immediately after his conversion, Saul tried to join a local group, what we insist on calling “placing membership” in spite of that phrase never appearing anywhere in the text. (For people who claim to “use Bible words for Bible things” we are certainly inconsistent.) The New Testament example over and over is to be a part of a local group of believers—not to think you can be a Christian independent of any local congregation or simply float from group to group.
Why do people do that? Because joining oneself to a group involves accountability to that group, and especially to the leadership of that group. It involves serving other Christians. It involves growing in knowledge. It means I must arrange my schedule around their meetings rather than my worldly priorities. The New Testament is clear that some things cannot be done outside the assembly. I Cor 5:4,5; 1 Cor 11 and 16, along with Acts 20 are the obvious ones. That doesn’t count the times they all came together to receive reports, e.g. Acts 14:27, and plain statements like “the elders among you” which logically infers a group that met together. Then there are all those “one another” passages that I cannot do if there is no “one another” for me to do them with.
We are called the flock of God in several passages. You may find a lone wolf out in the wild once in awhile, but you will never find a lone sheep that isn’t alone because he is anything but lost. It is my responsibility to be part of a group of believers. We encourage one another, we help one another, we serve another. Our pooling our assets means we can evangelize the city we live in, the country we live in, even the world. It means we can help those among us who are needy. It means we can purchase and make use of tools that we could not otherwise afford. It means we can pool talents and actually have enough members available for teaching classes without experiencing burn-out. It means we are far more likely to find men qualified to tend “the flock of God among them.”
So while God may add me to the kingdom when I submit to His will in baptism, it is my duty to find a group of like-minded brothers and sisters and serve along side them. Serve—not be served. Saul had a hard time “joining himself” to the church in Jerusalem because of his past, but Barnabas knew it was the right thing for him to do and paved the way.
CH__CH. What’s missing? Is it you?
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all, 1 Thes 5:11-14