“Dorothy wanted to see more of the princess, so she ran after her; but the [made of] china girl cried out, ‘Don’t chase me.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because,’ answered the princess, also stopping a safe distance away, ‘if I run I may fall down and break myself.’ ‘But could you not be mended?’ asked the girl . ‘Oh yes; but one is never so pretty after being mended, you see,’ replied the princess.
‘But you are so beautiful,’ she continued, ‘that I am sure I could love you dearly. Won’t you let me take you back to Kansas, and stand you on Aunt Em’s mantel shelf? I could carry you in my basket.’ ‘That would make me very unhappy answered the china princess, ‘You see here in our country we live contentedly, and can talk and move around as we please. But whenever any of us are taken away our joints at once stiffen, and we can only stand straight and look pretty. Of course that is all that is expected of us when we are on mantel-shelves and cabinets and drawing room tables but our lives are much pleasanter here in our own country.”
I’m not sure what L. Frank Baum, was referring to in his chapter, “The Dainty China Country,” in The Wizard of Oz. It is, however, to my mind, an illustration of the Evangelical church of the twenty-first century. Historically, the Evangelical church has been a cross denominational appellation for churches committed to the evangel, the good news, the Gospel as its core value and ministry commitments. It was a conservative alternative to the mainline denominations represented by the National Council of Churches.
It remained more or less on the fringes of society until about the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan was astute enough to attend and address one of the conventions of the National Association of Evangelicals. Not only that, people began to notice that their churches were growing while the mainline churches were declining and that its books were consistently outselling the books on the New York Times best seller list.
Since then, Evangelicals have played a more prominent role to the point of helping, in the opinion of some, George W. Bush to get elected to the presidency. Yet all is not well in this tradition. The china doll has fallen and has fragmented into many pieces. Catholic apologists, especially those converted from Protestantism, are using this in a gloating, “See, I told you so!”
It seems as if there is something for everybody: lively or staid, liturgical or “spontaneous,” cool versus traditional, Bach or Rock, formal or informal. Enter with reverential silence or fill up your plate with snacks and a cup of coffee, come, sit down and enjoy the band . . . er . . . the service.
In her desire to be culturally relevant, she is unwittingly and incrementally being absorbed by her culture. We’re not simply referring to styles of worship but rather significant changes in theology. It amounts to a shift in emphasis from God being the ultimate determiner of all things to man having the final say. Moreover, it has become a matter of preference as to whether a person wants to be a part of a church or worship God in “his own way” at home.
In our setting here in New York City, theology has long gone by the wayside. The majority of pastors in The Bronx have had none or very little formal theological training or its equivalent and many seem proud of it. After all, doctrine divides, don’t you know. All we need is the Bible.
The problem with that view is that if it were held consistently, there would never be any preaching at all. Every sermon is an exercise in systematic theology (good or bad). If one wishes to eschew theology, then just get up and read the Scriptures. That’s not happening however. If local radio preachers are any indication, it seems that even sound, Biblical expository preaching is also lacking. The fact of the matter is that everyone is a theologian. Everyone has a view of God, man, sin and the nature of salvation. The only question is whether our theology agrees with the Scriptures.
Granted I’m painting with a very broad brush. There are notable exceptions here in this city but there are also lots of slick pulpiteers, otherwise good communicators where style trumps substance and many tend to gravitate to them.
Here at The Bronx Household of Faith, we’ve taken a less travelled road. We have determined that our music, our preaching and teaching must cover the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). No doubt we fail to do that consistently but nevertheless that is our goal.
In our adult Sunday School, we have a six year cycle of two years of Old Testament, two years in the New Testament and two years of doctrines and in the summers we memorize and discuss a chapter, or significant portion thereof, of Scripture. We want our people to know the Word of God before they delve into doctrine so that the latter does not become abstract and detached from application in life situations.
Admittedly, this does not cause people to beat a path to our door but what is the alternative to the heavy lifting that is the rigorous study of God’s Word? Enough of this touchy-feely stuff that can’t be taken with you into the real world! What is going to take us through the heartaches as well as the joys of living in this still sin-cursed world but a firm grasp of unchangeable eternal truths about our blessed Lord? What is going to motivate us to evangelism without a passion and hunger for the light of the knowledge glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?
If we succumb to the pressures of our general culture then we will be like Dorothy’s china doll taken out of her world, nothing more than a pretty artifact sitting on the mantel.
Please pray for us to be faithful in the world that is God’s kingdom.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet decided whether or not they will hear the case that is The Bronx Household of Faith vs. New York City Board of Education. Yes, believe it or not, this case is far from over.
You may or may not know that last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, overturned the Federal District Court’s injunction granting us and over 80 other churches the right to rent public school buildings for worship. Yes, we are in our own building for which we thank the Lord but we will still need to rent the school from time to time such as this coming Easter.
The arguments from the school side are weak: (1) Impressionable children will mistake the school for a church and we wouldn’t want to corrupt their minds now would we! This is a tempest in a teapot and amounts to nothing more than a heckler’s veto in a cheap tuxedo. (2) The government, is effectively subsidizing the church by charging only for janitorial services. This is semantic slight of hand. We pay the same rate as everyone else who rents the school. (3) The school insists they are not engaging in viewpoint discrimination which is disallowed based on a previous court ruling. This is content discrimination which they have the right to do.
The law states that groups may rent the school for activities that “pertain to the welfare of the community.” But since the purpose of renting the school is for worship, this content can be disallowed because worship is such a unique activity, it doesn’t pertain to the welfare of the community(!).
The problem with this position is that the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling in 2001, allowing Good News Clubs to rent school rooms after hours is that they must allow religious content for groups who wish to teach the Word of God. So they can’t decide across the board to disallow religious activity.
Okay, so we decided that we would not use the word worship in our application but that we would simply enumerate the constituent parts of our activities: prayer, hymn singing, preaching, etc. Then they figured that out, “you rascals, we know what you’re doing!” (not their words but our interpretation).
Here’s the problem. The state has put itself in the position of distinguishing between types of religious activity. This is overreach. It is also circular reasoning. We don’t know what worship is but whatever it is, it is not allowed. Weak arguments indeed. Please pray for the many churches depending on this case.