Friday, May 1, 2015

The Church on the Margins

This weekend I learned of something accounted for here by my local newspaper: After 50 years, the Sunday morning broadcast of First Baptist Orlando is being shuffled off of the major network station, to be replaced by a morning news show.  In a major loss of prestige, it will be relegated to a slot on a sister station on what used to be called the UHF range.

The reason for this happening may seem as simple as the local station being required to put a national, high-rated program into the slot at the orders of higher powers. But why that was allowed to happen is a much larger story, one that will not likely be acknowledged or discussed anywhere but here.

In ages of yore, First Baptist Orlando (FBO) was a good church. The longtime pastor, Jim Henry, was a genteel man with excellent people skills; his sermons, though graded for an average audience, were always sound. He even gave me my first public notice as an apologist: In one of his sermons, I was an unnamed college student who had stood up to write a piece of the local community college newspaper, defending the faith from the criticisms of the paper’s editor (who turned out to not be a bad guy in person).

Then some years ago, Henry retired. In his place, they put a man named David Uth. The nicest thing I can say about Uth is that at least he doesn’t teach any heresy. His sermons are mostly extended midrashic therapy sessions, in which he strains mightily to force-fit ancient round texts into modern square holes. (You know the sort of thing I mean: E.g., Jeremiah 29:11 is about God’s plans for you, not just ancient Israel.) Until the switch to the new channel, the broadcast title was, “Passionate Living with David Uth.” Seriously. Well, why not? It certainly could not have been titled, “Accurate Exegesis with David Uth.” And I don’t mean because a title like that is far less marketable.

What else was growing colder? FBO had some good ministries going, to be sure, and still does. But for years they had been raising money for what could only be regarded as unnecessary extravagances – first, $1.2 million for fancy new camera equipment for the broadcast; and more recently, a $14 million renovation to the sanctuary, designed to make it more “intimate” and a better “experience.” 

Rather ironic, isn’t it, that they spent all that money on improved cameras so that they could look a lot better on a second-tier channel?

What tells the story even more in my mind, though, is something Mrs H and I happened to catch one of those Sunday mornings when we had to stay home. Despite Uth’s shortcomings, we would turn on the First Baptist broadcast, if for no other reason than that Mrs H is a traditionalist when it comes to Sunday morning being about church. One Sunday, though, we turned on the broadcast and were appalled by what we saw and heard.

No, it wasn’t heresy. In some ways it was worse, to the extent that it tells the story of why FBO’s broadcast from now on will be occupying the same position as reruns of Dora the Explorer on an obscure UHF channel. What we saw was a special guest in the pulpit whose presence turned our stomachs: The current governor of Florida.

I have commented here lately, now and then, on this present governor, who will not be named here out of contempt for his sordid record. Before being elected, his greatest claim to fame was as head of a major hospital chain which was found guilty of the largest case of government payment fraud in history up until that time. Despite this; despite running a filthy campaign; despite an almost unparalleled record of corruption, deceit, evasion, and outright lies since his election, FBO invited him to speak from their pulpit – and spend several minutes giving his re-election talking points (thinly disguised as a sort of personal testimony).

Don’t you suppose the world sees this? Do you know what they will think of it?
And is there any wonder FBO’s broadcast is no longer enough of a priority to keep it from being shifted by a national news program?

When our teachings become so insipid that “passion” is our best way to frame our presentation; when our focus becomes on turning our sanctuaries into performing arts centers; when we spend richly on such peripherals for the sake of “relevance”; when we look the other way and invite corrupt speakers into our pulpits because they flash a little “Christian” or pro-life leg – we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised when we end up thrust to the margins.

1 comment:

  1. I completely sympathize with what you're saying. As the philosopher JP Moreland has said, the make up man is more important than the speech writer. We care more for looks than substance. I have yet to hear a sermon on the social sciences. And why? Because there is the risk that church attendance will go down. It's just so sad. At the very least, we might have a trickle-down effect. For example, prospective pastors might be more persuaded by NT Wright instead of John Piper regarding the use of external categories illuminated by the social sciences to help us properly interpret the Bible. Maybe little by little pastors might see the sense of doing this. Even if people like Norman Geisler are presently in the way. At present, it seems like politics is more important than religion, and if religion, genuine religion, has to be sacrificed on the altar a political correctness, then it seems like it has more to do with power instead of truth, since political correctness garners more votes, and more votes equals more power.