Crafty Promoters of Religion
TO PROMOTE better church attendance, Christendom’s religions today are using everything from lollipops to cowboy movie stars. Becoming more popular day by day are “revival” meetings and “back-to-church” movements. Why must the clergy now resort to crafty promotional schemes, even eye-catching antics? The answer is made strikingly apparent in Crockford’s Clerical Directory, the Who’s Who of the Church of England. Each new edition by custom carries an anonymous preface. When a new edition came out in June, 1952, the preface admitted: “The Church is unable to attract people to listen to the gospel. . . . [Its preaching] is like a safety match, effective only on specially prepared surfaces.” (Time, June 16, 1952) Such a candid statement had high clergymen smarting under their clerical collars. But the truth was out. Churches, including big denominations, are finding it difficult to attract worshipers by their preaching alone.
This inability to attract people by the message preached prompts the thought that there must be something wrong with the religious fodder dished out from the pulpit to Christendom’s pew-sitters. If they are being served sound spiritual food, why should there be any lack of attraction, an apathetic flock? Could it be that there is a spiritual famine in the land called Christendom? But from the name Christendom assumes, one may imagine that it has an abundance of spiritual food. Yet when the clergy open their religious larders, the only abundance that presents itself is that of book reviews, tricks of magic, jazz bands, bingo games, lotteries, masquerade parties, coffee-and-doughnut socials, gas-filled balloons, and the buffoonery of circus clowns. So one may rightly ask, Has the spiritual famine foretold by God’s prophet blighted Christendom?—“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord Jehovah, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Jehovah.”—Amos 8:11, AS.
Why should Christendom’s churches have to employ all manner of crafty schemes to lure worshipers to church if their larders were full of spiritual food? What more potent reason is there for apathy and empty pews than a spiritual famine? Several churches in the United States put out a call to their straying flock by advertising in newspapers: “SITTERS WANTED—Men, women and children wanted to sit in slightly used pews on Sunday morning.” To fill its empty pews the Central Presbyterian Church of Haverstraw, New York, started a back-to-church crusade. Besides free coffee at the railroad station, the church offered a turkey dinner, a free movie, a masquerade ball and an art show. The newspapers, telling of the church’s promotional drive, did not mention whether any spiritual food was available.
Free food serves as excellent bait, but perhaps few promotional lures have been as successful in alluring young people as that employed by a Memphis, Tennessee, Methodist church. The pastor opened up a Sunday-night “Daters’ Balcony” where couples could sit together in comparative privacy. It had the added allurement of dim lights. One sailor, happy about the new arrangement, said he felt “more at home” in the dimly lighted daters’ balcony than in regular pews. One can imagine how dim the spiritual light must be in the whole church when it has to employ such methods to attract young people!
ECCLESIASTICAL SIDE SHOWS
Protestant churches have recently pulled from their bag of tricks so many lures that they are beginning to outdo the Catholic Church’s bingo sessions in pure allurement value. Reporting on one lure campaign, the Chicago Daily News, February 6, 1953, said: “The churches—representing virtually every Protestant denomination—were entered in the fifth annual International Sunday School Attendance Contest.” It described the booming success of the Trinity Methodist Church of Los Angeles, which had some 2,000 children storming its doors when movie cowboy Roy Rogers “enrolled” in its Sunday School and put his horse Trigger through the paces. Other churches found the best lure to be an avalanche of picnic plates. The Midwest Bible Church of Chicago, while using free pancakes and coffee, found excellent allurement came from releasing nearly 2,000 gas-filled balloons and by having a blimp hover 200 feet above the church with streamer promotions and searchlights to play on the blimp at night.
Determined to win a contest, a Baptist church in Pennsylvania lured children by offering every child bringing in a new member a ticket for free ice cream at local drugstores. Also offered were free horseback rides for regular attenders, and if the children needed further inducement there was always the magic show put on by the pastor.
With Christendom’s clergy having difficulty in attracting adult pew-sitters, it was rather ironical when a church in Pacific Beach, California, asked parents: “Are you having trouble getting your children interested in going to Sunday School regularly?” If they did, there was an ecclesiastical side show to enkindle interest. Called Operation 333, it was a puppet show. However, a traveling Baptist minister uses the side-show technique in order to appeal to young and old alike. In his revival meetings he uses four wooden dummies and his art of ventriloquism. Now he finds it easier to attract and hold an audience.
Odd and ridiculous antics are often employed to lure worshipers. For instance, the superintendent of the First Baptist Church of Lakewood, California, climbed a eucalyptus tree in front of his church and announced that he would not come down until Sunday School attendance hit 1,000. To get the increase he had to stay up the tree for a good 20 hours! Tree-climbing religious promoters only spotlight the barrenness of Christendom’s larder. And as Jesus said: “All the works they do they do to be viewed by men.”—Matt. 23:5, NW.
A clever method to promote attendance was used by the Salem and Evangelical Reformed Church of Buffalo. Members of the church wandered about looking for autos parked overtime; then they tagged each with a summons to come to church. But the Brethren in Christ Church of Palmyra, Pennsylvania, used a more enticing method by putting on a “treasure hunt.” Fifty English walnuts containing a slip of paper were hidden in the city. Those who found a nut had to go to church to redeem it for a prize. However, a religious organization in El Centro, California, no doubt attracted more attention. A costumed red devil was sent out to parade through the streets. There were a few objections against using a devil to promote religion—only because it was Christmas time and a Santa Claus was thought more appropriate. But why should backsliding Christendom object to religion-promoting devils at all? Pope Pius XI in a press interview declared: “The head of the Catholic Church would consider it his duty to deal with the Devil himself . . . if reasonable grounds existed to support the hope that such dealings would protect or advance the interests of religion among mankind.”—Brooklyn Eagle, February 21, 1943.
A close look at sermon subjects often reveals, not only a lure, but a remoteness from Scriptural truths. A pastor at Durham, Connecticut, found it easier to attract a flock by speaking on “Flying Saucers.” Other pastors have taken to wooing their flocks with musical entertainment. The Deer Lodge United Church near Winnipeg, Manitoba, solved its church attendance problem by having entertainers entertain the church. The jazz band, together with well-known entertainers, was so successful that church officials said the scheme paid off handsomely in keeping a high level of interest among young people.
But no jazz band can conceal the spiritual famine that stalks Christendom. Many churches try to hide their bare cupboard by turning a church into a virtual motion picture theater. Recently, churches have begun to use the facilities of drive-in theaters. The picnic-bound motorist now passes signs saying: “Before your Sunday ride, drive in and worship God.” In the evening “drive-in churches” are even more alluring. One in Phoenix, Arizona, opened with a movie and then closed with a half-hour sermon illustrated with color slides.
Few realize the cunning method the Catholic Church is using in France to woo a straying flock back to church. To attempt to overcome the indifference of the working classes to Catholicism, ninety Roman Catholic priests have left their churches and have gone to work in factories. Reported the New York Times, March 12, 1953: “They [the factory-working priests] are engaged in experimental missionary work of the subtlest kind.” The Times explained that most of the apathetic flock was still Catholic but in name only, adding, “Many working-class families still observe certain church forms for the baptism, first communion and marriage of their children. But, as the head of a large working-class parish remarked, these observances are almost empty of meaning for some workers, who cling to them because ‘it is done’ and also because they serve as good reasons for festive eating and drinking, activities that are in high favor on all social levels.” The eating and drinking festivities—could that not be the reason why many, though lacking spiritual food, still retain membership in Christendom’s churches?
Crafty though the worker-priest scheme may be, it is not expected to yield very concrete results before several generations have passed. The Times elucidated: “With a small number of worker-priests, the idea has gone a bit askew. Some of them have become so immersed in their surroundings and in the strong currents of discontent flowing about them that they have, knowingly or unknowingly, become adherents to and servants of all or part of the Communist party line.” Apparently, Christendom’s religious fodder is so lacking in spiritual nourishment that it cannot strengthen even the clergy themselves!
Occasionally, an individual church awakens to the fact that its problem of empty pews cannot be solved by crafty promotional schemes—temporary boosters at best—but that there must be a turning to and a reliance upon the pure Word of God. An example of a church sincerely concerned about its spiritually famished condition is illustrated by a letter from a Baptist church in England, addressed to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. It reads:
“I have been reading a book entitled ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free’ published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
“As Secretary of the above Church I regret to inform you we are in a very bad way. Our church will hold 200 people, whereas we have to be content with a congregation numbering about 10 persons.
“I was just wondering if you could supply me with some tracts or other printed matter with the view of stirring some interest among the people of Witton Park.
“Any suggestions you can offer whereby it might bring the people to share and join us in Sunday evening worship will receive my very best attention.
“In the bonds of Christian Fellowship,” [Signed]
So the famine for “hearing the words of Jehovah” is real. Lollipops, religious side shows and gas balloons can never satisfy the hunger for spiritual truth. People have tired of the hocus-pocus pulled from the clergy’s moth-eaten bag of trickery. How can one receive inspiration listening to the clergy’s preaching of pagan purgatories and heathen hells? And on being lured to church, how often the people find the shepherds more interested in fleecing the flock than feeding the flock! “Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezek. 34:2) The husks of book reviews and the chaff of political palaver, together with the clergy’s clownish antics, betray the fact that the shepherds are guilty of conducting side shows and social clubs, at the expense of the people.
Now a spiritual famine clings to Christendom. Does not death claim famished ones? It is not to be any different with those famished spiritually! This rule holds true today: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hos. 4:6) Because the land called Christendom has commercialized God’s Word, Jehovah will pour out his wrath upon it: “I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, . . . And the slain of the LORD [Jehovah] shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth.” (Jer. 25:29, 33) Christendom’s name does not exempt her but only identifies her as the target of God’s anger. Yet there is no need to go along with destruction-bound Christendom nor to endure its famine. There is in the midst of famine-stricken Christendom an organization of Christians bringing to famished people the truth from God’s Word. It is the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses, the only group bringing the people the good news of Jehovah’s new world so near at hand. Needing no “revivals,” Jehovah’s witnesses energetically bring the people the news Jesus commanded: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.”—Matt. 24:14, NW.
The message they bring needs no crafty promotion, no help from devils, no enticements. For Jehovah’s witnesses “are not those who commercialize or make gain [adulterators] of the word of God as many men are.” (2 Cor. 2:17, footnote, NW) The knowledge of Jehovah, his Son, and his kingdom is available to you. Imbibe these truths; it means life and it is free. “Let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.”—Rev. 22:17, NW.