Is This Christianity?
THE following is a thought-provoking item by J. F. Saunders that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of August 13, 1956, in the column “Command Performance” under the title “No Time to Pray”:
“A newspaper friend of honored memory used to inform us at regular intervals that the reason he preferred the church he attended over all others was that the pastor hardly ever mentioned religion. His remark was always good for a laugh but when you read of essentially the same thing as being said by Dr. John Heuss of New York’s Trinity Episcopal Church you know it is not intended to evoke your mirth but to invite your concern if not your anxiety.
“‘The round of fund drives, bazaars, luncheons, dinners and bake sales, the personal counseling to camps and clubs and countless conferences are admirable,’ Dr. Heuss said, ‘but it is not religion.’ ‘The modern-day whirl of church activities with its day-to-day triviality is the church’s worst enemy,’ the New York clergyman warned.
“A study of clerical duties made by the Russell Sage Foundation has found that today’s ministers must not only be pastors but administrators, counselors, financial planners, educators, organizers and social actionists. The package demands on the time of the man dedicated to the rescue of souls have become so varied that a great many clergymen fear that the secondary functions of the church are beclouding and superseding the primary one. There is a tendency to place record memberships above solid spirituality and to mistake a seeking after social activities for religious fervor.
“Church bulletins are tightly packed with announcements of picnics, square dances, affairs for the young, schedules of bowling leagues and other sports, sponsorship of style shows and garden parties. They emphasize finances and plans for physical expansion of church plants with gymnasiums and recreation halls. An activity of a strictly spiritual nature may be mentioned only if there is any space left.
“The public was amused years ago when drugstores, in order to bolster their trade in medicines, advertised rose bushes and triple-deck sandwiches to lure additional customers to their counters but the public takes it in stride today when the churches have to promote parties, picnics, and smörgåsbords in the hope that they may entice some to prayer. Dr. Ralph Sockman, noted New York pastor, compares the church to a jewelry store where most of the patrons are content to take away cheap substitutes instead of genuine religious products. . . . Kermit Eby, a University of Chicago social scientist, observes that the trouble is ‘the church has become respectable, a please-the-crowd institution instead of an unfettered champion of principle. . . . This trend to respectability and conformity has undermined the church as an instrument of God.’
“The Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, minister emeritus of Riverside Church in New York, offers this picture of the ‘more familiar kinds’ of church-goers: ‘Formal observers of decent conventional fashions on Sunday morning; fans of popular preachers, as of movie stars; people who think that the churches in general are a good thing, that church attendance is a useful family practice, and not unhelpful to one’s reputation; sectarian minds coming from church with all of their bigotries sharpened and confirmed; mere peace-of-mind seekers, lulled by music and prayer into easy-going tranquillity; and even hypocrites covering unworthy lives under the outward show of religious respectability.’
“He might have said we are like customers coming out of a drugstore carrying a rose bush because the tonic the store was built to purvey had been obscured by the alluring by-products.”