Join the church and escape...
(Note: I was wrong: Dad wrote about Christian cruises back in 1964, as my dear brother, Gary Knapp, just reminded me in the comments under the post about the Wycliffe luxury cruise. Here then is the article Gary mentioned, as it was originally published in the June 1964 issue of Eternity magazine.)
Join the Church and Escape
by Joe Bayly
In his letter to the New Yorker, James Baldwin said that everybody has to have "an out"--dope, sex, alcohol. "Mine was the church."
Several years ago, the Protestant chaplain at an Eastern university was letting off steam: "Know the evangelical answer to a world crisis? Fill a ship with Christians, take a cruise to the Caribbean, and spend each morning listening to a Bible teacher give prophetic messages."
One major denomination held a convention in Birmingham recently [Remember, this is written in 1964.]. A professor at the denomination's main seminary said, "I couldn't go, but I looked forward with keen anticipation to the report that was issued afterward. When it came, I read that there was unusual unity at the convention--greater than they had experienced in recent years. And why was there such remarkable unity? The report answered that one, too: 'We found no issues.' They met in Birmingham, and they found no issues!"
Religion, according to Lenin, is the opiate of the people. We deny the description, and fulfill it. The church is our "out," our shelter, our escape from the battle that is against us. But wasn't the church intended to be a shelter? A bivouac, yes; occasionally a rest center behind the lines. But not nirvana, tranquilizing isolation. The church is a tent pitched on the battlefield, not a vacation spot. The church is a warship sailing mined waters, not a cruise ship following the Gulf Streams.
Ever so often a shell rips through the tent. And the warship sometimes hits a mine. Dangerous? Yes, but who ever said the church was safe? Certainly not its Lord. He seemed to indicate that Hell itself would break upon His church, but would not prevail.
This description of the church would sound strange to most of our contemporaries. The church, especially the evangelical sector, is hardly known for its involvement in battle.
On some mission fields, perhaps; but not in the United States and Canada. Here we are holding meetings and counting attendance and carrying on scholastic disputations over whether Tribulation will some day strike the church or not.
How many Christians attend the church meetings because they'd be lost without an unending Christian something-to-do? How many take their vacations at a Christian camp or on a Christians-only cruise because they'd be unable to cope with neutral atmosphere?
I think that we expect more from the church than we should at times of personal tragedy. The function of the church is not merely to console, to provide a shelter; it is to say, "Now get back out there and fight. You don't need to know the why of it all. All you need to know is that there's a war on." The church should hold people not by serving as an opiate in times of sorrow, but by getting them out of the hospital and back into battle as soon as possible.
Comfort that only comes from being around the church, strength that depends on the rest center, is fragile at best. (Some of the grandest passages in missionary literature are Adoniram Judson turning from Ann Haseltine Judson's coffin to his discouraging work, and Hudson Taylor returning to the lonely battle after Maria died.)
In many ways, foreign missions have been our salvation during the past 20 years. It has been the missionary program of the typical evangelical church that has kept it from total isolation. Missionaries have forced us to learn geography and world affairs. (What would the church care about the Congo or Vietnam apart from missionaries' being there?)
Missionaries have stirred our conscience over abounding materialism and self-centeredness.
Last week a church editor told several of us, "I had a colostomy a few years ago--the growth was malignant. Later I met an old warhorse who told me, 'Good. Thank God for it. You don't begin to live until you know you're going to die.'"
Dying men aren't afraid of their reputations. And they throw everything into the battle."So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."