Little Pink Churches for You and Me, by Aaron D. Wolf

16 May

A decade ago, back in early 2002, when I was an evangelical (in the contemporary, North American meaning of that term; not the historic and current other English-speaking countries’ meaning of the term), and growing dissatisfied with evangelicalism (for various reasons, many of which are covered in the essay that follows this preface). I was hemming and hawing about what to do; I felt myself gravitating somewhat towards a more traditional kind of church, and yet, I had some misgivings, wondering why there couldn’t be a church that held to what C.S. Lewis referred to as ‘Mere Christianity’, i.e. the core doctrines that all faithful churches agree on; in his preface to the book of the same name, he likened such to a hallway in a building, and the different traditions as rooms off the main hall.  I was mindful of Lewis’ contention that one couldn’t stay out in the hall forever, but needed to go into a room.  Yet I struggled with that.  Till I read an essay at Chronicles Magazine’s website, from their May 2002 print edition, by Aaron D. Wolf, entitled ‘Little Pink Churches for You and Me”.  Wolf’s commentary applies just as much to the church scene in Canada as it does in the States, so it struck a chord with me; I found I concurred with Wolf’s sentiments completely, regarding the shallowness, and erroneousness, of worship and doctrine in many evangelical churches today.  Suddenly, I realized I had a duty to find a tradition I could assent to, and align myself with it.  I had already found myself beginning to gravitate towards the Reformed faith, due to an excellent Reformed website I had stumbled upon (which no longer exists, alas); I soon sought out local Reformed churches, and in time, joined one, becoming Reformed.  Incredible to think that such a life-determining step could result from reading a well-written essay, but it happened.

I’d like to share that essay, as I believe it deserves more exposure; it isn’t available anymore at Chronicles’ website, alas, but I found a version of it online elsewhere, but it’s a bit hard to easily read at the site where I found it, so I thought I would reproduce it, here.


“Little Pink Churches for You and Me.”

by Aaron D. Wolf

(Chronicles, May 2002, pg. 17-19)

American churches have lost their nerve at a time when people seem to be flocking to them en masse, looking for solace, meaning, and leadership in the face of impending crisis.  What do they find?  More often then not, they will be subjected to a glut of feel-good praise choruses, guitars and drums, and pithy sermons on anything but the appointed text for the day—not to mention such Christian symbols as “God Bless America” and prayers that amount to: “Lord, keep us steadfast while the U.S. military bombs Afghanistan back into the stone age.”  What they will not find (in most cases) is the hope of the Gospel offered through Word and Sacrament.  Nor, by and large, will they learn about the significance of Christ’s Incarnation (a point of particular importance in the face of Islam), Christ’s Cross (which brings up the nasty subject of what put Him there), His Resurrection (the basis of all Christian hope), or His Ascension (which points to His present reign and His future return as Judge of the quick and the dead).

Why not?  After all, these are not complex points of esoteric dogma: They make up what C.S. Lewis calls ‘mere Christianity”—that which is common to all Christian denominations.  There is, to be sure, a core of truth that we can call “mere Christianity.”  However, as the Oxford don points out, there is no such thing as a “mere Christian.”  Human beings are complex creations of God, made up of one or several ethnic backgrounds, racial traits, regional and local identities.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as a “mere Christian church,” devoid of a history of theological conflict over fine points of doctrine and existing apart from a real community of people who share familial and ethnic ties and tradition.  “Mere Christianity” exists in the foggy realm of ideas; real people must encounter mere Christianity in real churches that preserve real, historic traditions.  Attempts to create mere Christian churches—such as the many evangelical or “nondenominational” sects—eventually default into one of the convoluted traditions that are mostly Anabaptist or Pentecostal.  Bereft of any coherent heritage, these groups experience high turnover and quickly degenerate into dog-and-pony shows.

These nondenominational, big pink churches now surround our American cities, slapped up overnight next to the Wal-Marts and mini- and maxi-malls.  But just as quickly, our traditional churches within our crumbling cities are being spray-painted and converted into little pink churches for you and me.

Experts offer any number of explanations as to why American churches have lost their nerve, all of which contain a nugget of truth.  But at the root of all these tendencies is a common factor: American churches are beginning to look much the same, the result of a simultaneous and collective loss of identity.

Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians—clergy and laity—have capitulated to the great homogenizing force that is America.  Every aspect of their lives they have let erode into the American sea.  Once this erosion occurs, “mere Christianity”—that deposit of faith that is guarded at the core—is free to float away, as well.

With the loss of identity comes a loss of nerve, precisely because nerve is a function of identity.  Bold defiance of an enemy can only come from someone who clearly understands who his enemy is.  In order to know who your enemy is, you must know yourself.  That means discovering and engaging your own tradition, which is precisely the opposite of the impulse of every major Christian denomination in America.

There will be no passion for the truth—no nerve—in the hearts of Christians in American churches, unless Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc., rediscover their own identities.  Until that happens, joint campaigns of resistance against common enemies such as militant Islam will also lack nerve, and probably will not even be mounted.

We cannot simply write or speak about the loss of nerve and thereby transform the homogeneous “American church” back into something that has depth and guts.  Reinvigorating the nerve of American churches by rediscovering identity requires real work, in the home and in the parish, before it can affect a denomination.  It requires fathers to catechize their children, parishioners to resist whenever they see the inevitable announcement in the bulletin that the church is planning to add a little pink rock ’n’ roll worship service, and pastors to express outrage whenever their superiors sign off on ecumenist documents.


21 responses to “Little Pink Churches for You and Me, by Aaron D. Wolf

  1. Will S.

    May 16, 2012 at 11:33 am

  2. Mike Morgan

    January 27, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Just found this after doing a search on Aaron Wolf. I heard that he was a Lutheran which is what made me search around. We’re also coming from an “evangelical” back ground, me being from the Baptist church that I grew up with and my wife from non-denominational churches. We left my old church after seeing it starting to get “purpose-driven” and wandering in the pentecostal direction for a few years. I have had a subscription to Chronicles for quite some time, going back to the 90s, at least, having always had a liking for Aaron Wolf and for Scott Reichert, seeing that they were a lot closer to my age(forgive me Mr. Fleming for being so shallow!) We’ve come to land in an LCMS church and are quite happy there. Anyway, it’s good to hear about others who have gotten their fill of the vapidness of some of the mess out there that passes for Christianity and have sought out the Gospel in its purity. Thanks!

  3. Will S.

    January 27, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    Hey Mike, you’re welcome. There are more and more of us, as time goes on, discovering Reformational Protestantism, as refugees from evangelical Protestantism and its many shortcomings.


  4. infowarrior1

    November 3, 2013 at 12:06 am

    You will like this hymn:

  5. Will S.

    November 3, 2013 at 12:37 am

    The Battle Hymn of the Republic IS a stirring hymn, no doubt.

    But its writer, Julia Ward Howe, was Unitarian. Same as the Christmas hymn ‘It Came Upon The Midnight Clear’, was also Unitarian.

    She set it to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body’.

    John Brown, of course, was the abolitionist terrorist responsible for the raid at Harper’s Ferry, Va.

    All the foregoing, I find problematic.

    I prefer militaristic hymns which are about the advancement of God’s Kingdom on Earth, like ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ (marching ‘as to war’, not ‘off to war’; ‘the Foe’ against which Christ, ‘the Royal Master’ leads, being Satan; about spiritual warfare, not a physical, temporal, terrestrial war). The Battle Hymn was an abolitionist, U.S. Civil War rallying cry, written at least partially in honour of America’s first home-grown domestic terrorist (as with the song whose melody they took).

  6. infowarrior1

    November 3, 2013 at 1:12 am

    Do you have a problem with the way this song is sung?

    Somehow the music way it is sung contradicts the lyrics. It doesn’t match with the militaristic tune that I find in some video games:

  7. Will S.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:59 am

    No, I have no problem with that choral version of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’; it sounds fine; proper tempo, it’s not like it’s a rock or pop version or anything inappropriate.

    infowarrior, I’m the type of guy who can both like manly things, like heavy metal, or movies about war, and still like softer tunes, like soft classical music melodies, for instance. I guess for me, masculinity isn’t entirely bound up within the ‘hard’, the ‘epic’, etc. I don’t think I’m any less of a man for not caring much about sports, not watching any.

    Now, worship music is a different matter, because the question there is, is it God-honouring, or self-pleasing?

    But for entertainment, I listen to what music I please, watch what movies I please, read what books I please, etc.

    And I don’t worry about whether my tastes make me too different from others or not. Oh well!

    I guess for me, manliness includes not giving a hoot what others may think of my tastes and habits. 🙂

    I also likewise don’t judge others for their tastes, either. 🙂

  8. Will S.

    November 3, 2013 at 3:00 am

    (I’m speaking here in regards to aesthetics, not moral content.)

  9. infowarrior1

    November 3, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    So if the tempo and music is more aggressive it is sacrilegious? 😀

  10. Will S.

    November 3, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    No, not at all!

    My point was that I didn’t think the more solemn, less marching-band rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers in that clip was problematic, because it was still passionate, non-self-centred, Christ-focused, musically, appropriate for worship.

    I don’t think that metal, despite how awesome it is for enjoyment at home or in one’s car, iPod, etc, is appropriate for worship, though – I’m sure you’d agree, it’s just not ideal.

  11. infowarrior1

    November 4, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Oh. I see.

    I just don’t see the happy, happy joy, joy and holding hands vibe appropriate for the context of war. I mean I cannot imagine soldiers singing this before drawing their guns and firing each other.

    Now I will burn my cyber-saber and offer you this reconstruction of psalm 95 as sung by the hebrews:

  12. Will S.

    November 4, 2013 at 2:21 am

    I don’t see a happy-happy-joy-joy vibe; I hear a triumphant rendition, much like, say, the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus from Handel’s ‘Messiah’. It’s a hymn, and sounds like one; not a ‘Day by Day’, ‘Godspell’ type thing. It’s perfectly fine, infowarrior; I don’t know why you have such an issue with it. To each his own. But in my old church growing up, which was mainline but at least had solid worship music, our choir might have sounded like that in doing it. It might be a little more march-like when done by the congregation, but that’s just the nature of things. Choirs are a little more arty. Nothing wrong with that, as long as not hippie effeminate like a ‘worship team’, IMO.

    And remember, the war in ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ is spiritual; it’s metaphorical, not actual. Remember who it is we are doing war against, and what kind of war it is.

    Oh well.

    Dig the Hebrew psalm-singing. Nifty.

  13. infowarrior1

    September 9, 2015 at 8:37 am

    @Will S.

    I think one of the lines just sounds a bit don’t quite put a finger on it but it triggers the ugh response from me:
    ” Onward, then, ye people,
    join our happy throng,”

    I think my personal preference seems that I want music that that a quality the Hebrews called kabod (‘glory’) and the Romans gravitas (‘gravity’); both words at root mean ‘weightiness’ and connote a sense of dignified importance and seriousness.”

    The music tells its own story which works together with the lyrics to create a certain spirit if you will.

  14. Will S.

    September 9, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Ah. I hear ya.

    Well, one can do no worse than singing directly from Scripture, e.g. singing the Psalms, as Reformed emphasize.

    There, one finds Spirit-breathed lyrics, and no sappiness. 🙂

  15. infowarrior1

    September 10, 2015 at 12:35 am

    @Will S.

    True and with the right music. Sappy music with even the right lyrics don’t work either.

  16. Will S.

    September 10, 2015 at 1:22 am



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