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.