Thursday, June 26, 2014

"The Word was preached, people came and the building was a bit tattered"

I love this from Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker book Elders in the Life of the Church:
It was the difference between a train station and a museum. That is how I would describe the contrast between Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church and the city's First baptist Church. One was filled with hustle and lives in motion; the other was pretty, still, and deathly quiet. The difference was startling.

It was the mid-1990s, and Mark Dever and I traveled to Philadelphia in search of a model inner-city church to learn from as we worked to rebuild Capitol Hill Baptist Church. At the invitation of James Montgomery Boice - just a few years before his death - we decided to spend the day with this long-time pastor and his staff.

Arriving early, we walked around the city and stumbled upon the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, which at the time was marking its 300th anniversary. After ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door repeatedly we nearly gave up. Finally an older man opened the door. He looked like he belonged on an Amish farm in Lancaster County rather than in an inner-city Baptist church. Mark, ever the historian, immediately set about learning the history of the church and attempted to discern what the "Amishman" - who identified himself as the pastor - believed. Watching the interchange was like watching two dogs sniff each other, until finally Mark realized that the pastor though you can believe whatever you want to believe. sensing a dead end, Mark asked to see the sanctuary.

We were ushered into one of the most finely adorned Protestant sanctuaries I had ever seen. it was immaculately maintained from floor to ceiling and featured massive gold-leaf arches centered over a large, wooden pulpit. The pastor informed us that they had just completed a restoration. mark asked, "That must have cost a small fortune. You must have a lot of people coming?" the pastor said, "A couple of dozen." Mark asked, "How did a couple of dozen people afford this?" The pastor told us that the money came from the Andy Warhol Foundation, a foundation supporting the visual arts that Warhol himself funded . . .

In short, you could summarize what we saw at First Baptist this way: the Word was not preached, nobody came, and the building was beautiful.

So we made a beeline down 17th Street for Tenth Presbyterian Church, which was founded in 1829. The contrast was striking. The doors were open and the place was teeming with people. "The Catacombs" (the church basement) housed a classical school for inner-city kids. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals was pumping out great books and audio. An AIDS program cared for "the least of these." A wide-reaching radio ministry extended the strong expositional pulpit ministry which filled the main hall every Sunday. And the staff was large and welcoming. The building? Though attractive, it was clear by the worn carpet on the stairs and dirty walls along handrails that hoards of people constantly passed through.

You could summarize what we saw at Tenth Presbyterian this way: The Word was preached, people came and the building was a bit tattered. (83-84)

For more:
"Elders in the Life of the Church" by Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker: A Review
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