Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Meds for English majors

The congregation
“nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” Psalm 1

Not long ago, I ran across some scattered notes of an old preacher who died some time ago at the age of 102. He was reared in a tiny country church on the edge of what was then the frontier, the son of devout Christian parents.

Sometime close to the Sunday the new elders and deacons were to take office, this young deacon’s wife decided to primp a bit and get her hair bobbed, a “do” that, as they say, just wasn’t done in those parts. The authorities hastened a meeting, talked about the situation, and ruled, confident of their righteousness, that the new deacon could not take office until his wife coiffed her hair more clearly in line with approved, Calvinist fashion.

Even though I live in a rural area some still might well consider to the frontier, it's impossible for me to imagine any similar kind of exacting judgment in any church I know of today. Those kinds of congregations probably still exist, but I don’t know of any in the neighborhood. And that’s why I think that, really, no self-respecting evangelical Christian in the early 21st century can buy into the sentiment of this verse.

But then, maybe it’s just hyperbole, poetic license. Maybe we should give David some leash here: he let his enthusiasm get away with him, just as he did in that very public sacred strip tease his wife Michel got so burned at him about. You know how writers are—once they get going, the words just fly. It’s just, well, poetry.

Here’s what Charles Spurgeon says: “Every church has one devil in it. The tares grow in the same furrow as the wheat. There is no floor that is not thoroughly purged of chaff. Sinners mix with saints as dross mixes with gold.”

It's unlikely that Spurgeon is wrong, of course. But among devout, seeker-sensitive evangelical preachers today, who would dare say sinners won’t stand in this congregation? Yet, more than a century ago now, thousands thronged to Spurgeon.

Go figure. What’s changed is contemporary church practice. What’s changed is rhetoric. What’s truly sinful today is prejudice—broadly speaking, the idea that some are not good enough for “the congregation of the righteous.” What’s truly righteous today—or so it seems to me—is tolerance. Anybody can stand up in our church.

Who’s right about all of this? God only knows. Count on this, however, in life itself the only constant is change, and fifty years from now today’s political or ecclesiastical correctness won’t wear the same livery. Maybe we'll go back to getting divinely-approved haircuts.

What won’t change is Psalm 1.

I think that's really something.

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