THE BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH IN THE CITIES
(100,000 Plus Population)
Carl C, Cassel
Although your post office address may not make it clear, you are presently living in a community which sociologists call, or soon will call, "Bos-Wash.'" This is their name for the urban area which extends from Boston, Massachusetts, to Washington, D. C. The Bible Fellowship Church is within this "city.'' This fact is significant because our record in the larger cities is not a spectacular one. We presently have about half a dozen churches in the larger cities with several in the suburbs and several more in cities which are over 100,000 in population when the surrounding townships are included.
Because we have not had a high level of success in opening and maintaining churches in the urban areas and because we live in an area which within the coming generation will be an urban monolith in many respects, the topic before us is important. We must either develop more effective means of laboring in the cities or face one of several rather difficult alternatives. The first alternative is that all our churches might move to the more rural areas beyond Bos-Wash; this would mean leaving almost every one of our present locations and congregations. The second alternative is to close the churches in this area; this would mean admitting lack of willingness to devise workable ways of serving God in this generation. The third alternative is to maintain the status quo with little or no impact on our communities while we die or just hold an because we have not the courage to close. The first alternative is probably the least likely to come to pass; the second could be our fate; the third is our most likely possibility – unless we find new flexibility in the days ahead under the guidance of our Lord.
Because the problem is inevitable and the alternatives so difficult, I have become quite interested in helping to face this issue. I will divide my discussion of the problem into three main areas, (1) theological aspects of the problem; (2) sociological aspects of the problem; (3) methodological aspects of the problem.
The literature and thought available in this area is so immense that this paper represents a beginning, not an authoritative conclusion, of my study. The congregation which I serve faces some of these problems. We need your consultation and advice as we seek to devise more effective means of serving this and the coming generation.
THE THEOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE PROBLEM
If the Church of Christ is to fulfill its responsibilities In our generation, it must consider the theological foundations of its work as its primary concern. With the pressures brought to bear on the church by the highly mobile nature of urban society, the constant cry for the appearance of success and the pressures of relevance, it is easier to fall pray to saving our institutional life and pastoral reputations than to be faithful to our purpose. We simply do what we must to keep people coming and to keep increasing our size without attention to the theological aspects of the problem, we will discover eventually that the appearance of success has resulted in failure. The work of the church is theological work. The nature of the work must mold the methods and the men.
Several aspects of this problem present themselves for our attention:
1. Should we expect to have a ministry in the city?
Both the Lord and the Apostle Paul invested large amounts of time in the populous areas of their lands. Jesus' time in Capernaum and Jerusalem occupies the major segment of his ministry; his retreats to more secluded areas seem largely to avoid the precipitation of a crisis too early in His time. Paul gave major time and effort to the work in Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus. Concerning the work in Ephesus we see that from that beginning the "message sounded out throughout all Asia."
The urban center was the place where more people could be reached most effectively. If our Lord and Paul expected and realized blessing from this method, we ought not abandon the city easily.
2. What is our task in the city?
Gibson Winter says in the opening sentence of the preface of his book, The Suburban Captivity of the Churches: "The central concern of this book is the creation of a human environment in the metropolis" (p.9). Other current writers are saying similar things. The thrust of their message is similar to the United Church of Christ advertisement which appeared recently in our newspaper indicating that the shortest way to heaven is through "rat-infested apartment houses, second rate schools, hospital wards, refugee camps, any place where people are lonely, discouraged and in need." The ad never mentioned God, salvation or Jesus Christ. The concept of evangelism which sees evangelism not as a message to be declared, but as a means of helping society to evolve to a better level for all concerned is a concept of evangelism that needs to be corrected by Scripture. However having said this, I must hasten to add that the concept of evangelism that is unconcerned about the needs of the people to whom it seeks to preach is truncated and will be ineffective because it will go unheard. We cannot oppose social work among these whom we seek to evangelize any more than Jesus did. If this concept is good for overseas work – and apparently we are committed to the fact that it is because we support doctors, teachers and builders – why is it that we seem to avoid it so completely in this country? Is there not a difference in the foundation of the concern for social and political involvement in Reinhold Niebuhr, Carson Blake and Gibson Winter as compared to the foundation for that concern in Calvin, Knox and the Puritans? Our task is the declaration of a message; concern for the immediate needs of men must accompany our efforts to bring them this message. This concern must be sincere. If it is simply a means to an end – even the high and valuable end of salvation – men resent being used. They need love and truth in flesh and blood.
When we realize that our task is the declaring of a message, we must face the fact that all the message must be declared. It is not enough to preach a part of the message God has given and therefrom expect to reap the whole harvest which He has sent us to reap. We may stand for "The Fundamentals" of the faith, but "The Fundamentals" are not enough for long-range growth. We must declare the whole counsel of God. This is as necessary for the health and life of the church as balanced diet is for physical health. This will cause some discussion because not all fundamentalists will agree with us when we declare what we believe to be the whole counsel of God, but God told Jeremiah to declare all that He has said or be confounded. Part of the ineffectiveness of the church today is the meager diet with which we have fed God's people. Because city work is hard work we need full diet to grow strong men.
3. What is the church in the city? Here our conviction that the church is an assembly of believers gathered out of the non-believing world is in contrast to the idea so prevalent that the church is a community affair, We must be related and relevant to the community we seek to serve, But we cannot become a part of the monolith which is our community or we lose our opportunity to minister. We must understand that the church is a center of training of the people of God. Evangelism is a vital part of the work, but it assumes a people of God who are different from the world about them in worship and life. We must grasp the fact that in the church all men – "barbarian, Scythian, bond and free" are brothers; some of our Germanic isolationism, may have to give. Serving the city will be good for us at this point. The indigenous principle of church planting must also be recognized. Those from outside a given geographical or cultural area cannot make and maintain the proper type impact on a given community as well as those within. We give this constant recognition in overseas work; we must recognize its place in the city as well. We must also recognize the need for the church to avoid the institutional and traditional emphasis if it is to serve effectively in the city. Many cry today that the church must be “being reformed" or changed continuously if it is to be effective in the city. Even in our circles we recognize that the young people and the non-church people react violently to the institutional church because of its inflexibility and traditionalism. We must listen. However, we must not allow this cry to mold the church according to forms not given in Scripture. Our errors can be two-fold: we can err on the side of over-accommodation to the cry for change or we may stop our ears to rightful calls for such church change and lose our usefulness that way. Calvin taught that the church which is reformed properly is continuously being reformed, but always in conformity to Scripture. So we must teach.
4. What is the place of methods in the city?
We are not here asking specific questions concerning which methods we should use; we are rather asking the question: does God use methods or means to accomplish his purposes. Some would say: the lost will be won; why should I work so hard? Others would not say that but would seek always to parrot the methods of a previous generation despite their ineffectiveness. It was recently said in my hearing that when our methods fail we cannot just pray harder. We must be willing to change our methods also. God does use means to accomplish His ends. He who has called the elect to Himself sovereignly has also sovereignly said that prayer and preaching are involved. We must not fall prey to the idea that methods are not to be used nor the idea that the kind of methods are unimportant. We must seek methods in harmony with the message we seek to declare and that are, relevant to the age and area we seek to evangelize.
Theology must be first and foremost in our attention when we seek to labor in the city. The constant change of the city will press us to seek new methods and means, but we must always begin with the Lord and His Word.
THE SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE PROBLEM
Despite the fact that there are certain aspects of the ministry of the church which are "fixed" by God unchangeably, there are also aspects of the problem that demand a new approach, We cannot think in our generation that the work in the city will be done by carrying on "business as usual.'" Our culture never has been and never will be static; it changes constantly. The more radical the changes in society, the more radical must be the shift in our approach to achieving the unchanging goal.
What are some of the ways In which the culture of the cities has changed?
1. The Growth of the Urban Outlook.
To have 15% of the population of our country living in cities in 1850 and to have 75% of the population in cities in 1964 is bound to create a new atmosphere. We are no longer the agrarian people we once were; we are "Urban" in outlook. Even farming is big business in mid-twentieth century. This outlook is characterized by the individual as part of a group or association rather than the individual as an autonomous decision-maker. These associational ties must be considered when we seek to minister to people. The individualism of previous generations may have been more helpful to us in bringing men to face God for themselves, and today's atmosphere may encourage him to think of the group or society as his god. However this de-emphasis on the isolated individual may help us get across our concept of the church as a body. The implications may vary, but we must realize that our world has changed.
2. Depersonalization and Loneliness
The size and density of our population centers tends to isolate people from one another. Although virtually living on top of each other, men ignore one another. If one cared about all those he lived near, he'd have an infinite responsibility. Therefore he cares for no one. The ease of mobility of individuals, families and housing creates a rootlessness which makes people statistics and tax payers – not people. This breeds irresponsibility for the attitudes and actions of the individual life. The pressures of specialization in industry, education and service press men to unconcern about those whose life and work is so foreign to theirs. This type of individuation can create rear strain on family ties and relationships. We come to accept people – not as people – but as successful doer's of special tasks. These things result in depersonalization of the individual and the Lonely Crowd about which David Risemann wrote. In one way this opens the door to the opportunity to bring the reality of Christian love and the message of redemption. Society has isolated man despite the group emphasis of our generation. In another way, however, we must realize that this loneliness is covered with such a thick facade of carelessness that we frequently give up before our message has penetrated.
3. Racial Integration
The development of the cities has brought people of different nationality and race into closer proximity. Feelings which had been beneath the level of consciousness boil to the surface, and we have tensions which create riots, kill men and build Resurrection City. The slumbering North is as guilty of discrimination as the smoldering South. The city presses us to face the issue. The kind of people we have given money to evangelize overseas now populate nearly 50% of many east coast cities. Our concern must go beyond money or we default before the coming generation and the non-believing world which is seeking to work at the problem. One of our brethren wrote to me recently to say: "We look at things differently since our boy is enrolled in a school where he is part of a white minority." If the church accepts men without distinction – barbarian, Scythian, bond, free – the city may be pressing us to realize in practice the theory we have said we believed. The specialization of the city and the accepting of people because they can fulfill a specific task has promoted integration. We must adjust to life in this new world.
4. The "Haves" and the "Have-Nots" In addition to the race problem we have the problem of the rich and the poor. Frequently, but not always, this breaks along racial lines. The report of the Kerner Commission on civil disorder marshals disturbing evidence. Our views of how to help the people who have little or nothing may be different, our grasp of the degree of responsibility for them may be different--but we cannot seek to work in the city without understanding the resentment of those who have so little for us who have so much. A lad from Long island City walked into the home of one of our people (their home is not above average for our people) and just gasped, Our people did not know why until they saw his home. Then they understood. Without understanding, it is impossible to evangelize effectively.
4. City planning
The realization that our cities can no longer be allowed to grow like topsy – without guidance is a factor we must also face. The Impact of government in creating a national cabinet-level post on Urban Affairs cannot be ignored. Allentown, our county and many surrounding townships have planning commissions. Public housing projects, development of expressways, population trends all press upon the life of the city and the outlook of the city a new dimension. This is reflected in
urban renewal, redevelopment programs and the beginning of demography ( the study of people) and ekistis (the science of settlement). If the things we see happening seem radical, Constantinos Doxiadis and Jane Jacobs must be considered. This means that the work of the church in the city cannot be haphazard. We must be willing for involvement in long-range plans. We cannot resent being excluded if we fail to be involved in such plans. It is not always necessary to leave an area when renewal presses us. I have seen an Alliance Church in Pittsburgh which made a case and was allowed to rebuild in a renewal area. Today they have a new building in the midst of high rise apartment area.
Each of these factors and others press to realize that the city is a culture all its own. This culture is growing, not decreasing. We must be ready to live with it.
THE METHODOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE PROBLEM
Now we ask: How can the unchanging task be done in this new atmosphere? Because our Lord has placed us as a church in this kind of area, we cannot ignore this hard question unless we ignore the responsibilities He places upon us. Crying about our smallness and lack of ability will not help. Remember the servant who buried the talent because he had only one.
Think with me about the following methods.
1. Study and Research
Every major industry or school which is growing or expects to grow is studying. Studying the market, studying methods, studying management, studying the outer limits – but studying. We cannot hope to escape from studying. If we believe God has spoken in words to mankind, we must study. If we hope to reach men who are studying, we must study. If we hope to reach men who have a different culture from ours, we must study. We cannot trust in our studying. The Westminster divines said: either the use of unlawful means or the trusting in lawful means is sin. But we must know the age we are called upon to reach.
2. Technological Methods
As the use of printing, radio and television have begun to leave an Impact, so we must re-think the means God has given to our generation, As the population exploded, God has given the technology to get the message to the people.
(a) An interesting illustration of this is the Life Line Movement in Sidney, Australia, described in the book, As Close As the Telephone. This project combined use of modern technology in telephone, in psychology training and in organization. It also used Biblical principles in expression of concern for those who sensed isolation and unconcern in their community or family, in church relatedness, in escape from mechanical answers to all inquirers, But this demanded work on the part of many. The emphasis here is on exploiting modern technology according to Biblical principles to meet the needs of men. This takes facing the issue with creativity and concern. The result was the communication of the message of concern to a whole "impersonal" city. This muse be done with other God-given inventions for our day.
(b) The use of coffee shops and high school hang-outs is an approach being used by Cross Counter (Bill Iverson) in Newark, New Jersey. The technology of food service is being employed in city outreach.
© The high rise apartment can be a formidable barrier, but we could seek to have Christian people move into them for evangelistic effort. The signs at the doors and the doormen may exclude solicitors, but not residents. The technology which creates such buildings brings people to live in highly dense population centers. They can be reached without a car, telephone, television or other gadget.
(d) The technology of social work can be used. Jim Vaus' Youth Development Incorporated has attracted many evangelical young people. Although I am not fully acquainted with the problems, I understand that those only interested in using social work as a means to an end soon drop out, Those willing to use social work as a sincere service to the needy find open doors for evangelism. The rise of medical, educational and counseling services fit this area. Creating of teams of individuals to labor together to reach people in an area sounds inviting.
3. Organizational Methods
Using creative thinking in the general framework of the church and personal work can be very fruitful.
(a) Jay Adams of Westminster Seminary has devised a method which relates church and home in a program of individualized Bible Study used in our Maple Glen and Hatfield Churches.
(b) A church in Long Island has over a period of years had visitors leaving a cheerful testimony and appropriate literature in every home in a ten-mile radius of the church building. God has blessed.
© In city work people could meet in homes for instruction and worship as the New Testament Church did until the quarters were too small; then another house could be used and the group divided. The personal emphasis of such a program is appealing.
(d) Daughter churches can be opened. Not all of them need be as auspicious in their start as Cedar Crest and Ephrata, but all need to reflect concern to minister to men. If Constantinos Doxiadis is right and our universal cities become inter-related population centers of 50 to 100 thousand people, the daughter church idea may be ideal in the spread of the Gospel.
(e) We could agree to minister to a given geographical sector with believers from other churches in provision of meals, household help and general concern when the need arose among residents in their sector. All believers in the sector could share the responsibility to minister in this way; all the churches they came from could be mentioned to any who expressed desire for church fellowship. The individual could then choose where he desired to attend. we will probably serve some people who will end up being Baptists or Free-Church people but we will reap some too. In so doing we would represent our oneness to the community in which other churches preach the Word and love our Lord. The grain of wheat that dies brings forth fruit.
4. Attitudes and Methods
Our young people and the non-believing world is reacting to the institutionalism and traditionalism of the church. We must realize this and listen. Have you read Christ the Tiger? You should. If we leave the impression that we cannot change the form of our Sunday services or hold prayer meetings in different ways, how can we persuade progressive-minded people that our God is ahead of us – not dead and buried? We can continue to make some advances by reaching unconverted people who are rooking toward the past. If we are to grow as we might, we must reach unconverted people who are looking to the future. They are going to live in the city. We must be ready to communicate with them.
The theology of all this creates an imperative we cannot escape; the sociology creates some new problems; the methodology gives evidence that new bridges will be built. What does all this mean to the Bible Fellowship Churches?
First, it means work-spelled with solid capital letters: the work of study, the work of planning, the work of teaching and preaching, the work of involvement with people. One writer said of inner city work: "Telling the story is romantic but living it is hell." We talk about being busy – e need to become busy in creating circumstances – not just reacting to it.
Second, it means flexibility. Our churches presently in the city areas must be preparing themselves for changes in attitude, outlook, philosophy of program, The city has so much too offer and so many other attractions that we must grow on the Gospel or not grow at all. This presses us to prepare to change. We must abandon our conscious and unconscious traditionalism. We must be ready to try new methods, fail, revise, try again and adjust and press on. Our provincialism must die the death if we are to expand in an urban society which looks with pride on its universalism.
Third, this means cultural adjustment. Just as missionaries overseas must adjust to the culture in which they serve so must we adjust to the big city and eventually to the ghetto. Our culture is education oriented. If we seek a ministry in the populous centers we must have educated, Spirit-filled laymen and pastors. Our Anabaptist and dispensational background have cut us off from culture. We must face culture in general and today's culture specifically.
Fourth, this means sacrifice. The work and learning involved will demand time and effort. The opening of churches in urban areas will demand money, pastors and laymen from established churches to serve as missionaries. Have we people who will accept the challenge to learn? Have we pastors willing to go or to encourage some of their keenest people to go? Sacrifice is more easily spoken of than practiced.
Fifth, this means living by faith not sight. We will probably not realize great visible and statistical advance immediately. We do have responsibility for this area . God has placed us here, given us directions, and the presence of His Spirit. Can we give ourselves to Him and to His work in this generation so that by faith we can be assured of His "well done"? Will we? By prayer and patience let us possess the promises.
Howard, Thomas. Christ the Tiger. Lippincott, 1967
Kerner, Otto. Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Bantam, 1968
Kloetzli, Welter, City Church – Death or Renewal, Muhlenberg, 1961
Kloetzli, Welter. Urban Church Planning. Muhlenberg, 1948
Lindsell, Harold (ed). The Church 's World-Wide Mission. Word, 1966
Norton, Ferry. Church and Metropolis. Seabury, 1964
Schaller, Lyall E. Planning for Protestantism in Urban America. Abingdon, 1965
Walker, Alan. As Close As the Telephone. Abingdon, 1964
Webber, George W. The Congregation In Mission. Abingdon, 1964
Winter, Gibson, The New Creation As Metropolis. Macmillan, 1963
Winter, Gibson. The Suburban Captivity of the Churches. Macmillan, 1962