Sunday, May 28, 2006

Play Ball or .... Fundamental Politics

I pastor just 20 minutes from the quaint little town of classic Americana known as Cooperstown, New York which is the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It's a small town in every sense of the word. Sitting on the banks of Otsego Lake, rows of storefront baseball memorabilia shops line Main Street and the side streets. Doubleday Field, home of the annual Hall of Fame game, is across the street from the firehouse. My two sons and I like to go to Cooperstown for a boys day out.

Once a year I take my family to see God's favorite baseball team... the New York Mets. Driving to see the Mets from my house is about three hours but once you cross the Tri-Borough bridge from the Bronx into Queens and you pass LaQuardia International Airport on the Grand Central Parkway, the sight of the "other" holy land is just on the horizon... Shea Stadium. Inside the first smell to greet you are the Nathan's hot dogs sizzling on the grills. Now, my story is about Cooperstown, but I needed to set the stage.

Hot Dogs go with baseball like Babe Ruth, home runs, and yelling at the umpire. Cooperstown as a municipality is run by the "hysterical" society. Residents are strictly regulated on the up keep of their homes to maintain that vintage turn of the 20th century look and feel. McDonald's, fastfood, and chain motels are located 8 miles out of town. In the village you can stay at a bed & breakfast or a mom & pop motel or one of the grand old hotels that will cost you a week's salary to stand in the lobby. You can shop until drop and find anything and everything related to baseball for trading cards to actual MLB uniforms. You can eat at a sidewalk cafe' or sit down and dine on seafood BUT you can't buy a hot dog in Cooperstown. Why? Good question...

Recently, I made my 9,000th visit to the home of all things baseball with Jon Jenkins, pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Gaylord, Michigan. After a non hot dog lunch of over priced for the tourists hoagies, we walked to the Hall of Fame. Greeting you as you enter are two life size statues. One is the Babe and the other is Ted Williams. Both are carved from a single log. They are so life like you think they can talk. After paying our admission fee we headed to the Grandstand Theatre for a multi-media baseball presentation. From there it was on to the exhibits.

As we walked through the complete evolution of baseball from the late 1800's bar clubs to the sleak, well financed game of today we had a conversation about the change of baseball and how the independent fundamental Baptist movement is that same place.

Baseball has changed since its birth. The gloves are better as is all of the equipment used to play the game from catchers gear to the lighter uniforms. Nike, Converse, and Addias have turned old stiff leather cleats into fast, flexible, and comfortable athletic shoes. Games are played at night and the technology of television takes these games around the world. Despite these changes, the basic concept of baseball is still the same. Each team fields 9 players. The batter attempts to hit the ball safely and round the three bases and reach home without being tagged out to score a run. The defense try to catch the ball in the air or tag the runner out to stop him from scoring. The pitcher fires at the batter and the umpire makes both teams mad.

Now, there are some die hards like my father who argue, "East coast teams should not have to travel to the West coast and play night games there. 7Pm is 10PM at home and who wants to play at 10PM?" Others argue that the DH for the American league is not real baseball and still more say that "Wild Card" teams in the playoffs damage the sport's integrity. Me, I hate inter-league play. Nothing worse then eccumenical baseball.

Again, with all the changes the game itself is still basically the same. Today, many in fundamentalism are opposed to change ... ANY change. Now, I agree that our doctrine does not and should not change. But when we start arguing that churches which use movie screens to project the words to their songs instead of using hymnals is somehow the first step to apostasy, we need to take a time out. Okay, so charismatics used them first. So what? Movie screens and power point are not doctrinal issues. Hymnals are not sacred, divinely inspired books. It's funny but Amazing Grace can be projected onto a screen just like a new chorus.

These men who argue, "We're on the old path! We ain't changing nothing!" Oh, really??? So are they now Amish? Do they reject cars, cell phones, computers, and ESPN? No, they only object to something they consider NON Baptist like movie screens or keyboards instead of organs or choruses instead of hymns because Pentecostals came up with that stuff. Did you know that the first church service to use PA equipment was an eccumenical gathering on Armistice Day on November, 1921. Gathered to protest war and pray for peace, Lutherans along with Anglicans and other protestants used a PA system designed by AT&T with microphones, amps, and speakers made by Bell labs.

Hey Baptist Preacher Brethren... next time you stand in your pulpit and yell into your PA while making a tape of your preaching remember that the Presbies, Lutherans, and "liberals" used it FIRST!

Just like no ball player today would want to wear a 100% wool uniform on a humid July afternoon or take a buggy ride to the ball park or stand in the batter's box without a helmet... we need a reality check within fundamentalism. So when Dennis Corle or Keith Gomez write articles in their papers about how they won't change and movie screens are wrong then I must ask... are they now scribes? I mean, do they hand copy every issue of their papers or do they write them out on a computer and then have them mass produced on a webset printer? Why, Gomez is more liberal than Corle because Keith's paper is full color while Corle's is Baptist black and white.

Now, let me say that I know both of these men. I believe them to be sincere men who love the Lord and don't want to leaven in the loaf. I agree. But let's keep out the leaven of heresy. Whether they write their articles on a lap top or a Royal typewriter... we all use some form of technology. Let's keep the fundamentals of our faith, the fundamental focus. Some of the equipment may have changed and some of the rules (preferenced standards) may have been adjusted but the core beliefs are the same.

It was fun to look back at the old uniforms with the thick gloves that couldn't close but it's not practical for today. Yes, it's fun, as fundamentalists, to think of ourselves as old fashioned and unchanging but as we sit in our air conditioned auditoriums or listen to our own messages on CD the truth is we have changed. Change is part of life ... it's part of growing. Me, I hope I am changing. I hope I have changed to be more like Christ today then yesterday. If we never change then we'd all still be infants sitting in a play pen wearing diapers and sucking our thumbs.

Come to think of it now... just kidding. Just like historians have taught us and places like the Hall of Fame preserve for us, let's respect the past but also embrace the future. Are we going to like all the changes? No. I still hate interleague play, but I love to watch baseball on TV. Do I like all the changes in our churches? No. I personally don't like youth pastors who look like MTV video hosts, so I won't have that change in the church that I pastor. We moved our Sunday School and Bus Ministry from Sunday morning to Wednesday night. For us, it works. If you don't like that kind of change then don't do it. Bottom line... we're still anchored on the fundamentals of the faith, we have a healthy respect for our heritage and heroes, but we balance the changes of the future with the Word and how God directs us an individual ministry.

Try it... it works.


Blogger Mark O. Wilson said...

Great post! Thanks.

6:39 PM  

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