Dear New Hope,
Some things are so central to a product that if they were removed or eliminated it would cause a major disruption in the force. For example, imagine an Oreo without cream filling. Imagine McDonalds without calories. Imagine golf without Tiger Woods. Imagine the Patriots without Tom Brady. Come to think of it: imagine Washington without corruption. I think you catch my drift. Salt belongs with pepper and ne’er should the two ever part.
This past year, however, some companies and corporations have been making changes to things central to their identity. As a result of changing long-standing tradition, major ripple effects have been felt through their consumer base. Consider the following:
- Miss America without a swimsuit contest. In July 2018 it was reported that the Miss America pageant was eliminating the swimsuit competition. No matter what one thinks of these ladies parading on stage in limited clothing, there is little question that the swimsuit has been a key component of the contest since 1921. As a result of eliminating an almost 100-year tradition of the pageant, the report said that “nearly half of Miss America’s board has quit or been forced to resign.” Wow. It appears that messing with tradition can cause a revolution.
- Dunkin without Donuts. Dunkin Donuts shocked the market last year when they rebranded themselves, dropping “Donuts” from their name. Heretofore, they shall ever be named “Dunkin.” (By the way, that was the very first time I have ever used the word “heretofore” in a sentence.) An article called “Dunkin’ Fans Say Losing the Donut Leaves a Hole,” reported that people around the nation were outraged by the change. Robert from Pennsylvania said, “I’ll call them Dunkin’ Donuts until I die.” Ariel from Massachusetts said, “What are you Dunkin’ if there’s no Donut?” I hate to admit it, but I agree with my good friends Robert and Ariel. The Donut is so fundamental to the brand that no matter what they call themselves, I shall forever call them by their original name.
- Valentine’s Day without Candy Hearts. Remember those colorful, heart-shaped candies which always sweetened Valentine’s Day? Be Mine. Love Me. Dear One. Write Me. True Love. My Baby. Well, I have really sad news for all you sweethearts. A news report last week said: “For the first time in over a century, the original conversation hearts aren’t rolling off conveyor belts.” The disruption in production of heart candies was caused by the candy-maker Necco going out of business. News of Valentine’s Day without Candy Hearts crushed consumers around the nation. Jamie from California said, “My childhood is dying little by little.” Olivia from Virginia spoke of the “raw emotion of losing something that’s a bedrock to society.” What’s next? Easter without Easter Baskets? (Just ask my mom how that went over when she dispensed with a 40-year tradition! There was mutiny in the Trierweiler household!)
Far more disturbing than Valentine’s Day without heart-shaped candies is the existence of a local church without the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel, which is the clear teaching of the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ is central to the identity of the Church. In fact, any institution that calls themselves a “church” but does not hold fast to the gospel, stops being a church. They have simply become a religious institution that meets occasionally and encourages their people to model good behavior. That is not the Church that Jesus gave His life to redeem.
In his book “Letters to the Church,” Francis Chan challenges believers on what the Church is and how God designed the local church to function. Although I don’t agree with some implications that Chan makes about departing from the local church, I do like how he challenges churches to be the Church. Chan writes, “Is there ever a point when a church is no longer a church? Just because you walk into a building with the word Church painted on a sign doesn’t mean God sees it as an actual church.” In other words, just because our sign says “New Hope Community Church” does not automatically mean that we are a church. It also means that not every place that identifies as a “church” in Traverse City or Elk Rapids is actually a church. Of central importance to the identity of the local church is their commitment and dedication to announce and live out the gospel of the Lord Jesus. That is the cream of the Oreo. That is what makes a church, the Church.
Over the years, entire denominations that once held firm to the gospel have departed from the central claims of Christ and have removed the very thing that makes them the Church. This weekend, the Methodist Church is at a crossroads again, as their delegates gather at a national assembly to determine the trajectory of the denomination. Make no mistake: the future of the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States will be determined by their commitment or departure from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, any church or denomination that removes the centrality of the gospel removes the very thing that makes a church, the Church.
Many Miss America fans are saying, “Put the swimsuit back into the pageant.”
Many donut lovers are saying, “Put the Donut back in the Dunkin’.”
Many romantics are saying, “Put the heart-shaped candies back in Valentine’s Day.”
And those who love Jesus are saying, “Put the gospel back in the church.”
Over the next couple months, as we approach the Easter season, may it be our prayer that the church holds fast to the gospel and that members of local churches clearly display a commitment to Jesus Christ with their lives.
You are loved,