Just today I came across a used copy of Karl Menninger’s Whatever Became of Sin? This is one of those books I have often heard about but never read. So I opened it to have a glance. A previous owner had placed a note in the front pointing to a poem on a certain page. The poem, printed below, is a searing critique of the modern Western church as it is typically practiced. I think it is a good word for us to hear headed into the weekend.
"The Smell of Perfumed Assemblies"By Elmer F. Suderman
Here they come,my nonchalants,my lazy daisies,their dainty perfumedisturbing the roomthe succulent smellseductive as hell.
Here they aremy pampered flamboyants,status spolied, who bringwith exquisite zingtheir souls spick and spanprotected by Ban,their hearts young and gaydecked in handsome cliché,exchanging at my callwith no effort at allworship for whisperingGod for gossiping,theology for television.Baptized in the smellof classic ChanelI promote their nodto a jaunty GodWho, they are sure,is a sparkling gemsuperbly right for them.There they gomy in-crowdmy soft-skinned crowd,my suntanned,so so elegant, swellegant,natty, delectable,suave, cool, adorableDAMNED!
Yes, damned. Saved by grace perhaps. Certainly not helped by my cowardly silence. A word of reproof? A suggestion of sin? A confrontation? The parable of the rich young ruler? Something to disturb the Country Club coziness and complacency of my perfumed assembly? Dare I? (pp. 202-03)Two points need to be made. First, we must indeed speak the difficult word, point out sin and call for repentance. We must not allow ourselves to become merely advocates of a cultural religion blessing the people in our narcissistic pursuit of self-fulfillment. Faithfulness to the Scripture will not allow us to do so.
Secondly, though- neither must we allow ourselves to be self-righteous ‘condemnation-mongers.’ Let us first confess that the convicting words of the Bible speak not simply to ‘them’ but to ‘us.’ They wield the scalpel of God’s words most effectively who have themselves known its bite. Furthermore, while the Biblical message begins with confrontation and the call to repentance, it does not end there. We must be clear and sharp concerning sin. But, if we leave people there we have failed to preach the gospel. Having exposed sin, let us clearly, passionately point people to the cross, where damned people like us can find forgiveness and the power to change.
The gospel requires both notes: judgment and hope, rebellion and redemption, sin and forgiveness. Either one is diminished by the absence of the other. Let us then sound forth both with vigor.