Pastor’s Parable Of “Submarine” Church
In warning the First Baptist Church, Pensacola, Florida, not to turn into “a submarine,” Pastor James L. Pleitz gave this submersible parable:
“Once upon a time in the twentieth century there was a church that became a submarine. It wasn’t as difficult as it might seem. One day it just shut the hatch on the outside world and submerged into its own sea. Occasionally it ran up the periscope to see where it was going.
“Once the captain got a real vision through his periscope and when he demanded that they get back to surface and fast, the crew quickly developed the bends and the sub stayed down.
“While submerged there was a lot for the crew to do. In fact they were kept on alert and asked to make maximum efforts. They tinkered with the machinery constantly. They overhauled their kitchen. They inventoried their ammunition at least once a week but they never used it. They paid salaries to the officers and went through endless drills occasionally interrupted by prayers that no depth charge would disturb their isolation.
“The air got stale too, so did the routine, but they put up with it because the alternatives were too demanding. Several committees even decided the stale air was good for them.
“One of the members who had sneaked a look through the periscope suggested a change in course and the giving away of their surplus supplies. He was immediately eliminated for mutiny.
“The last entry in the captain’s logbook read, “Have probably set a new record for being submerged and maintaining predetermined course. See no reason why we should change directions. Crew continues to give maximum effort. We did sight an enemy and appointed three committee members to study the situation.”
“The First Baptist Church of Pensacola is not a submarine. We are making an honest effort to do what Jesus would do if He were here. How about joining us in this quest, friend?”
As I read this short story, it made me think about how delicate the stewardship of Christ’s Church is in our possession. We are charged with the care of such a delicate treasure. It can be so easy to let it slip through our fingers and smash into a million pieces on the ground. I have been part of a church that was this submarine. The captain had been cast out as a traitor and the crew had mutinied. The thing this story lacks though is a reminder that when you’re in deep water, it is easier to sink, than it is to rise up. I have seen another local church head in this same direction. And it is my prayer, that they don’t sink, but rise up and open their hatch again. Because with the hatch closed and the submarine under water, nobody else can get in. Nobody else knows where to find the door. As I have stated, I’ve been involved in a church that was a submarine. I’ve seen the attitudes that bring it under water. I have witnessed those things which a church should never participate in. - Complacency, self serving, and isolationism. They turn away from a heart for God to a heart of self preservation. A heart that protects themselves rather than the word of God. I ask you tonight, are we becoming a submarine church? Are our hatches being closed to the outside world? Can no one find us hiding in the depths of the sea? Are we as Christians where we think we are, or are we lost somewhere and don’t even realize it?
Looking through the scriptures, we find instances where a local church may fall into the category of becoming a submarine church. One such area of concern is in the area of giving. Looking to the book of Malachi we have become well versed in the need for tithing. We read in Chapter 3 verse 10 “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.” God desires our faithful tithe and will bless those that so do. Many of us in this church do tithe and see those blessings poured out for us. But I don’t want to linger on the quantity of what we give, but rather the quality. In Malachi 1:6-10 God says ““A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the Lord of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ “You offer defiled food on My altar, But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the Lord of hosts. “But now entreat God’s favor, That He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept you favorably?” Says the Lord of hosts. “Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,”
God uses some very strong language here to illustrate just how displeased He was with the sacrifices which were being offered to him. According to earlier scriptures, the sacrifice was to be a pure and unblemished one. But the priests in the days of Malachi weren’t following those rules. They thought by skipping on the quality while maintaining the quantity, that they would appease God. Sure they may have been giving the right animals up to him in sacrifice, but the quality, the pureness was not there. Do we do the same? Just how do we give? 2 Corinthians 9:7 goes on to say that God “loves a cheerful giver”. Why do we give? How do we give? For those of us that tithe, do we give because we feel obligated to? Or do we give because we desire to. Is what we lay before God our sacrifice of quantity or quality? Look at Cain and Abel, they both gave of what they had. But Cain gave some of his bounty, while Abel gave of his first fruits. God desires our sacrifice to be just that- a sacrifice, not a payment of obedience. When we give, we don’t give because we’ve set up a payment plan with God, no, we give because we want to give. Our tithes and offerings are tied to who we are as a church, but it should not be considered the only form of giving.
What about our works? In James 2:17 we read “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”. Our faith should provoke us to do for our brothers and sisters in Christ. And I believe that we have seen a tremendous outpouring of either love or faith, or a combination of the two over the past year with all this fellowship has endured. The question I have is have we performed works by faith or have we simply given to meet a need. Have we given of our abundance like Cain did? Is that what amounts to our works? Think about it. What are our works, and for whom did we do them? James goes on further to say “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Brothers and sisters can all of us say the same? Can all of us show others our faith by our works?
Our works show the brethren what our faith is like. How then do we show our faith to the outside world, how about our own community? Did not Jesus command us in Mark 16:15 to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” If we are turned to ourselves, if we have gotten in that submarine and closed and locked that hatch, how then will the lost ever see who we are and whose we are? How then are we fulfilling the great commission if we have shut up ourselves and prevent people from approaching us, and us approaching them. Jesus talked about letting our light shine in Matthew 5:14-16. He said “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” If you light a candle in a closed off submarine how then will any see it? How then will any be drawn to it? The light of Christ should radiate from this church, to be seen like a city on a hill far, far away. Let us not do works which hide us from the world, Let us rather do works which show the glory of God in our lives. Let us not put a basket over our light that no one may see it-what have we to be ashamed of? Rather lets work the works that glorify the father. Let’s open our doors and windows and let our light shine! Let’s bring our light together and work with one another, arm in arm, that our individual light may shine together and be not a glow, but a bright beacon, summoning the lost to partake in what God has to offer to them-Salvation through Jesus Christ! Let our works be the enabling force that grows our church. Let Jesus be able to say of us “well done thou good and faithful servant!”
As I’ve put this together, there is one part of Scripture that keeps rolling around in my mind. It’s an odd one too, one that you probably wouldn’t associate with this topic. It is from Acts 3:1-8 and we read “Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. We have always viewed this as Peter performing a miracle. But there is a cause and effect relationship at work here. Lets look at it.
In verse one we find Peter and John heading to the temple. They’re not in the temple talking to the disciples, they are outside heading in. Out side the temple was a man who was born lame and he was begging for money. We need to remember that there are people with needs just outside our doors. There is someone down the street who needs help with some housework, there is another who needs someone to talk to. There is another that is struggling with an addiction wanting to be free. There is a child who has been beaten, there is a man that watched a loved one die. There is a woman who suspects her husband is cheating on her. There are orphans who could become the children of God. We continue in verse 3 where the man, seeing Peter and John about to enter the temple, begs from Peter. Peter’s reply is very important. He says that he has no money to give him. He doesn’t shy away from the man, he doesn’t ignore the man, no he sees someone in the community with a need and he addresses it. More importantly, he acts upon it with all that God has given him. In this case, Peter performs the miracle that this man needed to be made whole-he heals the man’s lameness while bringing him to his feet. What kindness could we bestow on our neighbors to bring them to their feet? Are we looking for those people begging alms or do we turn away, ashamed that we must share space with them? Do we chose to see them there? Do we make ourselves known to them? Do we chose to use the gifts and talents that God has given us? Perhaps the gifts we possess could be used to bring about someone else’s miracle in their lives. Notice verse 8 “So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them-walking, leaping, and praising God.” Yes, Peter brought someone to church! He saw his need, he acted upon what he saw with what God had bestowed on him, and as a result there was a visitor in church that day. And in the midst of it all, God was given the glory that he so richly deserves. Silver and Gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee. We are rich with what God has given us, we too can pour out blessings on those around us. Where else do you think that overflowing of blessings that God pours out on his faithful tithers go?
I began talking about a church in Florida that was becoming a submarine church. Through some of my own experiences, I have witnessed these submarine churches. This story is not part of a conspiracy to entice you to give. These are real churches with real difficulties in isolating themselves from the rest of the world. As a result, they endure the stale air of legalism, and a gradual falling away in attendance. They seldom see a new church member, unless that person is just like them. Committed to the same isolationalism of that church. When new people perchance visit, they don’t feel like they belong. The church is so wrapped up in the way it does things, and the elite people that it wishes to fellowship with, that new people are chased away, not by words, not by actions, but by their overall impression of the church. So I ask you to think about that impression. I have met people that have come through these doors, and never want to come back. It’s not because of our Pastor, but rather it’s because of the impression that we ourselves, leave on these people. If someone, comes into this church and feels like there is no place for them here, like they don’t belong, why would they ever return? Church, we are not a submarine church……………yet. But we are starting to head down that path. It’s time to throw open the hatch and abandon that ship. It’s time to come together as fellowship of believers, doing that which shows our obedience and our love of God. People it’s time to not just come to church, but to really be the church. Let’s be the church that Christ wants us to be. Let us be a beacon of light on the hill. Let us be found doing the work that shows our faith. Let us do the works that show our gifts and our love of our neighbors. Let’s see what’s around us, let’s see who’s around us. Let’s change their impression of this body of believers to one that will give great glory and honor to God.