If Samuel Adams were to time-travel and suddenly appear on Purchase Street in Boston, a block or two from South Station, he wouldn’t recognize much of his old city. His church however, is still there (the Old South Congregational Church, now known as the Old South Meeting House, one of the birthplaces of the American Revolution).
When Adams was in Boston, it was a Christian city. His alma mater, Harvard College, trained mainly ministers of the Gospel—but also quite a few politicians like himself. Adams would not recognize Boston in any sense as a spiritual place these days. The shells of the buildings are there, but the Spirit inside them has long departed.
Such has the landscape transformed, religion-wise, in the last 270-odd years, that what was the center of American Christianity is now the center of post-Christian thought. So much so that Boston Review wrote an article titled “Evangelizing Boston” as if the place were in the jungles of Borneo.
In fact, I know a missionary who works in the jungles of Borneo, and he would say that the indigenous people there are far more evangelized than the I-know-better, God-is-for-losers crowd populating Suffolk County in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2015. And that’s exactly how evangelical Christians are treating Boston, as a completely foreign country, where uninitiated ears need to hear the Gospel for the first time.
Katherine Stewart, the article’s writer, describes the missionaries to Boston as some disinterested alien scientist from a sufficiently advanced civilization might describe the activities of earthlings: “They call it ‘church-planting’,” the words in quotes as if it’s a newly-coined phrase, or a long-awaited discovery about the mating rituals of unevolved humans. “They call it ‘kissing,” the alien scientist wrote, after observing two humans rub their lips together, noting that they appeared to enjoy it.
Samuel Adams would certainly know what church-planting is. America itself was founded on church-planting; this is beyond argument. The pilgrims departed England on what was one of the longest and most perilous missionary church-planting journeys in history at the time—and it was a one-way trip. The Mayflower Compact was a church-planting document, as well as a statement on self-government and liberty.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
Boston has always resisted outside authority, with God being the ultimate outsider. Yet the city has strangely attracted evangelists over the centuries. The article said “Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, too, arrived with high hopes of saving the city from its freethinking ways.” But revival did come, although it took root more strongly in other places.
One famous nineteenth century evangelist started in Boston—D. L. Moody attended the Congregational Church of Mount Vernon, where he found Christ and a love for telling others about the Gospel. But revival eluded Boston during the Civil War years, although abolition as a political cause was quite popular, and Moody’s church found more fertile ground in Chicago.
Boston—and by Boston, I include Cambridge, and most of the cities inside the Route 128 loop from the North Shore to Southy—has always been the thought leader of America. Where Boston is now, so the country will be in 20 or 50 years. And now, Boston is very much an alien place to Christians.
Even pastors who are more measured with their words may describe the city as if it were an alien place. In September 2012, just prior to moving to Boston to plant a church, Pastor Al Abdulla of the California-based Reality Church noted Boston’s “massive cultural influence” and its reputation as “the cradle of Modern America,” before taking a disapproving tone. “But today only two percent of the area attends an evangelical church,” he stated. “Statistically speaking, there’re more Christians per capita in India than there are in Boston.”
Is there any kind of Biblical parallel to Boston’s story, or is the place simply as lost as a goose in a snowstorm?
We must go back 3,891 years to find the parallel. It’s 1876 BC, and Joseph has been sold into slavery by his brothers some 13 years earlier. Joseph is now what we’d call viceroy of Egypt under Pharaoh Senwosret III, in the midst of a terrible famine, and Israel, Joseph’s father, comes to Egypt with his family to dwell. Pharaoh gives them the land of Goshen as their own (Genesis 47:5-6).
Four hundred thirty years later, Jacob/Israel, Joseph and all his brothers are long dead, and the Hebrews, the Children of Israel, have multiplied greatly, still living in Goshen, the best land in Egypt. The Pharaoh of that day was not disposed to be kind to the Hebrews, because he felt threatened by them.
I imagine that somewhere between Genesis chapter 50 and Exodus chapter 1, during those 430 years, a slow progression from gratitude for Joseph’s wonders in saving the Egyptians during the famine; to heartfelt friendship and fellowship with the Hebrews; to a growing divide over doctrine and who is “God,” finally culminated in domination and slavery.
If Joseph were to time-travel 270-odd years into his future, arriving at the year 1606 BC, he would have found Rameses Meiamun dying and Sethos, first king of the XIXth Dynasty, taking the throne. These kings didn’t know Joseph except as a historical figure, but they did know the Hebrews as a strange and foreign people living in their land. They may not have been slaves at that time, but they were undoubtedly not living as friends to the Egyptians.
The Zeitgeist had shifted to one of animosity toward the Hebrews, forgetting the former miracles, and focusing on pragmatic things like building cities and empires. They looked upon the God-worshipping Hebrews as a source of skilled labor. By 1446 BC, when Rameses II reigned, the Hebrews were building pyramids and monuments for Pharaoh, and they were cruelly lorded over by the Egyptians.
With Egypt, God sent a deliverer, the greatest leader the Jews had known, with God standing before him, to free His people. With Boston, will God send such a figure to bring the Gospel to the least likely Americans to listen?
That’s very hard to predict. But the fact that church-planting and missionary activity is proceeding at such a pace in Boston is heartening news.
Stewart sees the evangelism as a way to change politics and voters’ minds. Like the alien scientist, who sees kissing as a prelude to reproduction and genetic diversity of the species, she’s operating at a surface level and missing the deeper point.
Boston doesn’t need to be evangelized so that enough people are “churched” to “move the dial on voting behavior.” Boston needs to be evangelized because, like all places, it’s full of sinners who need a savior. It’s full of souls in need of divine intervention to keep them from Hell. To a Christian, that’s the reason any place needs to be evangelized.
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” in Matthew 28:19, which is known to Christians as The Great Commission. And “all nations” means everywhere, even Boston.
The very fact that Boston Review published 2,154 words on the subject of evangelism and church-planting without mentioning the Great Commission, or the key reason Christians desire to plant churches in the first place, answers the question: Boston is profoundly lost to God.
If Christians can understand the state of spiritual decline in this nation, and its effect on not just our politics, but our culture and our standing in the world as a moral anchor and protector of the weak, we would see that Boston, chief among cities, must be reached for Christ.
Because as Boston goes, in just a precious few decades, so goes the country.
(crossposted from soberman.com)