An ominous warning

Lloyd Ogilvie, now chaplain of the U.S. Senate, tells a story from his student days about the memorable experience of sailing on the Queen Mary from New York to Southampton. He recalls that she was a magnificent ship. Though his student’s budget put him on deck Double D, he spent most of his time walking the top deck so he could enjoy the cold salt wind and watch the historic craft cut her way through the high waves. As he explored the ship, he tried to imagine what it must have been like to be aboard the Queen Mary in her prime—as a lovely pleasure vessel and then as a troop ship carefully evading enemy submarines.

It was years before he saw the Queen Mary again—as a museum piece, docked in Long Beach Harbor, California. Her gigantic engine was gone, as was most of her sailing equipment. Souvenir shops now lined her decks. The dining and lounge areas had been adapted for special groups and conventions. Her cabins were refurbished hotel rooms. Actors had been hired to play the parts of officers and crew, complete with professional British accents.
Ogilvie was understandably disappointed. His own words best describe what happened:

While on board the motionless Queen I reviewed a documentary movie about how she was built and the way she had served through wars and changing history. The movie ended with a triumphant but somehow tragic statement, supported by an upsweep of dramatic music: “The greatest ship that ever went to sea is now the greatest ship to come and see.”

The words were still on my mind the next day when I greeted the congregation of my Hollywood Presbyterian Church after worship. A woman visitor from Iowa made a comment she meant to be a compliment. The similarity to the closing lines of the movie made it just the opposite. She had heard about Hollywood Church for years and had been inspired by the influence of its preaching and program upon America. With excitement she said, “I have waited for years to visit Hollywood Presbyterian Church to see all the great things that used to happen here!”

Not exactly what a pastor wants to hear! Of course, that woman’s well-meaning statement was not true of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. But every church faces the danger of becoming merely a historical monument. No church is more than a generation away from such a possibility. — R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 347–348.

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