Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Jan-Feb 2001)

Filed under: — @ 4:41 pm and

by Rick Gamble
January – February, 2001

She is striking, but her true beauty lies below the surface.

One of the world’s most powerful submarines, the U.S.S. Nebraska carries nuclear missiles, torpedoes, and a crew of 172. Each of her 45-ton Trident missiles has a range of 6,000 miles and carries up to ten independently targeted warheads.

But despite the awesome firepower, the Nebraska spends most of her time running silently at sea, hiding from potential enemies who might launch a preemptive strike. Equipped with a complete life-support system for the crew, the sub stays underwater for up to three months, limited only by the amount of food she can carry at one time. During every patrol the sailors are in a constant state of readiness. If any other ship or submarine comes too close, the crew goes on immediate alert.

For security reasons, most of the crew – including the helmsmen – have no idea exactly where they are. Even land-based commanders have only a general fix on the sub’s location. But with ultra-sensitive microphones built into the hull, the Nebraska can isolate the sound of another vessel’s propeller from a distance of 3,000 miles, the width of the Atlantic Ocean.

As Baptist pastor James Pleitz observed years ago, many churches are like submarines. They close the hatch on the outside world and submerge themselves in an ocean of apathy. Before long, they’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Like the Nebraska, those churches operate in absolute silence, undetected by friend and foe alike. They stay under for months at a time with everything they need for their journey to nowhere. Though the periscope goes up once in a while, just to check on things, petty officers keep crewmembers preoccupied with conditions aboard ship.

Everyone stays incredibly busy, doing endless drills, maintaining the complicated machinery that keeps things running smoothly, and making weekly inventories of the all-powerful ammunition that’s never used.

Most of the crewmembers have no idea where they are, let alone where they’re going.

When other Christians get too close, submarine churches grow defensive and steal away, content to listen from afar with suspicion and a shallow but unshakable belief in the superiority of their position.

In the claustrophobic confines of those congregations, life revolves around rank, regimen and routine. People keep their place, obeying orders and never questioning those who command and control. Disicipline and conformity are the keys to dodging the depth charges that would devastate the solitude of a church completely at sea.

But while the dutiful keep watch on the ever-quiet status quo, the enemy is waging a withering attck on those we’re all supposed to serve and protect. As long as submarine churches play hide and seek in smug isolation, our adversary is home free. Casualties are mounting. The desperate and dying are screaming for help but the hideous sound eludes the sonar. What about our church? Are we truly in the fight, or have we taken a dive?Wineskins Magazine

Rick Gamble

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