I was running yesterday, on East Avenue, past the Third Presbyterian Church.
As I came down the street, I noticed a transgender flag on a staff above the door on the side of the building. A few strides further down, in front of the church, there was a boulder with a plaque honoring the ministry of Charles Finney.
I thought about that as I ran, and as I drove home last night, and did my work this morning.
And I decided that you can’t have it both ways. That the transgender flag and the teachings of Charles Finney are mutually exclusive, they are in conflict with one another, that no institution could claim affinity to both.
Who was Charles Finney?
He was a lawyer from Auburn, in the 1820s, and one day out in the woods he had some sort of experience that made him decide he wanted to represent Jesus Christ, and preach his word. So he set out to be an evangelist – somebody who preaches in order to invite people to become Christian and live according to Christian principles.
And he was good at it.
So good that when the town fathers of Rochester became concerned about the licentiousness that had grown up around the Erie Canal they recruited Charles Finney to come to town to preach some religion, and see if he couldn’t tone down the town a bit.
It worked. Astoundingly well. Maybe the most effective evangelization in American history.
From September 1830 to March 1831, Charles Finney preached every day and three times on Sunday, a lot of it at the old Third Church, where the boulder remembers him today. In droves and in ones and twos, the people of Rochester came to Christ. The rich, the poor, the black, the white, the men, the women. The farmers and the boatmen, the merchants and the homemakers.
They came forward to altar calls, or they sat expectantly on the anxious bench, but they came forward, and they changed. With Christ in their heart, as explained by Charles Finney, they had a different walk in their life.
He taught them about Christ, and he taught them about Christian values, and the importance of living those values.
And the bars started to close down. Rochester went from one of the wettest towns in the country to one of the driest. The houses of prostitution were also doomed, falling from probably dozens of such establishments to maybe two or three. The playhouse closed down and the circus hall closed down. When Chang and Eng, the Siamese Twins, came through Rochester – launching their independent career – they flopped because the newly converted locals thought freak shows inappropriate and wouldn’t buy tickets.
Charles Finney’s sojourn in Rochester reset the character of the community, and turned it from a rough boom town to a focused and settled and conservative town. For years after, Rochester was known for its traditional Christianity, which manifest itself in its embrace of Frederick Douglass some 20 years later.
That’s what that boulder in front of Third Presbyterian is about. It’s about Charles Finney, it’s about traditional Christianity and the values associated therewith.
The flag on the side of the church, that’s about something else. That’s about woke Christianity.
And woke Christianity cannot be reconciled with traditional Christianity. The gospel taught by Charles Finney and embraced by the people of an earlier Rochester is in eternal conflict with the lifestyle represented by the transgender community.
That’s not a criticism of either – woke Christianity or traditional Christianity – it just means that they aren’t the same thing. They are not truly even related anymore.
Charles Finney would have seen abomination in the transgender flag, just as woke Christians might see intolerance and bigotry in Charles Finney. But whichever side you’re on, it’s a fence that can’t be straddled. There is not a continuity of faith in those beliefs. You can’t get there from here.
Because woke Christianity is not an evolution of traditional Christianity, it is a repudiation of traditional Christianity. The teachings of the woke pulpit are a denial of the conventional Christian teachings of two millennia. That Christianity and this Christianity are not the same. You can pick whichever you want, or reject them both, but you can’t have them both.
Woke Christianity is either an apostasy from traditional Christianity, or it is a revelation setting aright the bigoted teachings of two thousand years of traditional Christian belief. Either Christianity has gotten it wrong for twenty centuries, or Christianity is getting it wrong now.
Which is which is a matter of personal faith and discernment that each person must decide for himself.
But you can’t have both.
It might be the same building, but it’s not the same church, and it’s not the same faith.
And that’s what I thought about yesterday, running past Third Presbyterian, on East Avenue.