On April 15th, we pause to reflect on an event which happened one hundred years ago...the sinking of the Titanic.
This ship, and the stories that surround it have fascinated people throughout the world ever since that fateful night. Thousands of books have been written and millions of dollars spent to bring to light all the events which created this mind-numbing tragedy.
Titanic was built before World War I, before the Great Depression, before commercial flight and during an era when automobiles were a luxury only the very rich could afford. Prosperity and hope rested in many hearts. The oceans and the railroad were the common means of travel, and millions of Europeans left hearth and home to pursue their dreams in America.
Shipyards competed to build greater and greater luxury liners to impress the world and make a tidy profit for their owners. White Star Line intended to dominate the industry by building three ships: The Olympic, The Titanic and The Gigantic.
With the initial success of The Olympic, White Star strove to even greater heights in plans for the Titanic. She would be the largest, most luxurious ship ever built with features never seen before including a swimming pool and amazing first class accommodations. The sheer magnitude of materials used to create the ship led some members of the press to suggest that even God could not sink the Titanic.
Captain Smith was selected to pilot the ship. One of the most decorated sea captains, he had never experienced a serious mishap at sea. Titanic's maiden voyage was to be his last post before retiring.
So let's get to why Titanic may in fact hold a message to the church today.
First, the lifeboats. Titanic carried specially equipped lifeboats designed to hold up to 65 passengers. This was an amazing feat within itself. Unfortunately, lifeboats use up deck space. Even though plans called for 48 lifeboats which could accommodate 3200 people, the managing director demanded the number be reduced to 16 so that more passengers could enjoy the magnificence of the ship.
Once underway, the normal procedure was to conduct lifeboat drills to ensure everyone knew what to do and where to go in case of emergency. None were held. Not a single crewman was trained to lower or deploy a lifeboat. Most had no idea of the special davits Titanic was equipped with allowing lifeboats to be lowered with increased capacity.
The night if the tragedy was absolutely cam. The sea was like glass on a moonless night. Fred Fleet, the lookout did not have a pair of binoculars to spot icebergs. he would only use his natural eyes.
Onboard, passengers ate and drank and danced and laughed oblivious to what would come stealthily in the night. Suddenly, a rubbing and breaking sound and the ship came to a halt. Chunks of ice appeared on deck and many passengers began playing with them, still unaware that their lives were in danger.
Gradually, the news dawned on everyone. Titanic would not survive the night. Reality set in. Many would be lost. Captain Smith would not retire, but go down with his ship.
How did all this happen? The simple answer is arrogance, but there is more to the story that takes more time than one sermon allows.
You see, the buzz about Titanic created the false idea that Titanic did not need lifeboats - she WAS a lifeboat! Why do you need drills if you cannot sink?
During the night, a German ship telegraphed the Titanic warning of icebergs. The message was ignored. Who cares? The ship can't sink!
Has today's church been lulled to sleep by its own feelings of invincibility? Only 5% of Christians ever lead a single person to Christ during their lifetime. 5%! Churches don't train believers to go and rescue the lost. Instead, we tell people to come to church and be saved. We don't need to train believers to disciple unchurched people. Our church IS the lifeboat! Bring them on Sunday and they will be saved, discipled, set free and made complete, all for a tithe and one hour of their time! Not only that, we'll disciple their kids for free!
When Titanic hit the iceberg, some lifeboats went into the water with only 12 passengers aboard. Mass confusion reigned that night. Much yelling, scamming and threatening occurred as officers finally had to hold people off with guns. Multitudes died because Titanic thought lifeboats were for losers.
If church members are not being trained to win and disciple lost people, what is our reason for existence? Jesus' command is very plain in Matthew 28:18-20: GO and make disciples, not stay, wait for the pastor to bring people to Christ and grow our church. Today's church isn't an army, it is a nursery where leaders spend all their time giving perpetually immature Christians their next feeding!
The Californian travelled the same ocean 17 miles away. In the middle of the night, flares went up into the sky from the Titanic pleading for help. Now this great ship which could not sink was sinking. The Californian saw the flares and did absolutely nothing. They never investigated and never made any efforts to assist until it was too late.
How is this possible? How could this crew be so callous and uncaring?
Captain Lord was a very distant and self-centered man. The crew disliked him for his supreme dedication to the status quo. Lord was tired that night. He was more interested in sleep than investigating dubious flares. Even though some crew members urged him, Lord judged it too risky to respond to the distress call for fear of the icebergs. He did nothing.
It he Body of Christ, some churches have one mission in life: don't upset anyone! Don't stand out. Don't make waves. Their mission is personal comfort. They fear the outside world and membership is about escaping the world and criticizing those who try to make a difference. Californian churches are all about not rocking a the proverbial boat. Just keep doing the same Sunday services each week. Don't change the music. Ignore the changes in the culture around you. Make no effort to outreach or understand where people are hurting. The main objective of Californian churches is to keep the organization running. Reaching the lost is nearly irrelevant.
Another ship was even closer to Titanic that evening: The Samson. Only 7 miles away, The Samson saw the flares and turned the other way. What? How could they do ignore the distress of a fellow ship in need?
The Samson it turns out was not supposed to be there at all. The Samson was engaging in the illegal act of hunting seals, which was prohibited in that area. The flares threatened to reveal their deeds, so they turned tail and ran. Their motives were entirely about self preservation and continuing to operate their business illegally.
It is sad to report that many, many churches in our world tolerate gross sin and pretend all is well. Like the Corinthians of old, people in leadership positions practice fornication, adultery, debauchery, and drunkenness while those in authority look the other way.
Samson churches never reach lost people because church is all about hanging out with people you have known for years. Sermons seldom if ever center on the doctrines of scripture, but instead herald the innate goodness of man. We have suppers, luncheons, tag sales and bizarres to raise money but win that lost? What for? They would ruin our church anyway!
Finally, the hero of the story: The Carpathia. Captain Rostron's ship was 58 miles away from the Titanic. As soon as he heard word from of Titanic's distress call, his plans changed. Instead of a smaller luxury liner transporting passengers to their vacation destinations, Carpathia would need to become a rescue vessel.
Immediately, Carpathia turned toward the Titanic and went full speed into the same field of icebergs which sealed it's doom. Praying on the bow of the ship, Captain Rostron gave the orders. While the ship headed for the Titanic, the ship would be transformed into a hospital. Passengers willingly gave up their paid berths and started preparing medical supplies. Everything used for luxury now had to be adapted to help the injured. Blankets were stripped from the beds. Passengers became staff.
When they arrived, Carpathia rescued 700 of the 2300 passengers who remained alive. All efforts focused in ministering to see strangers rescued and helped. Sacrifices were gladly made so that those who were hurting could find refuge.
The analogy is not difficult to see. Carpathian churches model what Christ intended His church to be. It doesn't exist for its own self perpetuation. It exists to reach lost people and then train them to reach more lost people. It is not that complicated. Effective churches are those who work as a team. Authority is used for one purpose: to accomplish God's mandates. Carpathian churches focus their energies ion reaching this generation for Christ and work together making whatever sacrifices are necessary to ge that mission completed.
Which ship are we?
(Themes Taken from the re-released book, Titanic Warning, New Leaf Press, copyright 1994. Now available digitally.)