DULUTH, Ga. (BP)–One of the joys of attending the Southern Baptist Convention is the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and establish new friendships. While in San Antonio for the SBC annual meeting in June, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Daniel Sanchez, a professor of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and a native of San Antonio.
Dr. Sanchez and I began discussing the Alamo, situated only a few blocks from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center where we were meeting. “You know, the Alamo was once a church,” he said, “then a battlefield; now, it is a museum.”
His comments inspired me, and I thought this is the perfect outline for a sermon -– or a commentary.
THE ALAMO -– A CHURCH
The Alamo originally was a Catholic church, named Mision San Antonio de Valero. The mission was authorized in 1716 by the viceroy of New Spain and was established two years later by Fray Antonio de Olivares, who brought Indian converts and records with him from the San Francisco Solano Mission near San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande.
The present site was selected in 1724 and the cornerstone was laid on May 8, 1744. The church served as a home to missionaries and their Indian converts until 1793 when the mission was abandoned.
THE ALAMO –- A BATTLEFIELD
In the early 1800s, the Spanish military stationed a cavalry unit at the former mission, but the Alamo is best known for the strategic battle between Texan loyalists and the army of Mexico’s General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. On Feb. 23, 1836, Santa Anna’s army arrived in San Antonio to quell any hope for Texas independence. The Texan and Tejano volunteers prepared to defend the Alamo and held out for 13 days against a massive Mexican army.
Col. William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo, drew a line on the ground and asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over the line. Every person, with the exception of one man, stepped over the line indicating his willingness to fight for Texas liberty. Jim Bowie, the well-known knife fighter, and David Crockett, famed Tennessee frontiersman, were among those who devoted themselves to the fight for Texas independence.
The defenders of the Alamo were finally overwhelmed by the relentless siege launched by Santa Anna and his hordes. Indeed, the Alamo is remembered for the heroic struggle of those brave men who fought until the death against impossible odds.
THE ALAMO -– THE MUSEUM
Today the Mision San Antonio de Valero is a museum and shrine dedicated to the memory of the men who fell in defense of Texas liberty. Since 1905, the Texas legislature has entrusted the Daughters of the Republic of Texas with the preservation of the Alamo as a historic site.
I am afraid there are many churches that have a grand and glorious beginning but over the years become a battleground. Quite often the warfare lacks any significantly eternal purpose and unfortunately amounts to no more than infighting and power struggles that disrupt the fellowship of the “saints.”
Strife and contention, spawned by the devil, begin to characterize the spirit of the church. However, those who are engaged in the daily dog-eat-dog competition of the business world, those who have to battle the hostility and fierceness of the secular society and those who must contend with the din and strife of ungodly men all during the week don’t want to go to church and face conflict and warfare there.
So, what happens? At first, the problem may be almost imperceptible. But the difficulty turns into dissention; and the dissention turns into disenchantment; the disenchantment turns into disillusionment; the disillusionment turns into decline; and ultimately the decline turns into death. At last, the church becomes nothing more than a stodgy museum.
Churches are meant to represent the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. They must be marked by vitality, passion, enthusiasm, brotherly love and vision. Salvation means that we have left the region of death and emerged into the light and life of God’s grace. Thus, we must leave those old grave-clothes that are tainted with corruption and reeking with death.
History is important; some traditions are to be honored and some battles must be fought. But when a church insists on holding on to the relics of the past rather than seizing the present moment for the glory of God, it is courting death and destined to become a museum.
Remember the Alamo!
J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.