A Fond Farewell

Before you read on, you need to look back at the entry for the fifth of May, and reread the words of the song “Farewell To Storyville”. 

Storyville, a thirty-eight block area of New Orleans, came into being in 1897 as an attempt to limit prostitution to one area of the city, where it could be monitored and regulated. It was originally called “The District”, but quickly became known as Storyville, much to the annoyance of Councillor Sidney Story, who was responsible for the legislation established to govern it. By 1900, the area was “a notable tourist attraction”, and a major source of revenue for the city. 1 Timothy 6.9-10 springs to mind.

Its subsequent history is well-documented; those who wish to do so can read all about it and its eventual closure in 1917 for themselves. Bear in mind, however, that accounts of what went on there are often bowdlerised, romanticised and glamourised, just as in the song; for example: “Now the law stepped in and called it sin/ Just to have a little fun”. 

I suppose large-scale prostitution, perversion, drink, drugs, gambling, and the crime, corruption and degradation that go along with these might be described as “a little fun” - if you’re writing about these things years later, wearing rose-tinted spectacles, and ostensibly from the point of view of the various popular entertainers who found employment and an uncritical audience there. 

In fact, you can watch Louis Armstrong performing the song, with Billie Holiday on vocals, in the 1947 film “New Orleans”, as the residents pack up and move out en masse, under the watchful eyes of a cordon of police officers. The film is pretty fanciful, and mostly about music and its influence on the lives of the characters and on American society at large. To be fair, there is a short section that shows us a little of the seamier side of the Storyville; but in general, people behave as decorously as if they were at a church social.

That’s the background. What about the song itself? Why does it remind me of a doctrine that we don’t hear much about in most churches today? 

Look back at the lyrics. The residents have to leave their old lives behind them, because “the law stepped in, and called it sin”. To them, it wasn’t all that bad: in fact, they’re bidding it a fond farewell, perhaps indulging in “one last thrill” - whatever that might mean. And who knows, they may be able to go back to their old ways, one day, when people understand that there was nothing really wrong with what they were doing: “Blue skies follow rain”. It’s interesting to note that the New Orleans city government protested against closing the district; New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman said, "You can make it illegal, but you can't make it unpopular."

The doctrine that we don’t hear much about today is, of course, repentance. Think for a moment - when was the last time you heard a sermon, or even a substantial portion of a sermon, on the vital importance of true repentance? It’s much more likely that you’ve heard one about why we shouldn’t be preaching repentance at all in these days.

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

Repentance is only in the Old Testament; we are living in New Testament times.

Repentance belongs to the dispensational kingdom offer to the Jews. It does not apply to the Gentiles.

Repentance refers to a change of mind; nothing more is needed.

All a Christian needs to be saved is faith: sola fide, faith alone. Requiring repentance is adding works: “we are not under law, but under grace”. (Romans 6.15)

Repentance is a gift, which is not under our control, and therefore it is not a duty.

Repentance is once and once only; after that, we can forget all about it.

Reading through what I’ve just written, it reminds me that many modern Christians seem to spend a lot of time working out what they don’t have to do for their Lord, and very little time seeking out the ways in which they should be serving Him. We might have said goodbye to sin after a fashion, but it was a fond farewell, and just another way of saying “See you later!" In our heart of hearts, we’ve never known sin for what it is in the sight of God; and we have never really repented. All we’ve done is to modify our behaviour in order to meet the expectations of the fellowship in which we've found ourselves.

If that is the case, it will not end well for us. As E.A. Johnston often puts it: “God will have no rebels in His camp.”

"Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.”

(1 Corinthians 15.24-25)

To be continued.