FIRST-PERSON: A fuzzy line between the church & the world
As we were driving in our van, Jack, in typical fashion was positioned snugly in his car seat, loudly naming whatever he saw. “Police car!” “Hospital!” “Water tower!” “Doggie!” “School bus!” Not being able to go anywhere without his enthusiastic commentary, our usual response during our journeys is always “Yes, Jack. That’s right. What else do you see?”
However, we were all thrown for a loop on this particular day when Jack proved himself completely wrong about a particular appraisal. Given the day in which we live, though, I don’t blame him.
Passing a beautiful brick medical complex located near our home, Jack immediately exclaimed, “church!” I hesitated not knowing how to respond to my backseat tour guide. Church architecture is by no means an indication of a congregation’s biblical fidelity, but how do you explain that some churches these days do in fact look like office buildings or warehouses? I’ve thought it for some time, but I felt it strongly on that day -- distinguishing between the church and the world is getting harder and harder these days.
With that experience resounding in my mind, the next day on the way to work I saw a nearby church sign advertising, “Attend Happy Hour this Sunday Morning!” Was the pang in my stomach the result of my overly caffeinated morning coffee, or was there really something wrong with this picture?
I started thinking about the leaders of that church. Do they truly believe that their creativity and seemingly cute use of worldly bar room images will cause people to flock to their morning worship service? Moreover, what do the thousands of pagans who pass that church each day think of such a worldly appeal? Even more importantly, what does God think?
If those experiences were not enough, I did a double, triple and quadruple take when I passed the church with a sign screaming, “Elvis in concert! Sunday, 7:00” The thought came again -- distinguishing between the church and the world is getting harder and harder these days.
If Christians like me are troubled by such silly messages coming from churches, how much more do non-Christians find themselves perplexed by the confusing words and actions of the church? We say we are not like the world, and the Bible clearly commands, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world -— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions -- is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)
Are we as the church trying to get the world to like us and to come join us by doing our best to be like them? Try as we might, it will not work. And even if it might, the world will end up having more influence on the church than the church will on the world.
One of the favorite eateries of our university community is the local Mexican restaurant. Go in at any time during the day and odds are that you will find a handful of Union students or faculty over in the corner munching on chips and salsa. While the food is quick, good and inexpensive, there is only one problem. When you leave, you smell like any number of the numerous combination plates offered on the menu. To eat there means you carry the restaurant’s odor the rest of the day.
I am finding some churches these days smelling strangely like the world. Some look too much like the world. Some talk like the world. Some act like the world. Distinguishing between the church and the world is getting more difficult.
If the line between the church and the world seems fuzzy to me, imagine how fuzzy it must be to those in the world.
Todd E. Brady is minister to the university at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.