“Playing” Church Versus “Being” Church

I read a post a while back that caused me to think a great deal about the state of the Church in Western, and particularly in American, Christianity.  I found it on Relevant magazines website.  In it the author, Spencer Spellman, talks about the propensity of today’s church to rely on silly catch phrases and “Christian” merchandise to capture the attention of the world.  “Give Satan an inch, and he’ll become a ruler” was the one he used to begin his reflection.  And while this phrase and others like it may be humorous (emphasis on “may be”) when plastered on bumper stickers, t-shirts and church signs, Spellman wonders why the church feels the need to use such tactics.  He writes:

Is this where the Church in America has come to? Where Christianity is seen and communicated through t-shirts and marquees. We don’t communicate our business projects, vacation plans, and political positions through marquees and t-shirts, so we don’t need to communicate our faith through such means.

The church in America has simply taken out the terminology of America and replaced it with its own terminology with a Christian twist. Christian bookstores are taking on the feel of a Super Wal-Mart, but without the food, except for the “testamints” and crucifix lollipops at the counter. Clothes, video games, toys, comic books, food, and music has been changed just enough for it to appear on the surface as Christian. From shirts branding “a bread crumb and fish” (see the likeness to Abercrobmie and Fitch) to Bibleman action figures to Majorvictory Superhero to Dance Praise video games.

Having Christian clothes, toys, comic books, and video games aren’t bad things in themselves. But does it make Christianity relevant to the rest of society? And what is our motive in creating Christian super heroes?

Spellman then makes it clear that the only true motive for Christians when they do anything is love.  This was, after all, the sole motive of Jesus, as well as the reason God sent Christ into the world (For God so loved the world . . .).  We are called to follow Jesus’ example in this, and reliance upon the world’s marketing abilities and strategies to attract people pales in comparison to the simple and profound power of love . . . a love that is not often seen when the Christian subculture interacts with the larger culture around it.  The author makes an excellent point when he adds, “if Christians imitated Jesus’ example in this account then there would be an attraction to Christianity in America, but there is not. When was the last time you saw Christians being depicted as loving. Christians have been depicted as protesters, politicians, and moralists, while atheist celebrities are the ones being depicted as loving.”  Spellman then ends his reflection with an apt quote from C. S. Lewis:

“Love comes when manipulation stops;
when you think more about the other person than about his or her reactions to you.
When you dare to reveal yourself fully.
When you dare to be vulnerable.”

In the context of this article, it seems to me that what the author is trying to say with the use of this quote is that we need to stop hiding behind our Christian merchandising and marketing and get about actually doing what Christ has done and what he still calls his followers to do:  to love, simply and purely.  Nothing else we do will ever have a greater impact on the people we meet, everything else that we do pales in importance to it, and anything else we do should be informed by it.

I don’t know about you, my gentle readers, but I don’t want to play church, I want to be the Church, and I want to be a part of congregation that takes its mission to be Jesus to this hurting world seriously.  The problem with churches today has nothing to do with denominationalism, human sexuality issues, bureaucracy, or any of the other divisive issues that seem to be at the top of the agendas when religious bodies meet.  The problem is that they are not Christ-centered and Christ-focused, and that love is lacking, both in congregations and in their outreach (or lack of it) to their communities.

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