The full-page advertisement leapt out at me from the pages of a glossy magazine: “WHAT IF CHURCH WASN’T JUST A PLACE TO GO ON SUNDAY, BUT HELPED YOU HAVE A PLACE TO GO ON MONDAY?” This was superimposed on a picture of several people using computer keyboards in a training program. The tag line was: “RETHINK CHURCH at 10thousanddoors.org.” It was an ad placed for “The people of the United Methodist Church.”
Call me a curmudgeon, but this is one of the most confused ads I’ve ever seen. I can understand asking, “What if Christians didn’t just go to church but helped you get a job”? Of course I would be concerned about the implication that Christians ordinarily don’t help people. But the question, “What if Church wasn’t just for worship but for job placement?” is the same as asking “What if religion were not for glorifying God but for helping you eat better?”
Well then, of course, religion wouldn’t be religion and church would not be church. The essence of religion and church is what we owe to God, not what we can get for ourselves materially if we repurpose the Christian community’s energies. We ought not to make commitments to religion and church based on which one has the best social assistance program. This is not only a fundamental error, but it will always lead to a decline in charity. For only if we put first things first (and God is the First of all things) will Christians be motivated to love others authentically, which they can do only by sharing God’s love.
The purpose of “Church” is to put us in touch with God. I am bone weary of efforts by well-meaning but secularized Christians who constantly seek to reverse the logical order of religion, as if we are capable of inexhaustible love all on our own, and as if we even know on our own what it means to love properly, or as if a well-ordered and beneficial love is possible without the power of God’s grace and the illumination of God’s truth.
To be fair, the United Methodist advertisement did not suggest that rethinking church meant completely replacing Sunday worship with job training programs. But it did suggest that rethinking church means changing the fundamental notion of church from preoccupation with God to preoccupation with man. So “what if church wasn’t just a place to go on Sunday, but helped you have a place to go on Monday?” In that case, I’d run for cover, and look for a Church that wanted me to be praying and worshipping God on Monday too. Then, if I didn’t grow in charity, I’d ask myself a different sort of question, one that put the onus not on Church, but on me.
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