I’ve been reflecting here, at least over the past couple of posts, on things that seem to separate the world of the Christian community known as the church from the rest of the culture at large.   One of the exercises that was introduced into a group seminar at a small groups conference I attended several years ago was to try to put yourself in the position of “unchurched Harry and Mary,” and look at what it might be like to even get to the point of visiting a church, as well as how they might react if they did.  To help with the exercise, a video had been made showing what the experience might be like from driving on the parking lot to heading back to the car when the worship service was over.

So “Harry and Mary” pull into the parking lot of a mega church.  They are arriving just a few minutes before the service to avoid too much contact, so there are no parking spaces close because latecomers have already filled the few designated “guest parking” spots.  They walk in just as the service is beginning.  There are no seats in the back, so the usher shows them to the third pew from the front.  They are handed a bulletin with the “order of service” which they try to follow, but aren’t familiar with anything on it.  There’s a praise team leading some songs but the tunes and words are unfamiliar.  Some people appear to be doing a form of dance, with their hands raised, moving from side to side, waving them from time to time with intense looks on their faces, while others just stand with frowns on their faces, and some people don’t sing.  No one has explained why everyone is doing this or how this is part of worship, and when it is over, no one says anything about the words that have been sung.  A plate is passed, some people drop envelopes in it, others drop checks or cash.  No explanation is offered as to what this is for.  Suddenly, the service turns solemn, and someone reads words from a leather bound book, and then asks everyone to bow their heads while they recite some flowery, poetic language.  Then the mood switches abruptly as the pastor comes to the platform, tells a couple of jokes to lighten the mood, and launches into an explanation of a text from a book that neither of them have.  Halfway through the  service, they realize that he is using a Bible, and there is one in the pew rack in front of them, but they can’t find the text he is speaking from.  Suddenly, after forty minutes of a message full of words and phrases they don’t understand (we identified over a hundred expressions in this one particular sermon that an unchurched person might not be able to understand or have a frame of reference to identify) the congregation stands, the praise band does one final number they don’t know, and people start leaving.  On the way out, no one speaks to them.  They walk to their car, out in the far reaches of the parking lot, wait twenty minutes for the traffic to clear so they can leave, and reflect on what they have just done and why they have done it.  Chances are pretty good they won’t be back.

So, we wondered, if that’s a typical experience, what happens when something or someone says or does something that leaves a negative impression?  Suppose there’s a meet and greet time and no one approaches, because the church is so large, no one knows who is visiting for the first time, and who comes every week?  Suppose it is the Sunday of the “Cantata,” and there’s nothing but a musical presentation of arrangements and songs not even familiar to regulars in the congregation?  Suppose the pastor steps out of line and inserts political perspectives into his sermon, or goes on a rant about some religious group or social issue?  As a group, we concluded that, 1.) it is virtually impossible for people who have been in church all their lives, or at least, a good portion of it, to be able to identify with people who are completely unfamiliar with it, and 2.) there are way too many things happening in a church worship service that are unexplained, unfamiliar and meaningless to people who don’t know what is going on.

“Here’s the point:  God didn’t send his son into the world to judge it; instead, he is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction.”  John 3:17,  The Voice Translation.

So, that’s the mission and purpose of Christ’s church, not to judge the world, but to help him rescue it because it is headed toward certain destruction.  Sometimes it seems that what we do as a church is better suited to judgement and pushing the world over a cliff ourselves than it is to rescuing it.

Now, before I get into these next thoughts, I want to say that I firmly believe Dan Cathy, the company exec from Chic-Fil-A who made a strong statement in support of Biblical marriage had every right to express himself as he did.  First of all, he didn’t just decide to pontificate on his own, he was asked for his opinion by a Christian-based media outlet and he responded.  He expressed what he believes to be a Biblical view of marriage.  And, in fact, what the Bible has to say about it is pretty simple.  A man leaves his father and mother, a woman leaves her home and the two become one flesh.  Though there are examples of polygamous marriages in the Bible, including a couple of Old Testament examples where God seems to bless those involved in spite of the plural marriage, it does seem clear that the ideal is one man and one woman.  That is the most common, most widely accepted interpretation of Biblical marriage among Christians of all stripes, and it’s not a hostile or judgmental position.

So here’s the point.  I’m not going to get into evaluating the response in support of Dan Cathy by those who packed out Chic-Fil-A restaurants on August 1.  They were also exercising their free speech rights, as were those who came along a couple of days later for the kiss-in and boycott.  Based on the mission and purpose of Jesus coming into the world, not to judge it but to rescue it, and the church’s purpose to help accomplish that, how can Christians fulfill that mission when a situation like this demonstrates a very wide, deep gap between them and people who are out there in the world?

There is a commonly held belief among many Christians that God somehow holds us responsible for the behavior of everyone in our country, as well as the laws it passes, and that the United States operates under some kind of covenant relationship with God.  I can’t find any evidence for that in the Bible, and in fact, what I see there is the opposite of that.  Since Jesus came, the covenant God offers is with people who accept it by engaging in a relationship with his Son.  We are held accountable for our own behavior in that covenant relationship and, thankfully, we can experience full forgiveness and restoration as a result of it.  But our country is not a nation in the sense that Israel was a nation.  And there is not a covenant relationship between our country and God, based on following the moral law he handed down.  If people are going to be able to enter into a covenant relationship with God, which will rescue them from destruction, they will have to find Jesus through the people who already know him.

It is not easy getting out of the judgment business, and into the rescue business.  Perhaps, if it were as easy as lining up to buy a chicken sandwich to make a statement, we would be more successful at it.

 

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

8 responses

  1. Colby Evans says:

    The Chic-Fil-A support day and protest are a good example of how far apart the parties are. Christians talk so casually about “winning the world to Christ,” but it isn’t that easy. It’s not that a lot of people haven’t heard about Jesus, or don’t know the message of the gospel, though that’s what most Christians assume, or are taught. There are a lot of people out there who have been put off, or repelled by bad behavior on the part of Christians. I’m not talking about publicly sinful behavior or hypocrisy, I’m talking about judgmental attitudes and in-your-face opposition.

    When I go home now, my parents don’t understand why I won’t accompany them to the church where I grew up. I don’t feel welcome there. The friends I used to have in that church have pretty much stopped speaking to me because I don’t share their political perspective. With that kind of attitude, is it any wonder evangelism is so difficult, and the only people churches seem to be able to reach are a segment of those who were raised in it?

  2. Lee says:

    What was it about the Chic-Fil-A appreciation day, or Chic-Fil-A in general that makes you think it was “bad behavior” on the part of Christians, or an “in your face” opposition?

  3. K Gray says:

    I went to Chik-Fil-A appreciation day because (1) I had heard that mayors were trying to keep it out of other cities, which in my view was an unfair public government attack; and (2) our local Chik-fil-a has responded generously to my own requests for donations for local causes in which I am involved, including high school graduation, band, and an interdenominational anti-poverty ministry.

    I knew not one thing whatever about Mike Huckabee or the genesis of appreciation day.

    So I went to Chik-fil-a. I was surprised there were so many people there. We went through the drive-through and came home. No blogging, no Facebook statement, no phone calls, photos, or whatever.

    No, all the blogging and Facebooking I read was about how wrong I was to go, how Christians are so judgmental, such sheep, manipulable, or making a “statement” is not what Christians do, how Jesus would never have gone to Chik-fil-a, how we are alienating the world, and how we set back the cause of Christ.

    So I called some of those people, whose opinion I respect. And to a person they said “well I didn’t mean YOU.” Then who? What individuals? Whose motive do you know? Whose conduct was bad? What sin was there? No one could answer. It “looks bad” and is “perceived badly” and is “in your face.”

    This certainly gives pause. Do I want to set back the cause of Christ, embarrass you my brethren in Christ, and alienate non-Christians? No way! But tell me what I should have done. There is only one answer. We all should have stayed home from Chik-fil-a on that day in order to please my brethren in Christ. Because going was wrong.

    Think about that.

  4. Lee says:

    I would call the whole thing an exercise in futility, Honestly. And that doesn’t have to be a reflection of any position I hold. In fact, it is not.

    My personal opinion is that the best reaction to the announced boycott of Chic-Fil-A would have been no reaction at all, or at least, nothing organized. Does there have to be an attention-getting reaction every time some political group announces a boycott? Huckabee, in effect, used the event to puff his own media program, and gauge his own ability to draw support, a fact established by what he had to say about it after it was over. It was more about him than it was about Dan Cathy and Chic-Fil-A. A few politicians jumped on the same bandwagon, though others, including Mitt Romney, avoided any association with it.

    So what did it prove? Most Chic-FIl-A restaurants did record business for the day. But was it an overwhelming crowd? I haven’t really seen estimates of exactly how many people showed up, but 750,000 nationwide is one figure I’ve seen. The Chic-Fil-A in our town had a drive in line with ten or twelve cars all day long, and about fifty or sixty people in line at any given time. They estimate that they served about 800 people, which is about 600 more than they would do on a normal day of business, and that swamped them and exhausted their stock. That’s the only store in an area of about a ten mile radius with over 150,000 people, so even though the place itself was crowded, only a very small percentage of the population actually took part. Was it intended to offset the potential loss of business from the boycott? It’s hard to say. One of the organizations Cathy mentioned contributing to does have a tendency to draw a lot of negative reaction. In order to be effective, a boycott has to get the word out to a large segment of potential supporters. Did the attention that was drawn to Chic-Fil-A also boost the support for the other side, whose efforts at boycott will extend over a far longer period of time? Who knows?

    It would have been easy for those who wanted to support Chic-Fil-A to just do so with their feet. An organized event such as this indicates some kind of compulsion that Christians seem to feel to get into a contest that demonstrates the use of worldly power more than it shows a confidence in the spiritual power of the Holy Spirit. Some people are showing their support for Dan Cathy and his right to free speech when they walk into a Chic-Fil-A. Most people, however, are just there because they think its the best chicken sandwich they can buy.

  5. K Gray says:

    Yes, woe to those who unknowingly bought lunch in the ‘wrong’ place, only to be told that they are alienating the world and setting back the cause of Christ!

  6. Colby Evans says:

    Perhaps “bad behavior” or “in your face opposition” were not the best choice of terms, However, it seems that your observation of Huckabee’s motive, to gauge his own level of support, and of those who wanted to do something in the face of the announced boycott by whatever activist group it was that planned the ChicFIlA boycott. What message was communicated? Which of Christ’s foundational principles was demonstrated by an organized protest against the political viewpoint of a group with a particular special interest? How does getting a few hundred thousand people to pack restaurants and sell some chicken sandwiches to put more money in the pocket of an already fabulously wealthy man move the Kingdom of God in a forward direction? How many people were able to discern the gospel message, and come to repentance and faith in Christ as a result of that?

  7. Lee says:

    I’m not inclined to think that boycotting businesses, or having a reverse boycott, really does much either way. Filling up a whole bunch of fast food restaurants for a day looked impressive, but overall, it involved only a small fraction of the local population. Maybe it made up for the loss of business they experienced on the subsequent “kiss in” day, but if you’re really interested in being consistent in what you support with your business, you’d have to be constantly doing research. I remember several years back, when John Kerry was running against Bush, someone I knew decided not to buy Heinz food products because he was married to Teresa Heinz Kerry. What that person did not know is that the Heinz family is largely Republican, has produced several Republican politicians, and made major political contributions to the Republicans. You have to do your homework and keep up.
    Frankly, I don’t care. I know a lot of Christians who won’t stay at a Marriott because of its Mormon connection, but they’ll vote for one for President of the US. Go figure.

  8. Colby Evans says:

    What, exactly, was accomplished by ChicFilA day? Someone organized their customers to get them all in on the same day to make some kind of statement against gay marriage. The pictures of packed ChicFilA restaurants looked impressive, but when you think about it, how many people could go through one restaurant in the course of a day? Enough to make a difference in the vote on election day? Not even close. It’s hypocritical, too, to talk about freedom, and who is or isn’t going to make it possible, and yet be involved in a protest to deny some American citizens their freedom because you don’t like their choice.
    I’m wondering what all the money, time and effort that the religious right has sunk into the GOP has accomplished. We still have abortion, as legal as it ever was, in spite of having three GOP presidents who had the opportunity to stop it with their Supreme Court appointments. None of them did. In fact, they all deliberately appointed a moderate swing vote to keep it from happening. In fact, I can’t really think of anything that has been accomplished by the religious right getting cozy with the GOP. Nothing. They vote, they are a loyal constituency, and they get absolutely nothing for it. No school choice. No end to abortion. And yet they keep voting, giving their money, more than they give to missions or their church, for nothing. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting change but getting the same results. i guess that says it all.