Any kind of analysis that would attempt to determine how things have developed in our culture to bring us to the point where we begin to think of our churches in terms of what divides us, and not what brings us together, would be a difficult undertaking, and would probably lead to conclusions that would be even more divisive. I’ll concede that there probably are a lot of people who choose a church based on one or more of the factors mentioned in the cited article. We choose churches for a lot more reasons than that, none of them consistent with the mission and purpose of a church as it is found in the Bible.
I think there is plenty of evidence which points to what happens to a church when it acquires members based on factors other than their sense of spiritual leadership and calling. They grow large, and utilize their resources to attract more members their way, from other churches. They attract new members by what services and benefits they can offer, not by what ministry opportunities they can provide for members to use their spiritual gifts. They become gigantic “sit and listen” operations. It becomes all about the “Sunday morning experience,” which, in some places, involves a congregation sitting and listening to a pastor preaching from a central location to “satellite campuses” so that, instead of finding a local body, people who want to choose a church based on its political perspective, or on the popularity of its pastor, can do so without the inconvenience of having to drive out of the community where they live.
That’s where we are. And if that’s the case, then do we really have a church, or is it simply a group of people who share someone else’s perspective of what defines a “Christian worldview”? If you’re looking for an explanation as to why something that has been as influential in American culture, as the Christian church has been, is rapidly losing ground and influence, not to mention membership, there’s one.
My political opinions and views often do not match the pre-packaged list of expectations which comes with what is frequently called either the “religious right” or a “Christian worldview”, both terms used interchangeably to mean the same thing politically. I seriously doubt that anyone else’s match up consistently all the time, either. But there’s no chance that any kind of healthy dialogue will take place, because we are intimidated into silence, fearing that our views will cost us relationships, or the ability to participate and exercise our spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. Now I don’t believe that political opinion should dominate the discussions in church group gatherings, but churches identified by secular political preferences or issues are symptoms of an illness. How can a church teach the principle of honesty if its members can’t be honest about the way they think?
A long time ago, I determined that I would not be part of a group claiming to be a Christian church if secular politics were preached from the pulpit. This includes everything from heavily hinting at support for, or endorsement of, a political candidate or party, to direct mention of such in official church gatherings like Bible study groups, home groups, or the pulpit in the worship service. I’ve been fortunate in that I have belonged to churches where walking out as a result of that determination hasn’t been necessary. That’s anectodal evidence, but I think it is a good sign that I haven’t experienced this in the last three churches to which I have belonged, spanning more than a 20 year period. At two of those churches, people were confident enough in their ability to hold their own political opinion that some members put bumper stickers for presidential candidates on their cars, and in both cases, they represented both major party candidates running at the time.
We must, and I emphasize that again, we must teach each generation of Christians about their family heritage in the church. Your reason for investing your life in one should have nothing to do with how you feel about it, or how well they do worship, or how much you like the preaching or the preacher, or how many programs they have in place to serve you or your family, or what political views you hold. The Bible says that church membership is a matter of God’s sovereign will, and he will lead you to a church by his Holy Spirit based on the spiritual gifts you can exercize that will enhance and expand their ministry. It’s not about you. Let me repeat that. It’s not about you.