In all of our well-intentioned efforts, there is an all-too-common error we can fall into in the name of Christianity: playing “church”.
When I was a kid, we played make-believe a lot. We’d play “house”, “school” (no fun, unless you get to be the teacher!), “cops and robbers”, “cowboys and indians”, and anything else that seemed possible. Typically, it consisted of a little (melo) drama or skit based on real life scenarios or something we’d seen on TV or at the movies. One side of my family were really, really into church, so it should come as no surprise that my brothers and cousins and I played “church”.
The “rules” to playing church were kind of simple. Like most of the games of make- believe, we basically just mimicked (and hammed up!) what we’d seen in real life.
“Brother Woe-be-gone” would start out with a long, embarrassing prayer that named plenty of names and contained as many King James syntax errors as our little mouths could come up with. Then, “Deacon By-the-Program” would read the minutes, an equally lengthy diatribe of balderized comments about the Nursery, Sunday School, and the upcoming Gospel Weiner Roast Church Social. This was followed by an offering, complete with hastily appointed ushers. Then a “Brother” or “Sister” would “feel something come over them” and would give a testimony that they simply could not contain or they’d simply explode! At length, there’d be singing (usually kept short in favor of the more interesting portions of the “service”) and the inevitable sermon by “The Good Reverend Doctor Brimstone.”
If this sounds sacriligeous, I apologize. We didn’t mean to be irreverent. We were simply mimicking what we’d seen. Over and over and over. We knew nothing of theology, nor discipleship. We memorized Bible verses, but none of us actually studied our Bibles at that age! Nor did we pray more than was required (at meals and at bedtime) when not actually in church – unless we were in BIG trouble! The things we observed were oftimes preachy prayers, emotional (even melodramatic) testimonies, somber faces, fiery sermons, offering plates being passed, and those vivid revival moments that so leave their mark upon impressionable young minds.
I realize now that what we were actually seeing was Church culture.
The differences between Church culture and true blue Christianity are crucial.
Not knowing the difference has led men to become pastors with theological cemetary, er, I mean, seminary degrees but without either zeal or salvation! I’ve seen pastors, deacons, and folks who’d been going to church for years suddenly rush to the altars, as a revelation of that crucial difference struck home, finally (but not too late, eh?)
The Bible states in Romans 12:1-2 that our reasonable service as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ, is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. It also warns that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not merely conformed to this world.
As children all we could make of Christianity was what we could observe. We figured that as long as we fulfilled the outward requirements of Christianity, we were in the clear. Christians were expected to look a certain way, to speak a certain way, to follow certain customs and restrictions, and to act in a certain manner. For instance, most Christians don’t drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or cuss; most do pray, go to church, and read their Bibles; most are expected to dress modestly and to witness their faith to others.
Yet other religions expect much the same code of conduct from their adherents, so we might rightly assume that such conduct is still a manner of conformity to the world’s standards or morality and religious nature. What separates Christians from the rest of the religious morass?
Some of us have taken to a separatist mode of living. We wear Christian T-shirts, we go to Christian movies, we surf the Christian web, we watch Christian television, buy Christian toys and merchandise for our children, read Christian books, listen to Christian music, and go to Christian concerts and events. There seems to be a Christian version of everything out there; there’s now even a Christian Wrestling Association, if you’re into that sort of thing! All are marketed as alternatives to the world’s stuff. That’s all well and good, unless we so separate ourselves from the sinful world that we fail to reach and convert them!
I’m not saying for a moment that we should not buy Christian merchandise. I’m saying that we should not use such things to create our own alternate world apart from the world we are supposed to turn upside-down! Instead of creating our own counter-culture, we should be affecting and influencing mainstream culture.
We’ll hit upon this point a little more in a moment.
In the midst of all of the Christian fads and the latest Christian acronymns (WWJD?, FROG, DOG, GOLF, etc ad nauseam), there remains a question: Is this all there is to Christianity? Steven Curtis Chapman hits upon this point in his song, “The Change” (Speechless album). Is there substance to our image?
“What about the change?
What about the difference?
What about the grace?
What about forgiveness?
What about a life that’s showing
the change?” (Chapman 52)
Have we been truly transformed? or are we merely conformed to the image and ideal that the Church has of a believer? What are your motives? Pleasing man? or pleasing God? Satisfying yourself that you are OK? or satisfying God?
It’s easy to just go with the flow. It’s much more difficult to go against the current to stand for truth, especially when the current you’re swimming against is the undertow of religion. The pull of Church culture is strongly deceptive. It’s easy just to fit in and play church. It’s difficult to stand up and decide that you will truly serve God, no matter what. It’s easy to play the part; it’s quite another thing to give God everything you have and let Him have His way in your life.
There is a Difference between Christians and the world, but it’s not just a cultural difference. That Difference is Jesus Christ living in us. Rather I should say that we are dead and it is Jesus who now lives and gives life to our bodies. We are totally different creatures than what we were before we came to Christ!
This Difference is a life given wholly to God.
This Difference may show up looking like a lot of the things we see in Church culture, but they will come out of a different heart, a different mind, and a different spirit. These things will show up as the result of a transformation; not because of a mere show of will.
For instance, you will not study God’s Word simply because that’s what Christians are expected to do, but rather because you are hungry for more of God and desire to know His will for your life! You will not pray out of duty or habit, but rather because you desire to spend time with God! You will not witness to others because you know a Christian should, but rather because you have a consuming compassion for the lost and a sincere desire to share this wonderful Living God with them! You won’t worry about whether folks think you’re “too into this whole Church thing”; you’ll know that it’s more than a Church thing – it’s a God thing! You won’t feed the poor and do good works out of a sesnse of moral and social obligation, but rather because you know that Jesus died for each and every special soul who has needs and because you desire to glorify God in all you do!
Yet this Difference I speak of requires a decision on your part. Are you determined to deny yourself, lay your life and will down, pick up His Cross, and follow Him with every fiber of your being?
You must decide: If God is real, then we must simply quit playing church. We dare not offend Him by putting on a show or just going through the motions! We dare not fool ourselves with half-hearted service! If God is real, we owe Him an unimaginable debt of gratitude. Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice is but a reasonable service for such a salvation as ours! If God is real, we ourselves must be authentic.
- Are you truly serving God with all that you have? Or playing church?
- Are you doing the bare minimum to get by? or giving it your all?
- Are you a product of conformity to Church culture? or a new creature transformed by the love of God?
Be honest with yourself. Don’t fool yourself any longer.You certainly can’t fool God.
Once You Make the Decision to Be Radically Different….
You will inevitably wonder, How do I make the transition from being a part of Church culture, playing church, to reality-based Christianity?
The answer is so simple: Read your Bible.
You don’t have to study what’s wrong with the Church to correct the problems. I did that for years. I wrote endless notes and did numerous studies on the subject, trying to pinpoint the root causes of the problems I saw in Church culture. Finally, it hit me (Divine revelation?) that I was going about it the wrong way. All I needed to do was know what was right and true, and I would immediately recognize the difference between what I now knew to be right and what wasn’t. After all, bank tellers don’t study the counterfeit money to recognize fakes; they study the real money and get it so imprinted in their minds that when something different passes under their nose they automatically realize that something isn’t quite right with it.
In the same way, Christians need to study their Bibles, God’s very Word, until its Truth is so imprinted into our minds that we know the difference between Church culture and what God wants out of a Christian! Reading, studying, meditating upon, and ultimately applying the Word of God to our everyday lives is the only way to transform: we need a renewed mind.
Our carnal minds, you see, are flawed. The motivations of our thoughts are selfish. We have our own interests in mind, not God’s. Before salvation, in fact, we lack the capacity to love God, so, as far as religion is concerned, we act upon selfish motives. We want a reward, be it heaven or the appearance of goodness or a way to make ourselves feel better about our selfish ways. Or we fear punishment and want to save our selfish skins.
A genuine love for God extends out of our gratitude for Jesus’ selfless sacrifice at Calvary. Once we accept Jesus’ substitutionary work upon the Cross for our sin, God gives us a new heart that can love Him. If we remain in our selfish ways, it’s only because we haven’t learned His. His ways are only found in the Bible.
- Chapman, Steven Curtis & Scotty Smith. Speechless. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999.