There was once a man who decided quite abruptly that he and his family should attend church. He wasn’t a Christian. He wasn’t raised in church. It was simply a notion. So he and his family got dressed up in their best jeans and T-shirts and went off to the local sanctuary. He enjoyed the singing and found the sermon very engaging. As he left, a deacon shook his hand and said, “Next time, dress up.This is God’s house.” The man agreed that he would certainly dress better the next time he went to church.
He never went back again.
This true story was told to me by one of the first converts of my preaching ministry. The man who never came back was his father.
A lot of churchmen [and churchwomen] have an “edifice complex.” The long and short of it is that they get God and a building backwards and so commit idolatry. It starts out with well-meaning comments about how we ought to dress our best when we come to the house of God. It transforms itself into spiritualized snobbery. The man who never came back was wearing his best. It wasn’t a needless expensive suit. But this particular deacon imposed his own dress code onto Christendom.
If Jesus were standing before that deacon, given the historical sketch we have of Him in the Gospels, I am most sure he would say to him, “Go and learn what this means: I will have mercy and not sacrifice, so you will not condemn the guiltless!” Unless of course He went with a more direct, “Deacons! Nitpickers! Hypocrites!” et cetera and all that implies.
In “My Jesus,” Todd Agnew sings: “But my Jesus would never be accepted in my church/the blood and the dirt on his feet might stain the carpet.” I think he’s right about a lot of churches. If Todd has it right, that deacon would likely put Jesus out on the curb as well. Don’t shake your head. Don’t say he’d never do it to Jesus. HE ALREADY HAS! After all, if we’ve done it to the least of these, we’ve done it to Him.
I give these edifice worshippers no quarter, because in all honesty they are just simpering complacent cowards. They sit in their plush pews week after week, hiding behind the church from the world they were meant to reach. And when the world shows up in all its rude earthy imperfection, they drive it out. Casting Crowns has a song called “If We Are The Body” that seems particularly applicable, especially the second verse and bridge:
“The traveller is far away from home/ He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row/ The weight of their judgmental glances/ Tells him that his chances/ Are better out on the road…
Jesus paid much too high a price/ for us to pick and choose who should come/ and we are the Body of Christ.”
Yet when we should be reaching out to the world, some act like the church is supposed to insulate them from it. They act as if the church were under seige. Worse, they act as if polishing the outside of the cup is all Christianity is about! Yet Jesus chose earthy fishermen, former cheating tax collectors and the like as his chosen disciples instead of zealous Pharisees. It’s about the equivalent of passing up your pastor and best deacon to choose a tattooed biker and a lying politician. Or a prostitute.
Christians like me show up warts and all. I’ve never felt the need to impress anyone. I usually wear T-shirts and jeans, in fact. If you call me on it, I guarantee I’ll tell you the true tale of the man who never came back.
Read more of the What’s Wrong With Church series!