In the Oscar winning short film The Accountant, Ray McKinnon tells Walton Goggins and Eddie King, two brothers trying to save the family farm and a way of life, that if they are not careful there will soon come a time when they stop being country and start acting country. What he meant was that there’s a difference between southern culture as it’s presented on television (See: The Beverly Hillbillies) and actual southern culture. On television and in movies, the rural south looks like a slightly updated version of the Antebellum period with bad accents. In reality, it’s much, much different.
The same is true of the church. There is the real church—the body of Christ that is centered around loving God and neighbor while making disciples of all nations. And there is also the romanticized church where more emphasis is put on buildings, budgets, platforms, and the good old days than on anything we see commanded in Scripture. If you’ve ever spent any time in the rural south, you know that the old saying is true. There really is a church on every corner. But sadly, many have stopped being the church and started acting like something else.
Here are a few examples.
1. The Business Model
In this church, the primary objective is to keep the doors open. The budget and the bylaws carry much more weight than anything the Bible says. Sure, the Bible is often referred to and sometimes even preached but when it runs up against the dollar, it gets thrown to the side.
Paying the bills and managing money wisely are important but they are terrible foundations on which to build a church. There are many church buildings in the rural south where the doors are still opened and the bank account is fat but that’s about it. Jesus was voted out several business meetings ago. He just wasn’t good for the bottom line.
2. The Political Model
Rather than being identified with Christ, many churches have settled for a connection to a political party. They invite prominent national politicians to speak to them. They build their platform around the platform of their politician or party of choice. When their side is in the minority, sermons center on the coming persecution and the end times. When their party holds the majority, it’s all about how “God is in control” or “Our prayers have been answered.”
The church should speak up against abortion, not because it’s a political issue but rather because it’s an image of God issue. Similarly, the church should speak in defense of the those unjustly killed by the government—not because they have been guilted into action by a Twitter mob—but because all people are created in the image of God. So, in other words, a biblical church will not feel at home in either political party. That’s because there is room at the cross for people of all political stripes but there is no room in God’s kingdom for man’s kingdom.
3. The Family Reunion Model
I know of one church where a prominent member of a prominent family was caught in sexual sin. When the pastor confronted him and brought the situation before the leadership of the church the response he received was somewhere along the lines of, “Well, he may be a sick, twisted pervert but he’s our sick, twisted pervert so back off.” This is far more common than many care to admit.
In the Family Reunion Model, the congregation is trying to get back to the good old days of forty or fifty years ago, forgetting that the good old days ended in the Garden, not 1962. This church is led by the families that have been there the longest and functions more like the mafia than the body of Christ.
The Biblical Model, Instead
Remember when Paul was headed toward Damascus to persecute more Christians? What did Jesus say to him? He didn’t say, “Saul, why are you persecuting this great political movement?” He didn’t say, “Saul, why are you persecuting this well-meaning 501(c)3?” He said, “Why are you persecuting Me?”
Not only does a healthy church identify with Christ, Christ identifies with his church. So the real church does not find it’s identity in it’s pastor, regardless of how many Twitter followers he has or how great of a speaker he is. In a very real sense, the pastor of a healthy church is Jesus (Colossians 1:18). The guy with all of the degrees and great sermons is merely the associate. Nor do we find our identity in our budget, our political leaders, or even the culture of our church. Our identity is in Christ alone.
Jesus did not die for a business.
Jesus did not die for a political party.
And Jesus did not die to preserve family memories.
Jesus died for his church.
When we forget this, we stop being the church and start merely acting like one.