Church Shopping and the Race to the Bottom

Let me tell a brief story:

Smalltown, USA has three churches, which we will call Church A, Church B, and Church C. The Smiths are your average Christian family today; that is, Mr. Smith is hopelessly Beta and emasculated, Mrs. Smith is frigid and controlling, and the children are inundated with general American cultures. In other words, completely feminized without even realizing it.

Our story begins with the Smiths attending Church A, where they regularly tithe and Mrs. Smith contributes time at various Ministries. However, one day the pastor of Church A reads from Ephesians 5, and mentions how wives should be subject to their husbands. This naturally doesn’t sit well with Mrs. Smith, who complains about this and demands to her husband that they switch churches. Mr. Smith, being either thoroughly feminized or afraid of upsetting his wife, agrees, and they begin to attend services at Church B. There are other families like the Smiths at Church A, and they too switch over to Church B. Church A loses a lot of members, and a lot of money, and becomes a shell of what it once was.

The pastor at Church B is initially pleased by all of the new members at his Church, as they fill both the pews and collection plates alike. His pleasure is short lived, however, when he realizes the reasons why all of these new members have begun to attend his Church. He comes to understand that if the subject of Ephesians 5 and wifely submission, or something like it, comes up in church he will be forced to either support the biblical command and risk losing membership, or toss out parts of scripture in order to keep his pews and coffers full. Not wanting to lose members, but also not wanting to jettison scripture, he decides to play the role of King Solomon and split the baby by simply ignoring the parts of scripture which his members oppose. This works, for a while. But eventually the subject comes up at a bible study group, and the issue begins to percolate through Church B. The pastor of Church B is forced to address the issue, and after hemming and hawing for a bit, comes out supporting the scriptural command. The Smiths are incensed, and promptly leave for Church C. Others join them in the exodus, and just like Church A before it, Church B finds itself smaller and poorer.

Over at Church C the pastor is ecstatic, his pews don’t have room for all of the people, but fortunately the collection plates provide money enough for growth. So Church C begins a massive expansion project to accommodate all of the new members. The pastor at Church C is no one’s fool, he knows why this sudden influx has occurred. He knows what happened at Church A and Church B, and understands that if he preaches scripture truthfully that he will lose all of these new members, and some of the older members as well. On the other hand, if he rejects scripture completely, then he risks losing some old members who see Church C as a “biblically oriented church.” So he too plays the role of King Solomon, and splits the baby by reinterpreting scripture, replacing wifely submission with “mutual submission.” To the pleasure of the pastor at Church C, this seems to work; the new members are content with the message and because it appears to be wrapped in biblical piety the old members of Church C don’t leave. Whenever a difficult issue that might cause a split in the church emerges, the pastor at Church simply reinterpreted scripture to make it more comfortable to the members of his church. Before long Church C was hugely successful, easily the largest and wealthiest church in town, and perhaps even the region. Plans were soon made for an expansion church in a nearby town.

The moral of the story

The story above was an example of Church Shopping, wherein people will shop around for a church that they feel comfortable at. In this day and age, one where feminism is largely running rampant even among “conservatives,” biblical commands tend to make most people uncomfortable. Most Christians are no longer “in the world”, but instead are “of the world.” The end result is much like the story above. So what is the moral of the story? Simple: the ability of “Christians” to church shop creates a natural pressure amongst churches to race to the bottom, to the lowest common denominator, and adopt beliefs which don’t conflict with the worldly views of members or potential members. This pressure is always present, because membership means prestige, power and money. If one church doesn’t adapt, then another will, and will benefit from it, while the other suffers. In order to compete, in order to survive long term, a church must adapt. Of course, adapt in this case means to try and ditch as many of those pesky scriptural commands as possible.

There are really two related but different lessons to be learned here:

1) First, those churches out there right now which are the most successful, that is, have the most members and the most money, are almost certainly those churches which have catered to the worldly whims of their members. They have adapted to an environment where everyone, Christian or otherwise, has been feminized. So naturally the biggest churches will be the most feminized, because their success largely is owed to their ability to cater to their potential audience.

2) Second, the current rise of “Churchianity” is the inevitable result of the fracturing of the Church. Christianity involves hard truths and difficult messages, the kind of truths that people don’t want to hear and don’t like hearing. Our natural human tendency is to take the easiest path, not the hardest one. So if people are given a choice between a church that preaches hard and difficult truths, and one that soft-balls the message and tries to make people comfortable, it is the latter church that most people will choose to attend. This pressure has always been present in Christianity, but its effects are the strongest now that the Church has splintered among so many different factions, and because we have advanced transportation and telecommunication technology. It is hardly a challenge to find a comfortable church, and traveling 30 miles to one that you like isn’t a burden nowadays. So it should come as no surprise that we are seeing “Churchianity” develop before us; the impulse was always there but it can manifest more easily now.

This post is not meant to create a inter-denominational fight. Rather, it is meant to point out that Christian disunity is dangerous, and weakens the whole of the Church far more than people realize. “Churchianity” is not merely some modern contrivance that resulted from the emergence of feminism. Instead, Churchianity is a natural and logical outgrowth of Christianity when there is no longer a single scriptural authority for the Church.

Update: In the comments A Northern Observer reminds us that Paul warned about this tendency long ago:

This is an ongoing problem since Christ’s time – as the letter to Timothy attests:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Ti 4:2–5

Update 2: Also somewhat relevant is this post by Novaseeker back in February.

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21 Comments

Filed under Churchianity

21 responses to “Church Shopping and the Race to the Bottom

  1. A Northern Observer

    This is an ongoing problem since Christ’s time – as the letter to Timothy attests:

     For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Ti 4:2–5

  2. Thank you ANO. I am going to include your comment in the main post because it is so fitting.

  3. A Northern Observer

    Welcome!

    Here’s another good on from Ezekiel:

     “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’

    And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.

    When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

    Eze 33:30–33

  4. deti

    I’m not Roman Catholic. But this kind of thing — church disunity, doctrinal differences — I swear, makes me want to throw up my hands and go to a priest and get catechized and join the RCC or go Orthodox like Novaseeker. At least there I know what I’m getting. You saw this when SSM and I argued over what the meaning of spousal abandonment is : Is it spouse physically leaves; or is it spouse deliberately and willfully withholds sex unilaterally for an extended period of time? Denominational differences and fracturing leads to doctine differences which eventually leads to ERROR. In that debate between SSM and me, we couldn’t both be right. One of us was right and the other of us was in error.

  5. A Northern Observer

    I beg to differ – denominational differences and fracturing are the result of doctrinal differences, which in turn is rooted in error.

    And joining the RCC or Orthodox churches won’t solve that problem – they too have internal factions and differences. They’re just not as public about it as the Protestant denominations are.

  6. Frank

    This is no surprise. Remember that God’s people have always been a remnant, and the modern model of ” church” is essentially worthless. We ought to cut off the beast’s head and start going to home based services with believers that will actually hold us accountable.

  7. That doesn’t really address the problem, it is simply an effort to temporarily escape the worldly corruption of most churches. A sort of return to the catacombs, if you will. But Christianity was never meant to reside in the catacombs forever. Rather, we as Christians are called to be a light to the world.

  8. Frank

    I disagree, respectfully.
    I watch as the “church”, or as I prefer to call them, houses of churchianity get bigger and bigger, and are less and less accountable. Small groups have the potential be involved in each other’s lives, whereas a large group may not even care.
    Even the JayDubs handle church growth better-when the congregation gets too big, they build another Kingdom Hall across town and send half of their people there. Please note-I’m not saying they do anything as God would have it done.
    In churchianity, they fill the seats and the pastor starts pushing for a bigger, better building, better salary, more office staff, etc.
    In my opinion, the large building church model is what is wrong with what is known as Christianity today.
    Sorry to be so long winded, and I’m done posting here to give you the last word, unless you have specific questions to ask of me.
    With my best regards,
    Frank

  9. BTW, just for the record the other Frank is not me. Kinda disappointed, I thought I was the only Frank on the internet.

  10. thehap

    Frank Viola? Here?

  11. It’s not even close to the same issue in the RCC and the Orthodox Church as it is in Protestantism. Protestantism is centripetal by its very nature and has been from the very beginning. Not the same thing at all.

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  13. Jacob Ian Stalk

    The term “mutual submission” seems to be used in two very different ways around the blogosphere: 1) to describe submission to one another in fear of the Lord and 2) shared headship in marriage. The first interpretation is biblical; the second is not. It’s clear from this and many other posts that the two are being confused with one another, which is causing a lot of confusion and iniquity.

    That’s not to say those who support the non-biblical meaning of “mutual submission” are right – they aren’t – but those who support the biblical meaning ought not presume there can only be one way to interpret these words. Meaning #2 is NOT the only possible way to interpret “mutual submission”.

    Eph 5:21 clearly states that Christians are to “submit to one another in fear of the Lord”. Eph 5:22-23 clearly states that wives are to “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

    Submitting to one another is mutual submission…not to each other but to the Lord. This is not the same as shared headship in marriage, which could also be described as mutual submission to each other, albeit an oxymoron. How can anyone be sure which meaning is being upheld when someone uses the words “mutual submission” without clarifying which is being upheld?

    Perhaps better language should be used to prevent God’s truth being thrown out with the equalitarian’s wish. Why not simply denounce “shared headship” as the non-biblical principle instead of “mutual submission”, which conveys biblical truth in a certain context?

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  17. Can I give another view?

    We left an Anglican church after 10 years because the vicar lied to me unnecessarily. It was not a difference on doctrine but rather a rumour going around the church about whether a particular member was offering herself for ordination which I asked him to confirm or deny.

    We then moved to a baptist church which decided to commit suicide over whether homosexual activity was Scriptural or not again about 10 years after we had joined it .

    We currently attend a Methodist church. Nationally, the Methodists have what I consider to be sloppy theology and are the fastest-declining denomination in the UK. The church I attend has around 80 members and there are now four Bible study groups. The group I attend is pretty much straight down the line Bible believing. We will argue out what a particular passage says and what its application is in our life. We are also working to create a group identity so that folks in the group identify with the group and get to know each other better. This then informs our payers for each other and improves informal pastoral care within the church. We are not talking dealing with major crises, but rather things like one member has had a stroke and another who has recently taken early retirement takes him out one day every couple of weeks to give his wife some respite. The group is seen as being both caring and keen to act like we want to be convicted when being a Christian is made a crime. We can act most effectively where we have influence and we have influence only within our group and within our congregation.

  18. Artisanal Toad

    I think you’re ignoring a fundamental problem with respect to the churches, which is that (with respect to the US) the members of churches don’t share their faith with non-believers. I can go into virtually any church and say ‘raise your hand if you’ve ever shared the gospel with an unbeliever’ and the percentage of hands going up will be well under ten percent.

    Increasing church membership is pretty much a beggar-thy-neighbor game in which we don’t see unbelievers coming to Christ but rather churchians moving from church to church in their quest for whatever they’re looking for. I remember reading that there are three basic models for evangelism in the US church: the fishbowl, the safari and the ambush. The fishbowl model has the pastor as the fisherman and the goal is to bring the unbelieving friends to church so he can share the gospel and reel them in. The safari is where the churchians get together, psych themselves up and then go out to a public location to witness to people. The ambush is where a ‘name’ entertainer will do a show and the churchians are supposed to bring their non-believing friends to the show where they will be ambushed with a gospel message and an altar call.

    I think Christians who are serious about their faith should take a hard look at the whole model of ‘church’ and ask themselves how it’s working for them. The availability of excellent teaching 24/7 at the click of a mouse means that one doesn’t need to go to church to get fed. It’s about relationships, and a small-group Bible study does more in that area than attending church. Inviting someone into your home is far more open and intimate than inviting someone to church. My observation, however, is that for most Christians, sharing the gospel with someone they have a personal relationship with is terrifying, which is why most won’t and don’t.

    From a structural standpoint, what does it really say about a group of people who claim a faith that is supposed to save them but are too afraid to share it with others? Is it any wonder they don’t feel a need to be obedient to the Lord they claim to serve? Seldom does one see a church that is growing because they are evangelizing their community. Show me a group that’s committed to obedience and I bet I’ll see growth through evangelism and a desire to hear to what the Word actually says.

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