I almost got kicked out of biology class. We were dissecting frogs, and we were told not to dissect more than necessary. I think I heard that message too late, because I was really curious to see if our frog’s tongue could stretch as long as I saw in slow-motion videos of documentaries when you see a frog catch a fly with its tongue from what seemed like almost a foot away. So, I cut off the dead frog’s tongue and tried to stretch it, using two of the provided metal utensils. It wouldn’t stretch at all. I never found out why, because my biology teacher caught me and rebuked me. Thankfully, I wasn’t kicked out of biology class and I apologized to my teacher the next day.
Sometimes, I feel like us ambitious Americans have a desire to dissect, analyze and make an “improved” imitation. We look at a product, we analyze how it’s made and delivered, and what makes it “successful,” trying to capture the proverbial scientific formula. Once we’ve found said formula, we try to execute the formula even more efficiently or uniquely. Some of the biggest and well-known American businesses have succeeded because they conjured or imitated formulas for how to efficiently, for example, make and deliver cheeseburgers, create user-friendly electronics, produce an engaging website, maintain a visibly conflict-free work environment and, even, create attractive church worship services.
The problem with formulas, as seemingly efficient as they may be, is that they are impersonal. If you’re a large franchise in our country that’s delivering impersonal products to customers (e.g. coffee, pizza, digital entertainment), then there’s nothing wrong with omitting relational components. But what about the local church, when your “product” is very personal and therefore involves a very diverse “market”?
Sadly, us American Christians tend to like impersonal formulas for spiritual or ministerial “success.” This is Church, Inc.
Some Christians think that believing a longer list of theological/ecclesiological beliefs will earn salvation, ignoring the unhealthy status of their church and the strive to imitate Christ’s character.
Some Christians avoid involvement with the non-Christian world, maintaining a type of felt purity, but sometimes hiding God’s grace from the world and seemingly forgetting that sinful temptation is something inside all of us and, therefore, unavoidable.
Many Christians believe that involvement in politics should only be certain stances. The ethics, methods and character behind the lobbying for and implementation of such policies is irrelevant, because it’s the “successful” formula for God-honoring government.
And many Christian leaders dissect mega- and seemingly successful churches, using statistical and surveyed data and, like a business, impersonal formulas, in the hopes that they can improve upon said formulas and beat the competition with a more attractive church.
But, like the frog’s tongue in my biology class, a dissected tool may not work.
As I’ve said before, the Church is not reliant on political empowerment (or even religious liberty), technological advances, scientific practicalities, professionalism, entertainment value, dare I say holistic theological and moral purity (because we particularly have over-achievers in that arena), or any man-made method to survive come what may and already has. How arrogant of us to think otherwise. The Church survives and thrives through God’s power, the influence of the Holy Spirit, and our faithfulness to God’s commands. We can’t cut corners around that.
I once preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul, after finishing up a potentially-exhausting explanation of spiritual gifts, emphasizes the importance true God-honoring love, which he introduces as “the most excellent way,” above all the aforementioned spiritual gifts. I rephrased the verses for ministry leaders, based on what’s admired in Church, Inc.
If I speak with passion and I’m personable, gathering the greatest feedback from people on comment cards, but I don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with accessibility, thoroughly proving all Christian theology and socio-political stances to even the worst of skeptics, and I have the faith to pray healing over someone in Jesus’s name and they’re healed, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to high-rated Christian organizations and even face execution in a foreign country as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Church, Inc. may have a lot of attenders who love the worship service experience, either because they fill out surveys about how they like things done on Sunday morning, or because they appreciate their over-achieving theological or moral purity. But, are they loveless?
Love, as Paul says, is the most excellent way. But the God-honoring love to which the Bible calls us is not emotional or mushy. Neither is it easy. It’s a godly commitment to fellow human beings. Let’s take a look at its requisites:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
American Christians, let’s strive to have biblical love in our churches, our workplaces, and our involvement in politics. God doesn’t want adherence to formulas, or even specific measurable outcomes. He wants biblical love.
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