The End of Four-Wall Christianity

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It will be great when we can gather together again in our church buildings, freely and without restriction, to worship and pray and hear the teaching of God’s Word. But it’s also great that we are being forced to think outside the box – and that means thinking outside of the four walls of our buildings.

The fact is, the people we want to reach live outside our buildings, and rather than expecting them to come to us, we should do our best to go to them.

It’s also true that the “four-wall” church mentality lends itself to a form of spectator Christianity, where we show up once a week to enjoy a great performance. What worship! What preaching! What a service! And that’s it. The “laity” sits back while the “clergy” performs, then we go out for a nice family meal and go on with our normal lives.

That is not the faith or practice of the New Testament. That is not the gospel lived out. That is not being the church rather than going to church. That is not what Jesus died for.

We are called to be a Body, and every member of the Body plays an essential role. And all of us, as followers of Jesus, are called to participate in the Great Commission, either by prayer or by sharing our faith or by giving financially or by all of the above.

We should live this and breathe this and think about this as a major part of our mission here on earth: we are here to be disciples and to make disciples.

Now, with the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, we have a great opportunity to do a major reset, to ask some deeper questions, and to say, “Here I am Lord! Send me and use me.”

Before I came to faith in late 1971, I was a heavy drug user, doing everything from pot to heroin (and beyond). I also played drums in a rock band and loved going to rock concerts, all of which meant total immersion. And so I jumped into the drugs and rock scene with complete abandon, giving my body and mind to the music and to drugs, literally holding back nothing.

Then, by God’s great mercy and quite without my initiative, I was drawn to the Lord and was radically born-again at the age of 16. In a moment, everything changed and my life was saved from destruction. No more drugs. No more decadence. No more carnal living. My life was clean, and I was living for God. 

And yet something was missing. I needed a deeper commitment of my life to the Lord. As I said to myself one day, “I could lead a clean but empty life, or I could give myself to God the way I gave myself to rock music and drugs.”

After that, things changed dramatically again, as I spent virtually every free hour on my knees in prayer. Or studying the Scriptures. Or memorizing the Scriptures. By the summer of 1973, while just 18 years-old, I had read the Bible cover to cover 5 times and memorized more than 4,000 verses. (My habit for the previous six months was to memorize 20 verses a day.) And how I loved to spend time in God’s presence in prayer!

It was also my habit to share my faith with someone new every day, and I attended church services five days a week.

This was normal life for me, and to this day, even with a radically different life schedule, my heart attitude remains the same.

It is against this backdrop that I journaled in October 1999, “How I hate white collar religion! How I hate commercialism! How I hate Christianity within four walls! How I hate faith without fire, profession without passion, belief without burden. How I resonate with the total ‘putting oneself into a thing’ mentality” – even referring here to how godless rock stars threw themselves into their music. 

Why weren’t we throwing ourselves into the Lord? If we could be so zealous for that which destroyed, why were we so tentative with that which gave life? And why weren’t we going into our world – whatever our “world” might be – and sharing our faith boldly?

Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army with her husband William, chafed at the idea of waiting for people to come to our church buildings. And, with no concern for political correctness, she urged her followers to go and find those in need. She said, “Take the bandage off their eyes which Satan has bound round them; knock and hammer and burn in, with the fire of the Holy Ghost, your words into their poor hardened, darkened hearts, until they begin to realise that they are IN DANGER; that there is something amiss. Go after them.”

Go after them indeed. With wisdom, yes. With sensitivity, yes. With compassion, yes. With patience, yes. But by all means, go after them.

I am hearing reports of great outreaches taking place in the middle of city protests. There are also reports of something that feels like a fresh “Jesus People Movement” breaking out on California beaches. My hear says, “It is time!”

So, let us invade our communities with the good news of forgiveness and transformation through the cross. Let us shine our lights in our neighborhoods, offering hope and a new way of life. And let us use the four-walls of our buildings as a base of operations, not a museum or monument. If not now, then when?

I’m all for inviting people to visit our church services and be touched and transformed. But how much better is it for us to carry the message wherever we go.

Perhaps right now the Spirit is saying, “Go! I’m sending you.”

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