I was reading Dr. Suess’s story of “The Star Bellied Sneetches” to my kids and came to a startling discovery: the modern cultural church is not unlike McMonkey McBean’s “Star On” machine.
Within contemporary Christianity there is a very strong division between those that are considered “Saved” and those that are “Unsaved”, or in the case of this illustration, the “Star Bellied Sneetches” and those with no stars upon “thars.”
Let me state that I am not taking issue with the teaching within the bible that such a distinction exists, but I am pointing out that the church machine has done a great job of externalizing this distinction as if it is really so easy.
For example, the cultural church holds to this notion that a person must say some silly little prayer where they ask Jesus to come into their heart, while no where in scripture does Jesus require that of anyone. Instead he simply tells some folks to “follow me.” Some people are saved by trusting him to heal their bodies, others are saved by giving all they have, other are saved by what they say, others by what they do, and even some by what their friends do as in the case of the invalid whose friends let him down through the roof of the house. They were only asking for his body to be healed, in return the man was forgiven of his sins (which he didn’t even ask for) and then he got to carry his mat home on top of it.
We’re told by Paul that when God sent the firey serpents through the camp of the Israelites to kill them, that if they looked at the bronse serpent on the staff they would be saved, and in fact they were. He then informs the readers of Corinthians that the staff was Christ. In other words, Israel was being saved by Christ without even knowing who he was.
We’re told that tax collectors and prosititutes will go into God’s kingdom of Heaven before some of the most religious people of the day. And we are told that on the day of judgement some people who have done great things for God will be denied entry not because they didn’t know him, but because God didn’t know them (so to speak).
The point here is that the dividing line between saved and unsaved is not as visible as whether you go to church, or have a star on your belly.
While I no longer work in a church and I attend very seldom, I have given more than 25 years to working in the church and I can tell you that it is very clear that many folks in the church system have very little authentic faith, most appear to be going through the motions.
Perhaps the worst part is that church leaders and planters seem to be content with it so long as these people keep their tithes coming. In fact if you ask a church goer why they feel they need to go to church they will inevitably go back to some sense of guilt or try and stretch some verse in Hebrews 10 or 13 to be the directive for all people to go to church. Others use fear, guilt, or manipulation to convice a person that if they don’t give their lives to the “star on machine”, then they are not being a part or contributing to the kingdom of God. As if the church system and the kingdom were coextensive. What happened to “Where two or more are gathered, there am I…?”
I’ve examined every text in the New Testament on what the “Church” is and what it does. The name is “Ecclesia” or “called out ones” and refers to a “gathering” or in better renderings a “collective” of people who ARE the church, not people who DO church or GO to church. Being salt and light in the world means we are distinct in our influence and we shed additive value to all aspects of life where we live. Is that what we see when 35% of the city hunkers down on a Sunday morning at the local building, strip mall, or junior high school? Certainly if 30-50% of the city were made up of this light bearing individuals, then our city would look very different. How much money is sucked into these systems which barely pay their own bills and neglect the needs of the poor, the homeless, the widow and the orphan? Certainly belonging to that system and giving your time and money to that can’t be more valuable to the kingdom than giving your life to serve others, those most in your sphere of influence?
But as long as the machine exists, there will be a city of people who proudly wear a star on their belly, while doing absolutely nothing for their neighbor. Further more, many who uphold this overweight delivery system are often the ones who “neglect” countless people around them because their focus is on those within the system. That is more of a violation of Hebrews 10 than not going to church if you ask me.
Be careful though, that you don’t conclude that there is no church. There is. It’s the real church that Jesus said he would start. It’s the collective of people who are truly authentic. They give excellence in everything they do. They thrive and strive along side countless others to make this world a better place. They are those who are doing the will of the Father regardless of their profession of faith or the display of the star (John 21:28-31). They are a collective of people past, present, and future whose voice carries in it real light, or an influence that changes people at a heart level. A people who sincerely check their motives and who opperate according to a moral law, a conscience that is shared accross the globe, not just in a small American sub-culture who listens to really crappy music.
If you can see them, chances are you may be one of them. Enlisting in the mission of this group comes from the inside-out, not the outside-in, and it is a force that can’t be stopped. And you will likely care less about any star or any belly after seeing them. They may even be found in the local cultural church machine, but we must never conclude that the local is the same as the global.
Because that conclusion is the single greatest cause of atheism in our country, and they would be right to choose atheism instead of McMonkey’s machine.