Phony Church vs Real Church

boyBeirutCurbPromises Promises

Someone described me as a little boy sitting on the curb, crying, determined that his daddy was going to come pick him up, because he had promised. But Daddy was drunk and wasn’t coming.

That’s how I respond to organized church: I take all the promises about the body of Christ and expect them all to be true. When they turn out to be somewhat of a facade, I am very upset: sad, depressed, angry. I tell myself to lower my expectations. But each time I get sucked right back into wanting it all to be true. I am an idealist.

I think many of us ex-fundamentalists, or Preacher’s Kids, and Missionary Kids have this same impulse to want to believe all of the hype and advertising about what the church is. And then when it doesn’t live up to its image, we collapse in pain or rage in impotent anger, until we burn out.

I am noticing that several things trigger me: churches that beg for money (“I’m not begging for money but please give to my ministry”, churches that have a board and congregational votes on the budget (the church building is the biggest expenditure), churches that have classes on evangelism (How to have a phoney relationship in three easy steps), appointing elders (Shut up and do what I say), stair steps to become a spiritual leader in the church (Competitive Christianity), and on and on it goes. Anything that has the potential to promise me something that can also fall far short of its promise, sucks me in and spits me out the other end a cynical, sad, jaded child.

I remember years ago the assistant preacher asked me to “start the spontaneous singing” before church. We usually would sit and sing choruses before church officially started. I hadn’t known that someone was appointed or asked to start the “spontaneous” singing.

tony-campolo1So I have started to take a break from organized church. Wait! I can hear you shouting: “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together…” Yes, I know the passage well. To the which I reply: I remember Tony Campolo saying to a group of teens: “I don’t have to do sex. I am sex.” I echo: I don’t have to do church. I am church. Everywhere I go I am church. Everyone I talk to, everyone I am in relationship with, everywhere I go, I am at church, in church, worshiping and encouraging (ideally).

For people who haven’t grown up with these unrealistic expectations, they can enjoy organized church just fine. It doesn’t trigger them. Great! Wonderful! I rejoice for them. I am not one of them. I have a different history, one that has sensitized me to the phony, the failing, the lying that occurs as people pretend to be the church.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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16 Responses to Phony Church vs Real Church

  1. Mark, I know what you are saying. Been there and done that, so I went back to the book of Acts and said I shall start at the beginning. Yes I have Church every day just like you said you do. I have been found not welcome inside of many of these churches. Churchianty Sucks! God Bless, James

  2. coxhulgus says:

    Hi Mark, Thank you for writing this blog. Resources about the Church of Christ are hard to find. I’m an ex-C of Cer – now psychologist – with a book I’m shopping for publication, working title, Wife Material. Would you ever consider a guest essay? DC

    Deborah Cox Family Psychology of Springfield

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. I don’t assemble with the Church because of the hypocrites either. I assemble for Christ. For Christ said, “In the midst of the Assembly I will sing praise to you.” What is the idealistic picture of the Church? Is it the church at Corinth or at Galatia as we read of their imperfections? Is it all of the 7 churches of Asia? Are we not to bear with one another?

    • Who organized the Church anyways? “[O]n this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

    • Mark says:

      But Scott, you call any group that slaps Church of Christ on the building and will listen to you talk, a church. When I read the Bible those groups do not meet the biblical definition of a church. So I think you are assembling with an exclusive club that likes to pat themselves on the back and lie to each other.

    • Mark says:

      You’re probably one of the toughest for me to bear with, Scott.

    • BH says:

      Hi Scott,

      I think what you say is correct to a point. remember though that Paul told those churches to correct those problems—and in the case of the Corinthians he would personally when he came to them (and kinda made it clear they didn’t want that)

      All churches are made of frail people and we have all been burned from time to time. It happens. It happened in Corinth. BUT–and here is the big difference between then and lots of times today—church leaders (in the case back then Paul and the faithful ministers) deal with the problems and ended them. If a church seems to have a habit of members running roughshod over others members by being mean, lying, stealing, backbiting, and such and the church leadership does nothing about the victims staying encourage enabling behavior. The victims, once it is clear the church and/or its leadership will not end such or outright allows it, should leave and go find another church that won’t allow it.

  4. Randy says:

    I can relate to much of what you said. In fact, on my Facebook, I posted a similar message.

    Personally, I’d prefer ‘home churching’ over organized Church. Some of the things that trigger you, do me as well. I think my problem is a quest for the ‘perfect Church’- only to discover none are perfect. Perhaps, because, we are imperfect. I also try to balance that with doctrines that are false. Well, it seems just about every organized Church group may hold to some false teaching/error thus I’m left to pick one that “I” deem as closest to the bible. Wait though … isn’t this what many people do. We find a Church that we believe to be teaching truth.

    It eats me inside to be honest with you. If there isn’t a perfect Church- a group of believers who teach according to Gods Word then this opens the door up for every organized Church. I mean, if God grades on the curve, then we all make it, regardless of imperfection and doctrinal error. Well, that’s a hard pill for me to swallow, especially with so many verses on “sound doctrine.”

    It’s so many directions and points to make here but I do not want to be too wordy. I do relate strongly to what you stated in this thread.

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    For someone that declares that they quote the scriptures to support their teachings, to make a statement such as, “For Christ said, “In the midst of the Assembly I will sing praise to you.”” I see the need to challenge you to produce where you even located a comparison to that statement made by Christ.. I have searched many translations and cannot find any comparable statement.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    As I search at a greater depth i did find ‘assembly” in three of the many translations I can research, 1. Darby, 2. Young’s and 3. New King James.
    In comparing the content with the words (church, and congregation) being used in others and also some using only praises. The congregation would not necessarily have to be assembled to fulfill that statement.
    While rereading your post this part jumped out at me as being out of order.
    “I don’t assemble with the Church because of the hypocrites either”. “I assemble for Christ”. I do not believe that you can find Christ or his followers giving an example of his followers assembling for him or assembling to worship him. Humanity has devised that purpose for the gathering. Christ’s followers are to live a life of worship to him. Worship without ceasing. A gathering together for worship suggests when you adjourn, worship ceases until the next gathering. It is very obvious that most Christians believe and perform that way.
    Now, let’s look at the purpose for gathering that the Apostle orders.
    (Heb 10:25 KJV) Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
    Heb 10:25 (DARBY) Not forsaking our assembly, as some are accustomed: but comforting one anther, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.
    Actually, the scriptures instruct to do the very thing that you just said you don’t do, you should assemble with the hypocrites to encourage and build them up in their living for Christ. You will find that your influence to be useless if you refuse to associate with them. Which group would you think that Christ would be associating with if he was here, isn’t the goal of Christians to become Christ like, I mean act like he would?

    • That is a very prejudice stretch to build a characterization. I said that I do not assemble for hypocrites but for Christ. That alone does not mean that I said anything that you proposed. I do not reject teaching the hypocrites or excluding them as using expand upon this matter telling others that we must set examples for those who are struggling with sin.

      Jesus said in Matthew 18:20 that He is in the midst where 2 or 3 are gathered together (cf. 1 Cor. 5:4, Rev. 1:10, 17, 20). This was a gathering in the context of prayer (Matt. 18:19). Hebrews 2:!2 shows praise in the congregation. First Corinthians 14 describes the worship of a visitor. First Corinthians also shows that the purpose of the Assembly is not just worship, but edification as Hebrews 10 elaborates about starring one another to love and good works. First Corinthians 11 describes the Lord’s Supper. Add to this the references for singing thanks unto God (Col. 3:16, etc.).

      As far as, the churches of Christ define worship consider Lipscomb, Wharton (Gospel Advocate editor), and Woods. For instance in Wood’s “Questions and Answers: Open Forum Freed-Hardeman College Lectures” (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman, 1976. P. 333), Guy N. Woods is asked the question, “Would you please comment on the difference between serving God and worshipping God?” Woods commented that,

      “There is not nearly as much difference between these concepts as many today apparently believe. Occasionally, we see over the entrance to a church auditorium these words, ‘Enter to worship and leave to serve.’ This concept results from ignorance of what the New Testament teaches about service and worship to God.”

      Woods commented on acts of worship stating,

      “When, for example, a basket of food is carried to a needy family, the act is grounded in the concept of service, but it is done out of regard to our relationship to God, and to this extent involves an act of worship. Therefore, we worship God in serving others!”

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