When the church becomes the mall

A recent article in Reuters.com featured American churches that “reach out with coffee and roller rinks.” Reach out with what? I thought the Scriptural way that a church reaches out is by preaching the gospel of Christ – “faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:13-17) – crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.

“I’ve always said the church is not about a building, not about physical structures, it’s really about the people themselves,” said Pastor Jeff Arrington of SonRise Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. The church is about what? I thought the church is about worshipping God, sitting under the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, breaking of bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

Their youth pastor says that the coffee shop “doesn’t look anything like a church. Kids come here and it’s non-threatening…” It’s no surprise then that a part-time Roman Catholic, part-time evangelical teenager says, “It’s a great way to end the weekend and have fun.” Non-threatening. Relevance. Love. Coffee shop. Fun and games. These are the code words for today’s evangelical churches. But what about church words like these: Offense of the cross. Sin. God’s wrath. Liturgy. Sacrament. Suffering. None of that irrelevance – the Bible is out, Starbucks (or Purpose-Driven Life) is in.

R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, in his article “Program-Driven Church,” writes about the mall culture of the church:

Finally, to the engine of the program-driven church: the congregation. Not always, but often the congregation is just as culpable for turning the church into a mall. They want what they have (perhaps implicitly) demanded and it seems that they’ve demanded “the mall.” After all, the mall is where they get their needs met. The mall forms their culture. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It works. The mall has a food court, a cinema, and all the right shops. Why can’t the church be like that? What’s wrong with it?

Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to “prophesy,” that is, preach the gospel, so that when an unbeliever or outsider is in their midst, “he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:24-25). Being convicted and falling on one’s face aren’t exactly non-threatening, but rather, very “church-y.”

Roman Catholic churches still use words like Eucharist, Mass, homily, Holy Rosary, etc. I’m sure that in the mosques you’ll still hear words like Allah, Shadadah, Salah, Hajj, Zakat, Sawm, etc. And in Buddhist circles, I imagine that Infinite Consciousness, philosophy of mind, altered state of consciousness, enlightened, karma, guru, yoga, etc., are still in vogue. So why is it that evangelicalism is ashamed of, and hides, its gospel, even from its own people? Paul has a term for this evangelical anomaly: “ashamed of the gospel” (Rom 1:16) – a gospel that is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23).

In the Philippines, the church has literally become the mall – many church services are in the malls, movie theaters, and restaurants. “Reaching out” is more like “Wowowee” and “Eat Bulaga” (racy Filipino noontime shows) evangelism. Evangelical churches adopt the crass sex, idolatry, and escapism saturating these two TV variety shows, on which the eyes of millions, from toddlers to centagenarians, are glued daily. This is why most Filipino evangelicals find nothing wrong in children (and adults too) body-writhing and hip-hopping to the vulgarities and sexual innuendoes of “Ikembot Mo!” (“Shake Your Booty”), “Itaktak Mo,” and “Boom Tarat Tarat!” in their church activities (I have no idea how to translate the coarse language of the other two).

What’s wrong with these, if they would bring “unchurched” people to church so they could “get to know God”? Anything wrong with Starbucks and Krispy Kreme evangelism? The answer is in Paul’s reminder to the Ephesian saints:

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God… Therefore do not become partners with them… Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them (Eph 5:3-11).

Related posts:

“On the Necessity of Reforming the Church,” Today!
Reformed Worship Part 1: The Church and Its Business
Worship Must be Biblical
Worship Must be Historical

The Malling of Evangelicalism
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5 thoughts on “The Malling of Evangelicalism

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  • October 16, 2007 at 11:54 pm
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    We should not think of the public worship of the church of Christ a a means for evangelism and missions. Rather, the public assembly is a dialogical covenant renewal ceremony between God and his people: God speaks, the people respond with their vows of obedience (Exod. 24:3, 7; Neh. 8:5, 6; Heb. 10:6, 7; 12:28-29).

    Public worship is an assembly of God’s people who are called by God to worship him (Exod. 24:3), to hear his Word (Exod. 20-23), and to make vows of obedience.

    Public worship is not an assembly of unbelievers who are to be attracted to and entertained in the church through various man-made gimmicks such as drama, music, puppet shows, funny talk, coffee, donuts, etc. Since there are always unbelievers in the congregation, the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the prayers (Acts 2:42) are the only means by which they are to receive God’s gracious salvation. This is true even among believers in the congregation.

    Lord willing, I plan to write a series of posts on the public worship of the church.

  • October 9, 2007 at 8:26 pm
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    Ariel:
    (to Pastor Galying too)

    I am Irma Roxas-Crow. I live here in Concord, California. I am a sister-in-law of Nollie, studied & worked at Febias & ATS, and was a church worker (diakonisa) of Unida Church for almost 15 years. I was assigned as a diakonisa at Matang-Tubig for 3 years at one time. I was also an FEBC broadcaster, with the Unida “generales,” of “Ito Ang Buhay” & “Tinig Ng Unida.” I was also one of the writers of the Unida newspaper when it was started, Opong Lusterio of Baclaran Unida was the editor. I mentioned these things to let you know that I am an “anak” of the Unida Church (my maternal grandma, the first Christian in the family, came from the Iglesia Cristianos Reformada, one of the churches that became Unida), that is why I love that denomination.

    My heart is heavy whenever I hear negative things about Unida. While I was at Febias (the only Unida student, & only girl both in Unida & Febias with theology major during that time), I stood up against the liberalism (i.e., Liberation Theology, etc.) being preached from some Unida pulpits by the pastoral students of Union Theological Seminary (UTS). Liturgy was not a problem then. The infallibity of the Bible, the inerrancy of the Scripture was. The truth, historicity & reality of the Biblical events, especially in Revelation were questioned.

    Now, it is the reverence of worship, church discipline, doctrine and church purity that is assaulted. The topic is different but the enemy’s methodology is the same. Sowing discord among the believers. Now, the legacy of faithfulness to the Biblical mandate, left by previous generation of bishops & pastors ie: Filio, Teodoro, David, Ruperto, Aurellano, Hernandez, Mercado, all of whom I’ve known personally and loved, are being thrown aside. The “church” confronts different assaults at different ages and times, but God’s grace is sufficient all the time. Our task is to be vigilant.

    The “Cafe” gathering is not at all new just as the “hi-tech” & Generation X of today think. In our “Baby Boomers’” generation (’44-’63), they are known as “prayer meetings,” “youth fellowship,” “church fun night,” “pot providence,” “everybody’s birhtday party,” etc. So you see, we have them too in the old times. I even started a preachers’ club at Matang-Tubig, started with the youth group and joined by the adults later. With the pastor’s blessing, I helped them to understand the principles of hermeneutics (understanding/interpreting the Word), homiletics (preaching), and Bible study methodologies. This is not for them to do the pastor’s job of preaching, but to lead Bible study groups in the neighborhood, lead family devotions, lead prayer meetings, defend and share the faith in the one Triune God revealed to us in His written Word. And most of these activities and gatherings are done with “coffee, tea, & food!” Also, many of the “istambays” in that area of Caloocan were led to the Lord.

    I would like to share with you that in my years of serving the Lord in the Philippines (Manila, Cavite, Bulacan), and here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Lord showed me that the most effective and only way of leading the people into the path of righteousness is through His Word. All the people I know who received the Lord and now belong to the Body of Christ did so during Sunday school, Bible study, or while they belonged to a Bible study group. The power unto salvation rests only on “The Word” – spoken, in the flesh, or written (John 1:1, Rev. 19:13). Then their hunger for the truth is nourished in the church which then leads them to a worship of the One True God.

    Therefore, the leadership of the church has the responsibility to provide these believers with a worship service in an atmosphere of awe and reverence wherein they can worship in spirit and in truth. Not to put them back in a party mood of fellowship, dancing, clapping, singing gayly to & for their own satisfaction – “which hinders them from entering the Holy of Holies, which is being in the presence of a holy and fearful God!”

    God bless,

    Irma

  • October 8, 2007 at 12:38 am
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    Ariel,

    What you’re saying is commendable, if it passes this caveat: Is the increase in attendance because of the desire for the Word of God and prayer, or because of coffee and fun and games?

    Secondly, all these entertainment gimmicks in the church will of course bring them in, but how long will it last? Postmodernism says the “new and improved” is in, “old” is boring. “New stuff” now becomes “old stuff” very quickly in this postmodern world.

    Thirdly, what I’m discussing primarily is public worship, not youth meetings, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and other informal activities. We are commanded to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29).

    Hope this helps. May the Lord bless your ministries there.

  • September 10, 2007 at 6:53 am
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    Hi Kuya Nolie,

    In January this year, we started in [deleted] a weekly gathering that is set up like a “coffee shop” we called it “Prayer Cafe – your wireless connection to the Lord.” Before we started this, we usually have an attendance of around 5 to 10 in our prayer meetings. Almost all of the attendees belong to the senior citizen group. When started Prayer Cafe, we now have at least 30 partners and most of them now are youth.

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