The Worship Mall

Oct 09, 2003 |J. Budziszewski

Fast food, Sunday services and other consumer products.

I had a few moments' warning that she was coming because of the rapid clop-clop-clop from the hallway. She rounded the curve like a base runner and skidded into my office, coming to a stop just before hitting the file cabinet. Classic Julie.

"Sorry, Professor Theophilus," she panted. "I was trying to get here before you left. Your office hours — "

" — don't end for thirty minutes. Why don't you get some running shoes?"

She looked at her feet. "Why, do my sandals look funny?"

"Never mind. Sit down."

She pulled her backpack over her shoulders the way I pull off a sweatshirt. Of course it turned upside-down. Books and papers, compact, hairbrush, handkerchief, a couple of apples, and a half-dozen pens and markers spilled everywhere.

"Sit down, Julie."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" She dropped cross-legged onto the floor and began scooping things into the pack. "It's not about school. It's about Zack. I wanted your advice. He — "

"I thought Zack had graduated."

"He did, but he was admitted into the M.A. program."

"I thought he'd decided he didn't need an M.A."

"He didn't, but he's changed his career plan. For his new plan, he does." She beamed. "That's fine with me, because he's doing his M.A. here."

"Has he — ?"

"Not yet, but I think he's going to." She glanced up. "When I said I had a problem with Zack, did you think I meant a romantic problem?"

"The thought had crossed my mind."

"Ha ha! No, it's a religious problem. An ecclesial — an ecclesiolastical — "

"Ecclesiological?"

"Right. About churches. That's why I thought I should ask you. You know about things like that." She zipped the pack, rose, and sat down in a regular chair.

"Julie, I dislike opining about where-to-go-to-church problems almost as much as I dislike opining about what-to-do-with-boyfriend problems."

"Oh, you won't mind hearing about this where-to-go-to-church problem. It'll interest you. See, Zack goes to the Eclipsitarian church. The one over on the north side of campus."

"I know the one."

"It's way different than what I'm used to. I grew up in independent churches, but the Eclipsitarians are a real, you know, denomination."

"Mmm hmm."

"But I don't have a problem with that."

"No."

"Did I mention the prayers? They have set prayers. Everyone says the same words, all at the same time. Just as though they were singing a praise song, except they're not singing."

"Mmm hmm."

"Zack says, 'If you can have set words for songs, then why can't you have set words for prayers?' I said, 'Because the two things are completely different, silly. Those are songs, these are prayers.'"

"Mmm hmm."

"It's so weird. But I don't have a problem with that either."

"No."

"Speaking of praise songs — they sing theirs in a strange way. Not with the words projected on the wall, like in regular churches."

"Mmm hmm."

"Out of books instead."

"Mmm hmm."

"But I don't even have a problem with that."

"No."

"The problem is this. See, they used to believe in the Bible. Zack and the other people in his church still do. They say that traditionally, Eclipsitarians have been very biblical."

"Why is that a problem?"

"It's not. The problem is that they don't believe in the Bible any more."

"I thought you said they did."

"I said that the people in Zack's own church do. But in lots of Eclipsitarian churches, they don't. Not really. They still read the bible on Sunday, but they pick and choose what teachings to believe."

"How have you learned all this?"

"Zack told me. There was a big Eclipsitarian convention. A national meeting. A pastor was there who had deserted his wife and children to live with his homosexual partner. And instead of telling him he couldn't be a pastor any more, they made him a bishop. You won't tell me that's biblical."

"No, of course not."

"Lots of other awful things were done. For instance they made a rule that churches could 'bless' same-sex unions if they wanted to. I heard a spokesman for the denomination on television. He said something like 'If the Bible, Christian tradition, and two thousand years of consistent teaching are against this, then the Bible, Christian tradition, and two thousand years of consistent teaching are wrong.' I'm surprised you haven't heard about any of these things."

"I have heard about them. I have Eclipsitarian friends, and they're in agony. They're watching their denomination destroy itself."

"Oh! Then you'll understand what I told Zack."

"What did you tell him?"

"That he should leave a denomination like that. If it isn't biblical any more, he should get out of it."

"What did Zack say?"

"He said he's not sure that's the right thing for him to do. He talked about a 'faithful remnant' and said maybe some people should stay and fight. Professor T, how can I show him he's wrong?"

"What do you want him to do, Julie?"

"He should do like I do. I won't worship where they don't believe the Bible."

"Where do you worship?"

"Oh, lots of places."

I raised an eyebrow.

She began ticking them off on her fingers. "On Christmas I went with some friends to the Pretzelterian church out on First Street, because it's so pretty with all the lights. On Easter I went to University Whatever Church, because they did a passion play. When I'm feeling low, I go to the Church of the Gladfest. When I want to hear good music, I go to the Church of the Frozen. When I want to meet friendly people, I go to the Church of the Thawed. At least once a month I go to Sam 'n' Alice's Independent Bible Church, because the preaching is good and it reminds me of what I grew up with. And last Sunday," she finished triumphantly, "I went to MacChurch, because they have a great college ministry."

"Let me rephrase my question. To what congregation do you belong?"

"Belong?"

"You've only told me some churches that you visit."

"When you say 'belong,' do you mean like on a membership roll?"

I smiled. "For starters."

"Well, nowhere. The Bible doesn't say anything about membership rolls."

I collected my thoughts before speaking. "Julie," I said, "I don't presume to know whether God's will for Zack is to 'stay and fight'. I only know that if he stays, then he has no godly option but to fight. As to you — if you really want my advice — "

"I do!"

"Then I advise you to stay out of it. You have nothing to teach him in this matter. Don't make his decision more difficult by imagining that you do."

She was stunned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that Zack is trying to decide his duty to God regarding the church — but you don't yet believe in the church."

"Of course I believe in going to church!"

"That's just it. You believe in 'going to' church, but you don't believe in church. You can 'go to' a football game or a shopping mall — or for that matter to a passion play — but church isn't something you 'go to.' It's the family of God, the Body of Christ, the outpost of Heaven. You belong to it, as you belong to your birth family. You grow into it, as your limbs grow into your physical body. You are taken into it, as you are taken into the life of the Holy Spirit."

"I thought that I belonged to God's family just by being born again."

"You do. Like a child belongs to his earthly family just by being born physically. But when you treat church as a worship mall, you're forgetting everything you know about earthly families."

"What do you mean?"

"The members of a family are parts of a larger whole. They share in a common life and bear each others' joys and burdens. If that's what even earthly family is all about, how much more the family of God! Christ has been taking care of you the way parents take care of their baby. But He wants you to grow up into your inheritance."

For a few moments Julie was silent. Then she said, "I haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about."

I grinned. "Talk to Zack."

Copyright 2003 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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