Leaving the Manufactured Church

Throughout the course of the last year, as I’ve been working in
ministry in a variety of settings, there has been a common theme
prevalent within each of these contexts: in American Christianity,
“church” has become synonymous with words like “corporation” and
“organization.” But instead of manufacturing toilet paper or toothpaste,
our products are decisions, discipleship programs and even the Holy
Spirit. Rather than equipping the saints to do ministry, our pastors are
CEOs, Chief Evangelism Officers, who manage the industry by creating
consumers of Christianity.

My thoughts on this trend are not revolutionary; David Platt explains it perfectly in his recent book, Radical:
“I am part of a system that has created a whole host of means and
methods, plans and strategies for doing church that require little if
any power from God.”

He further explains some of the elements of our churches that
manifest this tragic reality: a captivating performance, an attractive
facility to house the performance and then alluring programs to keep
people coming back for more. While some would point a finger at the
modern, more contemporary churches as indicative of this travesty, it
pervades the traditional churches as well, which rely on traditionalism
as the comfortable and most effective means of keeping the gears turning
in the corporate Church machine. Yet even this distinction between
traditional and contemporary is a symptom of the underlying disease that
plagues the Church: the attempt and desire to do the work of God apart
from the Spirit of God.

As I’ve observed the manufactured Church, I am confronted
continually by the nagging question: How did we get this way? When I
read through the early Church in the book of Acts, I am presented by a
people who are desperate for the Spirit of God. When Peter spoke to the
Jewish people in Solomon’s Portico, he advised them to repent so that
“times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts
3:20a). When the seven men were chosen to serve in Acts 6, they were men
“full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Furthermore, the very
promise of Acts 1:8 is the affirmation that Jesus’ followers would have
the power to proclaim His name throughout the nations when they were
empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is evident that the work of God
cannot be done apart from the Spirit of God. And yet, we have managed to
create a church culture that seemingly successfully produces
Christianity largely apart from a desperation for the Holy Spirit.

One answer I’ve posited in response to the conundrum of how we got
this way is that we are still witnessing a byproduct of the marriage of
church and state that occurred under Constantine in the fourth century.
Although Protestant Christianity has largely escaped this union, the
vestiges of the bureaucracy that pervade government remain within the
functions of the Church. However, this answer is unsatisfactory, for the
disease goes back further than the fourth century. In fact, Jesus
responded to manufactured religion when He cleansed the temple in
Matthew 21.

Thus, I conclude that our propensity for doing church without God’s
provision and empowerment is a byproduct of the Fall. Just as our
initial act of sin stemmed from an inclination to be like God, so now we
strive to do the work of God apart from Him. Furthermore, I think we
try to manufacture church in our own efforts because that is something
we can understand. We are not made to understand the ways God works, so
instead of trusting Him in faith to build and run His church, we
construct it to look like something we can understand, measure and
control.

So, I then ask myself, “What do we do?” Critique is hollow if it
provides no alternative resolution. I think the prophet Joel provides a
nice synopsis of what may be required: “ 'Yet even now,' declares the
LORD, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and
with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.' Return to
the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and
abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster" (Joel
2:12-13, ESV).

Furthermore, in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, He emphasizes the
words of Isaiah that God’s house is to be a house of prayer. Instead of
devising new programs and methods for doing God’s work, we need to fall
on our faces in prayer, humble ourselves through fasting and beg God for
a refreshing from His Spirit. God has already given us the provision of
His Spirit through the atoning work of His Son on the cross. We must
respond again with repentance and be transformed in our thinking about
Church. I am convinced that nothing apart from desperation for the work
of God through the Spirit of God in our hearts and minds will result in
the building of God’s Church on His terms, and not ours. As a result, we
will have the corporate Christianity we see in Acts 2—a fellowship of
believers united with the all-encompassing desire of giving glory to God
and making His name known.

This article originally appeared as a column on RELEVANTmagazine.com.

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