Married to the idea of getting people to ‘come to church’ is the idea that ‘coming to church’ is synonymous with behavior modification. It’s sort of like we think church attendance is the silver bullet for all kinds of moral ills. This is an error that churches and Christians have made for some time. We’ve treated Christianity as though it was some great moral teaching, designed to modify and regulate behavior. Sometimes we get the cart before the horse and claim people can’t be a Christian unless they first conform to this moral code.
One of the phrases that has entered American culture that can be found anywhere from Veggie Tales to Relient K lyrics is the saying “We don’t smoke, we don’t chew, and we don’t go with those that do”. This phrase embodies much of the behavior control theory of church. Answer this open ended question: Good Christians don’t _____________.
I’ve asked that question in many places. Most of the responses are making fun of the past efforts we’ve made at regulating behavior. The responses include dance, smoke, drink, play cards, go to prom, give two armed hugs, etc. Once in a worship assembly someone responded with ‘go clubbing’. I had to tell them that was one I happened to agree with.
The behavior modification approach to church is very deeply engrained in church culture. In fact, the ‘Sunday school’ movement started as a behavior modification tool. Dating back to the industrial revolution in England, Sunday school was started to train children how to behave. There were no child labor laws at the time, and public education was neither mandated or available. This led to children working six days a week in factories and mines, feeding the machine that was the industrial revolution. On the seventh day… they ran crazy through the streets. Robert Raikes, editor of the Gloucester Journal, started the first Sunday school to address the problem of behavior in children.
The problem with the behavior modification approach to Christianity is that it adds an additional obstacle to assimilation into a local church body. A vast majority of the world outside of ‘the church’ doesn’t see any problem with smoking, drinking a beer, buying a lottery ticket, or watching rated ‘R’ movies. They enjoy dancing, both at parties and at dance clubs. They sleep in on Saturday and Sunday, unless they’re going to play golf or their kids are in a little league.
Despite the fact that ‘we’ do none of these things, we manage to encounter them and convince them that Jesus loves them. The Spirit moves within them and they give their lives to Christ. We tell them it means they have to give up sleeping in on Sunday mornings, then we hit them with the sucker punch… now they have to give up all of those other things that Christians consider culturally inappropriate.
There is a glaring deficiency (just one?) with this thinking that really irritates non-Christians/new converts to their very core. I know what I think it is, and I’ll share that with you in the next post. Until then, what do YOU think the deficiency is? Do you even think there is one?