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The Body of Christ and the Temptation of a Crowd

what is church?

Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a series exploring seven temptations of the western Church, based on Jeff Christopherson’s novel, “Once You See.”
(Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

Since it’s now 2023, most of us think that we’re beyond the old understanding of the “church” being a building. We are now spiritually sophisticated enough to understand that the “church” is Body of Christ. 

Or are we?

The questions that we routinely ask, and the answers we automatically give, seem to tell a very different story…

“Where’s your church?” she asked. 

“It’s right across from LA Fitness on Third. The old post office.”

“What time is church?” he asked. 

“9:00 and 10:30. 10:30 is usually better. The choir is already lined up at the Golden Corral.”

“What kind of church do you attend?” he asked. 

“It’s sorta non-denom. Solid biblical teaching with decent worship.”

“You like Pastor Harrington’s church?” she asked. 

“It’s pretty good. Better than most. But the children’s ministry is incredible. Isaiah and Rachel both love it.”

So, we have evolved. A smidge. We now think more broadly than a church simply being a dedicated religious building. We’ve seen churches meet in movie theaters, in high schools, in bowling alleys, and in renovated storefronts. For most of us, “the church” is no longer merely a sacred building. “Church” is now the thing that happens inside the building. 

Now, “church” is a worship service.

And with this more progressive understanding of “church,” we roll up our sleeves Sunday after Sunday to produce “church” for our followings. Instinctively we perceive the likes and dislikes of the faithful, and we valiantly try to major on the “likes,” while avoiding the “dislikes” at all costs. The better we are attending to the “likes,” the bigger the crowd. 

Consequently, the gift of prophecy is now the ability to accurately predict the sacred preferences of sheep. “Prophesy and deliver” has become the hallowed creed of the winners. Some have read the tea leaves to know that they are to “sound radically missional” but not to go as far as expect missional behavior. Others have learned that the key is hard-nosed biblical preaching that convicts just enough to pinch a cord of guilt, but not enough to remember past the nachos at the football game. 

And so, we deliver. Winners deliver consistently at a high level. Losers fumble by going too far in their congregational expectations, or not far enough in their prophetic performance. It’s a tricky balance to master.

Which leads us to the third temptation that is hamstringing the mission of Christ in the Western Church. Presentationalism: The Temptation of a Crowd. 

What we celebrate speaks loudly of our culturally inadequate understanding of Jesus’ church. “Our worship is inspiring, and our preaching is strong.” On the surface, this sounds laudable. But this is not how the world described the early church. Nor is it the way that the majority of the rapidly expanding Global Church would describe their own priorities. In both cases, there is no equating the Body of Christ with a Sunday service.