Way back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was heavily involved with an older church and for what I knew then, I enjoyed every moment of it. I wasn’t particularly interested in what the Minister had to say, because a lot of stuff was spoken above my small head and I sometimes was hard of hearing, especially when sitting with other young men. I was more enraptured by my puberty and the feelings of intermingling with the opposite sex who were a centre piece or focal point of lubricious analysis. Although this was my main preoccupation, I do clearly remember the processes and procedures that consumed the church life and the Sunday services as well. On Sunday mornings, you had the procession led by the choir and then followed by the Ministers, while a glorious hymn was being sung by all. I usually sat beside the organ so I could feel the low notes blasting through the pipes and resonating within my bowels. I loved that moment; it was like one was caught up into the heavens for a moment. It was however a feeling of musical grandeur that enveloped me as I saw old men with all grayed hairs displaying ancient and modern tunes with pure delight, but all sounding so harmonious that I wished it wouldn’t stop. But I assure you, there was no substance to such reverie.
Then of course we moved into other parts of the church service that was full of religious swagger and pompous display of ecclesiastical mannerisms. Even the way the Ministers spoke, with a kind of slur and finesse that I could not associate with the natural speaking pattern of these men. This was even more pronounced in Pentecostal churches I attended. The use of high sounding rhetoric was a hallmark of good preachment. There was so much gymnastics involved in the process of delivering a simple message that by the time one sits through all that drama, you realize that you are full of entertaining memories than revealing convictions. It will take an extra effort of the believer to cut through the noise and hear the words of the King and feel the Masters heart beat. Sometimes, you are suddenly jerked back from a deep meditation by a delirious neighbor when he screams “preach preacher!” Who can blame anyone? Carefully crafted words, with poetic embellishments cannot but leave you enamored by such skillful usage of words. Again it takes much inner quietness to scan through these beauties to see what the good Lord is saying to one for that holy day.
Churchianics is the mechanisms through which many churches engage their members and keep them coming back. Because people are very transient in their faith and have itchy ears, churches these days must produce what is popular and sell that commodity for value. These days, it is also very fashionable to create an atmosphere that welcomes certain classes of people in society. Air-conditioned environments, with high-line sound systems, and a well manicured interior that is aesthetically pleasing. So much is spent in constructing amazing structures that compete with corporate building in major cities. I saw a church building somewhere in the US that is all glass, and at the main entrance a statue of the Man of God welcomes you to the presence of God. Some of these structures can pass for a stadium and the stage is crafted in such a way that the Man of God is the center of attraction. In fact, today, these phenomena are being studied at doctoral level; on how churches grow and by what mechanism they achieve this. Some have even proposed theories of church growth and things that churches can do that will be suicidal for its mission.
I was part of a church that spoke about building a new structure for about ten years. They argued in committees for such a long time on what the final structure should look like, that inflation increased the original cost almost three times. Finally, after agreeing, it took almost 5 years to put up the structure with so much donations and pledges going into the building that I shuddered. I was thinking to myself how much more we would have achieved in these 15 years if we had concentrated on building the kind of temples God lives in instead of the type that one earthquake, which respects no building, can topple in a second. Don’t get me wrong, putting up a structure is important, but can in no way be a substitute for what’s most important, building men. Every time I encounter the scripture in Ephesians 4: 12 – 16, I wonder what exactly the church on the earth is doing? The succeeding verse, 17 gives a strong warning: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind…” But it seems to me that this is exactly what the church is doing, walking in the futility of her mind. This is by no means a judgment, but a mere observation as so much contradiction lies between the pattern of scriptures and the practice of this day. In fact, Christ whom we all profess puts it this way in Matthew 8: 20 – “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” But we these days are interested in a place to lay our holes and nests of wonder, than to go the course of the Master who wandered in search of His lost Sheep.
This is the age of Churchianics, where we are preoccupied on how to make a name for the Church than to make a Church worthy of His name. We put so much effort in the unnecessary and leave out what the Master called “the weightier matters of the law.” I am yet to see where a church would raise funds for the poor the way it does for putting up its great structures. Yet James 1: 27 puts it this way: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” What exactly are we then practicing? As I attend church every Sunday, I get very unsatisfied with what I see and I have begun to ask many questions on the patter that our King requires of us. I am always mindful of what the Angel told the Laodicean Church in Revelations 3: 14-18. Jesus was not talking to unbelievers, but was sending a message to the Church. This church felt they were rich and had everything, but unknowingly they were naked before God. So we comfortably sit in out great structures and feel safe from intrusion, but before the eyes with whom we have to do, are we covered?
I was particularly moved by a Pastor in the city of Lagos who one day, after his congregation had successfully put up an amazing structure, told them that he was tired of coming to church with nicely dressed people; people who drive sweet rides, with a compact family, living in exclusive areas and mingling with the socially erect. He eventually told them that he wasn’t going to be preaching in the church building anymore, another pastor could take care of that. He started holding services in a location full of social miscreants and waifs and bringing so many of them to the knowledge of Christ and catering for their needs. Please tell me what location you think Christ would prefer to attend His service on that Sunday? Churchianics has overturned our spiritual values that we give more weight to the things that are taken lightly in the sight of God and we play down those things with an eternal value. We strive to build and then dedicate such structures with pomp and romp as though we could present a building to God as a reasonable sacrifice.
Like that Pastor, I am tired of the conveniences of our churches. This has bred so much lethargy and apathy in our spiritual experience and we are neither hot nor cold. We have given the world so much impetus to rate and berate the standards of God, while we steal worldly concepts and enact them within the Church. Even the way we manage our finances, are based on the worlds way of keeping records, that we even give people cards to record what they contribute, as though they were tax documents to present before you enjoy any social service (like burying the dead or getting married). Very sad indeed…
In the next part, I will look at those who I call “The Churched”. There are increasing numbers of such people, who are followers of a Church rather than followers of The Christ.