Don't Say That in Church, Johnny

Like perhaps some of you, I grew up learning that church was "God's house."

Some of us kids could be found laughing or running, maybe someone had just flung a booger, or maybe my friend David had just gotten put in the closet by our Royal Ambassadors leader for talking (yeah, he actually put people in the closet).  Whenever an adult reminded us that we were in God's house, many of us would get this pitiful, momentary look of guilt on our face as if to say, "Oh yeah, that big guy in the sky is watching."

But this isn't just something you hear in the children's wing.  I occasionally hear it said between two adults:  "Don't say/do that; you're in church!"

I'm going to let you in on a little secret:  it irks pastors when people say that.  Of course, I do appreciate the sentiment, and you can't knock the effort to be respectful in church.  But it bothers me every time I hear it, and there are two reasons:

First, it often represents a reduction of Christian morality to the trivial.  You may have heard the old, humorous summary of Southern Baptist morality:  "Don't smoke, drink or chew, and don't go with girls who do."  I'll be in social situations where people will use profanity or crude humor, and upon realizing that I'm present or that I'm a minister, they apologize.  I don't care!  OK, I'd prefer my kids don't learn it, but I could care less about trivial morality and silly vices.  Cuss all you want to.  I occasionally use it in private myself.  The writers of the Bible were interested in a much higher, more consequential view of morality.  These concerns about language, movie ratings, gambling, etc. are more a product of modern sensibilities than a serious discussion of biblical morality.  When looking at the Bible as a whole, its two greatest concerns - by far - are idolatry (Exodus 20:22-23; Deuteronomy 4:15-19; 2 Kings 21:1-16, Romans 1:21-22; etc.) and injustice (Exodus 23:1-9; Leviticus 19:15-18; Isaiah 1:16-23, 10:1-2; Amos 5:21-24; Matthew 23:23; James 1:27; etc.).  Much of the Bible would suggest that it's more of a sin to be a pew-warmer than it is not to know the rules of etiquette of your local congregation.

But the second reason that cleaning up ones act for church bothers me is because it implies that faith only claims a small corner of our lives.  I often want to say, "Does God only watch when you're in church?" God's claim on our lives is all-encompassing (Deut 11:18-20; Luke 9:23-26).  Part of me would rather have it the opposite way:  I'd rather people show their bad side in church and lead by example in the rest of their lives.  God has called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-16).  As in some of the examples above, scripture says repeatedly that God has no interest in our ceremonial religion if it doesn't manifest itself in transformed living every day.

And this is part of what it means to be "missional."  We must see God and faith not as one item on a list of things we do but as the center and driving force of everything we do.  "Church" is the people (Greek: ekklesia, "the ones called out").  As such, "church" may or may not happen on Sunday morning, and it's not a place you go.  It's who you are, and why you are.  "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matt 18:20).  How we behave "in church" is of little consequence other than perhaps social standing or avoiding being grounded for the week.  The question is, what does it mean for you and I to be the people of God at our jobs?  With our family?  As we raise our children?  As we schedule and prioritize and budget?  As we go through the check-out line?  As we go to the voting booth?  Does my faith inhabit an isolated corner or does it inform each aspect of my life?

The God who watches and smites whenever a careless word is spoken in "His house" ... that God is too small.  God's claim on our lives is all-encompassing.  Remember that song, "He's got the whole world in His hands."  God wants to use you and I to redeem that whole world, displaying God's love and grace wherever we are.

Where do you see God in your daily life?  Is there a part of your life that's hard to connect with your faith?  In what way?

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