Super Bowl commercials are embedded into the fabric of American society. For some people they are more important than the game itself, and nearly as important as the halftime show. We treat them like mini programs, and talk about them on Twitter and Facebook and replay them on YouTube (see my favorite one below).
The commercials, like the products themselves, are up for scrutiny. Which ones made us laugh, which ones made us cry? Which ones kept us entertained and which had us nodding our heads in that knowing way as we recognized ourselves or our cousin or mother-in-law? We are the judges, sitting back and evaluating.
Whether we actually become a consumer of the product is lost in the buzz about the commercial. Surely, the PR execs seem to say, the greater the commercial buzz, the greater the sales . . . eventually.
In many ways, it seems western culture treats church much like advertisements for God. Perhaps Easter is the equivalent of His Super Bowl, or maybe Christmas is. At any rate, whenever customers stray into church, whether once a year or once a week, we evaluate. Do we like the music? Is it contemporary enough? Do they play it too loud? Is the lead singer good? And how about the speaker? Were his jokes funny? Did he put anyone to sleep or was he interesting enough to hold our attention?
That idea about church isn’t anything close to what the Bible describes.
For one thing, “church” never referred to a building or to an activity. The Church is the collection of believers in Jesus Christ. When those first believers came together, they prayed or sang or listened to the reading of a letter or heard from a visiting apostle. Some within the Church taught, others praised God with heavenly languages while still others interpreted for the rest. They served a meal, so there were those who waited tables.
Did they evaluate what took place? Some in Corinth criticized Paul for not speaking forcefully as he did in his letters, and Paul himself said he wasn’t eloquent in speech, so I have to believe there was some critique of the leaders. There were also factions–some saying they were in Paul’s camp, others saying they were in Peter’s, and still others, in Apollos’s. So, yes, I would say they did critique performance–and were reproved for it.
There were also false teachers in those early days, so Jude and Peter and Paul, to a lesser degree, warned the Church to be alert, to be discerning–to stay critical, as least about the message.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a different approach to their gatherings than there is to church today. Perhaps some of those first century believers who had come out of the legalism of Judaism went to church as if it were a requirement. Perhaps some professing Christians today do the same. But it seems more likely that people in western culture are picking church as an optional activity. Do we want to stay home and sleep in? Watch sports? Read the paper? Play a round of golf? Have brunch at our favorite restaurant? Or go to church?
And if we decide on church, we sit back and evaluate the performance. If it’s good, we might give God a try–or at least come back another day. Did those first century believers shop for what to do on the first day of the week? Perhaps. The writer of Hebrews told believers not to stop getting together. For the most part, though, spending time together seemed as if it was vital to them.
They didn’t have their own Bibles, didn’t have a dozen other churches to choose from. If they were serious about Jesus as the Way, then they gathered together. Church was not so much a commercial for God as it was a celebration of Him.
In the twenty-first century western culture, perhaps we need to do less evaluating and more participating.