Updated: Sep 24, 2019
Here are two different scenarios that many Christians sometimes find themselves within when they start attending a new church. Both start with the facade of grace, then slowly, as the unaware Christian becomes more and more ensconced within the church, that facade deteriorates into something much less gracious.
Scenario #1: False Advertising
How many times have you heard a church claim salvation is by grace through faith alone? If you've attended many Evangelical or non-denominational Christian churches in your life, you've probably heard it thousands of times.
You try out a new church, you hear them preach the grace of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and you decide, "That's Biblical and it's what I believe, so I will attend this church."
Then you start attending on Sundays until you're pressured into joining a Small Group, where your relationship with Christ can be nurtured and your relationships with other God-loving Christians can begin.
You go to the Women's Group, everyone seems so nice and loving. Everyone begins talking about their struggles over the past week, their faith, they ask questions, and your initial shy and closed off demeanor begins to relax into a much more comfortable and open one.
You're asked how long you've been going to "the church," and then asked how much you decided to start giving as a new member, because "I'm just curious to see if anyone could possibly pay less than I did when I was a new member *giggle*."
In your naive honesty and openness, you say you don't believe in paying tithes. A collective gasp surrounds you. You are then given a lesson on why you must give to the church in order to be considered a member, in order to be a good, faithful Christian, and in order to protect yourself from greed and selfishness.
You feel uncomfortable. Your wall goes back up, and you retreat in silence back to the shy woman you were when you first entered the group. If you thought disagreeing with the church's position on tithing was going to get you into trouble, you never would have said anything about it in the first place.
The women are satisfied with their rebuke of your misguided beliefs, and the discussion switches gears. The Small Group leader opens her Bible to this week's verses, which are in 2 Corinthians chapter 6. She reads aloud from verse 10 until she reaches verse 14, where her tone changes and emphasis are put on the words very obviously.
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"
She looks up from her Bible and peers around at the other women in the group. "Who here has an experience with being pressured to socialize or fellowship with an unbeliever? What did you do, or say? Did you cave, or stand your ground in the Word of God?"
You swallow hard. Beads of sweat begin to form on your temple. Your pray. God, please don't make me talk about this.
One by one the other women begin bragging about how they've been approached by a friendly atheist or agnostic at work or school or some other place with an invitation to the movies, to have a drink, or to attend a party. Various accounts of kindly saying no or openly explaining to the unbeliever that they do not fellowship with non-Christians ensues. Then, everyone looks at you.
"What about you? Has this ever happened to you before, and what did you do?" the Group leader asks you.
"Uh...um...I can't remember ever having something like that happen to me."
"Really?" she asks. "Never?"
You smile nervously.
Your husband is agnostic. Your best friend is agnostic. For Pete's sake, your entire family consists of agnostics, atheists, and even the occasional Pagan. You love them all, and "fellowship" with them all.
"No," you insist.
The women stare at you, unconvinced, but then switch gears again. They begin talking about their marriages, and you take a deep breath of relief, then suck it back in when you hear your name.
"How is your husband liking the Men's Group?" someone asks you.
"Oh, uh...he doesn't go to the Men's Group," you answer.
"What? Why not? Didn't he sign up when you signed up for the Women's Group?"
"No, he didn't come with me on Sunday."
"Why not? Doesn't he go to church?"
"Uh...no, not really," you finally answer.
"Why not? Isn't he a Christian?"
For a moment you just sit as still as you can manage. Maybe if you don't move, they won't be able to see you and they'll leave. Like playing dead, you think. Then, Screw it. I'm never coming back here again anyway. They already judge me for not paying tithes. May as well embrace it.
"No, he's agnostic," you admit.
Another collective gasp.
"Why did you marry a non-Christian?" the Group leader asks.
You stare at her with an expression that's like a mixture of disbelief, confusion, anger, and humiliation. What can you say? You don't know what to say. You say nothing. Just stare at her with flushed cheeks and pursed lips.
You've just been humiliated in a group of complete strangers. Christian women who tout grace and love, but have already judged and scolded you for disobeying the unspoken laws of their particular brand of Christianity.
What happened to the grace that was talked about at the Sunday sermon, or on their website, and in their pamphlet when you first walked into the church?
Scenario #2: All The Sparkly Things
You and your family have just moved to a new city, left your beloved home church behind, and you're on the hunt for a new one. You can't stand the legalistic demands that more religious denominations put on Christians, so you know that you're looking for a non-denominational or Evangelical church because they're usually much more focused on grace.
You do a search in your area but there's only one church that fits your criteria within a ten mile radius, and it appears to be very popular. Hundreds of 5-star reviews on Google, their Facebook Page, and Yelp.
"Wow, popular place," you say aloud to yourself.
Their website touts a strong focus on the grace of God through Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the glorifying God.
"Okay," you say. "That sounds good. Let's give 'em a try."
Come Sunday morning, you gather your troops, load up in the mini-van, and bolt for your first Sunday at what you're praying is a good church because there are no others close enough that look any good to you.
As you approach the church, your husband's jaw drops and you all gape at the wonder that is this supposedly Jesus focused church.
"Oh, my God," hubby says.
"Is that the church?!" your boy shouts from the backseat with his eyes wide.
"Uh...I guess so," you say with a sigh.
Hundreds of cars fill the Walmart sized parking lot while more line the neighborhood streets beyond. You and your family sit idling in the street behind a long line of cars, waiting to get into the parking lot.
Hubby gives you the same look he makes when you take too long in the grocery store and he just wants to get the heck out of there already. Time to make your case.
"Okay, listen. It's the only church that might work for us around here. Let's just give them a chance. Maybe they're so popular because they really are great. It's just one Sunday," you plead. "If the sermon is good, we should give them a chance. It might be worth it."
Hubby mumbles something under his breath that you can't really hear as he finally pulls into the parking lot, but you're pretty sure it was something like, "We're not going to a rock concert every Sunday."
You file out of the van with your husband your two little boys, then follow the masses of people that enter the factory-sized building, where bright-eyed and friendly looking people greet you at the door with a pamphlet about the church as well as notes for the sermon. They have blue shirts with the church's logo and name on them, as well as a badge that says "Guest Support".
"Oh my God," hubby says again. But you soldier on.
Your husband puts on his "Don't bother me" face to the greeters, not even stopping, but you smile and take the pamphlet with a friendly "Hello," before you enter the church building.
It's a zoo. The last time you'd been around this many people all at once was at a Mariner's game. People going in all different directions, but you manage to find the sign that leads down a hall to the Sunday School classes for the boys.
Everything looks amazing. There are toys for the younger ones and tables full of activities and things for the older kids to do. Everything is so organized, and the friendly lady that checks in your kids to the class has a neat computer program to keep track of their dozens of Sunday School attendees without confusion.
"That's cool," you say to your husband as you head back to the main lobby. He rolls his eyes and grunts.
"I don't care if it's cool," he replies. You roll your eyes back at him and nudge him in the shoulder as you reach the...the...well, you don't really know what to call it, but it looks like a concert hall.
The hundreds of people have all gathered into the...hall...and found their seats. You guesstimate that there must be at least a thousand people there when someone walks by with one of those blue shirts on.
"Would you like a coffee before the service starts?" she asks you.
You and your husband give her a look of bewilderment.
"Uh...a coffee?" you query.
"Yes, we have coffee in the main lobby. I see you're settled in here though so I just wanted to offer to get you one if you'd like," she smiles.
"Oh...uh..." you look at your husband, whose eyes couldn't get any further into the back of his head at this point. You shake your head no with a friendly smile, and she heads to the people sitting right in front of you with the same offer.
"Are we at a church or a restaurant?" you say.
Soon the worship service starts, complete with a laser light show, a professional Christian rock band, and a lead singer with a voice that belongs on America's Got Talent. You can feel your husband's annoyance with every sparkly thing that enters his vision, and you're still hoping that the sermon might somehow make up for all of this.
The offering plates are passed around, the boxes for giving after the service are pointed out, and there's even a card in the back of every chair for people who want to give using their credit or debit card. As the plate passes you and hubby, you get looks and glares for not putting anything in.
Then the adored and loved pastor gets up on the stage. Jesus is mentioned one or two times. The Bible is quoted three or four times out of context in order to support a self-help topical series that the pastor has come up with, and you'd brought your Bible for nothing. The verses quoted are put up on a projection screen for your convenience.
The sermon's main message, while mentioning God, the Bible, and Jesus, has nothing to do with any of them in the end. You feel cheated, while everyone around you is mesmerized and googly-eyed at all the sparkly things.
What happened to all that talk of Jesus on the church's website? You thought they were obsessed with Him the way they pasted His name all over their Facebook Page. What about the message of God's grace? You didn't come to church to learn how to improve your self-esteem. You came to hear the Word of God and learn about your liberty in Christ.
Many churches don't actually believe in salvation by grace alone. They believe in works, but whether or not it's Biblical, they claim grace while pushing works. Why? Because of you. To get more members. They lure you in with the message of grace, and once they've got you, they trap you in the bondage of religion and law.
Other churches use the name of Jesus and the grace of God to turn their church into a profitable business. It's a facade to get more customers, to make money off the church, and replace the truth of the Word, the glory of God, and the liberty of Christ into a performance and a show.
These two scenarios are pretty adjustable in reality. Sometimes a church will preach grace but truly be both interested in the law AND in making a profit on the church. Some churches preach grace, don't preach tithing, but still burden their members with other laws and rules. Some churches preach grace and truly are gracious in virtually every way, except when it comes to money.
The point is simple though. All of these churches are putting up a facade of grace, Jesus, and the Bible for one reason: to lure in the gracious, giving Christian. Whether it is to put you into religious, legalism and bondage or to open your wallet makes little difference. Both are sinister and disgraceful intentions, and you, the Christian churchgoer, can stop it.
Check your church, and make sure they're not doing it to you.