DISCLAIMER: A number of people don’t like, or go to, Walmart for a number of political and ethical reasons. If that is the case, then just insert Target, Ikea, gas stations or most any discount store in place of Walmart. If you think I’m making fun of, or criticizing, Walmart you should know I shop there regularly.
As I consider the reasons I most often hear for why “Jane Christian” doesn’t go to church, I have noticed that on those same premises “Jane Christian” should also never go to Walmart (or almost anywhere). The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Conventionmet this week in Atlanta for their Summer State Leadership Meeting. As the new president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) I was in attendance. As I heard one report after another I was reminded of the fact that “Jane” (not a specific person, but a name I am using to indicate former churchgoers) is not coming to church and is prepared to tell you why. As we consider some of her reasons, I am asking you to notice how they would, were Jane consistent, lead her away from a number of other institutions (namely, Walmart). In fact, I almost titled this blog If you left church because of the hypocrites, then you’re a hypocrite to go to Walmart.
Church is full of hypocrites
Last week as I was preaching in Evansville, In, A woman made a prayer request which involved her son who doesn’t go to church because he alleges that it contains a number of hypocrites. Since this is one of the most popular claims “Jane Christian” makes lets take a look at it. If you put the argument formally it would look like this: 1) If hypocrites are at church, I won’t go to church, 2) Hypocrites are at church, thus 3) I won’t go to church. Indeed we can all agree with Jane that it is the case that there are hypocrites at church. there is no getting around it. I know some of them. I’ll go a step further. At some point I have probably been the church hypocrite. What is problematic is that one could make the same claim about people who shop at Walmart. Then Jane’s argument would just look like this: 1) If hypocrites are at Walmart, I won’t go to Walmart, 2)Hypocrites are at Walmart, thus 3) I won’t go to Walmart.So if Jane won’t go to church, and she is going to be consistent (not a hypocrite herself), Jane can’t go to Walmart. The only way to refute this is to show that there are not hypocrites at Walmart, or that there is something more valuable at Walmart which demands that Jane puts up with hypocrites in order to get it.
Well, unless plastic swimming-pools, pizza-rolls, Twilight posters, toilet-paper or fish-tanks are more important than the Creator of the universe and His community of believers then there is nothing better at Walmart that would demand Jane’s putting up with hypocrisy there if she doesn’t at church. It would also be silly to argue that there are no hypocrites at Walmart. After all, most of the hypocrites at church are also at Walmart. Furthermore, any place where you are likely to find a full-blown McDonald’s a stone’s throw from diet pills and workout equipment is bound to be a haven for hypocrites. So unless Jane wants to be a hypocrite herself then she must give up on the idea that she is justified in not going to church because of the presence of hypocrites.Yet, Jane has more to say.
I don’t fit in
She might claim that people at church are not enough like herself. That claim would look like this: 1) I don’t go where people are not like me. 2) people at church are not like me, thus 3) I don’t go to church. Naturally, premise two is correct. There are undoubtedly a number of people at church not like Jane. This is true no matter who Jane is. Why? Because there are all kinds of people at church. Here’s the problem. Just as before, the same argument Jane uses above could be ascribed to Walmart. So in order for Jane’s reasoning to stand, she must show that everyone at Walmart is like her (or at least enough like her that she is comfortable). However, this is absurd since the very people she is no enough like at church probably shop at Walmart. Furthermore, it is prohibitively unlikely that Jane is like each of these individuals photographed at Walmart:
Since Jane will likely be unable to demonstrate that she is more like these people than those in her church, she cannot use this argument without rendering herself a hypocrite. Yet, Jane has more to say.
She could argue that ministers cannot be trusted because of moral failings. The argument would go like this: 1) If ministers are untrustworthy I won’t go to church, 2) some ministers are untrustworthy, thus 3) I won’t go to church.This argument has been all the rage for the past 25 or 30 years. And Jane is right that there are untrustworthy ministers in the world. Yet, if she makes this claims she cannot go to Walmart without being a hypocrite. First, she is much more likely to encounter an untrustworthy minister at Walmart than at her church. Why? Jane’s local church (depending on size) will likely have less than a handful of ordained ministers. If they are trustworthy then Jane can feel comfortable. On the other hand, every minister in the community, as well as ministers passing through the community, visit Walmart. This means that probabilistically there is a greater chance Jane will encounter an untrustworthy minister at Walmart than at her local church. So on the argument above, Jane should never go to Walmart.
A word should be said about the trustworthiness of ministers. I have now been in full-time evangelism for 4 and a half years. During that time I have only met one individual minister who was in any way untrustworthy. Even in his case, he has repented. The modern caricature of ministers as being money-hungry pedophiles will not stick. Don’t play into that lie. Are there individuals who fit the bill? Absolutely. And when they are found out, the church shouts the loudest.
It is true of a lot of believers that they will not go to church, but they regularly go to Walmart, Target, Kmart, malls, gas stations, Ikeas and a number of other places whose names could have been inserted in place of Walmart’s. Ultimately, since we have seen that their arguments will not work, there must be some other reason they resist the scriptural mandate to ” . . . not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. . .” (Hebrews 10:25). Perhaps it is because someone hurt their feelings. Indeed my feelings have been hurt at walmart when I couldn’t fit into size 32″ jeans. Maybe, they simply don’t want to spend the time, or don’t see the point. Nevertheless, I urge believers to share these thoughts with Christians who have drifted away and urge them with love. Making a clever point about how they are inconsistent will be meaningless if we do not show them that we care at least as much as the Walmart employees. The truth is that what God offers the world through the body of Christ is more valuable than anything at Walmart. It didn’t come at “everyday low prices” but Christ died to purchase it for Jane.