At the Checkout of the Church

Nov 4, 2013 1125

supermarketSometimes my wife sends me shopping, and I am getting to know the lie of the land as I venture forth on my hunting and gathering expeditions. It’s every man’s dream, isn’t it, to go out and bring back food for the family?

Here in Australia we have a supermarket chain called Aldi. They are different to some other supermarkets because they offer one brand in each product line; for example, they offer only one brand of flour. Also, they don’t give you plastic bags. At the checkout, they just scan the items you are buying, and you have to put them into your own bags.

Last week I was doing some banking and I decided that I needed a few things from the supermarket. So here I was at Aldi, because I knew that my wife likes some of the products from Aldi. I hadn’t intended to be at Aldi, so I hadn’t brought any plastic bags. As I said, Aldi doesn’t give you plastic bags. I’m sure they have a very good reason for that. And to use an Aldi trolley, you have to put a coin in to release a trolley. I’m sure they have a very good reason for that as well. But I didn’t have a coin either. Aldi will sell you plastic bags, but I refuse to buy them. (Bear with me, I know I’m unique!)

Before I had finished doing my shopping there, I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to carry the things I wanted to buy at Aldi, so I only bought a few things, and paid for them at the checkout. Then I walked 5 minutes along the shopping centre to Coles.

Coles is a normal supermarket that offers plastic bags. There I was able to buy what I needed to buy comfortably, and I was able to put the few things I had bought at Aldi into the plastic bags.

I felt happy with Coles. I felt unhappy with Aldi. I felt like the people at Aldi didn’t want me to shop there. They spent large sums of money advertising and trying to get me to shop there, but then when you actually walk in through the doors they make it difficult for you.

I know that Aldi is highly successful. I know that they don’t offer plastic bags on the basis that it is good for the environment (the reality is it saves them a lot of money because their check-out process is much quicker). I know that they don’t let you use a free trolley (because it saves them money too). But the bottom line is that they made it hard for me to shop and I was upset, and I shopped elsewhere.

Christianity is highly successful. You will find many Christian churches that have been around a long time.  Many Christian churches spend vast amounts of effort and money, travelling land and sea to make one convert. On an economic basis, it costs many, many thousands of dollars in the west to baptise a single person into your church. Yet when you come into many churches, it seems that everything about them is designed to make it difficult for people, and even to drive them out – unless, that is, you are willing to conform to their strict view of how you should lead your life, how things should be done, and how you should organise your world. You have to think this way, dress this way, speak this way, eat this way, and on and on it goes.

Like Aldi, these churches have very good reasons for all of these things; but in the end, their rules and attitudes exist for the comfort of the church, rather than for helping people come to Jesus, and for the salvation of souls. A prevailing attitude of sanctified condemnation dominates the agenda, in spite of the language of love and Christianity.

I had walked into Aldi with high expectations, but I walked out feeling betrayed. Tragically, that has been the experience of millions with traditional church.

The whole focus of Jesus was on attracting people to him and to his kingdom. “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus also said, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37).

How is it that so many churches have got it so wrong? Perhaps it is because they have not understood the gospel, and they have not understood that their job description is to share the gospel. This is the gospel that announces that we are all accepted in Jesus because of His shed blood at Calvary, and that all we must do is to come to him in faith. This is the gospel that tells us that the result of salvation is that Jesus will put his Spirit into the lives of believers to lead us away from sin and towards righteousness. But so many churches replace salvation by faith alone with so many forms of salvation by works or salvation by knowledge or salvation by compliance! And then on top of that, so many churches try to define, control and monitor the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers! And of course they have lots of sensible sounding reasons for all of this.

The checkout should be a happy experience; because church should exist to make your spiritual walk easier for you. The checkout shouldn’t be an experience in which you leave feeling frustrated, depressed, and worse, vowing to never return.

But I am sure that my wife will send me to Aldi again at some stage. I will grin and bear it. I’ll just remember to bring my own bags.

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