As a prospecting pastor, nothing frustrates me more than a Christian who thinks church is an option, or they’re “too good” for church. If you think you don’t need church, that just means you need church all the more. I’m not going to discuss why the Christian needs to go to church here; you can read about that on my Writeous Christian blog. Instead, I’ll be addressing those Christians who treat church like a vending machine.
Treating church like a vending machine really comes from an absurd religion called moral therapeutic deism. If you’re unfamiliar with MTD, basically it’s a false religion where someone claims to be Christian and only goes to God for therapeutic purposes. You go to God in order to feel better about yourself. If you click on the previous blue link, Adam Ford describes it both adequately and humorously.
I may be wrong, but I’m convinced that MTD is the religion of most American “Christians” today. Either way, it exists among a large number of “Christians.” Whenever we feel bad about ourselves, we go to God or to church once a month in order to feel better about ourselves. Underneath that therapy, however, is to feel better about our sin. We justify ourselves by saying, “Man, I’ve been sinning really bad lately. I’ll go to church that way I’ll feel better about myself for going after hearing an inspirational message.” Stop that nonsense. In essence, MTD people go to church, grab what they need, and then leave until they need to be filled with warm, fuzzy feelings again, hence the vending machine image. Church is not the place to feel good about yourself. If I want to feel good about myself, I’ll just ask my dog if he loves me and watch him blindly stare up at me as he wags his tail ecstatically. Or, as C.S. Lewis wisely put it, “I didn’t go to religion [read: Christianity] to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Church is the place where the Holy Spirit convicts our sins and offers forgiveness. If you click on The Writeous Christian link at the beginning of this, one of the reasons I discuss in that article for why we need to go to church is what’s called Word and Sacrament. We go to church to hear the Law (the Holy Spirit convicting our sins) while He also speaks to us the forgiveness of sins in His Word (Gospel). We even physically experience this forgiveness when we’re baptized (or remember our Baptism for those already baptized) and when we receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 10:16).
Don’t get me wrong, we certainly receive comfort from our brothers and sisters in Christ and we are blessed that we comfort each other when we’re in bereavement (Matthew 5:4), but by no means is this equivalent to feeling better about ourselves. It is also true that God loves us no matter what, but that does not mean He approves of our sin. God may love you in spite of your sin, but that does not mean He’s a magical genie in the sky where He’ll booster your ego and tell you everything is okay—everything you want to hear. If God was a God who told us everything we wanted to hear, then His Word wouldn’t offend us and hurt our feelings when it convicts us of our sin.
God is not a therapist; He is our Father. As our Father, “the Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). In other words, He disciplines His children as our Father. Part of that discipline includes the Holy Spirit convicting us of our sin and offering the remedy of the Gospel of Christ in forgiveness, who enables us to practice the fruits of repentance (Luke 3:8-9). If you want to feel better about yourself, talk to your dog or a secular therapist. If you desire a God who is completely opposite of yourself like the humble tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), approach the throne of grace with the confidence we receive from our one Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) to receive God’s mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16).