I didn’t coin the term “churchianity”. It was in use by the end of the 18th century. And the phenomenon is far more ancient. We see it already in Isaiah 29:13-14. And our Savior created the opportunity to address it when he accepted an invitation to dine with a Pharisee. The story is found in Luke 11:37-54.
Pretending you are Pure
The Pharisee was shocked that Jesus didn’t ritually wash before he ate. The Pharisees were terribly concerned that they would not become ritually impure. But in their concern, not only did they add to the scriptures, laying extra burdens on those they taught, but they also missed the point of the laws that God gave.
The ritual purity laws found in the book of Leviticus are meant to teach the importance of integrity, wholeness, spiritual purity. Even a leper can be ‘clean’ if he is a leper from head to toe. But someone who isn’t quite all-leper nor quite non-leper is unclean. Similarly, a creature who lives in the water like a fish, but walks like an animal of the land, is an animal that lacks integrity, consistency, purity. Hence, such an animal (like a lobster) is unclean.
For the Pharisees to attend synagogue every sabbath, and to be extremely careful for external obedience, and yet never to address the heart, is for the Pharisees to miss the point of these laws entirely. Inside, they are no more righteous than the pagan. They’ve just cleaned up the outside. They are, in the image our Lord uses, like dishes that are carefully cleaned on the outside, but have the disgusting moldy leftovers growing inside.
They are playing a pretend game. But it’s a foolish game. For starters, it imagines that God, who created body and soul can only see the body. It’s also a foolish game, because it focuses more on what other people think than what their Creator and Lord thinks.
Their hypocrisy is all the more damnable because of their influence, their position as teachers in Israel. Others who follow them are led astray without knowing it. In this way, in the language of Jesus, they are like unmarked graves, which contaminate those who come in contact with them, even though they are completely unaware of the uncleanness they contract. Together with the scribes (or lawyers, as Luke calls them) they not only fail to enter the kingdom themselves, they also prevent their disciples from entering. Such men are to be avoided.
While churchianity is an ancient problem, it’s also a modern one. ‘Sunday Christians’ dutifully attend church, give to the offering, volunteer for Sunday School, etc. But somehow they never allow the gospel they hear week in and week out to make it into their hearts. In other words, the message they hear on Sunday is forgotten by Monday. They are the dead, empty shells of Christians. They have no life and vitality. Their hypocrisy is no less damning than outright rejection, perpetual hesitation or apathetic reception.
So, how do we avoid churchianity? By embracing the opposite of the Pharisees’ mistakes. Rather than being concerned with the opinions of men, rather than hiding our sins, let us confess them before God and men. Let us not pretend to be better than we really are, so that we are well thought of by men. Rather, let us embrace the standing that we have before God as a result of the finished work of Jesus Christ. And let us not be content with ‘going through the motions’ of the Christian life, focussing on rituals. Rituals are easy, sanctification is a struggle. Rituals are not wrong. God gave us rituals. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are very important rituals, that must not be done pro forma. It is important to go to church, not so much so that you can tick off the attendance box, but so that you can gather with other sinners-saved-by-grace to praise the God Who saved you, so that you can sit at the feet of the Lord who made you and redeemed you. Rituals are not wrong. ‘Mailing it in’ is. Pro forma participation is. If you want to avoid the pitfalls of churchianity, preach the gospel to yourself every day. As you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him. Remind yourself of how far short of the glory of God you fall, and that Christ died for sinners and that you are a son and her, and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Then your love for God will be genuine, and your obedience will flow from a desire to please Him, not from a desire to avoid making Him angry, and least of all from a desire to impress other people.