Veneer: Seeing Past the Surface

I’m blessed and cursed by seeing past the surface and quickly getting to the heart of a matter. It’s not always accurate, but it has a pretty good track record. Within Christianity, the most troubling aspect that I’ve identified falls within the purview of the church’s ministry. Like a thin layer of fine mahogany overlaying flakeboard, the church has enough bible and doctrine on the top to hide its deeper shallowness.

Activity or Absolution

Being busy can be good. It can also be a distraction from the real issues that we face. Instead of dealing with the soul, our churches tend to offer more activities to channel our energies or more spiritual exercises to bolster our defenses. Neither is inherently wrong, but it risks confusing the church’s primary responsibility and mission.

People need forgiveness, hope, peace, and assurance. Yet, instead of proclaiming Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection on their behalf, we organize classes, meetings, events, and volunteer schedules. Activity may be helpful and healthy, but it can also be dangerous if conflated with works righteousness.

Law or Gospel

Pulling pages of Scripture out as if the Bible were a prescription pad, we tend to treat the symptoms of our underlying sickness instead of pointing people toward the only cure. We’d never use Pharisaical language, but our practical lists of how to better do our spiritual lives amount to serving up a steady diet of the law.

Meanwhile, the Gospel only gets lip service, instead of being delivered as the perpetual good news to reorient our hearts to believe in unbelievable mercy. The law is good, but as it exposes and kills us, the Gospel should immediately follow to do its resurrecting work.

Marketing or Ministry

How do we differentiate between marketing our church and doing ministry? I’m afraid much of what we do is sales while slapping on a ministry label. We lack the self-awareness to see how gimmicks have supplanted grace.

Social media analytics, church logo swag, and podcast downloads have replaced the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments as marks of ministry effectiveness. I don’t mean preaching the Gospel as holding the line for a set of doctrinal or moral convictions or administering the sacraments as fulfilling a quarterly, monthly, or weekly obligation to remember. I mean proclaiming Christ crucified and serving His body and blood to give grace, forgiveness, and peace for those in attendance.

What is the Difference

Churches papier-mâché Bible verses over their own works, modern philosophy, and pragmatic approaches. The difference goes deeper and is in the substance of our being and doing. While the top layer has scripture and the correct theological terms, below the surface, what we find is devoid of faith, the Gospel, and actual biblical warrant.

The difference is alluding to the Gospel versus proclaiming and offering the Gospel. Although we’d pass a theological pop quiz, how would we do on an audit of our church practices? Activity or absolution? Law or Gospel? Marketing or Ministry?

It’s time to peel back the top layer, think more deeply, and compare our practices with Scripture more fervently. We need to go beneath and see where the core of our belief rests personally and corporately. Christ’s cross is of such substance and power; it is ludicrous to base our hope or ministry on anything else. A veneer of the Gospel won’t do.

Photo by Salomé Guruli on Unsplash

Chris Dunn
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