Is Christianity for Members Only?

Scot McKnight, author of The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, wrote a recent article that appeared on Huffington Post’s Religion section entitled Christianity as Country Club.

Members Only?

He begins by saying he believes Christianity sometimes presents itself as a country club, where there is “members only” access, and the members are those who are saved, or have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The non-members, those who are visiting, can sense that they don’t belong to the exclusive club.

You know what it’s like. You show up to the church and while some might say hello, most of them turn around to get a glimpse of you from a few pews over. After the service you try to make small talk and they bring up how much those people need God (of course they’re referring to the same people that you were just last week).

But, as he points out, it’s not necessarily a conscious decision on the part of the church.

“It presents itself this way even when it doesn’t want to, and sometimes it doesn’t even know it.

This culture of exclusivity creates what is known as a “salvation culture,” which is explained by the author:

“This message of salvation is that God loves us but God is holy so sin must be dealt with; Jesus Christ died for us and through his death salvation can be found, but to find that salvation one must trust in Jesus Christ and his death. Those who do are both “in the club” and will spend eternity with the club members with God in heaven.”

The Gospel culture

While this is certainly part of the story of the Gospel, it’s not quite complete. As McKnight puts it, “It is a good message, but it is not the whole message.”

Regardless of whether or not the church knows it has created this culture, it is not the Gospel culture that is represented in the Bible.

“I want to suggest that the country club image for the Christian faith, its salvation culture, no matter how historic and vital to the Christian church’s identity, inadequately frames what might be called its true ‘gospel culture.’ If a salvation culture builds a country club, a gospel culture creates a story — one with a beginning in God’s shalom [or peace] and one that aims at God’s shalom. And a gospel culture is not identical to a salvation culture.”

I think this distinction is more tangible than people realize most of the time. We perceive it very easily when it’s present. But the worst thing about it is that those “non-members” aren’t going to bring it up – they’re just going to walk away and never come back. The Christian “gospel culture” should be all about inviting those people into the club, not making them feel excluded.

Jesus himself took on this culture during his ministry, saying

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt 9:12).

I like how Brennan Manning puts it as well in The Ragamuffin Gospel:

“The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.”

How would a Gospel culture look?

“A gospel culture focuses on the Jesus Story, the Story that God is at work among us — the incarnation. In other words, the essence of a gospel culture is a Jesus-shaped and Jesus-centered Story of God at work among us. It is not just a country club, but the Story of life-giving, self-sacrifice and hope that God can take ruins and create monuments of love, peace, justice and joy — and Jesus told us that Story is now taking place among us.”

A gospel culture finds its true fulfillment in Jesus’ life, and inviting others to share in it. Christian culture was never designed to be for the righteous, because they don’t need to be saved – sinners do.

Have you ever felt excluded?

Have you ever felt like the outsider in a church? Do you sense this in the world around you? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

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