When I say “the church,” what do you think of? I think that, for most of us, we picture our local congregation, or perhaps the building itself. We know that the building isn’t the church, but because of strong associations, it takes some conscious effort to really picture us, the people, as the church and the body of Christ. Think broader still. How do we as one local church relate to other churches? Are we not all the church? As in the body of Christ? All of those who believe and follow our Lord and Savior? So when I say I had a dream about the church, I should probably be more specific: the dream, the nightmare, was about the American Church, the believers who make up Christ’s body here in the U.S. and are tasked with being salt and light in our nation.
Before describing my dream, I must assure you, this was a real dream. I experienced it and woke up after having it in the middle of the night. I awoke with instant understanding of what was happening in the dream. I won’t confidently claim that the dream, or nightmare, had divine origins, but I won’t rule it out, either (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17). It’s very reflective of what I already feel to be true and of the concerns I share with God in my prayer life.
In the dream, Heather and I were traveling. While we were on our trip, we were excited to go and visit a church that we had not been to in some time. This is true to life, as whenever I possibly can, I enjoy catching up with Christians with whom I use to fellowship. I do not understand, not going to church while away from home. If it is possible to go to a church that you know is doctrinally sound, even on vacation, I want to do so. Church isn’t something that “takes” my time, in a negative sense, but instead energizes me for the rest of the week, so even if I’m not here, I hope to be assembled with fellow believers on Sundays (Hebrews 10:25).
In the dream, we arrived in a parking lot that was massive. It reminded me of the parking lot for a church outside of Birmingham Alabama, Briarwood Presbyterian Church. We had attended two different youth-oriented apologetics conferences there. It was clear that this wasn’t just a church building and a parking lot, but it had a true campus with multiple buildings. Briarwood Presbyterian, the real world one, had its own youth “Barn” that was far bigger than our entire church, and while I didn’t see that exact layout in the dream, it had the same immense feel.
After we pulled into the massive church, we walked our way to the entrance, and as we entered, we weren’t greeted by anyone. People were around, but no one spoke to us. We made our way to the second floor, looking for our favorite Sunday School small group. We were disappointed to discover that it wasn’t meeting and went to the cafeteria.
In the cafeteria, we spotted people we recognized, and they were from multiple past churches we had attended; some we had never seen in real life, to my knowledge at least, but we knew them in the dream. A friend motioned us over, and we sat on a foldout, kid’s style cafeteria table, with little round seats. It was exactly the type of situation I had in my own elementary and high school experience, as well as those I had seen in churches that had rented from schools. It was one of many in large rows all over the giant cafeteria; there was loud chatter everywhere, but none of it was discernable.
I asked about our old small group, and someone told me that they didn’t do that anymore. The material was too hard, and instead, they met in the cafeteria. It was more “popular.” So, we stayed with them to catch up. The “class” began with someone handing out materials.
To my astonishment, class was just a few rounds of Uno, followed by a kid’s craft. There was yarn and a cardboard cut-out, that we were supposed to “sew” a pattern in with the yarn. I can’t recall the pattern. While we did that, some elderly lady I had never seen, with her hair up in a bun, and wearing an incredibly old-fashioned dress, droned on in a low mumble that I could not comprehend. I did hear those sitting next to me extol the teaching method. “So easy to understand,” my friend stated while someone else joyously shared, “I feel so blessed.”
After the Sunday school “class,” we were set to go to the auditorium and hear the sermon. For some reason, rather than follow the crowds, we got lost. I found myself in an arcade. No joke — the church had an arcade. I was amazed at how many shinny new arcade cabinets were there, all flashing bright demos and sounding off laser sounds and casino machine-like metal clinks to simulate the sound of money clinking together.
Despite the distraction, I was trying to find my way to the sanctuary. I wanted to get in my seat and was looking forward to hearing a sermon. No matter which way I looked, I couldn’t find my way. I somehow got separated from Heather, and then I found myself by some sort of carnival game that involved a Jetski on a small track, and large foam building blocks that were built up and surrounded the track. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and while it looked somewhat fun, it did not look stable.
I found myself drawn to a crack between two large foam pieces that were supporting the track. At first, it was just a desire to investigate the space, to see if there was something on the other side. I put my hand towards the opening, as it seemed to widen. As I inched closer, I was suddenly, violently sucked inside, and the thing closed around me.
I found myself suffocating and thrashing wildly. I managed to force myself out the other side, only to find people waiting there. “Oh, he got stuck,” they said. It sounded like they were dismissive of me. I didn’t feel helped.
I continued my journey and went from room to room, but I never could find the sanctuary. The name of the room, the location of the room, didn’t matter. I just wanted to find people assembled to hear God’s Word taught.
I met up with Heather in the lobby, and other folks were nearby smiling and happy, walking around and talking with one another. The service had apparently ended quickly, before I could even find it. Heather couldn’t find it either. We left, still unsure where the sanctuary even was, and couldn’t recall hearing a single thing about God or the Bible while there.
The meaning was obvious. The American church has become focused on amusement. I use that word carefully and with the intent to remind you of its origin: a-muse-ment, a (without) muse (thought.) Entertainment, in and of itself, isn’t sinful; after all, being more boring doesn’t mean being more holy. We don’t want our church to be boring. In fact, we should have passion and excitement about God, Who He is, and what He has done for us. To quote a friend of mine, reflecting on the goodness of God, “If that doesn’t light your fire, then your wood is wet.” That’s why I don’t mind if our churches entertain a bit. We should strive to make the most impact during our time with those new to our church services (Colossians 4:5), but we shouldn’t be thoughtless.
Deep lessons were too hard for the church in my dream. Feelings and fun were the focus. After waking up, I felt — and still feel — that it is, sadly, a perfectly accurate reflection of much of the American church.
Having spent two years as a full time apologist (who is one who engages in apologetics), case making and critical thinking for the cause of Jesus, I am painfully aware of why young people leave the church. When those who have doubts ask hard questions, many whom they ask fail to follow the command of 1 Peter 3:15 and are not ready to give an answer to those hard questions and explain why they believe what they do. Many doubters are given pat answers like “just have faith.” The world doesn’t even define faith — a continued trust based on evidence — the same way the Bible does, and instead paints it as “blind” or pretending to know something we don’t. It’s automatically a negative in today’s culture.
The dream church might really be a “dream church” to some. They were wealthy; they had plenty of people present. But how long would that last when prosperity was gone? When they need to be soldiers for Christ in a cultural battleground and train their young people to survive in a hostile world? If individuals were only there to see one another, feel good and have fun, what would happen to that place when something more fun came along?
I passionately believe in the phrase, “Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.” Recognizing the consequences of that truth play out in society over and over again, I plan for my next several newsletter articles to address the bad ideas that have lead the American church, the church of the Western world, to resemble what I think is a nightmare. Our churches are often shallow. We often do not love God with our mind (Matthew 22:37). We often feed the enemies within, and I think it can have disastrous consequences.
In the meantime, I pray that you find DEPTH at the Fountain.