Country Club Christianity
By Fred G. Zaspel –
I have never been part of a country club, but I have visited a few with friends who were members. And the experience has always been a good one. Country clubs exist because people are social beings. We like to mix with other people, make friends, and we like to share common interests — whether golfing or other amusement or perhaps a particular social agenda. Of course for some, it seems, belonging to a particular country club is a matter of pride — there may be a certain prestige associated with the membership. But still, the country club can serve a good purpose. Friendships, amusements, activities, entertainment, social agendas — these are good things.
Even so, the country club is limited. Its purpose is not to address issues of eternal significance. It is not designed to help its members come to know God, find the forgiveness of sins, prepare for the final judgment, or provide instruction how to live faithfully before their Creator. These matters are simply not in its purview. It exists for other, more secular and temporal purposes.
There are ways in which the church and the country club are similar. Christians too are social beings, and we love to mix with other people, make friends, and share common interests. And this is one of the great values of the church. But of course a church which goes no further has missed the mark entirely. The church does not exist to address mere secular or temporal issues. The church exists in order to give a voice for God. Our whole reason for being is caught up in knowing, hearing, loving, serving, and speaking for God. This is what the church is all about.
You’ve probably heard the criticism leveled at some churches — “They’re just a country club church.” Perhaps you have said it about some churches yourself. Such “country club churches” indeed exist, and it is surely one of the worst indictments they could ever receive. And the symptoms of country club Christianity are obvious. A country club church exists for social and secular and temporal reasons. It has a religious flavor, to be sure. But its focus seems to be on other things. Evangelism, seeking to win the lost to Christ, is not high on its agenda. Prayer is something we do before the meal or the preacher does for us on Sunday morning. “Worship” is more entertaining than humbling. One church service a week is more than enough, and that (the Sunday “worship service”) must not go too long — this, after all, is just one slice of our very crowded life. The preaching must not be too long, nor must it be too personal — if the preacher dares to invade our space and meddle, he’s overstepped his bounds. He must never make us feel uncomfortable — his purpose is to make us feel good. And if anyone says “Amen!” (1Cor.14:16) during the sermon, he is probably a fanatic and will certainly get some funny looks from others in the congregation.
Country club Christianity. It’s not about God, really. It’s about relationships, entertainments, activities — a religious kind of secularism. A religion that is used perhaps to salve a conscience but a religion which makes no demands on life. A religion which is really very convenient and which exists precisely because it is convenient. But it is not a religion for discipleship. It is not a religion which calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and passionately pursue Christ.
Country club Christianity, in other words, is not Christianity at all.
Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.