We Didn’t Like Church So We Went to Walmart

June 24, 2015

Dr. Braxton Hunter | Professor of Apologetics
Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh, IN

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Braxton Hunter on his website www.braxtonhunter.com and is used by permission.

Dr. Hunter is: former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), professor of apologetics at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana

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DISCLAIMER: A number of people don’t like, or go to, Wal-mart for a number of political and ethical reasons. If that is the case, then just insert Target, Ikea, gas stations or most any discount store in place of Wal-mart. If you think I’m making fun of, or criticizing, Wal-mart you should know I shop there regularly.

As I consider the reasons I most often hear for why “Jane Christian” doesn’t go to church, I have noticed that on those same premises “Jane Christian” should also never go to Wal-mart (or almost anywhere).  The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention met this week in Atlanta for their Summer State Leadership Meeting. As the new president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) I was in attendance. As I heard one report after another I was reminded of the fact that “Jane” (not a specific person, but a name I am using to indicate former churchgoers) is not coming to church and is prepared to tell you why. As we consider some of her reasons, I am asking you to notice how they would, were Jane consistent, lead her away from a number of other institutions (namely, Wal-mart). In fact, I almost titled this blog If you left church because of the hypocrites, then you’re a hypocrite to go to Wal-mart.

Church is full of hypocrites
Last week as I was preaching in Evansville, In, A woman made a prayer request which involved her son who doesn’t go to church because he alleges that it contains a number of hypocrites. Since this is one of the most popular claims “Jane Christian” makes lets take a look at it. If you put the argument formally it would look like this: 1) If hypocrites are at church, I won’t go to church, 2) Hypocrites are at church, thus 3) I won’t go to church. Indeed we can all agree with Jane that it is the case that there are hypocrites at church. there is no getting around it. I know some of them. I’ll go a step further. At some point I have probably been the church hypocrite. What is problematic is that one could make the same claim about people who shop at Wal-mart. Then Jane’s argument would just look like this: 1) If hypocrites are at Wal-mart, I won’t go to Wal-mart, 2)Hypocrites are at Wal-mart, thus 3) I won’t go to Wal-mart.So if Jane won’t go to church, and she is going to be consistent (not a hypocrite herself), Jane can’t go to Wal-mart. The only way to refute this is to show that there are not hypocrites at Wal-mart, or that there is something more valuable at Wal-mart which demands that Jane puts up with hypocrites in order to get it.

Well, unless plastic swimming-pools, pizza-rolls, Twilight posters, toilet-paper or fish-tanks are more important than the Creator of the universe and His community of believers then there is nothing better at Wal-mart that would demand Jane’s putting up with hypocrisy there if she doesn’t at church. It would also be silly to argue that there are no hypocrites at Wal-mart. After all, most of the hypocrites at church are also at Wal-mart. Furthermore, any place where you are likely to find a full-blown McDonald’s a stone’s throw from diet pills and workout equipment is bound to be a haven for hypocrites. So unless Jane wants to be a hypocrite herself then she must give up on the idea that she is justified in not going to church because of the presence of hypocrites.Yet, Jane has more to say.

I don’t fit in
She might claim that people at church are not enough like herself. That claim would look like this: 1) I don’t go where people are not like me. 2) people at church are not like me, thus 3) I don’t go to church. Naturally, premise two is correct. There are undoubtedly a number of people at church not like Jane. This is true no matter who Jane is. Why? Because there are all kinds of people at church. Here’s the problem. Just as before, the same argument Jane uses above could be ascribed to Wal-mart. So in order for Jane’s reasoning to stand, she must show that everyone at Wal-mart is like her (or at least enough like her that she is comfortable). However, this is absurd since the very people she is not enough like at church probably shop at Wal-mart.  Since Jane will likely be unable to demonstrate that she is more like these people than those in her church, she cannot use this argument without rendering herself a hypocrite. Yet, Jane has more to say.

Untrustworthy ministers
She could argue that ministers cannot be trusted because of moral failings. The argument would go like this: 1) If ministers are untrustworthy I won’t go to church, 2) some ministers are untrustworthy, thus 3) I won’t go to church.This argument has been all the rage for the past 25 or 30 years. And Jane is right that there are untrustworthy ministers in the world. Yet, if she makes this claims she cannot go to Wal-mart without being a hypocrite. First, she is much more likely to encounter an untrustworthy minister at Wal-mart than at her church. Why? Jane’s local church (depending on size) will likely have less than a handful of ordained ministers. If they are trustworthy then Jane can feel comfortable. On the other hand, every minister in the community, as well as ministers passing through the community, visit Wal-mart. This means that probabilistically there is a greater chance Jane will encounter an untrustworthy minister at Wal-mart than at her local church. So on the argument above, Jane should never go to Wal-mart.

A word should be said about the trustworthiness of ministers. I have now been in full-time evangelism for 4 and a half years. During that time I have only met one individual minister who was in any way untrustworthy. Even in his case, he has repented. The modern caricature of ministers as being money-hungry pedophiles will not stick. Don’t play into that lie. Are there individuals who fit the bill? Absolutely. And when they are found out, the church shouts the loudest.

In conclusion
It is true of a lot of believers that they will not go to church, but they regularly go to Wal-mart, Target, Kmart, malls, gas stations, Ikeas and a number of other places whose names could have been inserted in place of Wal-mart’s. Ultimately, since we have seen that their arguments will not work, there must be some other reason they resist the scriptural mandate to ” . . . not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. . .” (Hebrews 10:25). Perhaps it is because someone hurt their feelings. Indeed my feelings have been hurt at Wal-mart when I couldn’t fit into size 32? jeans. Maybe, they simply don’t want to spend the time, or don’t see the point. Nevertheless, I urge believers to share these thoughts with Christians who have drifted away and urge them with love. Making a clever point about how they are inconsistent will be meaningless if we do not show them that we care at least as much as the Wal-mart employees. The truth is that what God offers the world through the body of Christ is more valuable than anything at Wal-mart. It didn’t come at “everyday low prices” but Christ died to purchase it for Jane.

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rhutchin

“…her son…doesn’t go to church because he alleges that it contains a number of hypocrites.”

The idea behind hypocrisy is that of inconsistency. The complaint is that the person that one sees attending church on Sunday is not the same person that one sees at work on Monday. In large measure, this is not true of those who attend church – that person we see in the workplace is the same person we see in church. Are there hypocrites in church? Maybe, but very likely the person who makes that claim is deflecting – he is the hypocrite because he knows what he is and that he pretends to be someone else in church. People who complain about hypocrites in church are probably speaking, from personal experience, of themselves.

There are no hypocrites going to Wal-Mart. That person you see at Wal-Mart is the same person you will see every place else. What you see at Wal-Mart is what the person really is – we don’t see people at Wal-Mart pretending to be something they are not. Take a person out of Wal-Mart and put them in church and you may create a hypocrite, but how many people voluntarily put themselves tin situations where they would be hypocrites? For the most part, people are who they are, and they go to places where they are comfortable being themselves.

Is Dr. Braxton correct when he writes, “It is true of a lot of believers that they will not go to church,…” Maybe we should admit the obvious. Believers are prone to attend church barring unusual circumstances (e.g., illness). The person who claims to be a believer but does not attend church is the hypocrite – it is an unbeliever who finds it uncomfortable to be in church not because of the hypocrites he sees attending church but because he knows himself to be the hypocrite. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

Braxton Hunter

First, I should say . . . This was originally written several years ago and I am not the current president of the SBC evangelists.I have now been in evangelism 9 years. Second, I do believe there are hypocrites at Wal-Mart – of course there are. There are hypocrites all over the place. As far as the las paragraph (rhutchins) I suppose if we’re being pedantic about it, I could have put “christian” in the first line in quotes to clarify that the attitude is not a genuine Christian one, but . . . Since that was the point I was making throughout the ENTIRE article I didn’t think of it needing to be emphasized there. This is why I used the hypothetical “Jane Christian” elsewhere.

    rhutchin

    You begin, “As I consider the reasons I most often hear for why “Jane Christian” doesn’t go to church,…” There is an implication in that statement that Jane should go to church – that Jane is a member of the church having made an earlier commitment to Christ (based on your suggestion for putting Christian in quotes). You should have begun, “As I consider the reasons I most often hear for why people don’t go to church,…” Why imply, even if weakly and unintentionally, that we are dealing with a person that we should think ought to be going to church?

    Is it possible that there really are hypocrites going to Wal-Mart? The only reason to go to Wal-Mart is to buy stuff at low prices. Nothing hypocritical about that. Millionaires can rub shoulders with those on welfare and get along fine. A hypocrite is someone whose actions belie his claims. The person going to Wal-Mart is looking for low prices and and that is entirely consistent with the action of going to Wal-Mart. A person can complain about Joe being a hypocrite because they know how a person who goes to church should behave in public and they see Joe behaving like someone who does not go to church. On what basis would we label a person shopping at Wal-Mart as a hypocrite – are we saying that they are not really there to pay low prices for stuff? Just doesn’t sound like a good argument to me.

Braxton Hunter

Rhutchins, I like you and enjoy reading your posts, but frankly this strikes me as a bit reaching. Also, I do think that whether “Jane” is a Christian or not, she ought to go to church (albeit for slightly different reasons), and that her excuses for not going are poor . . . and that the same criticisms could be leveled against other places – such as Wal-Mart. That was the point of my article.

    Lydia

    I am going to take a different tact. There is a big difference to me whether hypocrisy is practiced in the Name of Christ or not. I have a bit higher standard for long time believers (are we not striving for maturity?)…especially those who teach…than I do for Walmart greeters. I find that when SBC churches operated in openness and transparency the instances of hypocrisy were fewer. Now, with closed systems and a few men who make all the decisions for everyone else, we are being fed a daily diet of the hypocrisy as it filters out. And it is uglier than anyone ever expected.

    The reason people are “done” has more to do with the above than with the average Joe having a beer outside of church. They are tired of the protection of child molesters, authoritarian pastors, rich pastors, membership covenants, pastors more interested in the speaking circuit, etc, etc. Frankly, people have good reasons for being “done” with institutions more interested in perpetuating their power than being a “light” to the world.

Max

For an eye-opener, take a look at the various reasons the “Faithful Dones” are leaving organized religion over at: http://thewartburgwatch.com/

It’s much deeper than “Hypocrites go there” or “I got my feelings hurt.” The “Dones” provide some tremendous insights regarding the ails of the American church … including great concerns about the New Calvinist movement.

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