Gimme That ‘Chuck E. Cheese’ Religion

You parents know what I'm talking about: "The place where a kid can be a kid." It's that place where a parent can let their kids run wild (and do they ever) while they watch in relative ease, with no fear of them running off…or at least not very far, anyway. Chuck E. Cheese is a place where the draw is supposed to be pizza, but any parent that has ever been there knows that the kids don't come for the pizza; that's just a bonus added on to the fun and games and the handfuls of tickets to be redeemed for prizes after it's all over. And therein lies the similarities to the religious offerings of many denominational churches today who claim to be a part of the New Testament church. Call it a ‘Chuck E. Cheese’ religion, if you will.

Any parent who has ever been to Chuck E. Cheese knows that you can tell your kids all you want that you're there for lunch (Sure, mom. Whatever you say. If you say we're here for the food, we're here for the food. Yeah, right.), but they know better. They're there for the fun and games and the potential prizes! You can tell the kids that you're going for the food. You can tell your neighborhood moms the same thing. You can even tell yourself that. Hey, you might even begin to believe it yourself after awhile. But it is not reality. If Chuck E. Cheese stopped serving food altogether, those kids might wonder for all of about 5 or 10 seconds — and then go back to playing in the ball pit or go back to those ‘Hungry, Hungry Hippos.’ Chuck E. Cheese would even admit that!

Why is it, then, that these denominations who have the same basic setup keep trying to convince themselves — and others — that such offers of food, fun, and prizes is only a "secondary" offering, trying to get us to believe that the "real" emphasis is Jesus Christ or God's word? Why is it that some so-called "churches" — those that place such a heavy emphasis in all their advertisements on the "youth activities," the "pre-worship dinners," and even the "Christian" awards for the on-site competitions — still make the claim that their primary purpose is bringing Christ to the lost world, when nobody could honestly say that with a straight face? Just like Chuck E. Cheese, if you took away those offerings of fun, food, and prizes, those crowds would dry up even faster than a wet paper towel in the Mojave Desert.

Let us understand one thing: Christ did not die so that His church would be the main source for fried chicken and chocolate pie, "Bible Trivia" competitions, or a chance for attendees to win some kind of gumball machine prize. I just do not see any hint of such activities or emphases anywhere in the New Testament church. What I see is a total emphasis on the death, burial, and resurrection of its Head and Savior, Jesus the Christ, and everything relating to the church somehow spiritually related. Did I miss those passages that spoke about the Ephesian "Family Life Center," the wonderful "Singles' Program" offered by the church in Antioch, or Paul's praise for the great increase in attendance at the Corinthian church because of those unbelievable spaghetti suppers? I don't think so! If so, could you please bring them to my attention?

Let's not get sidetracked into some discussions about what Christ did while on earth, either. I will readily admit that Christ did indeed feed many people while on earth (showing compassion for the true hunger many faced in His time), that He healed many from diseases (showing compassion for their immediate physical needs), and that He responded with compassion to the emotional needs of those who were hurting (the widow at Nain and Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus). All of those things Jesus did — and more — but why did He come to this earth? What did He say?

To Call Sinners To Repentance. (Mark 2:17) Jesus knew what would draw a crowd, and could have used any method at all to do so. The miracles He performed were undoubtedly unlike anything those people had ever seen, and they certainly drew crowds. But miracles were not to draw crowds, but to give incontrovertible evidence that He was the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30, 31). Yes, He fed people, but when He saw the crowds following Him after one such occasion, He said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." (John 6:26, 27) After a rebuke for their hard-heartedness, many turned away (v. 66). Jesus came to call them to repentance, not to fill their stomachs. Surely we could do nothing less!

To Seek And Save The Lost. (Luke 19:10) In all of His teaching, acts of compassion, and miracles performed, the point was to lead all men to faith in Him that they might be saved from their sin. John pointed to His manifestation to take away our sins as common knowledge (1 John 3:5), a point that has been lost on those who, it appears, believe that our purpose is to feed, entertain, and soothe the consciences of the masses. The purpose of these churches is not to save the lost at all, no matter how loudly they protest.

A few years back, a preacher friend of mine told of a woman he knew, who argued vehemently for the "coffee and donuts" method of saving souls, pulling him aside one evening to declare, "Brother, I believe we should use every possible method we can to save souls!" Much to her amazement, he replied, "I do, too!" But he went on: "But, donuts and coffee do absolutely nothing towards the salvation of even one single soul." He was right.

Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, to seek and save the lost, to die for our sins. The church that He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28) should be nothing less than a reflection of His very own purpose — not the place where all of our selfish, physical desires are fulfilled. He fed people, shared their emotional pains, and healed their ills, but in the end, He died a cruel death for our spiritual condition. Shame on those who act as if He died that we might stuff our faces, win some chintzy prizes, and have our adrenaline levels elevated as we are entertained and enthralled when we "go to church."

Let's follow the lead of our Master, shall we? Let's save souls.

By Steven Harper

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