By Weylan Deaver
Bar Church is the brainchild of Southern Hills church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. The sobriquet was chosen because, starting March 24, 2013 some of their members will begin conducting worship services at a local bar called “Memories” each Sunday morning at 11:30. Both Southern Hills and the new Bar Church have websites (quoted in italics below) extolling the virtues of such a novel approach. Their online list of questions and answers is revealing, if not disturbing.
Southern Hills plainly states, “Bar Church is a satellite location of Southern Hills, and therefore under the oversight of our eldership.” Explaining why a bar was chosen as the right location, they say, “Many people believe in God — or are curious about God — but have legitimate barriers that keep them from traditional churches. By meeting in a bar, we hope to remove some of those religious barriers and free people up to connect with God in a nonthreatening location.” Elsewhere they add, “We believe it’s something Jesus might do.” Really? Perhaps Southern Hills’ concept of “traditional churches” is not the same as the New Testament’s definition of congregations of the Lord’s church. It is difficult to imagine the Savior suggesting that some folk have “legitimate barriers” keeping them away from his church. It is just as hard to imagine Paul encouraging the saints at Corinth to consider assembling at the pagan temple of Aphrodite on Sunday mornings, among the cult prostitutes, in order to be gathered with as many sinners as possible when they worship God.
Furthermore, since when did Sunday worship services become all about evangelism? Worship is about saints glorifying their God — not an outreach effort for sinners. The latter has its place, but we have too long emphasized the lost during Sunday assemblies, at the expense of worship’s true purpose. Worship services are, primarily, for the saved.
Nevertheless, Southern Hills explains, “We wanted to locate Bar Church in a bar in order to place ourselves in a position to be in relationship with people who: 1) were fed up with church; 2) had dim views of church and especially church people; 3) perceived themselves to be unworthy or far from God.” Doubtless, people in those categories need the gospel, as do all. But is it really the purpose of Sunday worship that a Christian seek to surround himself with those who cannot stand the Lord’s church, and then try to encourage them to worship with him? Does Bar Church realize the lost are not even qualified to worship in Spirit and truth? Yet, their goal is to offer denizens of the local bar “carefully chosen secular music along with the singing of hymns and praise songs, prayer, sharing the Lord’s Supper, the collection of an offering, and the presentation of the Gospel.” Though there is nothing sacred about a church building, there is something very wrong about endorsing the unholy. And, while God never told early Christians to go into an idol’s temple and serve pagans the Lord’s Supper, God did say, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you” (2 Cor. 6:17, ESV).
It gets worse. Southern Hills states, “Due to the fact that we anticipate that many of those who attend Bar Church will have no background in acappella singing, we will use instruments for the purpose of making the singing of hymns less threatening and providing a musical sound path for all to follow.” What Christian even thinks in terms of a cappella singing being “threatening” to anyone? But, not wanting bar-goers to be threatened by simple voices praising God, they will add instruments to make the atmosphere “less threatening.” It is also telling that “carefully chosen secular music” will be part of Bar Church. Southern Hills seems to believe the end does justify the means, but without realizing the end they seek is unattainable by the means they propose.
Of course, the obvious question is whether there will be drinking in Bar Church. Yes, there will. Per Southern Hills’ website, “Bar Church meets in a bar, so alcohol will be present and available beginning at noon on Sundays. With Bar Church’s stated mission to meet people where they are, we anticipate that alcohol most likely will be consumed sometime during the meeting of Bar Church.” All are welcome at Bar Church. You need not even bring your own bottle, since alcohol will be served. In case you are under legal drinking age, “The Bar Church planning team will have a process in place to carefully check ID as people are entering Bar Church. We will use a system similar to the large X’s that bars place on the hands of underage patrons to insure they are not served alcohol.” Who knew that would ever be a concern when assembling for worship? Southern Hills does not indicate whether the Lord’s Supper will be served before or after the liquor goes on sale. Nor is it clear whether Christians will be ordering drinks, or only guests. Perhaps enough beers could help convince a bar customer to respond to the gospel. Then again, a glass of whiskey might cause a patron not to feel threatened by a cappella singing, in which case Southern Hills could leave off the instrumental music altogether. Win-win, right?
An apostle warned about those whose Christianity was so tainted that, “because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:2). We cannot imagine the Lord smiling down on an assembly where alcohol is consumed alongside his memorial supper, where sinners “fed up with church” are still able to be part of one, where worship is corrupted in the name of evangelism, where the gospel is watered down but the liquor not, and all in a location specifically chosen because it is peopled by those who have or want nothing to do with the Lord’s church. At some point, a misguided plan becomes a mockery of all that is sacred. And well-meaning Christians can take an idea so far beyond Scripture that it becomes blasphemous. If Bar Church is, indeed, a righteous outreach of Southern Hills church of Christ, then we ask, in all seriousness, why not Brothel Church?