Have you ever been there? Walked into a church and you could smell the religious spirit as soon as you walk through the doors. The feeling that everyone is at a costume party, putting on a mask. Sure, the doors are open to anyone but you feel that somehow, someway, you are not welcome. The attitude is, “You can walk into this building but don’t you dare corrupt our culture.” The teaching has no vulnerability, a pregnant teenage girl would certainly get stares, and there’s even an odor of religiosity that seems to linger. The pastor acts perfect, the people fake perfection, and it feels like you are in some kind of version of The Truman Show.
Altar calls are given but it sure feels that if you make the walk to the front that you just exposed yourself as a person worthy of coffee shop chatter, “I wonder why he or she came down to the front today.” Churches start to smell of a religious spirit when the church becomes overrun with too many lifelong Christians and not enough jacked up lost people to balance the equation. The strength of the church is not how many lifelong believers you have but how many messed up people who feel a part of the equation along with the lifelong believers. Look, we need people who have been raised in the church all their lives. They are the key, the engine that keeps the church moving along. However, if the church is overrun with people who have been raised in the Christian culture all their lives and there’s no room for anyone else, even these wonderful saints will be corrupted by the smell of a religious spirit. It’s not the faithful saints’ fault; it’s the fault of the church for not allowing them to rub shoulders with prostitutes, street people, and people from the other side of the tracks. Unfortunately, contamination will set in.
Christian people were born to fight for something. The something must be for a lost and dying world. If we are given no mandate to reach the world we will fight over worship style, length of someone’s skirt who came to church, or even the color of the carpet. I know it sounds petty but it’s true. Here’s the fact: The lifelong saints of the church need the most hurting sinners of the city to walk through the doors of the church. The most hurting sinners need the experience of the lifelong saints. A great church is not how many Jesus bumper stickers are in the parking lot, or how many “Values Voters” we have in the pews. The secret of the church is in the radical mix of people from every type of situation rubbing shoulders. If we don’t actively pursue the most broken of our generation, we will naturally start to wear the smell of a religious spirit. It gradually gets stronger to the point to where it becomes a hideous perfume.