January 22, 2021

Open Thread: Panera Ecclesiology

Andy Naselli recounts a conversation his wife overheard at Panera Bread between two men a) griping abut a woman who wouldn’t sleep with them and b) discussing their church preferences.

Maybe you’ve heard Michael Horton and the White Horse Inn guys talk about how the modern seeker/church growth churches are generally proclaiming law and not Gospel? Well, exhibit “A.” And exhibit A-Z for the separation of the Gospel of grace and the call to be a disciple of Jesus.

This isn’t a conversation about the struggle to be sexually pure. No, it’s two entirely separate conversations: personal sexuality and “church,” whatever “church” means here. (Seems to be close to “place that helps people.”)

The New Testament tells us that this problem goes back to the Apostle Paul himself, who had to deal with sexual immorality in the Corinthian church that was getting applause from those who were enjoying forgiveness and thanking God for blessing the desires of their hearts.

In I Corinthians 5, the big deal to Paul isn’t that sexual sin is on the menu- human beings have been sexual sinners for the whole show- but that the Christian community has placed sexual morality into a completely different box than what it means to belong to Jesus Christ.

Paul says that the church community is to get it together and draw a line, for the sake of all involved, the community and the corporate witness of the church.

When I read the Panera Bread conversation, I’m not blind to the issues of Christian growth that are obviously there. Immature believers make really embarrassing, hurtful choices. I’m not even really in agreement with Andy that these guys are hypocrites. They may be babes in Christ or completely unconverted.

What does get me is the strong suspicison that what these guys are hearing as Christianity isn’t helping them with a map of reality or an understanding of what it means to be human or Christian. What I can’t get away from is that what passes for “Christian community” today is so un-counter cultural that you don’t even know when you are blatantly committing fornication.

Discuss amongst yourselves.


  1. That blog post seems to be going around the Christian blogshere like a gunshot. One of the commenters said it even got discussed on Way Of The Master.

    My favorite part was where the friend assures the one guy that he’s a good guy. My response is: All evidence to the contrary. He is obviously just out for a piece of ***. He should thank the good lord that he found a woman who isn’t willing to just give it away to anyone and everyone, and fall down and kiss her feet that she would condescend to spend time with him. As for her – the day he breaks up with her – THAT is when she will be a lucky girl.

    Corinthians is very explicit about dealing with sexual sin in the church – it says to put them out!! The problem in today’s world is that there is no church discipline anymore. We don’t want to be legalistic, or be accused of preaching salvation by works. If the church where you are steps on your toes, well you can just go across town to a different church.

    I’ve been reading Ron Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. I would highly recommend it. For people who can handle it (it’s not easy reading) I’d recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer says, “Only those who believe obey, and only those who obey believe.”

  2. How come everyone assumes these two characters were evangelicals? Liberal Christianity isn’t even thought of as a possibility. I’d place my bet on that before I would blame the seeker senstive churches.

  3. Good point. Not a lot of information. Good be ECUSA bishops.

    (I’m kidding.)

  4. This conversation is not a whole lot different from conversations I hear on a regular basis around the various offices in which I have worked. “My boyfriend and I, although we have been living together for X years getting married this summer. We are looking for a church to get married in and join, any suggestions?”

    As the “resident Christian” in the office, whenever people have questions about spiritual things or church they come to me. They have no real concept of sin, just if it feels right do it. Church then, is just another choice which they feel might be of benefit to them.

    So what do I do? Usually, I will point them in the direction of a good church in their area. Sometimes I will phone and forewarn the Pastor. If the opportunity comes up I will share Jesus Christ with them. I will always make myself available to answer further questions.

    Sometimes neat things happen. One woman who I hadn’t been in touch with for 10 years (Facebook is an amazing thing), told me that several months after working with me she had become a Christian. She had gone to a church where she received some significant discipleship, and had decided to follow Christ. When I first met her, her questions sounded remarkably like that of Man A.

  5. To follow up on Adam O’s commment.

    Who even says they were Christian? Going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.

  6. Aliasmoi says

    Actually, if you read Sider’s book he claims that kind of behavior is more typical of self-proclaimed Evangelicals than it is of non-Evangelicals. If I had the book in front of me, I’d quote the states. But, the percentage of Evangelicasl who think pre-marital sex and even adultery is okay is astounding – considering these are people who claim to believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

  7. Just a quick side note to Aliasmoi

    Evangelical does not equal Inerrant Bible

    A large percentage of evangelicals would use the word inerrant – but there is a significant percentage who would not.

  8. Like me.

  9. I think that’s what happens when you make “evangelical” shorthand for “hard core,” “religious” or “good Christian.” If you think the church you go to says as much or more about your obedience to God than your actual behavior…

  10. The church ministers to sinners. Why on earth are we so surprised when we discover sinners go to church? We should be glad. They might at some point actually begin to follow Jesus and become convicted of sin.

    After my friend S (name withheld ’cause he doesn’t need the exposure) came to Jesus, he decided on his own to address the whole issue of whether or not to continue having sex with his uncommitted girlfriend. Seems once you start actually following Jesus, you start to become just a little convicted of sin.

    But if you’re just “going to church,” well, not so much. I agree, Michael: These guys aren’t necessarily hypocrites. They’re only hypocrites if they preach abstinence, or nod and shout Amen when their preacher does so. Chances are good that nobody in their existing churches have sat ’em down and talked to them about what it really means to follow Jesus.

    Church, in the scriptures, implies there’s some degree of relationship with fellow Christians greater than mere attendance and acquaintanceship—you’re close enough to actually speak into one another’s lives. Church, in the United States, means the building you go to once a week so you can feel like “a good person.”

  11. Getting to know what different conversations are about takes some time. I think we misread St. Paul when the discipline discussion is made to be about individual sanctification rather than the corporate witness of the church. (Though Michael’s writing suggests an awareness of this.) Also, I think many evangelicals would accept a stricter sexual morality for reasons that came from nineteenth century feminism, whether or not those reasons matched Scripture.

    Where someone above states that the guy is not a good guy and just out for a piece of ***, I wonder if this is the right category.

    Before God, the man in question is not good. Neither is any of us.

    Before his neighbor, I don’t have a strong sense of what this guy is about. He could be as bad as suggested above. Or he could be a soft-hearted non-Christian who doesn’t have the special revelation that would make Christian sexual morality make sense (e.g. the Incarnation to sanctify preborn life, the two becoming one flesh according to Genesis). But we don’t know enough to know whether he is predatory or not. I’ve known guys who were more feeling-driven, where such behavior was driven by affection. Wrong, yes. Lacking in commitment, yes. But not cold-hearted. When we automatically treat these guys as vicious, I think we lose an ability to understand them.

    What often goes hidden are assumptions Christians often hold. Something like, “These rules keep people from getting hurt.” And getting hurt is defined on the basis of personal history. But different people get subjectively hurt in different ways. Some people are rather thick-skinned, and don’t imagine they’re hurting others because they themselves would not be hurt the same way. When we try to draw God in as a divine referee, we might find that His game is different from the one we’ve been playing.

  12. “Going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.”

    — Keith Green, by the way.

    Sex is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of our luxurious lives take for granted how functionally atheistic they actually are, which is how I read iMonk’s point in the original post at any rate.

    And Aliasmoi’s spot on about Bonhoeffer — he’ll make you uncomfortable alright (from The Cost of Discipleship): “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” Or, to put it even more clearly, it is to hear the Gospel preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.”

  13. Chris – Thanks for the Keith Green reference. I had no idea, but it rings a bell now. I had started writing “someone once said”, then read it back and it just sounded dumb. I should have put it in quotes to show that it wasn’t my original thought.

  14. torainfor says

    Chris, I agree. I’m involved in another forum for Christian authors and the topic of lying came up. I was amazed at the number of members, who usually defend every thought with scripture, that were so quick to justify lying in certain situations. Talking to a friend IRL, I found the same attitude. I’m not saying I never lie, but I never expected the same blase, relativistic attitude from a group of professed, walk-the-talk believers as my sister finds from her non-Christian friends.

  15. I’ve noticed a tendency here (in the posts and in the comments) to lump a lot of evangelical churches together, including the “seeker friendly,” or “church growth” oriented, or the dreaded “megachurches.”

    I meet with a Vineyard congregation, that could probably be called all of the above. It is definitely centered on Christ and the gospel, yet matters of morality are addressed all the time. As people here know, it is not always easy to strike the balance between the enjoyment of grace and the necessity to “sin no more.” But my observation is that some evangelical churches are doing a very good job of reaching all sorts of people and helping them to follow Christ and grow in faith.

    Something I’ve noticed at the Vineyard: there are many Christians there who became burned out in other churches, mainly due to the emphasis on legality and regulations. Vineyard (and other megachurches) can be a place of healing and restoration, not only from the damage of sin but from the damage of a works-oriented righteousness.

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