Smile Politely

The Church Hopper #4: The Salvation Army

This Church Hopper is going to be a bit different than the others. In previous installments, I simply shared what I had experienced at the worship services of various local churches. And I guess that’s a fair thing to do because for so many churches, the worship service is really what they’re all about. When most of us think of “church,” we think of things like cathedrals, sanctuaries, pulpits, pews and organs. Or, if we’re more contemporary, we might think of auditoriums and praise bands.

But I wonder if this emphasis on worship is a good thing. The prophet Amos had some strong words to say about making worship services the focal point of our faith:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Amos is addressing the religious hypocrites of his day. These folks were doing lots of “religious” things such as singing songs of worship and saying prayers. Today we might recognize them as typical Sunday church goers. While they’re in church they appear to be lovely specimens of humanity, exuding love and goodwill as they sing about the grace and mercy of God. But outside the walls of the worship service, there is no sense whatsoever of social justice, or of God’s love and care for the world.

Many churches today impress and horrify me with the amount of time, money and resources that they spend on worship. Instead of simple sanctuaries, they build huge auditoriums. They install projectors, screens and expensive sound systems. They hire professional musicians to lead their bands and technological wizards to produce multimedia presentations. They pay big money to famous people to come in and speak, hoping it will draw more people into their “worship” services.

For these churches, it’s all about the worship experience. And it really makes me wonder, should these organizations even have the right to call themselves churches?

What if there was a church that actually did the things it was supposed to do? You know, all of those things that the Bible tells us over and over: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, heal the sick.

We probably wouldn’t even recognize an organization like that as being a church. We’d probably think it was, I don’t know, the Salvation Army or something like that.

Wait a minute. Actually, the Salvation Army is a church. And for the longest time, I did not know that. I knew the Salvation Army as an organization that helped people with its thrift store, shelter, food bank and other social services. I guess I just thought it was an organization made up of kind-hearted folks who wanted to help the less fortunate and make the world a better place.

That is exactly what a church should look like.

I suppose I could direct you to the Salvation Army church which is located at 502 N. Prospect in Champaign. There you will find a sanctuary and worship service much as in any church. But I would rather direct you to the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Center at 2212 N. Market Street in Champaign. This is where you will find the real work of a church going on.

And to bring this edition of the Church Hopper to a close, I would like to suspend the previous star rating because I believe the Salvation Army deserves special recognition for reminding us what a real church should look like. Therefore, I now present to the Salvation Army the very first Your Humble Heretic Church Hopper Award.

Well done, Salvation Army!

Related Articles