In the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (I know, I’m a horrible person for watching the movies before I read the books; I have since repented and read the books), there is a scene when the soldiers and people of Rohan are under attack. The king has them flee to the safety of Helm’s Deep, an impenetrable fortress. The people flee to the safety of the fortress, while the soldiers prepare to defend her against the forces of evil. Fleeing to Helm’s Deep sets the stage for a great defensive battle, with the Rohirrim fighting for their very lives—and the lives of their people.
Walled fortresses served very well as defensive barriers—keeping enemies away from the people and armies of the king. Not all the people under the king lived in the fortress; they lived and farmed the grounds surrounding the fortress. It was only in times of warfare that they would enter the protection of the fortress.
Church as a Walled Fortress?
In the minds of some Christians, the local church is seen in similar lines as a walled fortress. It is a place of safety from the world. It is where Christians can gather for fellowship and encouragement.
In some ways this mindset is correct. As Christians we are not wired for this world. Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). We are also called to be different than the world: to be in but not of the world (John 17:15–16), to not love the world (1 John 2:15), and to not be shaped by the world (Romans 12:2). Hauerwas and Willimon describe us as resident aliens who are living in a Christian colony.
However, when carried too far this mindset can hinder the roles of the church and followers of Christ. We turn the walled fortress into a barrier keeping out both the world and those seeking God. We turn inwards, becoming a clique instead of a welcoming committee. Much like a country club, a church with this mindset only exists to serve and protect current members.
This is an abandonment of Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations. As Jared Wilson brilliantly said:
Many local churches have ceased fishing for men and instead become keepers of the fish tank.
Popping the Christian Bubble
Another way the walled fortress thinking is played out in American Christianity is in the Christian Bubble. This is the phenomenon, found throughout middle-class America, where a Christian family predominantly interacts with only other Christians. They go to a great church on Sunday, then listen to an inspirational radio station on the way to the local Christian coffee shop. The kids go to a Christian school, while the parents socialize at a midweek parents Bible study. The father might work at a secular job, but he is only close with a few other Christians in the office. The vast majority of the family’s time each week—along with their social interactions—are found within a Christian context. To the family, this is preferred, since it is safer than being out in the world.
None of those things listed above are bad or wrong; most of them (like Bible studies and Christian schools) are good and necessary. But when they are used to keep people away from the rest of the world, this is not good. We cannot turn into a 21st-century version of the Amish, shutting out the rest of the world and living life as a closed community.
If we are called to reach our community, how can we do that if we have little to no connections within our community? How can we do that if we are hiding from our community?
It is hard to defend a Christian bubble when Christ never seemed to stay away from the world. He was constantly mobbed by both those who loved him and those that would eventually call for his death. He ate with thieves, liars, and prostitutes.
As Christians, we need to find a balance point in our lives: a balance between being in the world while not being shaped by the world. We must retain our identity and culture as foreigners, as people living for the New Creation. We also must take a look outside our walled fortress, so we can love those that are far from Christ. Often, this will mean stepping away from the Christian bubble, into the messiness of the world. But that is exactly what Christ did when he came to earth: he entered the messiness of this world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
(image credit: covilha)
Series on False Church Self-Identity:
- Church is Not a Social Club
- Church is Not a Labor Union
- Church is Not a Gas Station
- Church is Not a Volunteer Organization
- Church is Not a Walled Fortress
- Church is Not a Self-Help Group