Churchianity vs Christianity

Churchianity vs Christianity

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.

Matthew 23:13

I first heard the term churchianity from Fr. Richard Rohr. It was during an episode of his podcast, Another Name For Everything.[1] He used it in the context of a discussion about ways in which the church has seemingly strayed from its roots. The term provides a not-so-subtle accusation that perhaps the Christian Church has become more focused on the church, meaning the institution, than on the Christ from whom it derived its name. This reflection begins an exploration over the coming months into a subject I hope readers will find thought-provoking.

I suspect much of what I say will strike some as overly critical of the church and its leaders and members. And that may not be a completely inaccurate conclusion. I do want to begin by saying that I am a long-time active member in and supporter of a church, so I value the institution of the church and consider myself an insider. I fully acknowledge that whenever I point a finger of accusation at another there are three fingers pointing accusingly and justifiably back at me. When I name hypocrisy in others, I will claim it for myself, too.

Here are a few disclaimers:

*My reflections are directed at the institution of the church in general and not at a specific church, denomination, or other religious fellowship.

*While my reflections about the church are meant to be general in nature, that does not mean that any specific church, including my own, cannot be characterized by the criticism, at least to a degree.

*These reflections are not directed at specific church leaders or members, but they may be directed at an admittedly stereotypical leader or member in order to illustrate a larger point.

*While my reflections about church leadership and membership are not intended to refer to specific individuals, that does not mean that specific leaders and members, myself included, are not characterized by those traits, at least to a degree.

I have been mulling over this series of Life Notes for many months now. I confess to having significant concerns about my worthiness to assess an institution like the Church. And yet, the one I profess to follow, Jesus the Christ, reserved his strongest criticisms for the leaders of the church of his day, specifically for the scribes and the Pharisees. He called them hypocrites and blind guides. He accused them of leading people away from God and God’s kingdom under the guise of leading them toward God and God’s kingdom. The gospel of Matthew (chapter 23, verses 13-36) records a long series of woes that Jesus pronounced upon the religious leaders of his day. It does not appear that he waged his criticisms for the purpose of tearing down the Jewish faith, of which he was a devout follower, but that he sought to redirect the teaching and application of the faith in order to better minister to the sincere followers of it. It is in this spirit of possible redirection and self-assessment that I offer these reflections – not to tear down the church but to ask questions and to question common assumptions in order to assess where and whether its work can be redirected or realigned in ways that better lead others to its namesake.

In his book Mere Christianity,[2] author C.S. Lewis wrote: “…the Church exists for nothing else but to draw (humankind) into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.” To the extent that Lewis is correct, then I question how many, if any, churches today are doing their job of transforming their members into “little Christs.” There are many paths to becoming “little Christs,” but where is the evidence that churches today are focusing their energy and resources toward that end? I believe the church, in general, has lost sight of its primary purpose, albeit often with the best of intentions. If we are going to rightfully claim the title of Christian or the name Christianity then I believe helping members become more like Jesus the Christ must be the heart of and motivation for everything we do. If, instead, we place the church at the heart of everything we do, then we are primarily practicing Churchianity, which may produce important acts of mercy but risksdeveloping followers of the church instead of followers of the Christ.

This is the 1st in a series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at, or through my website, At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.

[1] Another Name For Everything, podcast of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Fall 2020.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952.

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