Jerk Factories

In his article “The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity”, Richard Beck hyperbolises the problems inherent in turning Christianity into a religion of tasks rather than the total transformation that it really is.

One can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. In fact, much of this activity can distract one from becoming a more decent human being… Many churches are jerk factories.

Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.

Performing spiritual/religious activities does not inherently make you a better person. Really becoming a better person is something that can only be done by Jesus.

We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We [Jews] tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. …I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man.
Galatians 2:15-16,19 MSG

Beck is clear: there is nothing wrong, and much that is right about private devotions, bible study, prayer, fasting, et cetera. It just can’t be a substitute for being a decent human being. We need both. What we don’t need is our churches perceived as being “Jerk Factories”.