Church is the Only Option
Have you seen the Portlandia clip called “Church is an Option”? It’s making the rounds on the internet…and it’s really funny. It’s a little racy in a couple of spots, so don’t go googling it if you’re easily offended. Basically, the gist of clip is that Father Timothy (Ed Begley, Jr.) is trying “re-brand” his church. He knows that people are looking for peace and tranquility, and he wants them to know that the church is a place where one can acquire those things. He starts offering acupuncture sessions, vision boards instead of prayer, and promising to come to you “whenever you want.”
The clip reminded me immediately of Tony Roma’s old slogan: “A Place for Ribs.” They’ve since—wisely—changed it to “The Place for Ribs,” but I always thought the old slogan was hilarious. Tony Roma’s just wanted you to know that if you desired ribs, they were place at which you could satisfy that desire. Other places had ribs too, of course, but Tony Roma’s was definitely to be included in the list of places at which ribs could be procured. No lofty promises, just description.
Here’s the thing, though: churches actually are trying to get people in the doors in the ways at which Portlandia pokes fun. Churches know that people are looking for peace and tranquility—who isn’t?—and they’re trying to position themselves as one of the places people can go to get some of those things in their lives. So we offer acupuncture, pop music, and the like. We want to make sure we're next to the spa on people's speed dial.
But the church isn’t just one option among many, in the same way that Tony Roma’s never should have said it was just a place for ribs. I imagine that Tony Roma’s thought it had the best ribs. The church certainly has the best peace and tranquility. If peace and tranquility are what you want, church is the only option.
The woman at the well in John 4 came there because she was thirsty. She knows she’ll have to come back the next day, and the day after, and so on. Jesus, though, offers her living water which, if she drinks it, means she will never be thirst again. To her credit, the woman says, “Sir, give me this water!” (v.15)
In the video, Father Timothy puts church on the same list as “massage, yoga, spa, acupuncture, exercise, Chinese medicine, meditation, reflexology, therapy, reading, vitamins, colonics, sleep, and rolfing.” Those things can be sources of peace, and he wants you to know that church is an option, too. What Jesus is saying to the woman at the well, though, is that all those other things will leave her thirsty again. Those waters for her soul will provide peace and tranquility…for a time. But then, she’ll need to come back for more. The peace and tranquility that the church offers—the Good News about Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for sins—will satisfy forever.
A massage can make you feel great; but can it make you feel accepted? A colonic can make you feel clean, but can it wash your soul? Only knowing that your worth, value, and identity are secure in the perfect righteousness of another can provide peace that can’t be shaken by the circumstances of this world.
Portlandia is hilarious. But Father Timothy should preach the Gospel, and leave the acupuncture needles at home.