All through the years I attended fundamentalist churches I frequently heard the mantra that “the church is not a building” because God lives in the hearts of believers. This was usually followed by a list of things one couldn’t do in “God’s house” such as run, talk to loudly, use pre-recorded music, wear certain types of clothing, and say the words “gee willikers.” God may not live here but apparently He has a bunch of house rules anyway.
It was not until I was an adult that I began to think about what a ‘church’ is to a group of fundamentalists: it is first and foremost where the head pastor rules. I’ve seen fundamentalist churches without choirs and without offering plates and even (as unthinkable as this may be) without blood red carpets but I’ve never seen one without a single man in charge. In fact, it would seem that all three members of the Trinity could very well be missing altogether from the premises but as long as there is that single strong voice present, there can be a fundy church.
From the reserved parking spot outside to the study filled with personal trophies and on to the special throne on the platform, the entire structure screams that church is not a body of believers. It’s not even the home of the believers. It is instead the embodiment of one man’s vision for how things ought to be, from the choice of hymnbooks to the wording of the weekly bulletin. Church is coming to hear him talk, to hear him yell, to hear his plans for what will be your future.
What is a church to a fundamentalist? It may look like a group of people united in a common cause but upon closer inspection that cause almost always turns out to be the fulfillment of one man’s dream at others’ expense.