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This famous photograph from the Great Depression prompts a question about our churches – the question of reality versus theory.

When we look at a church, we want to see their doctrine, mission statement, website, and so forth.  Of course.  But we also want to see the human reality of that church.  Their official position is important, but it is theory.  What says more is the reality within.

How do the people there treat one another?  Is the church happily united?  Does anyone there have to worry about what is being said behind their back?  Is there honesty in that church, a humble openness about personal problems in appropriate settings?  Is involvement in that church a life-enriching experience or a life-depleting experience?  If I fell into danger or sin, would I go to the people of that church for help and safety and guidance?  Is there a spirit of praise to Christ thrilling their hearts?  And so forth.  These are momentous questions for any church.

No one is impressed by our churches at the level of the public billboard.  They look for the reality of human beauty within, and they have every right to.  If they don’t see it, they will locate our churches in the same mental category as this photograph – a living denial of the theory, and all the more offensive for the very beauty of that theory.

But any church where the reality lines up, imperfectly but visibly, with the theory will have something prophetic to say to this generation.

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4 thoughts on “Reality versus theory”

  1. Dane says:

    Outstanding Pop.

  2. Ifeanyi says:

    Well said!

  3. Debbie Howerton says:

    As I read this, I thought, “Is a microcosm of the church the home?” Could what you expressed of the church be said of our homes? Is it true that as the home goes, so goes the church, or is it the other way around, or neither?
    Regardless, I was thrilled to visit Immanuel last Sunday.
    I’m praying that God continues to use you mightily—and he is.
    To God be the glory.
    p.s. Mike needs/wants to bring you and Jani hunting—we’d love that.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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