Spiritual Food Deserts

Phyllis Nissila

According to Wikipedia, a “food desert” is “any area in the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Food deserts are prevalent in rural as well as urban areas […] (they) are associated with a variety of diet-related health problems.” [1]

A food desert is a nutritionist’s nightmare.

Characterized by a cluster of quick food stops, gas station mini-marts, sidewalk kiosks, or a lack of any kind of grocery store in a rural location, food deserts do not have the variety of foods necessary for people to maintain ongoing health. Since the concept has been coined, many such food venues are making efforts to add fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats to the typical inventory of convenience products and so-called junk food. Efforts are also underway on legislative levels to address the problem.

What brought this concept to mind is a concern about churches that do not present the whole Word of God, a Christian’s primary source of “spiritual food,” or who present another gospel altogether. In a sense, they are like “spiritual food deserts”.

Some churches might, for example, concentrate on being friendly to seekers, lest visitors find offense in the meatier truths of Christianity such as the choice called hell, the divinity of Christ, and Bible prophecy. Others sell humanistic messages (find your “purpose,” “dream,” or “potential”), a kind of Gospel lite, over the goal of being transformed by the Lord’s Spirit into the Lord’s image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Still others market business growth models rather than the Bible growth plan, so to speak, also known as the “great commission” (Matthew 28: 18-20). Lastly, there are churches that focus predominantly on the pop and fizz of emotional highs and/or physical manifestations as evidence of God’s work and/or the presence of His Spirit obscuring the evidence manifest in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

A spiritual food desert is a Christian’s nightmare.

Not that friendliness, employing good business practices, achieving one’s potential, and moments of emotional satisfaction are negative in and of themselves. But if church-goers are not also versed in and warned of the realities of living in a world where our arch enemy prowls about seeking whom he may devour and who can counterfeit truth most convincingly, they might be consuming spiritual food of little or questionable value. Although there might be a little truth sprinkled here and there in these churches just as there is some nutrition in convenience foods we are well advised to consider the little bit of leaven that spoils the whole lump (Galatians 5:9).

I’ve written prior about my (and my sister’s) quest to find a Bible believing and preaching church in our area.[2] In most of the churches we investigated we found a collective alphabet soup of theologies, philosophies, and ideologies du jour but precious few where God’s Word is the main and only course. One comment by a particular pastor still echoes in my mind. When asked when he would be teaching on a certain essential doctrine he said he doesn’t have time, noting his church was “pretty vanilla,” just into loving Jesus.

Vanilla is good for a number of uses: to flavor, to sweeten, to stave off hunger for a little while, to use as an air freshener and a skin soother (some claim it also has anti-bacterial qualities), and to deter mosquitoes. [3] However, a full-meal-deal it is not.

Loving Jesus is also good. However, to not present all other aspects of the faith which find their fruition in Him is to leave out essential ingredients for spiritual health and well being. To teach only God’s perfect love and ignore His perfect justice, for example, is to negate the reason Jesus was tortured and put to death on a cross: God visited His wrath for the wreckage of our sins on the Sinless One, His Son, a substitutionary sacrifice available for all who so choose it (John 3:16). Both justice and love mingled that day with the blood, sweat, and tears of our Savior—for each one of us, because the sum total of all of our good works will never equal the perfect sacrifice required. Extraordinary. This might sound harsh the first time told, but fully explained and received, it is the power to save people starved for truth and for well being.

If all a church offers is a restricted diet, so to speak, or food infused with man-made additives; if it leaves out any of the meat, potatoes, and vegetables of orthodoxy, spiritual damage to the Body of Christ is sure to result.

Scripture advises us to study the Word of God to show ourselves “approved unto God, (workmen) that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This is the best antidote for bad and/or inadequate spiritual “food.” Here is some other help if you have a concern about your church:
1. Read the “nutritional contents,” of your church. Research any additives, if present, and the thinking behind them. Question non-biblical and/or extra-biblical ideas and concepts.
2. If you haven’t heard preaching on essential doctrines for some time, ask when these will be featured.
3. Discuss your concerns with leadership. If you are not taken seriously or rebuked for questioning, you still have valuable information to make more informed choices for yourself and your loved ones.
4. And, if necessary, find another church where a more complete spiritual meal is served. There are a lot of us “out here” who have already done just that or who are now in the process. You are not alone.

My prayers are with you.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_desert
[2] “What in the World is Going on in Church?! How to figure out what’s ‘emerging,’ what you can do, and a story that might sound familiar”
[3] http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20471693,00.html

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