the weblog of Alan Knox

Content vs. Container

Posted by on Jun 12, 2007 in blog links, definition | 14 comments

Brother Maynard at “Subversive Influence” has written an interesting post called “The Coca-Cola Packaging Problem“. In this short post, he explains how Coca-Cola changed from glass bottles, to aluminum cans, and finally to plastic bottles. Many prefer the taste of Coca-Cola in glass bottles as opposed to the taste from cans or plastic bottles. Bro. Maynard says:

The sad truth? The taste isn’t any different. I’m sure I could taste the difference, and maybe you could as well – but there genuinely isn’t one. Pour them both in a glass so that the experience of the drink becomes the same, and it will quickly be evident that there is, really and truly, no difference.

You see, the difference was not in the content, but in the container. Whether contained in glass bottles, aluminum cans, or plastic bottles, the content remained Coca-Cola. But people swear by, argue about, complain against, and fume about the difference in taste from one container to another container. Many would suggest that drinking Coca-Cola from a glass is not the same as drinking Coca-Cola from a glass bottle, because they prefer the experience of drinking from the bottle more than they prefer the Coca-Cola itself.

Let’s apply this to the church. Many of us prefer certain “containers” over other “containers”. In fact, we swear by, argue about, complain against, and fume about the difference between the existence of the church from one container or another container. On this blog, I’ve tried to remove any aspect of “containers” from my definition of the church. Because of this, many do not recognize the church as I describe it, because I do not include aspects of their favorite containers.

Could it be that we are enjoying the experience of our “containers” more than we are enjoying the benefits of being part of the church? Can we recognize the difference between the “container” and the “content” of the church? If the church was removed, but the “container” remained, would we notice the difference?

For the most part, these are rhetorical questions. They are helping me think about what it means to be part of God’s church – part of Christ’s body – part of the family gathered together by the Spirit. I hope to learn to love the content more than the container.


14 Comments

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  1. 6-12-2007

    When I was in college, my roommates and I started keeping the empty soda cans in a collection. I carefully stacked them in formation on top of a shelf, and the collection grew quite impressive for a while.

    I’m wondering if there is some correlation to the analogy you’ve referenced. We held on to the containers, and even admired them, long after what had been in the containers had left the containers.

  2. 6-13-2007

    Alan, Good and interesting thought here.

    I think church as we see it in the New Testament is very fluid as to container. At the same time there is debate on how one church, which is people, is to function. And what best facilitates this function. As well as how ordinances or sacraments are to be practiced.

    But regardless of our differences the heart of what church is, Christ’s Body in the world and localized, remains really the same I believe. Though you would hardly know that, especially on the surface when you go from different traditions of church, as like from a fundamentalist church to a Pentecostal or Charismatic to an Anglican, etc., etc.

    It will be nice when all this extraneous is removed and we’re together, more and more in the heart of who we are in Christ.

    Interesting food for thought here, Alan.

  3. 6-13-2007

    These are great rhetorical questions to think about! I’ve heard people say things such as, “that just wasn’t ‘church,'” after visiting another local body that does things differently than what they’re used to. I know what they mean… they’ve become used to things being done a certain way, and that’s what they call “church”… but yet if the people were there, then indeed it was church.

    I like the point being made here, and the ongoing reminders here of the truth that the church is the people.

  4. 6-13-2007

    Steve,

    We did the same with newspapers, but soda cans (we would have called them Coke cans), would have been interesting. I’m wondering how much does God allow us to prefer the container above the content… maybe none?

    Ted,

    I think you are correct about the fluidity of the church. The church is the church in any container and any context. Thus, we should be able to appreciate the soda (Coke) if it is in a glass bottle, aluminum can, plastic bottle, or glass. We should also be able to appreciate the church in different containers. I do recognize that in some containers, the content may be questionable – I’m not ready to name names yet. But, I’m also not ready to throw out the content because the container is different.

    Joel,

    You said: “yet if the people were there, then indeed it was church”. This is my point. If the people of God are there, then the church is present – regardless of the container.

    -Alan

  5. 6-13-2007

    Indeed. :) I hope my comment came across as agreeing with you. As I re-read it, I’m not sure if it came across that way. I was critiquing those who say it wasn’t church just because it was in a different container. I have so many stories I could tell. :)

    I’ll just tell two brief stories. About 11 years ago, my wife and I were considering “leaving” a church and “going to” another one. (You know what I mean by that, in the non-religious sense of simply being a part of a different local body). We mentioned this to some close friends, and we were almost literally sucked in by the GASPS that came from everyone! They just couldn’t understand that we were still going to be part of “the” church. To them, their preconceived “container” was the right container!

    My second story comes from a while later, when we had been with this other local body for a while. We ran into someone from our old church, and she asked us if we “had church” on Sunday mornings and evenings, and Wednesday evenings, which is the way of our old church. We said, “no, we generally ‘have church’ once per week, and it does happen to be on Sunday mornings, and we also usually have an informal mid-week get-together.” Another GASP. :) It was inconceivable to this woman that we didn’t have a Sunday evening church service. She outrightly said, “I just don’t think that’s RIGHT!” Oh brother.

  6. 6-13-2007

    These are excellent rhetorical questions because they apply in so many contexts within the Christian life. For example:

    Do we judge other brothers and sisters by the clothes they wear, or by their hairstyles, or some other outward feature rather than by whether the fruits of the Holy Spirit are pouring out of them?

    Do we more enjoy method than we do meeting with God face to face? In other words are we more interested in having a loud, happy, clappy, ecstatic worship service than we are in worshiping God, no matter how He meets us?

    Do we insist on certain types of music?

    Do we insist on certain kinds of spiritual manifestations?

  7. 6-13-2007

    I’m going to be the one to disagree here. About the Coca-Cola, that is. Coke in a 2-liter bottle is definitely different tasting than Coke in a can. It’s exactly that same as beer from a keg, or beer from a bottle. And it’s the same reason why you should put bottled oil into your car as opposed to bulk oil. Things in bulk are more “watered down”. But I also think that brown M&M’s taste different than all the other colors :D

    As for what you said about the Church though, Alan, I am in total agreement.

  8. 6-13-2007

    Alan,

    I’m finding it difficult to say anything constructive in response to your comments recently. I can only say “Amen!”

    In the matter at hand: I have to wonder some times whether a particular “container” may hold a counterfeit product.

    There are many, who use the Lord’s Name,but are counterfeit (Matt.7:21). Many believe in Jesus, and are conterfeit (James 2:19). Jesus’ parable in Mattew 13:25ff is also relevant.

    Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edward’s grandfather,preached a great sermon on the matter. He used 1 John 4:7-8 as his text.

    It has been my great blessing to be used of God to lead, long time, loyal to the church,preaching, teaching, leading, members to the throne of grace, and to see life-changing conversions.

    Preaching “easy decisionism” has been the pleasant ground in which many a counterfeit has been planted, to the detriment of the localcommunity of believers.

    Thankfully, it is not our task to sort out the “wheat and the chaff”, the plants that grew in “stony, thorny, or good ground”, those who have “wedding garments” and those who don’t, or those who build on the “sand” instead of on the “rock”.

    Keep posing the questions brother!

    Aussie John

  9. 6-13-2007

    Joel,

    No, I didn’t think you were disagreeing with me. Thank you for clarifying though – always good in online communications. Also, thank you for the two stories. I think they demonstrate how we often confuse the “container” with the “content”.

    Bryan,

    Thank you for expanding this discussion. I think, in ways, the categories that you mention are tied back to a certain understanding of the church – does the “container” specify hair style, clothing, etc., or are those part of the content? Thank you for adding those to the discussion.

    Jake,

    You heretic! Everyone knows that green M&M’s taste better. If you keep up this kind of false teaching, I’ll be forced to begin the process of chocolate discipline on you. ;)

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for the encouragement. I’m not familiar with that sermon, but I’ll try to look it up. Sometimes, I wonder if those who enjoy pointing out weeds are themselves demonstrating characteristics of wheat or characteristics of weeds…

    -Alan

  10. 6-15-2007

    Heretic? Um…here I stand, I can do no other?

    I never said that brown M&M’s were better, just that I thought they tasted different than all the other colors. I dislike brown ones.

  11. 6-16-2007

    Jake,

    Thank you for explaining that you do not think brown M&M’s taste best. Perhaps there is hope for you yet. ;)

    -Alan

  12. 5-8-2012

    Aussie John made a point about counterfeit content. Well, been there, done that. Our last church slid into the unbiblical doctrine of the Shepherding Movement and there was no discussing it. No matter what the “container” was, the content was not good.

    The judgment of the “content” was not based on “little” doctrinal differences, nor was it based on personalities, personal style, color of the carpet, the service hours or any such silliness. It was based solely on and by scripture. It was not based on what we think scripture says, but simply and clearly what it says (or does not say, considering what things were added).

  13. 5-9-2012

    And…as for M&M’s…there are Cherry Cordial, Peanut, those rice-crunchy ones, mint, etc., etc. Now, that speaks fantabulous content. Who cares about the coating when you have content like those! Jussayin’.

  14. 5-9-2012

    John,

    Yes, that’s the point. Focus on content… not the container. And, be willing to let the container change if it affects the content.

    By the only, there are only peanut M&M’s… everything else is counterfeit. ;)

    -Alan