I read something online this morning which made me cry. This doesn’t happen very often. It takes a lot to move me like that. Sometimes the tears come from a wonderful place of appreciation for a truly touching story or a really deep insight into God’s love and grace. At other times the tears come from a place of pain, disappointment and grief as I reflect on something I really wish had not been written and presented to the world. I’m afraid that today’s tears came from this place of grief. What I read made me really sad. Not only because the article impacted me personally, but more because of the grief I felt for the Kingdom of God. I encounter stuff every day online that I don’t agree with and it doesn’t really impact me at all. If I don’t know the author personally or the situation they are writing about, it really doesn’t bother me that much. But today was different and the grief I feel right now is for the Church which Jesus promised to build.
l love the Church. I have devoted the bulk of my life to helping Jesus build His Church. I love the way the New Testament talks about the Church in terms of us being a family, a community, an inter-dependent group of disciples whose primary focus is on serving others. I also love the fact that God has made me (and every disciple) accountable for the health of the Church on earth. Therefore whenever I say ‘the Church’ I am immediately including myself. I am the Church – along with all those who embrace the Lord Jesus as their saviour. This makes it impossible to pass judgement on the Church in any respect without first holding myself accountable for the condition of the Church. The Church is not separate from me any more than my biological family is separate from me. If there is something lacking in my family, then I have to take responsibility for that. It’s not possible for me to be critical of my family without taking ownership of the problems. I may not have caused a particular problem, but I cannot escape my responsibility in dealing with it. How I wish that was the understanding of all family members and all Church members. Alas, such a view does not prevail today.
Having now been in a Church leadership position of one kind or another for over 45 years, I have come to the conclusion that the greatest ideological threat to the Church in the western, developed world is not atheism, communism or even false doctrines promoted by those who want to discard Biblical truth and faith. The greatest threat to the Church is the worldview of consumerism. In this worldview self is lord. This worldview sees life in terms of shopping: life should present me with the greatest number of goods and services for the least amount of personal expense. Life is directed by my desire to possess and acquire goods and services based on my personal choice. Life is one big shopping mall. The basic assumption is: “If I can have everything I want, and avoid that which I don’t want, then I will be happy.” This worldview has invaded the Christian mind. It afflicts every denomination from the most conservative to the most liberal. It is the worldview which prompts us to ask, “What is this Church providing for me and my family?” rather than asking, “What can I do to make MY Church better?”
Jesus Christ challenges this consumer worldview. He says that real life is about denying self, dying to self on a daily basis. Being a Christian means we stop living like we own ourselves and we give ourselves up to Jesus Christ, freely, voluntarily and willingly. We give up our autonomy in submission to Christ and His body, the Church. We live in holy obedience to Jesus and in mutual submission with our brothers and sisters. In that community we experience true freedom: freedom from sin, guilt, meaninglessness and death. This is Biblical Christianity – but sadly it is being threatened by a subtle, deceptive, toxic and rapidly growing substitute: consumer Christianity.
Consumer Christianity is a mentality or worldview which is self-centred. One who is a consumer is concerned with the benefits to himself or herself from whatever they buy or believe or embrace or commit their time to. For the consumer to become interested in the product, service or belief system, it must appeal to their personal interests, concerns, felt needs and opinions. Consumerism has a mentality of control. As consumers, we only invest in that which we can control. We want to see results and monuments to our investment. The consumer always dictates the quality, style, nature and terms of the product or service they will purchase or support – the benefits which affirm their personal preferences and opinion. In other words, it is hinged upon our feelings and desires, not on Truth God’s will for us. This form of Christianity is idolatrous and unbiblical. It is an insidious, largely invisible cancer which is attacking the heart of the Church right now in this nation and across the western world. We see this in how consumer Christians view their involvement in the Church: ‘Provide me with the service/product I want in exchange for my money, my approval, my time, my involvement and my commitment.’ Very few of these people would ever verbalise it like that, however their actions speak very clearly.
The best analogy I can find in our day and age is McDonalds. In our society McDonald’s has become the epitome of the consumer experience. This wildly successful fast food chain has learned that to appeal to consumers you have to offer lots of menu choices designed to please many different tastes and appetites and it can’t cost too much. You don’t want to entangle the customer with any intimacy or relationships – they don’t have to form a relationship with a server, just step up to the counter, order, get the product and walk away. That way, once you’ve paid your money there’s no obligation, no requirements, no expectation from McDonalds that you will do anything other enjoy your meal and tell others about it. I wish this wasn’t such a good analogy for the modern Church – but it is.
Christians who have not crucified the worldly values of a consumer society in their own lives will believe that the Gospel and Church is there to serve them and their family. They continually demand to be fed – consciously, but more often than not, subconsciously in the way they think, speak and act. ‘Successful’ consumer ministry is ‘evidenced’ by the numbers of followers and other carnal and societal evidences which follow the worldview of hedonism, materialism and subjectivism which results in personality cults, a prosperity gospel and emphasis upon the ‘evidence’ of experience rather than the Truth of the Word of God. A growing number of these ‘successful’ consumer ‘gospel’ teachers tell the people what they want to hear, and cater to their self pre-occupation and victim mentality. The moment they quit teaching in that manner, they lose the crowd. Consumer Christianity promises freedom and fulfilment through unlimited individual choices and ‘getting just what we want’. It is actually not freedom at all – it is slavery to personal desires. It appeals to the chains of the sinful nature: greed, covetousness, self-centeredness. There is no freedom in consumer Christianity. Instead you become a slave to selfishness. All those choices don’t offer fulfilment! Consumerism promises freedom and fulfilment in the self-centred life. But Jesus says that is a lie. Real life, abundant life comes when we give ourselves away to Jesus and to others.
“ If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)
Following Jesus is not about pampering the self-will, it is about putting the self-will to death – every single day. When we truly follow Jesus in this way, I testify to you that there is true joy, freedom and abundant life! In losing our lives, we truly do gain real life in Christ.
So are you a consumer Christian, standing at the counter of McChurch, surveying the menu and deciding what you will choose or commit to based on your own personal needs and the your perceived needs of your family? Or are you a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ who has made a commitment to God and to your local Church fellowship and signed up for whatever comes – whether you like it or not and whether it meets your felt needs or not? Is your Christian walk about having your needs met or giving your self away in service to Jesus Christ? What you and your family really need is to be where God can use you to serve others and fully embrace the mission of Christ. Your needs and your family’s needs are God’s problem and He will do more than you ask or even imagine when you make following Jesus and helping Him build His Church your highest priority.
I wonder . . . if for just one week … just one week … every one of us made choices every moment of every day based on the mission of Christ and the needs of others and deliberately ignored our own tastes, desires, felt needs and personal preferences … I wonder how different life would be. I wonder how effective the Church would be.
I wonder . . . what differences we would see if just for one week, this consumer mentality which permeates so much of what we do, how we think and how we live … could be crucified in us all.
I wonder . . . if we could sincerely join with John Wesley and echo his words from hundreds of years ago when consumerism was not the dominant worldview in the Church. I shall leave you with Wesley’s powerful words and let you decide if you are ready for this level of commitment to God:
And now, beloved, let us bind ourselves with willing bonds to our covenant God, and take the yoke of Christ upon us. This taking of his yoke upon us means that we are heartily content that he appoint us our place and work, and that he alone be our reward. Christ has many services to be done; some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is assuredly given us in Christ, who strengthens us.
Therefore let us make the covenant of God our own.
Let us engage our heart to the Lord, and resolve in His strength never to go back.
Being thus prepared, let us now, in sincere dependence on His grace and
trusting in His promises, yield ourselves anew to Him this day:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou will, rank me with whom thou will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.