(Average read: 3 Minutes).
It was our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that made a profound statement in Luke 12:14 when he said:
“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed”.
Recently a well-known preacher announced that God told Him to claim a new Learjet that he desired. Upon criticism and a hostile backlash from secular media, he calmly asserted that it is God’s will for him to be blessed and expect more. In South Africa, a very well known Prophet announced to his congregation that he will not prophesy anymore until they have paid the legal fees that accumulated against him because of his shady dealings. It is not unfair to state that in today’s day and age, it’s not just the world that seems to flourish in a mindset of greed but also the Church. R. Albert Mohler mentions that:
“The god of… popular culture is an indulgent heavenly spirit who is little threat to our lifestyle and luxuries-a god consistent with a consumer culture and rampant immorality. This god might wish that human beings would behave, but he is powerless when they do not. A vast majority… claims to believe in God, but most believe in an idol of their own imaginations. This deity is always there to be called upon in times of trouble, but he would never intrude upon personal space, judge sins, or hinder our happiness… A biblical understanding of God is absolutely essential to a proper understanding of ourselves, of the Gospel, and of life itself… “When your view of God is fuzzy, everything else distorted. Conversely, a proper vision of God brings everything distinctly into focus.” The anaemic view of God held by many church members is evident in doctrinal confusion, corrupted worship, compromised evangelism, and spiritual deadness. The absence of awe, wonder, and exaltation in our worship indicates that we have rejected one of the most critical teachings of Scripture-the fear of God… Human beings, created in the image of God, have now attempted to imagine God in our image.”
It is easy to label those with a carnal sense or appeal as heretical, but the reality is that Christianity globally has been penetrated by a consumer mentality where we try to make the Gospel solely about the self. The Church has shifted its focus from the ”Him” to the ”me”. Now let me be clear, the Gospel does, in fact, involve you, we are called to ‘die to self’ (Luke 9:23), ‘lay down the self’ (Gal.2:20-21) and to ‘put on the new self’ (Col.3:10).
John Francis Kavanaugh writes in his book “Following Christ in a consumer society” says that we have constructed a false gospel that was built on our consumer needs; he defines this false gospel as:
“an ultimate source of reference wherein we find ourselves revealed. A gospel is a response to the question of who we are, what we may hope for, how we may aspire to act, what endures, what is important, what is of true value. A gospel, then, is an expression of whom or what is our functional god.”
The Church is growing in Africa at a rapid pace, and it is the prosperity Gospel and rock star mentality that is prevailing around every corner. The “American fairy tale” has flavored the gospel so it could be more appealing to the masses and it just isn’t true, in fact, its not the Gospel. Darold Treffert of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Wisconsin says;
“the American fairy tale begins with two themes: that more possessions mean more happiness, that a person who does or produces more is more important.”
For the consumer, mindset achievement should be sought at any cost, even at the cost of self. Thomas Merton wrote that
“the biggest human temptation was to settle for too little.”
Kavanaugh writes about the allure of the consumer mentality in that;
“We are only insofar as we possess. We are what we possess. We are consequently possessed by our possessions, produced by our products. Remade in the image and likeness of our own handiwork, we are revealed as commodities. Idolatry exacts its full price from us. We are robbed of our very humanity.”
One Author comments;
“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.”
There is a story about Thomas Aquinas who was talking to the Pope (not so) Innocent II. The pope was counting some money, and he said; “See, Thomas, the Church can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold, have I none.’ Aquinas replied; “True, and neither can she now say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk!” [Emph mine]. It should be noted that consumer Christianity is a false substitute that will end in a false sense of security because we are busying ourselves with the things of God but never the God of the things!
What do I mean by consumer Christianity?
Consumer Christianity is the attempt to build the kingdom of God or build up the individual Christian (or attract the potential convert to Christianity) by means and methods that appeal to the flesh, i.e., the deceitful and self-serving heart of man. It had its beginning in the Garden of Eden when Satan manipulated Eve into disobeying God while believing she was enriching herself (Gen 3:1-6).
Consumer Christianity is an endeavor to help Christian churches grow in size and become more effective through the application of business principles, marketing strategies, and management concepts. It characterizes the most popular venture in Christendom today, which should seem rather odd, if not disturbing, to anyone who has an understanding of both “consumerism” and “Christianity.” Why? Because these terms are antagonistic to one another. Some Churches have even dropped the titles ‘pastors’ and call their shepherds managers or stewards. Efficiency is measured by the income of the Church at large. And the quality of God’s will by how many people you can get to a Sunday. The business model is more important than God’s way and your managerial skills more effective than prayer. Welcome to the consumer-driven Church.
Consumerism in the business sense is a concept based on customer satisfaction, which is the key to any successful commercial enterprise. The product or service must be tailored to the wants and perceived needs of the customer, or there is no sustainable profit. The consumer rules, because where there is no customer, there is no profit and, therefore, no business. In the consumer market, it is also very important to note that “the customer is always right”. You might say, I am not a consumer, and I love Church but let me share a few consumer tenets we find in the Church:
This is when prayer is all about our specific needs all the time; we usually start to pray with these words… “Lord I”. Selfishly, prayer becomes a bartering with the divine to elicit one’s own intentions and desires. I have even heard people demand what is ‘rightfully’ theirs, from God because they had a specific scripture that affirmed their need. Sounds very much like the prodigal Son going to his Father to demand his inheritance (Luk.15:11-32). If your God is simply there to supply your every demand, he is merely a ‘genie in a lamp’ and not the Sovereign God of the Bible.
This is when we are more focused on form and style than pleasing Father. If the song ”grooves”, we had one good “experience”. If the worship leader was a bit off, we had a not so good “session”. If Worship becomes about the way it stirs up the people or the right emotions it is probably just entertainment and not a profession to please the heart of God. When we flavor our songs with culture, style, and hype to conjure up the peoples’ delight, we have lost the reason for worship. Worship is for God, not you, and even though it might effect your emotions, stimulate your thoughts and confront your sins, God is always the focus.
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim.4:3-4).
In the majority of today’s Churches, we preach topical sermons to suit our people. We give our opinion on the newest revelation and we seek the right to produce ”unique” messages. We never mention sin, and at all costs, we never offend the listener. We treat everyone as those under grace and tell them God has a marvelous plan for their lives. We take it as our duty to make the people come back. Largely this is just simply a lie, we are called to expose the sinner and preach the word with clarity and depth so that the people of God can obey His commands. The sermon is not given with the sole aim to stimulate the self, but rather to abandon it, and it the process to find Our Lord and God.
Over the years I have seen Churches trying to utilize the gifting of certain individuals to elevate the pastor’s agenda. Pastors are pretty good at that. They prophesy people into positions and declare blessing to come by soliciting another “seed” from the congregants. The rank of the member’s stature is usually determined by their measure of the gifting (may it be musical, financial stature, or position/ambition in the community.) Further, they treat the Church stage as the final step towards self-affirmed greatness and subliminally make it known that success is reserved for those on the stages of the Church. We praise Our Lord for individual giftings within the Church, but that is not the aim of the Church. We are not in the business of helping people discover their gifts, even though it is seemingly good, we should aim to help members discover God and the truth of His Word.
The Demand of Biblical Christianity.
Biblical Christianity encompasses all that is necessary for mankind to know and do to be reconciled to Him, to please Him daily, and to live with Him for all eternity. It is not a business endeavor and, in fact, has no relationship to the business or its associated marketing concepts. Any attempt to enhance the practice of biblical Christianity by means of business principles is, at best, adding futile methodologies to God’s Word. At worst, such an attempt rejects the sufficiency of the Scriptures in favor of works of the flesh, quenches the Holy Spirit, and subjects one to the deceptions of, the service of, and in the end, the bondage of the god of this world. In any case, it leads to spiritual destruction in the church and has eternal consequences. Over the years I have seen people come to Church as consumers leaving with the following consequences:
Disillusionment: When people don’t get what they expect, they become disillusioned, disenchanting, disappointed, and bitter. How many people have I sat with this year who said: “I am so disappointed with God’s Church”, “God’s way of doing or allowing things”, or even, “God’s not acting on my behalf”, and so much more? If you ever felt these emotions it could be because you missed the point of Church, it is not about you!
Fear: Consumers will never be fulfilled because the very heart of consumerism is to create an impending and ongoing need. Consumers can never really live in the light of grace because nothing is ever good enough or ever warranted with contentment. The consumer mentality is based on the central fear that we do not measure up in any way or form. We usually fear when we base our beliefs on something else but Father’s goodness and faithfulness.
Confusion: Consumers will lack direction and clarity to function in even the mundane and everyday settings. There is usually a displacement as to what they need to do pertaining to their spiritual walk and how they need to live. They seem to find it hard even to fit into a normal communal setting and often find gratification in a shallow leaning towards a ”sugar-pop” spirituality and at all costs avoid the difficult questions surrounding their faith.
Frustration and Anger: Consumers always find excuses as to why they are not in any Church. Some even drift but never belong. They are frustrated about the institution and have a hostile response to any form of leadership. The focus of their conversation always ends up at a previous disappointment, hurt, or doctrinal difference within the Church. To them, their offense is more palatable than the Lord in His Church.
Boredom and passivity: Consumers are not easily impressed and it takes a lot for them to be amused. They jump from experience to experience, Church to Church, fad to fad, book to book, new revelation to revelation, pastor to pastor, but they stay unsatisfied and unfulfilled. They seldom participate and they constantly need direction but not correction.
Somehow words like Lordship, discipleship, denial of self and faithfulness seem to bewilder the consumer mindset. Jesus makes an amazing statement in John’s gospel He says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35). Our aim should never be to relate a product or indulge in an experience. Rather, it should be to please the Father and to obey Him. We cannot build the Kingdom of God with a consumer mandate or a secular model to invigorate the Church. Gimmicks and sideshows will never be fruitful, and those committed to it will have to keep the show going for their Churches to work! So let us get back to the heart of the Father and the intention of His Son and allow Him to built His Church.”(Matthew 16:18).
Rudolph P. Boshoff