Consumeristic Christianity is in decline, but it not going quietly.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
Modern American culture has long been defined by commercialism and consumerism driven by a variant of materialism that demarks the accumulation of wealth and material objects as the end and the goal of the life that we live. It tells us that status is defined by how much money, material objects, personal power etc. we accumulate. This attitude, like many other things, find its way into the church. The greatest example is the health and wealth gospel that tells you that if you give so much money God will bless you with even more money or material goods. This is a more intricate form of the Cargo Cults of the South Pacific Oceans, cults formed around the idea, given by missionaries of the Church of Rome, that if the people followed God they would get cargo. But this is also evident in what Kirstin Du Mez calls “The Evangelical Marketplace.” That is, a place where the sale of books is king, and everyone is reading the latest. It does not even matter if it is even related to truth, if it sells it is good for the pocketbooks of the preachers and pundits who write them. One of the best examples on the market right now is Rachel Hollis’s bestseller “Girl Wash Your Face.” There is absolutely nothing biblical or true about what she has written there and yet, it is a bestseller, sitting on the tables of many church members. As a result of this marketplace, instead of growing up into maturity as Christians, we are often thrown about by every wind of doctrine. This also makes us susceptible to conspiracy theories and other lies meant to manipulate and instill fear.
Paul tells Timothy in 2nd Timothy 2:16-17: “Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymanenaeus and Philetus.” (NRSV). The student of the bible knows that Hymanaeus is also referenced in 1 Timothy 1 as one who Paul had excommunicated for stirring up division. Paul goes on in verse 23: Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” This is, again, in line with something Paul tells Timothy in 1:4 when he tells him to avoid old wives’ tales. The problem is this wisdom is hard to apply when there are thousands of voices vying for everyone’s attention. It is worse when someone treats the truth of scripture with no regard whatsoever in favor of whatever the wind of the day is, and in our current consumeristic marketplace, there is a lot of words and regrettably, not a lot of truth.
This often translates to us taking possession of our churches, or at least we think we have possession of our churches. A lot of the heartache by pastors in the church could have been spared by a proper teaching on what the church is, how believers should address tension in the church and who the church belongs to. It should be said that some of this is benign, we love to refer to the congregation we belong to as: “our church” or “my church.” So long as that is as far as we go and we understand that it is not in fact something we possesses we are fine. But when our actions reflect the idea that we own the church, we are showing we do not have a proper understanding of who the church belongs to. We think that since we were married there, give money there or are regular attenders we have the right to demand certain things of the church and her ministers. Church becomes another commodity that we acquire to make ourselves comfortable and respected in our community. When something comes along and threatens that comfort or challenges our perspective of what the Church is, we fall in line with Hymenaeus and Philetus. We start to whisper together and form unhealthy triangles to force the pastor or leadership to capitulate to our demands and when the pastor or leadership will not, we just leave and go somewhere else that will fulfill our desire for comfort. On the way out the door though, some of us do a lot, and I mean a lot, of damage.
I want to pause here and say that no pastor or church leader is above scrutiny. There is way that is right and proper, laid out in scripture, to deal with conflicts of all kind and they require the issues to be addressed directly, not indirectly and addressed in love, assuming the best of the other people involved in their brother and sister in Christ. If this does not happen, the parties creating the division are at fault, not the pastor, especially if the pastor has a system in place for people to address concerns. Someone cannot be reconciled with someone who has never come to them, no matter how much they may want to.
Splitting a Church, and the sectarian spirit in general, is something Scripture expressly and repeatedly warns us against. Paul goes so far as to tell the Corinthians that when they engage in Sectarianism, they are dividing Christ (1 Cor 1-2). Jesus will for the Church was that: “They be one as you and I are one” (John 17:21). If we are to be one as the Father and Son are one, we need to live in communion with the Holy Spirit which draws us into the divine life. In an age when it is so easy to divide from a church or divide a church, we should be aware of what we are doing, and the consequences of doing it. Hymenaeus and Alexander were “turned over to Satan so that they might learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:20). Stirring up division, division the church, upsetting whole families (all charges in 1st and 2nd Timothy or Titus) are equivalent to Blaspheme. They are also a rejection of the Word of God and that again, is serious. In Timothy Paul also states that this kind of consumeristic Christianity is in fact a sign of the last days, as hinted at above, it is a means by which we might get our ears tickled and hear what we want, not what we need. When Pastors tell us what we need to hear, they often become the target of vicious smear campaigns, gossip, and slander, because they are not tickling the itching ears.
The problem with all of this is that it is predicated on a false view that the church belongs to us. My church, in a consumeristic mind, does not just mean the place I go to church, it is the place I exert influence in because I go there, and it needs to always cater 100% to me. Skye Jethani, in “What if Jesus Was Serious” notes that American spirituality is a spirituality of one, It is self-focused. it is what can I get out of this. Christian spirituality, on the other hand, is other and communally focused. Our liturgy, or the passage on which it is built, does not say: “My Father” but “Our Father” When you call it “My Church” you are expressing an individualistic and consumeristic view of the Church, not a scriptural, others-oriented view of the Church. But this is also not “our church” because again, that implies human ownership. It is also not your pastors church, he or she does not own the church and is not in control of the church. This is the reason pastors need to work hard to apply all of scripture to every area of life so that they can teach and preach with wisdom about everything in the scriptures and how it applies to every situation in the world. Pastors who stand up and share their opinions over the word of God or read their opinions back into the word of God are adding to scripture. Those who ignore it are neglecting its full council and subtracting from it.
So, if it is not your church, and if it is not my church, if it is not your pastors church or our church? Then whose Church is it anyway?
The answer is as simple as Sunday School could make it. The Church belongs to, is built up by, is built upon and is in covenant relationship like that of a marriage to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Jesus tells us so in Matthew 16 when Peter professes Him as Christ and He tells him: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church” (v. 18 emphasis mine). Further, Peter, in his first major sermon refers to Christ as: “The Cornerstone” of the Church and Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that the Church is build upon Christ as the Apostles, teachers and preachers are then given as a foundation to build the rest of the house into Christ. Without Christ, there is no church, there is only a family chapel or country club. The Church has a mandate then to live out the Jesus Life, the Jesus Way, on the Jesus Mission by taking up the Jesus Cross. Jesus is the only one who can demand this of us, because He is the one who wiped out our unpayable debt (Matt 18:21-35) on the cross. Without Jesus, there is no forgiveness of sins, there is no body of believers, there is no Church. Further, expecting your pastor to “tone it down” or “give us what we want to hear” is to ask them to put themselves in spiritual peril because they must subtract from the full council of scripture. To threaten them to capitulate to your whims instead of the convictions of speaking the Word of Truth is to “Lord it over them” like the Gentiles which Jesus says is “not the way it is to be with you” (Matt 20:20-28). Instead, if your pastor is preaching the full gospel, leave him be, encourage him and continue to challenge him, but do not demand he change so you are comfortable because the Church does not belong to him and it does not belong to you, but to Christ. If your pastor is preaching open heresy, that is, directly contradicting the word of God, then you can confront him and split from him if he refuses to listen to you in a Matthew 18:15-20 scenario.
Here is the bottom line. This is Jesus’ church, and Jesus promised us that his church will not be a comfortable place. It will be a loving place, but it will not be a comfortable place. True Discipleship, the kind of discipleship that every Christian in called to is to be uncomfortable because we are to continue to grow and daily kill the old man. The old man wants us to be comfortable. Comfort chokes out the new man. We also should not be comfortable in our society, especially with it becoming so secular, because we are the church and Jesus promised us that we would not have peace with the world because we were to be called out and different from the world. “If they hated me, they would hate you” he said, and even stated it will be worse for us than it was for him (Matt 24). Love of Christ is to be enmity with the world. Therefore, there should never be total alignment between the Church and the secular political parties of the world or the secular philosophies of the world. Christianity, in Christ, is the most complete faith with the most complete Scriptures in existent, it is also the most provable faith in existence. That means both Christianity and the Bible do not need the ists and isms of Christianity+ to complete themselves, they are complete in themselves because Christ is complete.
For the church to move forward in this country we need to repent of trying to take ownership of what is not ours. We need to abandon the consumerism and materialism of our culture, for the sake of Christ and His word. Because the Church is not yours, it is not mine and it is not ours. It has, is and always will be, Christ’s. Let’s live like it.