Christianity for Sale?1
In last week’s sermon, we discussed the negative influence of consumerism when it is applied to the Christian faith. We made the point that a "consumer Christian" is not a disciple, and that Christ call to follow him is a call to be a disciple, not a consumer. Unfortunately, the consumer mentality has not just affected Christians as individuals, but as churches (and in some cases entire networks of churches). What happens to churches that embrace a consumer approach to Christianity? In his book The Courage to be Protestant, Seminary Professor David Wells gives some tell-tale signs:
First is the loss of anything serious in worship. Entertainment becomes the sole criteria for planning services. This is the natural result, according to Wells, of viewing the church as a business which caters to customers.
After all, what does the customer want? The conventional wisdom is that seriousness is the death knell of successful churches. In an age of entertainment, such as ours in the West, we have to be funny, engaging, likable, and light to succeed.
When a church adopts a consumer mindset, the amount of prayer in service will almost certainly decrease (after all this is far to solenmn and takes too much effort to engage), topical self-help sermons become the norm, and in some cases all serious exposition of the word is replaced with dramatic skits.
Second, when consumerism takes hold of a church, the gospel becomes a product that has to be packaged and sold. Wells states it baldly:
Here was the gospel product as sleekly fashioned and as artfully sold as anything in the mall or on television. Here also were churches smelling of coffee and reverberating with edgy music. There were bright and exciting videos. And the professional singers rivaled any one might hear in Vegas. It was all put together in a package to please, entice, entertain, relax, grab, and enfold potential customers and worm its way into their hearts.”
Third, increased choice and constant change has become sacred.
One of the ways of making the experience of going to church more pleasant is to offer choice. Consumers want to be able to choose the style of music they hear, the kind of worship they participate in, and to have a say in what they hear from the barstool up front.
Fourth, churches became allergic to anything that speaks of sacrifice or inconvenience. Again Wells is quite pointed:
(A consumer mentality) leads to being leery of speaking of a Christian faith that is too demanding because of the prospect of offending “customer. We take care not to cross these lines when we speak...
This is a very important observation. Not only does a consumer mindset make an individual allergic to sacrifice and inconvenience, it makes churches reluctant at best and fearful at works to actually preach and teach the "whole counsel of God." Hard passages of Scripture are avoided, and calls to holy living and obedience are gone. The faith is presented (see # 2 above) as a product that will help you, and there is no requirement that you change. Of all of the consequences, this watering down of the Word of God is perhaps the most tragic. After all, the apostle Paul specifically warns Timothy not to cater to "itching ears" who will only surround themselves with teaching they like. Perhaps it is fair to say that if you’re never uncomfortable or challenged by the preaching and teaching at your church, it may be time to find a new church.