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HomeIn the NewsFaith Not For Sale: Confronting Consumerism in the Church

Faith Not For Sale: Confronting Consumerism in the Church

Exploring the threat of materialism to Biblical Christianity

The greatest weakness in the church today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible. Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it — His Word. He alone has the power to change lives for eternity, and that power is focused on the Scriptures.
— R. C. Sproul (1939–2017)

Introduction

This poignant observation by R.C. Sproul encapsulates a foundational concern: the shift from biblical authority to consumer-oriented approaches in contemporary church practices. It sets the stage for a critical examination of how consumerism not only permeates our shopping habits but also subtly influences our spiritual communities

Consumerism in the Church

 Often, churches embrace a relentless pursuit of material goods, placing personal happiness in fleeting, tangible acquisitions. This culture of excess can overshadow the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural values that the Gospel promotes, urging us to prioritize what is eternal and intangible. In many modern churches, this manifests in market-driven strategies that prioritize popularity and profitability over traditional spiritual priorities, leading to business-oriented practices aimed at attracting and retaining members.

The challenge for the church is to remain vigilant against the seductive lure of consumerism that can easily infiltrate our sanctuaries. We are called to transcend marketing the faith as a mere product; instead, we must authentically live out our faith, demonstrating its true transformative power beyond mere transactions.

Thesis Statement

This essay argues that the deep penetration of consumerism within religious practices not only undermines spiritual authenticity but also poses a significant threat to the core principles of the Christian faith. By examining the influences from a theological perspective and the shifts in church dynamics, this essay highlights the necessity for a return to genuine spiritual experiences and the teachings of the Bible over superficial interactions and materialistic pursuits.

Consumerism and Church Dynamics

As consumerism takes root, its effects on church dynamics become increasingly evident. The ‘good life’ promised through endless buying has made its way into church life, a shift highlighted in the recent Royce Report video, ‘Why the American Church is in Crisis. ‘ The video discusses modern churches’ tendency to lean towards marketing methods, often placing human desires above Divine directives.

In various communities, the adoption of business and marketing jargon focuses on what churchgoers desire, potentially prioritizing aesthetics and appeal over spiritual depth. This trend risks diluting the genuine spirit of worship, as churches may strive to make the Christian faith appear more ‘relevant’ and ‘attractive,’ akin to a marketable product.

Importantly, the main mission of the Church — often referred to as the ‘Great Commission’ — is fundamentally about spreading Jesus Christ’s teachings, making disciples, and fostering spiritual growth within the community, as directed by Matthew 28:19–20. Despite these challenges, not all churches succumb to these trends; many resist and continue to focus on authentic spiritual growth and community engagement.

Scriptural Insight

This growing trend underscores the need to seek guidance from the scriptures. Romans 12:2 provides a potent counterpoint, urging us not to conform to worldly patterns but to transform through spiritual renewal. This scripture invites us to transcend superficial attractions and embrace the Gospel’s transformative power.

Matthew 6:24 articulates a similar sentiment, stating, “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and money.” This verse highlights the crucial choice between spiritual devotion and material wealth, reminding us that true faith and consumerism cannot coexist.

Furthermore, 1 John 2:15–17 cautions against excessive love for worldly things, which are ephemeral and not of divine origin. These teachings collectively emphasize the importance of eschewing overt consumerism, engaging deeply with the Bible, and prioritizing eternal truths over fleeting materialistic pursuits.

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Theological Perspectives

C.S. Lewis (1898–1963), a well-known Christian apologist, wrote in his book Mere Christianity, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” This powerful idea emphasizes the all-or-nothing nature of the Christian faith. Lewis challenges the church and its followers to recognize the profound significance of their beliefs. If Christianity is true, its importance surpasses everything else in life; it is not something to be approached casually or treated as a mere addition to one’s lifestyle.

Lewis’ statement reminds us that the core of Christianity involves deep, personal transformation and a commitment that impacts every aspect of life. It cannot be reduced to a set of principles or practices designed to make us feel good or to fit neatly into a consumer-driven culture. True Christianity demands a radical reorientation of our values and priorities, calling us to a higher purpose that transcends the materialistic and transient desires promoted by overconsumption.

In a consumeristic society, there is a temptation to market the faith in ways that make it seem more appealing or accessible, often by focusing on comfort, convenience, and personal satisfaction. However, Lewis’ insight calls for the church to resist this reductionist view. Instead of packaging Christianity as an attractive product to be desired and consumed, the church should present it as the profound and transformative faith that it is.

Additionally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), a German theologian, spoke against “cheap grace” in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. This concept can be likened to commercialistic approaches in the church. He defined cheap grace as “…grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” This warns against a version of Christianity that is stripped of its cost and its transformative power. It is tailored to suit consumer preferences rather than adhering to the expectations and responsibilities of discipleship.

Contemporary Responses

John Lennox, along with numerous scholars and religious leaders, has expressed deep concerns regarding the infiltration of consumer culture into religious communities. They argue that churches should not merely strive to keep pace with market trends or attract large audiences by adopting flashy and exciting presentations. Instead, these leaders emphasize the importance of returning to the core teachings of the Gospel. They advocate for a focus on fostering deeper faith and building strong community ties rather than simply measuring success by the number of seats filled on Sundays.

Adding to this discussion, Craig Bartholomew and Thorsten Moritz put together a book called “Christ and Consumerism.” This book is a collection of essays by different Christian thinkers who explore how consumer culture has really seeped into our lives, what that means for our faith, and how we practice it. The essays offer a deep dive into the tricky ways consumer habits are shaping our religious communities and stress why it’s important to focus on real spiritual connections rather than just trying to grow church numbers.

Further illustrating this point, Matthew Dickerson reflects on the practical challenges that arise when churches adopt a market-driven approach. He states, “When people approach church as consumers shopping for a product, it is tempting for Christians — especially church leaders — to respond with a similar mindset: to view church as a product that must please customers in order to sell.” He emphasizes a contrary approach, inspired by the teachings of Jesus: “Though it is often not a popular message, the Gospel should always point to Christ, and through Christ back to the Father.” Dickerson’s comments underscore the need to prioritize spiritual depth over numerical growth.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live out our faith in love, focusing on what’s most important rather than succumbing to a consumer culture that skews our understanding of worth and needs. With God’s help, may we resist conforming to consumer culture and be transformed and renewed through the Word of God.

Conclusion

The terrain of consumer culture within the church requires us to remain vigilant and committed to our core values more than ever. Resisting materialism is not solely about fostering a community where spiritual growth and deep connections outweigh market trends. Our churches should be sanctuaries where the Gospel’s life-changing message is actively lived and experienced, not merely promoted.


References

Bartholomew, C., & Moritz, T. (Eds.). (n.d.). Christ and consumerism: A critical analysis of the spirit of the age. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/review/christ-and-consumerism-a-critical-analysis-of-the-spirit-of-the-age/


Salvation – Eternal Life in Less Than 150 Words

AuthorMarie Grace | BCWorldview.org 

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