Christianity and Consumerism
Pastor Daniel Jordan
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution life has changed and the proliferation of products and the ability to buy goods has changed the way we live. If we need it, then we go to the store and get it. If we desire it, then we find it and go buy it. If it provides emotional gratification, then we find a way to acquire it. Over the years our dependence on the consumer system has increased exponentially as our way of life has shifted from a rural / farming society to a more urban / suburban society. Consumerism is engrained in our way of life and is part of our thinking. For example, not many people in our country grow their own food, raise their own animals or milk their own cows. All of us have to make our weekly trips to the local market to buy these items. We have to face the reality that in many ways we are dependent consumers. We need to consume in order to survive.
Another aspect of consumerism relates to our thought life. Not only are we physically dependent on going to the store to obtain what we need, but we find ourselves identifying with brands that we believe best express who we want to be and how we desire to be perceived by others. Pastor Jeff sometimes refers to this as “conspicuous consumption.” In other words, we buy and use products so that others can see what we possess or what we consume. We have to face the truth that in many ways we are conditioned consumers. Sometimes we consume in an attempt to define who we are.
Have you ever wondered how being dependent and conditioned consumers changes our world view and in turn impacts that way we think about Christianity? Have you ever pondered how this impacts our faith, our understanding of God and our participation in the local church? I think that you might be surprised at how the subtlety of our world view can impact our thought life so drastically.
The savvy American consumer mindset is all about “what do I stand to gain or acquire?” This is the framework by which we seem to evaluate everything.
Consider these words by Skye Jethani, a contributing writer, Christianity Today,
“When we approach Christianity as consumers rather than seeing it [our faith]
as a comprehensive way of life, an interpretive set of beliefs and values, Christianity
becomes just one more brand we consume along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express identity.
…the demotion of Jesus Christ from Lord to label means to live as a Christian no longer carries an expectation of obedience and good works, but rather the perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences…”
These are some very eye opening remarks. “Perpetual consumption” made me weak at the knees.
When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?” this is how He replied,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”
This quote is found in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27. Jesus was actually quoting from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the great commandment. We are commanded to love God with every fiber of our being and with every breath of our existence. One of the ways that we do this is to follow Christ’s teachings and to follow His instructions. After His resurrection, before He ascended to heaven Jesus said in Matthew 28:18b – 20a and Mark 16:15-16,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Most Christians have heard and know “The Great Commandment” and “The Great Commission.” But, as perpetual consumers where does this leave us? How does it fall on our hearts and minds? I believe for 21st century American Christians is it a battle cry to give-rather than consume. First, once we receive the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and are restored to God, we are called to give the Good News away – to surrender ourselves to the Cross of Christ and make Him known to the world around us. It means letting go of the pursuit of meeting our personal desires and to pursue the deep need that others have for Christ. Second, we have to stop viewing the church as a consumer based organization. The church is the body of Christ comprised of the redeemed. It is here that Christians are to be fed, equipped and encouraged for the purpose of pouring it back out into the lives of others to the glory of God! The church is not to be thought of, or treated, like the local mega-mart or shopping mall.
Consumerism is a part of living in the modern world and dealing with it is a necessity. However, being defined by consumerism is not a necessity. I am reminded of an old quote by John F. Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country,” perhaps not the greatest example or from the greatest source. But, it makes a great proposition: how will you be defined; by what you take or by what you give? By what you consume or by what you contribute?
As we enter into a time of special training for evangelism take a moment and consider our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Reflect upon His life and ministry. We are called to be identified with Him and to be like Him. When we read of Christ’s life and earthly ministry He is remembered for what He gave. When we fellowship and worship together as believers in the church it is in the light of what He gave. When we consider how Christ has worked in our lives we are given life because of what He gave.
We need to be defined as people who give Christ away.