John 6:26-28 MSG Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. (27) “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” (28) To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”(29) Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”
Eventhough Jesus cared for people, healed them, and fed them He was never big on leaving them in some sort of consumer relationship. The kind of authentic Christian life Jesus sacrificed to bring into existence is not living as a finicky spiritual consumer picking and choosing the best God deal at the lowest cost. It really is living a life consumed by Him (a people for His own possession). Titus 2:13-14 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, (14) who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Not long ago the wife of popular leader stood in front of their large congregation on a Sunday morning and sent shock waves of controversy with a statement she made about serving God.
“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?” (The congregation applauds.)
It triggered quite a bit of debate about this mentality that critics referred to as a propagation of cheap me centered Christianity. Even at the time the story was breaking it was hard to rectify God’s main goal of “God wants you to be happy because when you are happy that what makes God happy” with other headlines about Christians being martyred in Iraq and Syria. Those losing their lives obviously didn’t get the message from the leader’s wife about God’s goal of happiness.
Is church to be like a movie theater or a gym?
These types of issues bring up the whole idea of consumer Christianity versus the call to “make disciples (those who lay down their lives for His sake in order to follow Him) who obey everything Jesus commanded” (Mt 28:18-19). When the goal of the Gospel and the church is about making us happy then “going to church” becomes more like going to the movies rather than going to the gym. Why do we go to the movies? Primarily to be entertained. They even have movies that offer more entertainment and comfort with reclining chairs and bottomless appetizers. You go there to watch with the goal of being entertained and happy. We were never called to be watching stones but living stones actively working to see His house become what He intends her to be 1 Peter 2:1-4.
We were never called to be watching stones but living stones actively working to see His house become what He intends her to be 1 Peter 2:1-4.
The gym on the other hand has different goals. Ultimately happiness is part of those goals but it is a happiness that comes from becoming healthy. You go there to be active, not to watch. You sacrifice, sweat, and become uncomfortable, but those sacrifices ultimately cause health which in the end truly satisfies.
The most important issue for disciples is that they become like Jesus which leads to eternal happiness beginning now. There is an exercising of faith that is part of the process. In becoming like Jesus there is often a denial of selfish interest for a greater purpose, being with Him, and becoming like Him. Paul says that was a main aim in Jesus’ death.
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; (15) and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf…(17) Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
When churches appeal to consumer instincts in the way they practice church it sends mixed messages. The highest good is being happy. Following anything that would make us happy is never to be questioned. They can say God wants us to be like Jesus but the subtle message is only if you feel like it, it makes you happy, and it requires no self denial. This can present a relationship with Jesus that is really more of a no-obligation relationship. You can have a relationship with Jesus as long as you feel like it … and if not, that’s totally okay. Come and go as you wish.
I remember a marketing campaign for multiple services that a church put forth in advertising it’s services, “Because Christians should have choices.” I have seen other churches over the years launch marketing campaigns for their openings with letters, phone calls, and post cards appealing to this same consumerist nature. These things can be good in getting the word out about a new church. The problem comes with the subtle but often clear message, we will give you what you want. One church offered, “energetic music with fresh hot Starbucks coffee waiting for you at the front door!”
God’s purpose through Christ isn’t about Christians as consumers getting what they want. It is about God’s design and getting what we need that should reign supreme. Consumerism turns the God of mercy into a god at our mercy who lives to satisfy our wants and desires.
Consumerism turns the God of mercy into a god at our mercy who lives to satisfy our wants and desires.
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