Consumer Christianity: Idol for Destruction

As we approach the weekend here is another article that I simply cannot improve upon — I offer it to you for your benefit and to stimulate some thought.

 

Consumer Christianity: Idol for Destruction

J. K. Jones Jr. serves as pastor of spiritual formation with Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois.

It is a plague that seeks to devour our churches, a spiritual disease as old as Adam and Eve. It is a sickness of the soul. It is a sleight of hand, a slick replacement of God with something that resembles him but is not him. Consumerism of the Christian kind is a making of God into our own likeness, wanting him on our own terms. At its most crass level, clearly evident in the North American Christian landscape, consumer Christianity is taking and never giving in return. It is a worldview, a way of living out our life that seeks to control God.

01_Jones_JNWe shop for a church the way we hunt for the best cup of coffee. We look until we find a worship style or preacher that suits our fancy, a place that addresses our particular need and want.

We hunt for a church that scratches our spiritual itch, not comprehending our search is for God. I won’t be surprised if one day scientists discover a gene that somehow reveals this God-given appetite for him. “He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). But our hunger for God is easily suckered into settling for cheap imitations. That’s what happens to shoppers. We sometimes go for pizzazz rather than preeminence.

The problem is not that we want choice. I agree with Marshall Shelley, “Consumerism and choice: this is the spirit of our age. It’s not that buying and selling things is bad. Or that an abundance of choices is evil. These are inescapable facts of life. The problem is not the choices, but the basis on which we decide them” (“Are You Buying In?” Leadership Journal, Summer 2006, p. 3).

All of us are consumers. God, in his enormous grace, has granted human beings dominion over creation. Scripture reminds us the whole earth belongs to God. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). The kind of consumers we are depends upon our view of God. Exodus 20:3 is a sobering reminder God is not a commodity that exists to make us feel better. The church, his bride, was not birthed on Pentecost to serve as our spiritual mall.

Is there a way out of this muck of consumer Christianity? I believe so.

 

How to Destroy the Idol
Idols were made for destruction. The two great revival kings of Israel’s history, Hezekiah and Josiah, understood this. Their stories are loaded with yanking idols from the high places, breaking sacred pillars, cutting down the Asherah altars, and grinding them into dust (2 Kings 18:3-6; 23:4-20; 2 Chronicles 29; and 34:33). Their reforms are brilliant displays of Exodus 20:3 in practice. So, let’s get practical. I want to suggest four reforms for destroying the idols of consumer Christianity.

First, like Hezekiah and Josiah, recover worship of him. Seek God as the Supreme One who is good, great, eternal, majestic, and ever faithful. We are called to worship him, not the music, the preacher, the sermon, or the children’s program. God alone is deserving of worship. I admit my bias toward certain songs, sermons, and worship structures, but none is equal to God.

The reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah are laden with words of spiritual awakening. That’s what happens when God is exalted. From Genesis to Revelation, the unashamed metanarrative of Scripture reminds us God is on his throne. He will not tolerate rivals. He is worthy to receive glory, honor, and praise.

I am blessed to attend a church where Sunday after Sunday our worship pastor, Matt Ludwig, keeps God at the center of our praise and adoration. This kind of God-saturated worship can surgically remove the cancer of consumerism. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (Revelation 5:5). All other idols must be crushed.

Second, like these two kings, repent of anything that derails worship of God. What else needs to be said? Consumer Christianity is constantly fashioning new gods. Resist. Run from idols of various shapes and kinds that dot the spiritual landscape of our day.

Third, renew commitment to Scripture. Hezekiah “kept the commands the Lord had given Moses” (2 Kings 18:6); Josiah’s “heart was responsive” when Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord, shared it with Shaphan the secretary, and he in turn read it to the king (2 Kings 22:19).

When Scripture is read, explained, applied, and understood, the Spirit of God blows across our diseased hearts and forms us to look like Christ. We begin to serve and share. Selflessness is birthed. Scripture, not entertainment, feeds, coaches, convicts, exposes, and grows mature apprentices of Jesus.

I praise God that my preacher, Mike Baker, is consumed with teaching and preaching the timeless Word of God week after week. We are currently spending a year exploring Paul’s prison letters (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon), along with 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Mike has creatively arranged the series through a variety of themes, topics, and texts. Time and time again I hear people share testimony of how God has used Mike’s faithful preaching of Scripture to clean up and clear out the debris of consumer Christianity.

Fourth, release God’s blessings. Hezekiah and Josiah encouraged generous giving. People brought their tithes and offerings and dedicated them to the Lord (2 Chronicles 31:2-21 and 34:8-13).

Does anyone doubt that the American culture, even the church, is addicted to wealth and possessions? Money and things can be deadly. “Watch out,” “be on your guard” was Jesus’ warning (Luke 12:15). Giving away what God has given us intimately links us with his heart. He, after all, “so loved the world that he gave” (John 3:16).

The imperfect church I love, serve, and call my home has an amazing team of elders. They prayerfully decided to generously give away more than $400,000 that exceeded our budgeted needs to those mission and ministry partners we already support, partners in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, India, and New York City. Based on our vision statement and what we believe God has directed us to do, we passed along the money he entrusted to our care. This generosity has fostered greater generosity. Even more, there is evidence of consumer Christianity being torn down as an idol for destruction.

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) is the appropriate message for a church vulnerable to a consumer mind-set. Idols are pesky. They keep returning, but God is unique. There is no one like him, and there should be no other gods in his presence to compete with him.

Only a God of size and grace can enable us to be consumed by him.

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