In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape instructs his protégé Wormwood on how to cure a man from “Churchgoing”. He says,
“If a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches. “ Lewis, C. S.
This is really no different that modern day consumerism which has been defined as, “Living to consume as opposed to consuming to live” – to acquire things and usually more than we need. Consumerism is when who you are is based on what you buy. Consumerism overwhelms us with an endless array of choices and is fueled by two things, the thrill of the chase and the desire for status. Vincent Miller says, “It’s not really about the attachment of things but about the joy of endlessly seeking and pursuing things even though those things disappoint in the end.” Vincent Miller – Consuming Religion.
In consumerism, possessions exist for status and not necessarily the practical function they serve. Having a brand name logo is more important because of the statement it makes than whether or not it’s really practical. But if you don’t think consumerism existed in Bible times, think again.
The book of Judges speaks of a man named Micah who created his own brand of consumer religion . Micah saw the God of the universe no differently than a commodity that can be bought and sold. He created an idol and hired a priest to fashion his own custom-made religion (Judges 17:1 – 13).
What makes Micah’s story so significant is that according to many theologians, the last part of Judges (Chapter 17-21) is really the prequel to the book of Judges. It’s how idolatry crept in after Joshua died. In Chapter 18, verse 30, the Levite who was hired as a priest by Micah was a grandson of Moses. This was before the time of the Judges and just after Joshua who had succeeded Moses.
What stands out as the tragic moral of Micah’s story is that the idolatry that ravaged the whole land of Israel STARTED AT HOME, Micah’s home.
Not unlike Micah’s consumer approach to God, consumer Christianity in America can be seen by the way we have refashioned the gospel into clever marketing campaigns designed to promise a cost-free, low-risk entertainment-packed experience.
Advertisement is not wrong in itself as long as it’s not the driving force behind things. But how quickly we can turn our religion into a commodity by confusing the means with the end.
A close pastor friend saw this sign down the street from his church: “Texas Hold ‘Em Night” – Thursdays – $10 to join the game.
A Church in Lansing, Michigan has services by giving out free beer and popcorn at an upstairs bar with promises to buy the first drink. Some churches have taken down their crosses for fear of offending prospective consumers. Others even play some top pop hits during their worship service in hopes that they will draw more people.
It is a fact that whatever brings people to church must also keep them coming to church. Many followed Jesus as long as He gave them bread, but after the bread was gone, so were the people. Many today want entertainment in their religion but not encounter that would require something of them.
Someone put it this way,
“Every TV commercial, every store, every credit card company, every bank, every TV show or movie, every piece of clothing, car or product, every website, every restaurant . . . Everything is tailored to fit your desires, needs or personal preference”.
When we live by our preferences, what happens if we don’t get what we want? If we are consumer minded in our Christianity, we sneer and look elsewhere. This keeps us from ever being rooted, discipled, and accountable to a body of believers.
Micah custom-made his own spirituality with an idol, a priestly vest called an ephod and a priest for hire.
Researcher George Barna has well said,
“We are a designer society. We want everything customized to fit our personal needs — our clothing, our food, our education. Now it’s our religion”.
Christian consumerism says if I don’t get the God I want, I will shop for one convinced that there is most certainly a place they can find one.
There are fatal downsides in attempting to turn God into a commodity that we can own and manipulate at will.
Have you ever noticed TV ads – “Risk-free, no obligation or your money back”, “Buy one, get one free”, “Order in the next 15 minutes and you’ll get”, 2 for 1 deal?
This isn’t far from trying to blend Christ with consumerism. We become like connoisseurs who pick and choose the hors d’oeuvres we most want. Forgiveness, Blessings, Abundance, Health, Success, Career, Protection are preferred to Correction, Discipline, Surrender, Holiness, Purity, and Self-denial. And the dreaded word DISCIPLESHIP is viewed as a four letter word.
Even the world doesn’t believe in this idea. Just ask any Olympic athlete if there was a price they had to pay in order to contend in the race they are in!
We ask things like, “What do I want out of God, Church, the Bible, Christianity, fellowship”? These questions seem good until something stops working for us.
The right questions should go something like this: What does God want of me? What place of worship does God want me to plant myself and my family in? What relationships does God want me to be in covenant with? If God doesn’t give me what I want, how should I respond?
So ask yourself this question again – Am I a Worshiper or a Connoisseur?