In his book Christlike, Pastor and discipleship teacher Bill Hull says, “The consumer gospel produces disciples who behave like consumers.” Could it be that many of us are consumers of Christianity but neglectors of Jesus? Before you answer too quickly, consider the highly consumer-driven culture we live in today. Our fundamental disposition as Americans is one of rugged individualism and die-hard freedom. We want what we want. We like what we like. We don’t just want nice things; on some level, we feel that we deserve them. Not surprisingly, this mindset has seeped into the Church at large. We evaluate all of church life according to our tastes and preferences; to our wants and desires. Not all of this is bad, of course, as no one will stay in a community where they don’t feel challenged, encouraged, or cared for. But to what extent have we elevated our personal interests over the radical call of discipleship that Jesus places on each of His followers?
One of the most frequent statements I hear from people new to our community goes something like this: “We were church shopping for awhile and just couldn’t find anything we liked. Then we found your church. We love the worship, kid’s ministry, and teaching so much! We’re just so happy to find a place where we can be fed.” You’ve likely heard a variation of these words many times before. The mere fact that this kind of language is so familiar points out how deeply ingrained this consumer mindset is in our culture. We don’t even blink when hearing about people who admittedly “shop” for the most favorable Sunday experience! Can you imagine Peter, Paul, or James talking about Jesus’ church in this way? Their lives were filled with uncertainty, hardship, and the constant threat of persecution because they identified themselves with Jesus Christ. They followed Him with conviction and urgency, even to the point of death. Contrast this with the attitude of many believers today. How easily do we become offended or complain over the smallest things? Maybe the pastor’s illustration fell flat, the seats were too uncomfortable, the songs too fast, too slow, or the temperature too unpleasant. These sentiments run rampant in the Church at large.
But really, what else can we expect? Consumerism is the air we breathe…we are hardwired to keep score and rate our experiences. We are expert critics who defend our right to get the most out of our faith. This subtly leads to a skewed theology resulting in a consumer-driven gospel. Again, Bill Hull is helpful:
This gospel combines the appeal for forgiveness with the abdication of any obligation of discipleship. It emphasizes the confession of sins for salvation. Everything else is off the table – following Christ, a lifelong commitment to discipleship – they are all optional.”
Often times people persuaded by this kind of gospel are quick to ask, “Have you prayed the prayer?” but then blush to inquire if that person’s life is yielding fruit consistent with that prayer. The consumer gospel shies away from discussions of repentance, responsibility, and Lordship but at the same time, is very happy to package salvation into a tidy little box. There is comfort in a faith-formula that ensures our entrance to heaven and then releases us from everything else. As we will see in coming weeks, this is not the good news that Jesus came proclaiming! Jesus longs to be so much more than a ticket to heaven; hopefully He is becoming for you what He always intended to be: both Savior and Lord.