A Consumer-Driven Church

 

There is little question that we live in a consumer-driven society.  Most businesses pay careful attention to the desires and preferences of their customers, and try to mold their product line or services to meet these preferences.  Sometimes companies ignore their constituents and make changes that are unpopular.  In 1985 the Coca Cola Company changed the formula of its flagship product, and the result was disastrous.  The uproar from customers was so fierce that within a few months the original formula was returned to production.

The power of consumer preferences has not been lost on the religious world.  Beginning about twenty-five years ago the leadership of some churches began to modify their approach in order to appeal to what church-growth gurus call, “the unchurched”.  As a result, preachers began to dress more casually, worship music became more like a rock concert, more and varied social programs were initiated, and the emphasis of preaching turned more to the person of Jesus, and less to doctrinal matters.  It was believed that these changes would make the church more appealing to those who had never been to church.

Consumers are quick to pick up on such things, and thus more and more people now come to churches with a shopping list of amenities they expect those churches to offer.  Visitors now ask, “What programs does your church offer?”  They inquire about youth programs, singles ministries, divorce or drug recovery programs, day care, and other such things.  If the church offers these amenities, they might consider joining it.  If not, they take their list to the next church.  Unfortunately, the primary concern of many church leaders is only on how to fill the church building.  Therefore, the pressure to follow this trend is considerable.

When we open the pages of scriptures, however, the idea of a consumer-driven church is nowhere to be found.  Neither Jesus, nor His apostles, put their finger to the wind to see what was popular among the people.  Instead, they urged people to focus on the unimpeachable word of God, and to mold their desires in compliance with it.  Paul notably told the elders of the church in Ephesus that he was innocent of the blood of all men because he had not failed to proclaim the whole counsel of God to them (Acts 20:26-27).  In other words, he had told them everything they needed to know to please God.  If they chose not to obey God, they would bear responsibility for that decision.

When God sent Ezekiel to the people of Judah to warn them of His impending judgment because of their sins, He told the prophet to proclaim His word to them, “whether they listen or not” (Ezk. 2:4-5).  This theme is constant throughout the scriptures, even in the New Testament.  The apostles called people to become what God wanted them to be.  They never modified their message to fit the preferences of the people.  They spoke the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), but the declared the whole truth without compromise.

If popular opinion determined our eternal destiny, then it might make sense to be a consumer-driven church.  However, the Lord said that His word will judge us at the last day (Jn. 12:48).  He also warned the seven churches of Asia that He would remove their lampstand if they did not obey Him (Rev. 2-3).  From the beginning of His ministry the Lord made it clear that we must do things God’s way in order to enter heaven (Mt. 7:21-23).  If we want a home in heaven, we must keep seeking the things above, rather than the things on earth (Col. 2:1-2).  Christ purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28).  Therefore, the church must be Christ-driven, not consumer-driven, in all it does.

No Man Is An Island

 

The quintessential American hero is the loner.  He is a man who lives and travels alone, and to all outward appearances has no need of companionship.  In the old westerns his only possessions were the clothes on his back, his gun, his saddle and the gear packed in it, his horse, and maybe a dog.  He spent his life going from place to place, pausing only long enough to pick up supplies, and, if necessary, to vanquish the bad guys.  When the dust settled, he rode off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

This portrayal has long been associated with Americans and we have reveled in this imagery of “rugged individualism”, a phrase that was popularized by Herbert Hoover during his presidency.  The paradox of our love affair with this imagery is the fact that few of us are emotionally or psychologically inclined toward it.  The plain truth is that most of us would find such an existence so lonely that it would destroy us.  In fact, we generally tend to look with concern upon anyone who seems to not need or desire social interaction with others.

Whatever our views of the loner might be, we need to recognize that this is not the way God intended for us to live.  The scriptures show this in two ways.  First, after God created Adam the scripture says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him'” (Gen. 1:18).  God knew that human beings need intimate companionship.  For this reason He made the woman and gave her to Adam to be his wife.  The marriage relationship not only provides this needed companionship, but also helps us avoid sexual sin.

Second, the scriptures teach that Christians do not make the journey to eternal life alone.  In Rom. 12:3-8 and in 1 Cor. 12:12-26 Paul taught that Christians are individually members of the body of Christ.  As such we are connected to each other in the same way that all the parts of the human body are connected to each other.  Thus, what each one of us does, or does not do, affects the rest of the body.  Paul dramatically made this point by saying that one part of the body cannot say to another part that it has no need of it (1 Cor. 12:14-21).  In other words, no part of the body can subsist apart from the rest of the body.

In Eph. 4:11-16 Paul illustrated the importance of our interaction with each other as members of the body.  He said that the body only grows when each individual part functions as it should in conjunction with all the other parts of the body.  This is one of our purposes as Christians.  If we are not involving ourselves in the lives of our fellow Christians we are not only missing out on the encouragement and edification that they give us, but we are robbing them of the same.

In 1624 the English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

As human beings we are inexorably tied to one another.  What affects one affects all of us.  However, how much more so is this true of Christians?  We cannot help each other on our journey to eternal life until and unless we are involved in each other’s lives.  We, of all people, should desire the sweet fellowship of those who share our faith in Jesus Christ.  We, of all people, should get out of our comfort zone and refuse to be loners.

Which Way?

 

On the night in which the Lord was betrayed, He revealed to the eleven apostles (Judas having been dismissed from the Passover meal) that He would be leaving them.  However, the Lord assured them that they would not be forgotten.  In Jn. 14:1-4 He promised them that He was going away to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, and that one day He would return to take them there.  Then, He told them that they knew the way to where He was going.

In v. 5 Thomas asked the question that each of them must have been thinking.  He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”  The Lord’s reply in v. 6 was simple, yet enigmatic.  He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  This could not have been the answer the apostles expected.  They were still expecting the Lord to establish an earthly kingdom so they may have thought He was going to some wilderness place to which they had never been.

An earthly kingdom of the type they anticipated was never the Lord’s plan, though.  His was and remains a spiritual kingdom.  During His ministry on the earth the Lord revealed that His miraculous works showed that the kingdom of God had come upon mankind (Mt. 12:28).  Nevertheless, we don’t enter the kingdom in the same way that we catch the flu.  Although the kingdom is all around us, we still need directions in order to enter it.

This prompts us to ask a question which is very much like the one the apostles asked at the Passover meal in Jn. 14.  If we truly wish to enter the kingdom we must ask, “Which way must we go?”  The answer the Lord gave that night is still the correct, and only, answer.  The Lord is the way to the kingdom of God, but what does this actually mean?  How can we know that we are going the right way?

In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord gave the first indication of which way we must go in order to reach the eternal reward.  In Mt. 7:13-14 He said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  This, like the Lord’s statement in Jn. 14:6, seems to be a simple declaration, but He had something very particular in mind by both of these statements.

To follow Jesus, the way, and to enter the narrow gate, means to obey His commands.  This is the most basic factor in our quest to enter the kingdom and to receive eternal life.  On the night of His betrayal, shortly after telling the eleven that He is the way, the Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15).  This was not something new, for He had emphasized this much earlier in His ministry.

In Luke’s record of the Sermon on the Mount he included a statement not found in Matthew’s account.  In Lk. 6:46 the Lord asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?”  He then followed with the parable of the wise and foolish builders.  His point was that we will only be blessed by God if we obey the things which His Son commands us.  This is a timeless truth that is, sadly, lost on many today.

Nearly 600 years before the birth of our Lord, Jeremiah said, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).  This is as true today as it was then.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to ask, “Which way?”, as we travel down the pathway of life.  Then, having received the answer, “I am the way,” let us follow the Lord by obeying everything He commands us.

I Am Resolved

 

The beginning of a new year is the time at which many people make resolutions regarding what they intend to do in that year.  It may be a commitment to live more healthily, or to stop some bad habit.  It may be to do a better job at work or at school, or to improve one’s skills in some area.  However, in one sense New Year’s resolutions have become synonymous with failure.  This is because so few people make them, and fewer still actually keep them.

Whether one keeps a typical New Year’s resolution may not seem important in the ebb and flow of life.  We may wish we were slimmer, healthier, more active, more intelligent, kinder, or wiser, but most of us manage to rationalize our failure to become so.  As our resolutions drop by the wayside, we comfort ourselves with the thought that at least we did not become worse in these areas of our lives.  This may or may not be the case, but the farther into the New Year we go, the less it matters to us.

When we consider resolutions in the context of spiritual matters, however, they are far more significant.  To resolve means to reach a firm decision about something.  The implication is that once this decision has been made it must be carried through without fail.  This is certainly the expectation that we find in the scriptures.  In Acts 11 the scripture tells us that certain disciples came to Antioch of Syria and began preaching to the Gentiles.  When the church in Jerusalem heard of this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on this report.

When Barnabas came to Antioch he found that these Gentiles had indeed been converted to Christ.  In Acts 11:23 Luke says, “Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”  These Gentiles had made a firm decision to obey the gospel and to follow Christ.  Barnabas exhorted them to remain true to that resolution.  The evidence suggests that they did just that, for beginning in Acts 13 the scriptures tell us that this church sent Paul out on three missionary journeys to proclaim the gospel across the Mediterranean.

Men like Barnabas and Paul are living examples of what being resolved in Christ means.  While the focus of the latter half of Acts is primarily on Paul’s work, we know that both he and Barnabas remained true to the Lord with resolute hearts the rest of their lives.  At the end of Paul’s life he summarized his situation in 2 Tim. 4:7-8.  He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

This is the key for all Christians.  We have made a resolution, a firm decision, to follow Jesus by our obedience to the gospel.  Therefore, we must remain true to that commitment with resolute heart through all the ups and downs of life.  This is the example of the great apostle, and it is the expectation of the scriptures.  The crown of righteousness is only given to those who fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith.

Therefore, as we begin a New Year, whether new in the faith or with many years in Christ, let us be resolved that we will “with resolute heart” remain true to the Lord.  Satan will try to deter us from this great resolution, but the reward for faithful service is too great to give up before reaching the goal.  In the words of the wonderful old hymn, let each of us say, “I am resolved, no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delight”.