Christian Consumerism: Idolatry in Disguise

Posted: April 15, 2010 by Josiah Batten in Christian living, Current Issues
Tags: , ,
Over the past few months I’ve been growing more and more dissatisfied with something I’ve noticed has thoroughly infiltrated and saturated the Church like a virus. Perhaps the most troubling thing about it is the fact that it’s all done in the name of Christianity. Without thought we accept it simply because it’s endorsed by CBD, by so-called “Christian” bands, and by pastors throughout the Church in the West.

What I’m talking about is Christian consumerism. And it comes in more forms than I could possibly list.

About two weeks ago at church someone announced that “Letters to God” would be showing on Friday, and that ministers would be able to attend for free. Now I have not seen the movie, I’m not for or against it. But I have to wonder if it’s prudent to turn our churches into a place to recruit people to a movie. Now people will say “Joey, it’s a great movie with an awesome message!” That may well be the case, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go see it. I’m simply wondering if it’s wise to marry the church to the marketing efforts of local theaters.

Listen, I would like to believe that theater owners that allow ministers to watch certain movies for free are good-natured and generous people. But the fact is, I don’t. They’re businessmen, and more often then not their motivation has some type of financial aspect to it. In this case their goal is to recruit pastors so that pastors will recommend the movie to their churches and the overall amount of business for the movie will increase. A very basic marketing concept is the idea of centers of influence, people who have sway over the consuming behaviors of another group of people. The fact is pastors are just centers of influence, and associating with pastors looks good for businessmen because they are now affiliated and endorsed by the “righteous” among us.

Now you may say that this still doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Even if the businessperson may only be looking to increase their bottom line, what’s wrong with that as long as the movie is good and presents a good message? I’ll tell you exactly what’s wrong with that: It’s the fact that we’re willing to buy tickets on a whim simply because it’s a “Christian movie”, when we could use the $6.50 for that ticket for missions or some other activity that would be constructive for the Kingdom of God.

My problem is not with movies, it’s with our mentality and priorities as Christians. Perhaps I’m being too bold, but shame on us for letting the offering bucket/plate go by during church only to go to the movies or out to eat afterward. Shame on us for being able to motivate our churches to buy tickets that will ultimately go to support a local theater, but for being unable to raise sufficient funds for local pastors overseas.

This isn’t just limited to movies, I only use that because it’s a recent example. We could also consider CBD (Christian Book Distributors). If we look through a CBD catalog we will find plenty of good, enriching and useful books; we will also find some good music, along with some good movies (and only SOME good music and movies). That’s all well and good. But then there’s the “inspirational gifts” section, and it will have such useless items as paper weights with Scriptures inscribed on them, pens for Mothers and Fathers day, special “Bible study” notepads, letter openers shaped like swords with some type of spiritual inscription, and a wide array of other items ready for our immediate and uncritical consumption.

I daresay such things are nothing more then vanity items sold in the name of Christ. Honestly, we don’t need special notepads in order to study the Bible. A $.50 notebook from Wal-Mart or Staples will do just fine. And paperweights, seriously? Use a rock, and chalk a Bible reference on it if it makes you happy! Then use the money you would have spent and donate to Gospel for Asia or some other credible Christian ministry (by “credible Christian ministry” I intend to exclude nearly all televangelists).

A third stronghold of Christian consumerism is the Christian music industry. I know I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but I think it needs to be pointed out. I go to a concert and see these $15 t-shirts (if they’re cheap!), $40 hoodies, and $25 tickets and I want to vomit. Did you know that $120 a month will sponsor a native pastor in India? That’s the equivalent of 3 hoodies sold by a Christian band. It is a moral evil to think we can justify spending that amount of money on something as superfluous as a hoody when there are missionaries in need of funds!

How much does it cost to produce a music video? I don’t know, but I suspect if we were to imagine the amount spent on music videos, and light shows and special effects for concerts, and travel costs for tours, etc… The total figure we spend on entertainment would be appalling. All this without mentioning the fact that most concert atmospheres are more conducive to watching a performance then they are to encouraging worship. I recognize that musicians need livelihood, but if Christian musicians are going to imitate secular ones in every other respect they might as well just go the whole way and sing songs more appropriate for secular audiences and rid the Church of the burden of providing their salaries (I do not include worship pastors in this group).

It’s time we use some discernment. We’re being sold a bill of goods in the name of Christ and it’s wrong! This consumerism is not okay. It’s valuing gifts above the Giver; it’s placing material things at a greater value than the advancement of the Kingdom of God; it’s causing us to spend yet more time being entertained and less time actually being the Church. It is idolatry.

I don’t intend to give the impression that I come away from this spot-free. Any complaint I’ve lodged can be turned back to me just as easily as it applies to everyone else. But we have got to get away from this. The way out is repentance. I for one will be on my knees before God tonight.

With love,

  1. Mixer Shower says:

    my sister and i loves to read christian books because it inspires us to live life in its fullest ~-.

  2. Rob Watrous says:

    I appreciate your discernment. I have been wrestling with these same issues for several years now too. I’m grateful that others are willing to shed some light on the unscriptural nature of so much of the “christian” community. Thx. May “abundant grace” (Acts 4:33) be upon us all as we try to get back to our first century roots.

  3. stonedome says:

    i play in a contemporary praise band on Sunday mornings. although the message is appropriate, most of the lyrics are formulaic and, except for the relative few, devoid of much musical sophistication or character. yet it seems that all of these songwriters are making a relatively good living licensing their music to services that charge rather large annual subscription fees for churches to access printed copies of the artists music. yes, it is a business and seems that, more and more, the focus is becoming the money to be made rather than the humbleness of worship.

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