Consumerism in the Church House of God
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
It seems that increasingly time wins its sprinting race. Moments in recent history that I studied in school as a young child are now decades and decades ‘back then’. I often try to explain this phenomenon of time to my children, beginning, “You just wait” … I suppose each must learn these shared commonalities about time as we age.
Within recent months, we surpassed the sixty-year mark since our country inaugurated the first Catholic president in our history. In that day, many were concerned that John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism would overrun the White House and his impartial decision-making on behalf of all citizens. Some conjectured that a predominantly Protestant nation was slipping away, and the Pope would increasingly direct the political winds in our country. Tensions ran high on January 20, 1961; like in our day, America was indeed a closely divided country.
Temperatures were in the lower 20s that morning as the president-elect rose from his seat to take the oath of office against a backdrop of deep snow. Having removed his topcoat, he projected youth and vigor as he placed his hand upon the Fitzgerald family Bible, becoming our nation’s 35th president.
Following the oath, President Kennedy turned and approached the lectern, ready to address the nation. Those familiar with his preparations recalled how the president wanted to be inspirational yet brief, remarking to a close advisor, “I don’t want people to think I’m a windbag.” His speech was modeled significantly after Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, utilizing catch phrases meant to grab the hearer’s attention. One such phrase stands alone,
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
The sentence spoken by the new president came late in the short speech, calling fellow Americans beyond themselves, beseeching them to pursue service and sacrifice. I was not alive when the words were spoken; yet I know them by heart, they shape me, and they drive me forward.
The speech by the young president called Americans past lifestyles, and emotional expectations too, of Consumerism. A majority have befriended consumerism in our day too and look to the offerings of government through our personal lens. We expect politicians to serve it up in language that suits our individual hopes and wants, and so they do. As President Kennedy identified, such ‘me-ism’, if left unattended, eventually builds a society which collapses upon itself, with a people chronically dissatisfied. The ability to sustain ever increasing expectations of ever-increasing blessing is fantastical and cannot be delivered.
Unfortunately, if not purposely attentive, Consumerism invades the church house too. We may be prone to think, even demand, what does church have for me in this area or that? We may fall into the temptation of seeing the church as primarily an institution delivering our needs, our hopes, our dreams. As most pastors attest, the typical call from someone considering visiting a church often begins with such a question: What do you have for me (or my family) in the area of _______(fill in the blank)? We’ve gotten things a bit out of order as God’s people. Clearly, the theme of President Kennedy’s address still resonates. We can do better as Christ’ universal church.
We must push Consumeristic thoughts aside and stop asking what the church can do for us if the Gospel is to truly achieve prominence within the church house. If we do not win this tug a war, the sickly symptoms of experientialism, ungratefulness, and jealousy will soon follow, eroding what the church should be in Christ.
Max Lucado summarizes the logical end of ‘me-ism’ in his book, It’s Not About Me: rescue from the Life we thought would make us happy (2011), writing, “They all told us it was about us, didn’t they? And we took them up on it. We thought self-celebration would make us happy and satisfied. But believing that has created chaos — noisy homes, stress-filled businesses, cutthroat relationships. We’ve chased so many skinny rabbits, says Max Lucado, that we’ve missed the God-centered life.”
The early church, and healthiest ones in our day too, resist Consumerism with layered rededications and turnings away. They fashion not their ministry around the latest and greatest growth program, but instead, focus with laser-like intensity on becoming a God-centric people seeking to make His name great and know Him more (Ephesians 4:13).
Since 1944, this has been the overarching hallmark of Audubon Baptist, and with God’s favor, shall be as we continue forward. We purpose to delight in the teachings of the apostles; we shall pursue sweetness in fellowship because we are a people bought by the blood of Christ; we will hold fast to the wonder of Holy Communion; and we will dedicate ourselves to prayer. Such are to be the main courses of His church, from the earliest church until the time of His return.
You will hear more in the coming months about these four pillars within our beloved Audubon church and how we intend to strengthen them. But for now, as we emerge from COVID, these pillars are worthy of our renewed consideration. I agree with Max. It is not about me. It is also not even about us. It is about Him, the living and resurrected Son, our redeemer, Jesus Christ. All praise and glory and honor to His name!
Grace upon grace,
For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16