Key Text: verse 20:“...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
How would you complete this sentence? The central driving force of North American culture is...........
Today I am beginning what I think is going to be a rather protracted series of messages on this theme: The Choice Before Us.......Consumerism or Discipleship.
You need to know that I am being very deliberateand intentional in this presentation and the intention is to dust off and clarify the core defining value of this faith community. And yet it goes far beyond the life of this faith community; it goes to the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the purpose of that gospel.
This is why I have been reading for the past several Sundays from John’s record of the prayer of Christ. And I would remind you again that what He prayed for is the very thing He died for just hours after that prayer. Based on that prayer we must understand that the purpose of the gospel goes far beyond personal salvation and heaven by and by.
What we discover is that the present purpose is not believers of the earth going to heaven. Rather it is heaven coming to earth through the believer – and the only place on this planet where that is truly happening is where there is a true covenant relational community that reflects the covenantal unity and oneness of the Godhead Himself.
When, in this series of messages, I use the term – Christian discipleship – I am not talking about some abstract, undefined or mystical idea; I am talking about Christian discipleship worked out, walked out and demonstrated in the very practical, nitty-gritty realities of relational covenant community.
In what is known as the Great CommissionChrist left with His disciples just before He was taken up in the clouds, He did not instruct them to go and make converts, but to make disciples. Obviously discipleship begins with conversion, but the great failure of the church is that we seldom take it beyond conversion. We count converts to determine the success or failure of the church.
I have a great deal more to share about Christian discipleship later in this series, but for this morning I want to turn our attention to what I honestly believe to be the number one enemy of true Christian discipleship. It is challenging enough that the culture around us is driven, defined, shaped and formed by this dynamic, but the real tragedy lies in the fact that the great majority of the North American church culture is also driven, defined, shaped and formed by this same thing.
What makes this so difficult is that it is so subtle; it has this way of becoming fully and deeply entrenched without us even knowing it was happening. It easily dresses itself up to look totally Christian – even quoting chapter and verse to validate and justify its identity and definition. Ignorance of it – to be unaware and uniformed – is our worst enemy and leaves us wide open and vulnerable to it.
Does this sound familiar?
Getting what we want is part of daily life in our culture. Our satisfaction is PARAMOUNT. If we don’t like this television show, we hit the button. If we don’t like this song on our iPod, we hit the button. If the church stops meeting our needs, we hit the button. Every day, we are told that what we have is insufficient.We are bombarded with messages to upgrade, trade in and borrow to buy. Our economy thrives on perpetual discontent. The long-term consequence of this relentless marketing of dissatisfaction is that we become accustomed to having our needs met when and how we want. We become experts at “dissatisfaction remediation.” (FROM: Renovation of the Church)
The issue at the heart of everything I hope to communicate over the next few weeks is the issue of spiritual formation. Every moment of our life we are in an ongoing process of spiritual formation; we are being spiritually formed into something. The question at the heart of this formation is a simple but profound one: What am I being formed into – a mere “spiritual consumer” OR a true disciple of Jesus Christ? And the plum line by which this is measured or revealed is a simple one – revealed in the words of Christ which were presented at the head of this presentation, words I will just briefly reference in a few moments.
From our earliest remembrance we in this country have been trained to be consumers. Our entire economic system is built upon the consumption of goods and services that we, for the most part, don’t really need at all. By the time our children reach elementary school, they are fully formed and informed consumers. It may not be a conscious thing – in fact for the most part it is not a conscious thing at all – but the reality remains, they view and interpret their lives through the lens of consumerism. Consumerism is to the culture of our lives what water is to the culture of the life of a fish.
At the heart of consumerism there are really only two entities, obviously very interracially related. There must be a consumer and there must be a producer of goods and services. The consumer’s role is simple; he or she lives for the single purpose of consuming; the defining reality of all things is consumption. Success and failure are determined by the measure of consumption. The producer’s role is equally as simple; he or she exist to produce, to manufacture.
In the evolution of this madness we are no longer just consumers but we are now instructed to be “demanding consumers.”We are told that the dynamic that keeps our economic system working at peak efficiency is an endless army of demanding consumers who reward the best producers/providers and punish the poor ones. And best vs. poor is judged by the met expectation of the consumer; who’s the fastest, most efficient and cheapest. In a nutshell that is capitalism at its finest.
As an economic reality of our age we cannot escape it; we live in its presence and are compelled to deal with it every day. However when it becomes the defining reality of spiritual formation – when it becomes the definition of church culture and the community of faith, we have a serious problem. And make no mistake about it; we DO have a problem in the“American” church.
That problem begins right at the front door of the church; all who come there (unbeliever and believer alike) are already fully formed or fully fledged consumers. That is not intended to be a heartless, mean spirited judgement –rather a simple statement of obvious reality. We have all been shaped by this culture of consumerism. If you thought that statement was cruel it’s about to get worse. How often is it that those who appear at the door of the church (and by “church” I am referring to the North American church) do so with a core view to the goods and services, the ministries and programs designed to meet their perceived needs as individuals and families?
And perhaps what tops this whole thing off – and this is extremely subtle – is that person who shows up and announces, “I am here to do nothing except serve this community of faith.” Somewhere in the process you discover their commitment to serve was based on the personal need to be needed. This means their service is actually their means of consuming what they perceive they need to validate their identity and existence.
With that phrase – perceived need – we have touched the heart and core of consumerism; we will look at it in greater depth next week.
I can tell you that something happened in the decade of the eighties that broke the dam wide open and this spirit of consumerism poured into the church. And by the way, make no mistake about it – there is a strong and highly demonic spirit that drives consumerism. It is akin to the spirit of mammon, that attitude, mindset or nature of raw self-centredness.
We were told in the eighties by the church growth experts that consumerism was here to stay and rather than resisting it we should embrace and harness it and by it build large churches. We did, and the fruit to this day is that we more concretely formed believers into mere consumers – “spiritual consumers.” Perceived need, rather than true Christian discipleship, shaped our ministries and our message. We have come to the place now where to even suggest – much less preach – that to make a decision based on anything other than how it benefits me is seen as countercultural at best and heretical at worst.
Despite this reality of church culture I am compelled to declare right now, it is impossible to create authentic Christian community with people whose commitment is dependent on having their perceived needs perpetually and continually met.
Fit these few comments on consumerism into these few words of Christ: “...just as the Son of Mandid not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Consumers live to be served. True Disciples of Christ live to serve. The choice before us – consumers or Christian disciples.