From lust to godliness: consumerism to citizenship

Eph 2:19-22 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. NIV

1 Tim 6:3-10 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (NIV)

Didn’t Jesus warn his disciples that the world would speak evil of them? (Mat 5:11; 1Pt 3:16) Well, lately, as I have been led to call any who will listen to distinguish between good and evil (Heb 5:13,14), I have come across some things the “evil people” in the world have had to say about the church.

Take for example this worldly indictment by social commentator Clive Hamilton, against the contemporary church leaders (market leaders who measure success by numbers and money):

…the process of economic growth itself has produced a seriously sick society. The richest people in the world are saying they are miserable, that it’s not worth it and, most disturbingly of all, that the process of getting rich causes the problems. Continued pursuit of material acquisition gives rise to inner conflicts that become manifest in society in various ways. At the level of the individual, some religious groups and popular gurus attempt to reconcile acquisitiveness and religious belief: ‘God wants you to be rich’. For Christians, this takes some work, given the Bible’s unambiguous statements about the effects of wealth: ‘The love of money is the root of all evil’; ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God’; ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’. Because they look so uncomfortable doing so, devotees of this peculiar late 20th century theology of acquisitiveness display its implausibility whenever they talk about it. Other people pretend that their real interest is in something for the benefit of humankind, such as advancing information technology, and that wealth is an accidental by-product they can take or leave. (Emphasis mine)

“Growth Fetish” by Clive Hamilton. (Allen & Unwin 2003 Pg 15,16)

What an affront, the world quoting Scripture as a rebuttal to the “doctrines” that have been promoted by market leaders in the church. Brian Houston, Christian market leader and entrepreneur, exalted by pastors and leaders of contemporary churches for his success, is a leading proponent of this theology (See his book “You need more money: discovering God’s amazing financial plan for your life and many of his articles).

In the book “Affluenza”, DeGraaf makes this observation about a leading Christian ministry:

Founded by James Dobson, a child psychologist whose radio program is heard by millions of people, FOF [Focus on the Family] is a mini-empire of conservative family advisors based in Colorado Springs. Its operations are housed in palatial hillside headquarters that might embarrass the Parthenon. Inside the feel is expensive and dynamic. Tour groups learn about Dobson’s vision for FOF, while the photographs lining the walls establish his connection to past and present Republican stalwarts, including Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich.

(2005 by John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas Naylor. Berrett-Koehler Publishers inc. pg 51)

DeGraaf and Hamilton are social commentators speaking about the destructive nature of consumerism on families and societies. What I find amazing is that in “Affluenza” DeGraaf et al are prolific quoters of Scripture and Kingdom values. They point out that “In all the great religious traditions, human beings are seen as having purpose in life. Stripped to its essentials, it is to serve God by caring for God’s creations and our fellow human beings” (pg75). There is an entire chapter entitled “original sin” where they expound on the greed of Adam and Eve who, having access to ALL the produce on earth were not “content” or “satisfied” with their plenty and had to have more, so took the one fruit that was prohibited.

Concerning this discontent they declare:

The more Americans fill their lives with things, the more they tell psychiatrists, pastors, friends and family members that they feel “empty” inside. The more toys our kids have to play with, the more they complain of boredom. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ predicted they would feel that way. What profit would it bring a person, he asked his followers (Matthew 16:26), were that person to gain the whole world, but lose his soul? In the age of Affluenza, that question is seldom asked, at least not publicly. It should be. (2005:74)

Why is it that the world recognises the problem of greed, covetousness and lustful self-promotion and the Western Christian Church is entrenched in it?

I have always been aware of the fact that the world was going to persecute us for righteousness’ sake, but I never dreamed the church would be called to account by the world for NOT preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For example, some of the phrases I have read today from leading Christians include:

  • People released into their full potential – as opposed to transformed into the image of Jesus
  • Encounter the God who believes in [you] – as opposed to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Take the good news of the presence of Christ – as opposed to Christ crucified

One market leader’s book cover says that he “loves life. [And] has a passion to see people fulfil their potential in every sphere of life. He is described as “A respected church leader, popular motivational speaker and skilled communicator; [he] travels extensively, addressing leadership conferences throughout the world. His television program (title omitted but only has reference to life and living nothing about Jesus) is broadcast in over 30 nations, and his natural ability to mix humour with a strong, clear message draws him to people of all age groups and backgrounds”. Nothing here however resembles the Apostle Paul’s “marketing” spiel as one who is crucified with Christ; being poured out like a drink offering; the offscouring of the world; whose passion was to preach Christ and to see all men come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ etc.

Why is it that the world recognises the problem of greed, covetousness and lustful self-promotion and the Western Christian Church is entrenched in it? In fact social commentators are recognising that our societies are “seriously sick”, they have identified greed, pleasure-seeking and self-centredness as the cause of our sickness, and the one group in our society that should be doing this has not only said nothing, but promoted this sickness through the gospel of “God believes in you”.

Perhaps the greatest issue to propel the modern church into a place of irrelevance is its assimilation into the idolatrous thinking of consumerism. The “Christian” market leaders have pushed a doctrine that is nothing less than antichrist and is a message which has successfully scratched the itching ears of religious people.

The gospel of relativism is that the “unchurched” have not so much rejected God but irrelevant churches. These churches preach messages that do not help them to live now. “The unchurched do not want apple-pie-in-the-sky”, so the argument goes, but “steak on the plate.” These people “love life” and want to know how to enjoy life. The result is to offer, not THE Gospel, but A gospel that “meets them where they are at.” Market leaders identify themselves as people who “love life” and have learned that God created us to be happy, healthy and wealthy.

It is time though that those whose are jealous for the message of the cross that Jesus’ apostles preached stand up and call this antichrist teaching what it is. I know antichrist is a strong word but is it too strong for what is being presented in the name of “bring them into our churches?” Antichrist, as the word suggests, is anything that is opposed to Christ. Realistically any belief or teaching that does not produce Christ in us is antichrist. To believe that the gospel is about Jesus meeting our needs is antichrist for it appeals to the sin nature. To teach that “unchurched” (previously known in Scripture as sinners and enemies of God) have not rejected God but the church is antichrist because it does away with the first word of the gospel that sinners hate God. Is it the gospel if we identify “people’s needs” and tell them that God can meet their needs through Jesus and that by accepting this message they will be saved? (Jesus did meet people where they were at, but he called them to then leave it behind. He fed the hungry not the gluttonous, he healed the sick not the hedonist, and he gave to the poor not the greedy.)

Scripture says that the “unchurched” is in rebellion against God and has no desire to know God. Romans 3:11,12 says “there is no one… who seeks God, all have turned away…” If we start with the assumption that people are generally good and would turn to God if we just said it right then our foundation is wrong. It is not biblical and it leads to another gospel. This assumption leads to ask the question “what do people want?” At the end of the day people do not seek God but idols of their own imaginations.

The men who claim success for God have done little more than what humanity has been doing since the beginning of time. That is, to rename the images of their affection and call them God. Houston says at the beginning of his book “you need more money”, “…I am going to tell you WHY you need more money and secondly HOW you can get more money (even if you won’t admit it, I bet you are interested in the latter)” The statement “I bet you are interested” is simply a true reflection of the heart of man. It takes no prophet to “bet” that people are interested about getting more money.

1 John 2:16 For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. NIV

Conclusion

I have probably belaboured the point but let me finish with this; the gospel of Jesus Christ is what the world needs. This gospel begins by declaring that all men are idolatrous by nature and sinners who have rejected God. The only avenue through which salvation can come is to repent of idolatry and turn from living as those who have rebelled and forsaken God. The purpose of God in Christ Jesus is that those who receive Jesus – being crucified with him and made alive to God – will be received into his family and transformed into the image of Jesus. That gospel has never changed and is as unacceptable today as it was 2000 years ago. As the apostles refused to make that message palatable to sinners so today we must resist the antichrist spirit that wants to change the message of the cross.

The world is dying in sin. Changing the name of our idolatry will not save the world but it will fill churches with idolatrous people. It will fill our churches with the world. Are our churches “places of conscience-respite for sinners” or “the people of God being adorned for His glory and habitation”?

Are we being persecuted by the world for righteousness’ sake? No! We are being called to account by the world for not preaching the gospel! We are being indicted by the world for calling good evil and evil good. Do you ever wonder what God thinks?

Isa 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness… (NIV)

Phil 3:18-21 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)

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