Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Americanization of God the Commodity

I recently read two books that have had a profound impact on me. The first was I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian . . . and I Liked Him Better Then, by Rubel Shelly and the second, The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson. They were very different books, but at times carried the same message. The premise of Rubel's book is that over the past 1700 years or so the church has lost sight of its reason for existence. He begins with this quote:

"Religion has often suffered from
the tendency to become parochial,
self-indulgent, self seeking . . . . It has
often done more to canonize prejudices
than to wrestle for truth; to petrify the sacred
than to sanctify the secular"
- Abraham Heschel

The Church over the last 1,700 years has become many things. What started as a group, mainly marginalized and shunned by the rich and powerful, transformed in a few hundred years into a political power.

Paul wrote, "Brothers, think of when you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were noble by birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." - I Corinthians 1:26-29 (NIV) 

I am not going to go into the atrocities that were acted out in the name of Jesus - I think we are familiar with those. What I would like to discuss or plead for the church to go back to its roots from the church of the First Century. I am a member of The Restoration Movement that started in the late 1700's. A number of ministers decided jettison all of the creeds, dogma and division and simply be Christians. Not Catholic, Baptist, Unitarian, Presbyterian Christians -- just Christians.

As the years have passed, America has become a country of consumers. We buy what we don't need, have to have the latest whatever and wanting everything "My Way". Take for example buying your middle or high school son or daughter cloths; you could go to Wal*Mart but they don't have the "right" jeans. Girls and now boys have eating disorders because they want to look like the models that advertise the things they want to buy.
It reminds me of what Paul says in Ephesians, "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." Ephesians 4:19 (NIV)

Now add into that equation Christianity in 2011. In the United States, the great consumers we are, God has become a commodity. Like Goldie Locks trying out the beds owned by the three bears - This one is too hard, this one too soft -- ahh, this one is just right. It isn't entirely our fault. The picture at the top of the page is the statue George Carlin, dressed as a Bishop, rolled out. It was the "New" friendly Jesus - thinking it may inspire people to go to church.Churches are now run like corporations complete with organizational charts, huge budgets, buildings costing millions of dollars and focus groups to see what gimmick will fill their pews. Mega-Churches compete with the other churches in their cities and even within their own denominations for the most charismatic, attractive, minister. Not to mention looking for the successful in their communities to get that budget met.

Long gone are the small clusters of people meeting in various homes sharing their stories, successes and failures in their walk with God. Let me be naive for a moment.

When a church assembles, it is filled with people, some are hot, some are cold and some are lukewarm. Everyone of them has a story. Everyone of them have different needs and hurts. Rubel mentions that maybe Alcoholics Anonymous may be a better model to follow that the focus group inspired gimmicks. People come together knowing they have failures in their past and present and for some the future. There is no judgment because they are all sinners in need of God's constant grace. A place where secrets are not kept to save us from shame, but rather calls for help are answered with loving acceptance.

"I know I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"

Here are some verses that may help you get a glimpse of what the church was to be like. It wasn't a place to network, punch your Sunday ticket or sit in judgment on those who are not among you. See if these verses speak to you:

"A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another" John 13:34-35

"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God" Romans 15:17

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct [give advice to, counsel] one another" Romans 15:14

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing" I Thessalonians 5:11

"Carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" Galatians 6:2

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" Ephesians 4:32

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." James 5:16

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." Hebrews 10:24

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins" I Peter 4:8

Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness


  1. I appreciate your post, Al. It is a sad,but true evaluation of a lot of what is going on today in the name of Christianity. I was especially intrigued by the part about using the Alcoholic Anonymous model to encouraging opening up about the real struggles Christians go through . . . sharing more of our true selves. There is a group called Celebrate Recovery that is doing that. It is a Christian based group that has had some great successes in their outreach. They incorporate every kind of addiction / stumbling block / personal trial that requires support and Christian fellowship to fully understand . . . and recover. Just FYI. Keep up the blogs, Al. We are enjoying the read.