Worship as Consumption
Basket of Figs, April, 1990
In this parable of our Lord, the owner of the orchard had come for three years, expecting to find fruit on a particular fig tree. On the third year, he became concerned and told the keeper that if the tree was not fruitful that year, then it must be cut down.
It is right and proper to provide an orchard with water, insecticide, fertilizer, and other care. But only a fool would do this year after year, unless he received a return on his investment. It is certain that God is no fool.
It was very common for the Lord Jesus to express spiritual truth by means of economic principles. Although spoken in economic terms, this parable of the fig tree is not about horticulture, but about the expectation God has of the use of His gifts.
We live in a culture that is oriented toward consumerism. “What do I get?” very much expresses the spirit of the age. We soak up resources and expect more, not often considering what God expects us to produce.
The modern church is geared to consumerism. In fact, it actively promotes it. In a competitive, consumer society, churches vie with one another to “meet the needs” of the people. Translation: “Our church is geared toward consumerism, and you will get the more here than anywhere else.” In fact, modern sales techniques that are geared to sell goods to consumers have become the norm. After all, we should get our fair share of the market.
In this environment, the message of Christ fades away in the hubbub of programs and promotion. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). What consumer will buy if that is the pitch? After all, the sales pitch is to people who ask, “What does the church offer me?” not, “What does Christ require of me?”
In the consumer church the customer is always right. The church watches the prevailing winds of consumer opinion and adapts accordingly. The most basic characteristics of the Church of Jesus Christ are compromised by the consumer church:
1. Faithful Preaching is not Tolerated. Important doctrines, that do not “sell” well are ignored. There is a “positive” emphasis. There are certainly no warnings about false prophets, for who wants to alienate customers? Any salesman knows that you must get a person in a good mood before he will buy. Doctrinal preaching is downplayed, for faithful definition of the truth of Scripture exposes error and drives customers away. So the consumer church does not want faithful doctrinal preaching because it “drives people away.”
2. Holiness of Life is not Considered a Requirement. Simply stated, “holiness” means “set apart to the service of God.” The Holy Spirit has testified that we are to follow “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) The greatest hindrance to holiness is the righteousness which men fashion for themselves.
Men are not content to submit to the righteousness of Christ (Romans 10:3); instead they fashion a covering of the filthy rags of their own righteousness. I will lose customers if I call men to submit to the standards of Christ. Besides, the modern religious consumer wants his religion in small, easily understood doses. Jesus said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” But that is too hard to understand for a consumer society existing on instant potatoes, instant biscuits, and microwave t.v. dinners.
3. Church Discipline Is not exercised. Paul said, “If any man is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (I Corinthians 5:11). If church discipline is not exercised, the church becomes guilty of saying one thing and doing another.
The author has been in Colorado Springs for almost four years [This was written in 1990. It may be worse now in 2012]. I have never been in a town where Christianity was professed so openly. On the other hand, I have never seen so many business shenanigans pulled by professing Christians, than in Colorado Springs. The name of Christ becomes a byword and an insult when those who profess Christ lie, cheat, and tolerate those who do. (Note: I have also worked with some very fine Christian people in Colorado Springs!)
“Do not judge,” is the refuge of every scoundrel who wants to cover his wickedness by hiding in church. But Paul says plainly by the Holy Spirit: “Do ye not judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Cor. 5:12,13). The meaning of the apostle is that the church is not to pretend that a person is a Christian if they do not confess the doctrine of Christ or submit to His yoke. That sends a false message to the world, and we become false witnesses.
The message of the church must be that “Faith without works is dead.” By the gospel we preach, by the order of our churches, we must make it perfectly clear that the Lord expects a return on his gifts. The tree that does not bring forth fruit will not be permitted to encumber the ground.
The church is not a supermarket of various spiritual goods from which each person may pick and choose according to his taste. It is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and those who profess His name are called to submit to him.