Chinese Church Voices

The Problem of Consumerism in the Church

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

In this article from Tianfeng magazine, an official publication of the TSP-CCC church, Pastor Chen Feng-sheng warns of a consumeristic mindset that has sunk into society and threatens to take hold in the church. Although speaking in a Chinese context, Pastor Chen’s analysis is a relevant reminder for Christians around the world.

The Trouble of a Consumer Attitude

In a society guided by consumer culture, people place great importance on income and expenditure, gain and loss. In any spending, any investment, the first consideration is:

Can we achieve great benefit? Is the gain greater than the loss?

Under the influence of consumer culture, Christians often approach their pursuit of faith and their spiritual life with a consumer attitude.

A consumer’s attitude prioritizes “get.”

I have asked a certain question in different settings at church, and the answers are roughly the same. The question: “You have been a believer for these many years. Can you reflect on why you want to believe in Jesus?”

The answers of brothers and sisters are all in the vein of “to get eternal life,” “to get peace,” “to get. . .”

In every church activity Christians are involved in—including Sunday service, Bible study, prayer meetings—they prioritize “get.”

When the service is over, many people would comment, “I didn’t get much out of the sermon today.”

In Wenzhou, some people do not attend Sunday service, because they feel that if their shops do business as usual on Sundays, they can gain a significant income.

The church’s Bible study is sparsely attended, largely because many believers think they “won’t get much” out of it.

Christians evaluate a preacher’s “product” with a shopper’s attitude.

The prophet Isaiah said:

The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. (Isaiah 50:4)

But many Christians today are like shoppers browsing the stores in a mall, and the message a preacher preaches becomes the products in a store.

And so when listening to a sermon, many Christians do not receive the message or accept equipping by truth with the attitude of one who is taught, but instead comment on it like a shopper.

After a gathering, many people could probably only conclude, “Today’s speaker was pretty good/bad,” “today’s illustrations were quite relevant/not relevant,” etc.

With a shopper’s attitude, one is not necessarily unwilling to listen to sermons, but likes messages that cater to their tastes. Just as Paul prophesied:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Christians are filled with business, and are unable to draw near to God with a quiet heart.

Reading a commentary on the book of Hebrews recently, I came across a passage that very aptly describes today’s Christian consumerist condition and which is a very good reminder:

One obstacle in intimacy with the Savior is busyness. Intimacy cannot be rushed. Meeting with God’s Son takes time. We cannot rush into his presence, scarf down spiritual food, and then run on to our one o’clock appointment. Spiritual intimacy needs time, and only those who are willing to savor the spiritual experience can know it.

Intimacy with Christ comes from entering his presence with a calm heart, and not from dashing into his presence from the chaos of life. Relaxing ourselves and contemplating Christ within us, can allow us to inwardly communicate with him. This cannot be done by a spirit oppressed by busyness and worries.

A holy life is not a rushed life. Those who rush into God’s presence rarely stay long. Those who rush in, also rush out.

Churches “operate” on the slogan of “customer first.”

When faced with the consumerist condition of Christians, some churches do not correct the problem, but instead operate themselves by business methods.

Though churches do not actually use the slogan “customer first,” and are even more unwilling to mention “customer is god,” all their ministries revolve around this group of “customers.”

When Christians survey church ministry with a customer’s perspective, the church will think of any way they can to meet them.

For example: Christians think that the local preacher is not interesting enough, so the church invites some “famous pastors” to come hold a revival; Christians like listen to sermons by interesting, passionate preachers, so the church satisfies them.

Also, Christians’ offerings influence church operation the way business profits do.

At the end of every year, believer’s attendance of Sunday service, number of people at Bible studies, etc. are the basis of review.

God is the highest object of the church’s service. The goal of all ministries is to glorify God.

If a church is operated by business models, but forgets God’s glory, then it is worth reflecting on “who is God,” and “who is the purpose for the church’s existence.”

In our daily environments, “consumer culture” has influenced Christians’ commitment to faith, and “utilitarianism” has caused them to approach faith with an attitude of “chasing benefits and avoiding loss.”

Today’s church needs to re-evaluate the spiritual condition of Christians, rely on the Bible’s teaching as the only authority, view God’s glory as the ultimate purpose, and not be driven by secular culture. May we Christians be able to return to the true teaching of the Bible.

Editor's note: This article was updated with a grammatical correction on July 20, 2019.

Original Article: 消费心态作祟 by Tianfeng.

Image credit: computer street by niqodemus via Flickr.
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