Saturday, September 22, 2012

Welcome to the World of Retail Christianity

dawnkollar_ingodwetrust_1Any young man going into the ministry must understand that he must be prepared to address a flock that is, in this present day, influenced by a pantheon of teachers – many of whom they have never met. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing – especially if those teachers are: a). called of God; b). preaching the Gospel; c). exalting Christ and not themselves; d). upholding the authority of Scripture rather than invented doctrines of their own; e). heralding the priority of the local church; and f). ministering the word with a spirit that is devoid of a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes.

In a perfect world, such an external influence would be…perfect.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Pastors aren’t perfect; churches aren’t perfect; published books by men and their publishers aren’t perfect. Thus, we find a constant battle within the church to pursue God’s perfect word amidst all such imperfections. For the pastor of a local church, this battle is, firstly, internal and then it is external. It is internal in the sense that, as a preacher, the pastor must endeavor to seek out the preaching of God’s Word without the pollution of his own opinions and preferences. By itself, this is a strong and continual battle. It is external in the sense that there is a constant influence of teachers whose teaching is not at all helpful, whether wholly or partially. Sometimes those problematic influences are absolutely heretical;[1] in most cases they are problematic on a lesser scale – but it is all part of the battle nonetheless. What intensifies this battle is what I would call the industry of Christian media. By this label I am referring to the exploding industry of Christian video, audio, books, conferences, and web-media – a great deal of which is presented with all of the fanfare of modern marketing techniques and salesmanship. It is this perpetual marketing of Christian media that has created a cultural psyche of  keeping up with the Joneses – but with a Christian twist. However, the rule of life and conduct for the Christian is not to keep up with the Joneses per se. Our benchmark is not horizontally defined, but is defined by Christ and His Word – no matter what the Joneses are doing. In the secular realm you can see whole neighborhoods following such a pattern of conformity. One neighbor buys a 60” flat panel TV – the other neighbors see it, want it, come to conclude that they need it and buy one themselves, whether they can afford it or not. Unfortunately, such choices can be dictated by jealousy or materialism (or both) rather than wisdom.

When Christians make spiritual choices, in this manner of keeping up with the masses, it can be quite dangerous. Doing what one’s friends or neighbors are doing is never a justification for doing anything. In this present culture of retail Christianity, I fear that many are determining orthodoxy by what is deemed as vogue among the masses; but this can never be the means by which we evaluate anything. In the worst of all cases, people can come to feel that without that next popular book, conference, or webinar – their sanctification will somehow be incomplete. Though the retail earnings may be good, a spirit of dependency such as this is dangerous since it diminishes the primacy of Scripture and that of the local church. In writing this, I am not at all suggesting that all books, conferences, videos, webinars etc. are inherently bad. There are many profitable resources out there that can be utilized for the glory of God. However, it must also be pointed out that there are many well-marketed resources that are deeply problematic. What is needed is for the believer to be dedicated to Christ with the nobility of those Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily” in order to see if what the Apostle Paul taught was in fact true.[2] It is this attitude which says - “I must measure everything by the standard of God’s Word, not by the standard of my neighbors, social popularity, or any mere man” - that Luke calls: “noble minded.” Had these Bereans simply kept up with the popular thinking of their day, they would have gone the way of the Pharisees.

May it never be.

Finally – as a final application of this encouragement and warning, let me suggest the following (and I offer this, not under the presumption that you are not doing so, but as an encouragement to “excel still more” in these principles): the next time you hear an online sermon, read a book, attend a conference, or watch a webinar – 1). Be sure that you measure the contents of what you have been exposed to by the standards of God’s word, not by the habits and preferences of your friend or neighbors; 2). If you are unsure about what you have studied, go and consult the undershepherds of your local church - men whose lives,ministries, homes, and conduct you can see and experience personally; and 3). Throughout everything, pray without ceasing for the Lord’s guidance and leading, as you sort through it all, knowing that it is the Lord whom we serve – not men. There are many in this world who seek to instruct you – just be on guard for your souls as you listen and learn – knowing that it is Christ whom you serve.

As Christian said to those retailers in Vanity Fair: “We buy the truth.” Prov. 23:23.[3]


[1] Jude 3-4.

[2] Acts 17:10–11 (NASB) — 10 And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.

[3] Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.