We are creatures of consumption. In part, we consume out of necessity. We buy food and drink that sustain us. We buy clothes that cover us. Yet we also consume because we are creatures who are desperately needy and incessantly lacking. We consume to conceal and suppress the inescapable reality that burdens us—we are deeply flawed, severely broken. So we feast on the buffet of lies the culture has set before us—if we can consume the right things, enough things, or at least more than the person next to us, we will fashion our own repair.
The consumerism of our day is so deeply entrenched that it is nearly inescapable. At every turn the siren song of consumerism can be heard, “Come and buy. Be made and be satisfied.” A bigger house, a nicer car, a greener yard, a smarter phone, more organic produce, shinier shoes, a smaller belly, a flashier watch, toner abs, better hair, a higher paying job, better behaved children, a better golf game. None of these things are intrinsically evil. In fact, all these things can be very good things if thought of and pursued rightly. But the sin of consumerism is the elevation of these things to the place of deity. And here is the great irony of consumerism—in our turning to these things to set us free from our brokenness, we are actually enslaved to them and broken anew under the weight of their tyranny.
And here is the great irony of consumerism—in our turning to these things to set us free from our brokenness, we are actually enslaved to them and broken anew under the weight of their tyranny.
Yet the raging current of consumerism flows from the headwaters not of love of things but the love of self. We consume things—houses, jobs, pursues, cars, perfumes, golf clubs, even church—in an attempt to either save ourselves from the miserable state in which we know ourselves to be or to dull ourselves to the reality of our helpless misery. So our pursuit to save ourselves by chasing the riches and pleasures of the world runs wild in our culture of consumerism. We are as a child who, convinced candy is the remedy for his fatal allergy to sugar (if there is such a thing), is let loose in a candy store. That to which we turn for salvation ultimately kills us. The promise of life whispered by consumerism is a sweet summons to death.
It can be easy for the church to identify the fallacies and emptiness of consumerism. We agree with the enduring dictum of Saint Augustine, “You (God) have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” We know, at least in theory, that the only instrument sufficient for our repair is the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. We know the things of this world will ultimately do nothing to satisfy our insatiable desires. We even claim to know that underneath our appetite to consume is an attempt at self-preservation. Yet there lies in quiet wait a consumerism that the church has invited in, tried to domesticate and even branded as “Christian.”
We agree with the enduring dictum of Saint Augustine, “You (God) have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”
In more ways than we are perhaps aware, the church has come to adopt the siren song of consumerism as our own, “Come and buy.” People shop for churches like they would a new car. We test drive it for a little while, and if we find something we don’t like about it, we can return it and try another one. Instead of pushing back against the consumerism of culture, the church has embraced it. The church’s gathering together on Sunday morning (and Wednesday night or any other night) has been reduced to events that placate people’s desire for experiences that suit their fancy. Churches offer a menu of ministries to preview and select. Church leaders dress and talk in a certain way and offer coffee to get people in the door. So we show up to gather with churches that play music we like in a building that makes us comfortable and have children’s programs that are entertaining for our kids. And if a church down the road or even across town offers better music, more comfortable chairs, better coffee or a more entertaining children’s program, we follow our consumeristic appetite out the door. At some level, we attend churches that appease our appetites to consume. And this is a tragic reality. Still more tragic is the creation of a system that measures the success of our churches by people’s appetites to consume. But what we are offering and what people are consuming is not the gospel. It is packaged and polished love of self.
At some level, we attend churches that appease our appetites to consume. And this is a tragic reality.
The biblical vision of the church is far grander and in fact more satisfying than the reduced vision of the church painted by consumerism. Jesus calls His church to a love of others, not a love of self. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we truly believe this, we must admit that if we are content to love ourselves in our consumeristic version of church, we are not disciples of Jesus. But if we have truly come to know Jesus and are filled with His Spirit, we must and can love one another. We must and can lay aside our own desires to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters. And here is the great paradox of the gospel—we find ourselves by giving ourselves away. In our Spirit-empowered pursuit of humble love for one another, our selfless giving of ourselves to one another, we will at last find comfort and respite from our restless pursuits to consume.
And here is the great paradox of the gospel—we find ourselves by giving ourselves away.
So may we, brothers and sisters, prayerfully examine our own hearts for a love of self that desires to consume to conceal our wounds and set ourselves over and against others. May we repent knowing a love of self is a treasonous and hostile attack on the God of all grace. May we believe Jesus bore our sin-inflicted wounds in His own body that we might be free from our vain attempts to heal ourselves. May we remember afresh how Jesus gave Himself away, even to the point of death, for us that we might give ourselves away for one another. And when we do so, we will live together in the world in a way that validates the gospel we confess.