The Christian Church has long been plagued by ever-occurring epidemics of trendy thought. Indeed, a commentator could spend a lifetime honing in on specific examples without ever looking past their own generation. The sheer magnitude of outbreaks is overwhelming, the modern Christian (read: any Christian at any time in all of the history of the Church) may feel too overwhelmed to even begin an examination of these issues, but it is a sorry warrior who never examines their enemy’s tactics, and so some examination of these trends must be made.
One of the specific thoughts, or perhaps more accurately, attitudes, that seems to be afflicting the Body at present, here at the birth of the twenty-first century, is what might be a uniquely American creation, Consumer Christianity. It can be defined as the selfish consumption of spiritual and emotional resources and stimuli with no thought what-so-ever to moderation, preservation, or personal responsibility, and it seems to permeate every facet of the American Church. Members of this community, though that term is grossly inappropriate since the sheer volume of self-consumption required to find yourself numbered among them negates even the most remote possibility of coherent, communal organization, seem to believe that the Church itself, and this is a reference to not only the institution, but the greater Body of Believers itself, exists primarily to serve their emotional/spiritual needs. Like vast swarms of self-aggrandizing locusts, they swarm and buzz and devour all of the energies of the Body, not so much for their own nourishment as to feed their own insatiable religious gluttony. Never satisfied, never at rest, they ravage any kernel of potential in their path, never replenishing any of what they have ingested.
One of the hallmarks of this hive is their propensity for church hopping. A common theme in their conversation is to inform the listener that they, rather than being satisfied with any particular fellowship, find themselves ‘called’ to many different services. Perhaps they enjoy the music at one congregation, but prefer the teaching at another. Sometimes they like to ‘get lost in worship’ at the charismatic conclave, but others, they appreciate ‘digging into the meat’ at a more expository teaching. Still other weeks they ‘appreciate the fellowship’ at the small service down the street from where they live. Each Sunday, the Consumer Christian takes a personal inventory to determine which of their competing appetites is in most urgent need of feeding before determining which community’s supplies they will diminish for their own ends. After all, the church is there to service them, is it not?
The Consumer Christian loves the sense of satisfaction and sacrifice that accompanies tithing, though they may not actually do it themselves. When asked which of the many services they regularly attend they support financially, because they inevitably believe God still requires ten-percent from His flock, one might expect to hear that they divide their gifts (if legally required religious taxes can be called gifts) between the various gatherings they frequent, but this is never actually the case. To the Consumer Christian, actually replenishing the supplies that they themselves digest, or supporting the ministries that they profit from is a completely foreign idea. No, when the Consumer Christian does give, they prefer to give just like they get, to whatever organization might best satisfy their personal emotional/spiritual cravings. A good African charity or politically charged social issue is far more likely to merit their contribution than the actual organizations that serve them. The five churches they attend don’t need their money, they assume. It feels far more compassionate (read: personally gratifying) to give to the poor. Actually supporting the groups that support them is nowhere in their thoughts. Rather, they simply feed on the efforts and loyalty and gifts and works of other, less selfish believers to ensure that the worship band they like, or the great teacher they occasionally enjoy stays afloat. Ministry, to the Consumer Christian, is far more about the personal blessing experienced than the public good done.
And these aren’t the only ways that this particular plight manifests itself. When the Consumer Christian enters a room, they can only assume their own edification is the primary purpose of the forum. The smaller the group, the more likely the Consumer Christian is to interrupt the proceeding with their own questions, observations, antidotes, or needs. If they dominate the time exercising their own tongues while others are made to sit and watch helplessly, that is of no concern to them. After all, they can’t be expected to listen rather than speak, or give careful consideration to a fully-formed thought process. The only mental stimulation satisfactory to the Consumer Christian is agreement, domination, and sound bite theology that can be repeated for their own advancement at the next group they happen to hop into.
And in the event that one of the bottomless voids that make up the Consumer Christian’s gullet is ever momentarily satiated, one can expect to never see them in that particular setting again. Why would they ever return to a field they have already decimated? The Consumer Christian may readily volunteer to help with the new building project at one of the churches they sporadically attend. They will delight in putting on the costume of the service-minded Believer, they’ve been saving that tattered pair of designer jeans for just this occasion. So too they will relish feeling their muscles burn under the strain of knocking down the old chapel, the camaraderie of the team as it works in unison to destroy the old building, the emotional prayer over the remains of the place hundreds of committed brothers and sisters called home. Oh yes, all of their many emotional/spiritual needs will be filled that day. The only problem is that the next morning, when the team arrives to start laying the foundation of the new building, the Consumer Christian isn’t there. They have already moved on to suckle on the next bit of ‘sanctification’ they can find. And so, short-handed, the actual invested believer who understands that the Gospel isn’t about them anyway, will be left to do twice the work, knowing they won’t want for the Consumer Christian’s company for long. They’ll return as soon as the band starts playing again in the new sanctuary.