Theme: Christianity and Commercialism
In this week’s lesson we see Jesus’ approach to commercialism and materialism in his church.
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple,“Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant,
Yesterday I mentioned John White’s book, The Golden Cow: Materialism in the Twentieth-Century Church. We looked at the first of three areas White cited as abuses of the church related to commercialism. We will continue that discussion today by looking at the second and third areas of abuse he noted. Here they are:
2. Evangelical advertising. We not only live in a materialistic age. We also live in an age of sophisticated advertising, and the two go hand in hand. We understand how that works with secular companies, though we groan at the sheer volume of catalogues and mail solicitations that come to us on a daily basis. But What about “Christian junk mail,” which is what White calls much of the evangelical literature that comes to his attention?
This is not an easy subject to address, for the majority of people will not give to Christian work unless they are asked to do so and the intent of much Christian advertising is to present the work and ask for money honestly. But are we trusting God or our motivational techniques? We talk about Hudson Taylor and admire the way he built his mission by prayer alone, not asking for money directly. But we don’t believe we can do that today. White says, “We trust in mass advertising more than we trust in God.
We corrode the term prayer support to mean ‘financial support.’ And while we say we are trusting God to work through the means we are using to ‘acquaint the Christian public,’ we would feel rather frightened if the means were taken away. Poor old God would he left to stumble along without his crutches.”1
The problem isn’t asking for money, of course. Christian works need money, and Christian workers do not need to be ashamed to request financial help. The problem lies rather in misrepresenting the work that is being done, employing words like “faith in God alone” to mask requests for money, and using secular techniques to manipulate people into giving. Why don’t we ask for money honestly? Mike Horton does. On “The White Horse Inn,” his weekly radio program, you will hear Mike say, “Grace is free; radio time is not. We need your gifts to stay on this station.”
3. Crass commercialism. We come now to exploitation of a different order. One example is the fad. WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” and it is found today on bracelets, caps and other items that evangelical businesses offer for sale. An older man was in a Christian book store several months ago and noticed WWJD caps for sale at the checkout counter. They cost $12.95. He asked what WWJD meant. “That means ‘What would Jesus do?’ the sales girl answered sweetly. The man looked at the cap a bit longer then said, “I don’t think Jesus would spend $12.95 for that cap.”
Again, there is nothing wrong With asking “What would Jesus do?” in any situation. But we might also ask: Who makes these items? And is the goal really to help people live like Jesus, or to make a quick large profit on a fad? Does something like this honor Jesus’ name? Or does it take God’s name in vain? White summarizes: “Local bookstores would not suffer terribly if we boycotted . . .items like ‘Honk if you love Jesus’ bumper stickers, Jesus sweat shirts, Jesus pencils, bookmarks, praying hands, charismatic jewelry and such sacrilegious garbage. Why don’t pastors call on their congregations for such a boycott? [And] how about adult Sunday-school class discussions on Modern Moneychangers and How to Overturn Their Tables’?”2
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn saw that the human spirit longs for things higher and purer than a materialistic culture provides and that if we sell out to a lust for mere things a new Dark Age will have come upon us. John White suggests that “the final Dark Ages are beginning.”3 Judgment is falling on the West. As for the church, the best thing that could possibly happen to it is that Jesus should come again and cleanse it as he intimated he would do one day when he cleansed the Jerusalem temple.
1 John White, The Golden Cow Materialism in the Twentieth-Century Church (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), p 981
2 John White, The Golden Cow, p 134.
3 John White, The Golden Cow, p 170.
If the “problem” is not asking for money, then what is it?
What is the real question we need to ask ourselves about Christian commercial fads?
How can non-profit organizations seek donations without being commercial?
We trust in mass advertising more than we trust in God. We corrode the term prayer support to mean ‘financial support.’
Pray that Christ’s return will indeed be soon.