On the 1st May 1991 I started following Jesus. I was 20 and I had been brought up an atheist. Up to that point I lived for myself essentially. But at the moment I humbled myself before Jesus and asked him to forgive me and lead me, everything changed. That moment was the game changer to end all game changers. Huge things happened. Over-night I stopped swearing, and no longer needed all the crutches I was using up to that point like alcohol.
As time ticks by, and you grow as a Christian you begin to appreciate a whole host of other things that have happened. As we follow Christ, other things that ruled our lives are deposed. One I’ve come to appreciate more and more is the idol of consumerism. Now an idol is a false god, something that takes the place of God in our life, that you bow down to, consciously or unconsciously. Consumerism is a massive driving force of western culture and its power is growing around the world.
One of my children was doing some homework recently on the food chain and at the top was humans who consumed what other animals/plants produced. It’s a good summary of us as a race. We consumer what others produce. And in the last 3 years with the proliferation of smart phones and screens everywhere (cafes, pubs, doctors surgeries, hospitals, tube stations, corner shops etc) that bombard our brains with subtle messages that in effect say: “You need me, can’t survive without me, must have me”. Of course I understand in our complex urbanised society there is a relationship with consumerism we can’t do without, but we don’t have to worship at its altar.
High Halter and Matt Smay in their brilliant book, The Tangible Kingdom, explain that consumerism is a major barrier to the church moving out of a strong relationship with God into mission. I can see that in the church in the west today it is powerful force that infiltrates the best churches too. Recently Carl Beech from Christian Vision for Men was recounting a conversation with a Christian leader in Cambodia who said the greatest threat to the Cambodian church at present was consumerism, and that if it wasn't reversed it would destroy them in a generation. Wow.
So why’s it a problem? Consumerism puts “me” at the centre, and asks “what’s in it for me, what do I get?” whereas Christianity puts Christ at the centre, and after that comes everybody else, and then finally comes “me”. There can only be 1 person on the throne of someone’s life, and that should be Jesus, but if consumerism is there, Jesus and his values of giving up our lives for others get knocked down a few places.
I don’t have all the answers, and i include myself in the challenge, but I know a problem when I see one. Some of the greatest challenges to us we are often blind to, because they are ingrained in our culture. Sociologists call it cultural blindness. Shall we help each other overcome the challenge of consumerism in the church? Or would you rather shop elsewhere? (joke! haha)