Maybe, Just Maybe, the Customer Isn't Right

I crossed paths with two items of interest recently. Both acutely highlight a besetting sin in evangelical churches: consumerism.

Being a consumer and thinking of ourselves as consumers is not the problem. God wants us to eagerly consume what he has to offer:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! - Isaiah 55:1

The problem is consumerism. "Isms" modify a concept by giving it a place of honor and authority it isn't meant to have. In this case, "consumer" becomes the all-important concept to which everything else is subordinate, the lenses through which everything else is interpreted. Consumerism is the idea that we are "customers" in the modern sense of the word. And in our world, the customer is "always right." The customer is in charge. The customer dictates what he or she wants and how much it should cost.

When it comes to God, we should never think of ourselves as "customers" in this sense of the word. God is in charge, not us. God knows what we need, not us. He is not at our beck and call, forced to scramble to satisfy our own perceived needs. When our attitude toward God is that he must bow to our demands, we reverse the Creator/creature distinction and, well, think of ourselves way more highly than we ought.

This doesn't mean God doesn't serve us. Of course he does! Jesus washes his disciples' feet; he came not to be served, but to serve. But that service is always Divine service. It is the LORD who is serving. And that means the LORD knows how to serve. He knows what is right and true and good. When the LORD bows to wash your feet, the relationship of LORD and servant is not reversed. He is not now our Butler or Valet. He remains LORD.

We should really keep this in mind.

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, a congregation of a whopping 24,000 people, recently wrote a book entitled Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. My one-time seminary professor (and finest, wittiest, and sharpest book reviewer on the planet--I hope he never takes aim at me), Carl Trueman, read the book and was, to put it mildly, not impressed. I highly encourage you to click over and take a look at what he has to say. Stanley has established the consumerist mentality as Lord and Head of the Church. Churches, he claims, need to "adjust their sails" to the prevailing winds of culture. And since people think of themselves as "customers" interested in pragmatism over truth, the church must care about pragmatism instead of truth.

I can hardly improve on Trueman's rhetorical swordsmanship, so I'll leave you to it.

The second item is a commercial produced by Scottsdale Bible Church, another popular megachurch in Arizona. I wish I could embed the commercial on this page. But it isn't available on YouTube yet, so I cannot. But you can click here and view it on their Facebook page. It is so breathtaking I thought it simply had to be a parody.

Alas, no. The purpose of this video is to advertise a new Saturday night service at Scottsdale Bible Church. Now, I don't actually have an objection to Saturday night services, in principle. There are all kinds of people who for reasons of necessity have difficulty attending Sunday morning services: doctors, firemen, police officers, etc.

But that isn't how they advertise it. Their appeal is this: just imagine what you could do on Sunday mornings if you didn't have to go to church! You could go golfing! You could sleep in! You could watch NFL football! Just think of the possibilities! Isn't this awesome? Now you can get your worship experience at a more convenient time. Something to fit your lifestyle. Your schedule. Your priorities. I am not reading any of that into the ad. That is the ad.

Never mind that uniformly since the resurrection of Jesus himself the Christian church has set aside Sunday as the Lord's Day. This was a massive, tectonic shift in redemptive history, reestablishing the day not as the Sabbath, the last day of the week, but the Lord's Day, the first day of the week.

Notice I am not here trying to make a biblical case for Sunday being the Christian Sabbath. There is plenty of disagreement among Christians about how the Old Testament Sabbath applies in the New Covenant era. I am simply stating the fact that almost universally this has been the Christian understanding: Sunday is not some arbitrary, take-it-or-leave-it, preference; it is the appointed Day.

I would not be nearly so aggravated if Scottsdale Bible Church wanted to have a Saturday night service and encouraged their people to attend because of the recognition that Sunday is legitimately difficult for some people. Or even if they wanted to make a biblical case that Sunday is completely arbitrary. I'm sure their resident theologian, Wayne Grudem, is up to that task.

But no. Their pitch is the the most crassly consumerist pitch imaginable: Now you can have a God that fits your schedule. Now you can prioritize your own fun, and fit God in on the side. No more missing the early NFL game! I do not know these people, but they should be embarrassed. Deeply, deeply embarrassed.

Look: God is not dedicated to your comfort. He does not exist to make you happy. He wants to make you holy. I'll make a provocative observation: the two gentlemen who made this ad wouldn't dare reschedule their date for such self-serving reasons. 

What does that tell you where God ranks?

Brian Mattson