Yesterday I went to a Christian bookstore to do some early Christmas shopping with my mom. I had two reactions: the first was that I wished I had infinite income so I could buy a mountain of the amazing books in there, the second was a slight disgust at how comercialized American Christianity has become.
It’s not that I think Christian products are bad in and of themselves, but at the same time I think we’ve just gone too far. I love that we can make beautiful things with Scripture verses on them or have lovely paintings of Biblical scenes, but it seems it has gone far beyond that. I see two problems with the state of Christian consumerism specifically: the first is that the products become something for Christians to hide behind, the second is that it has marketed Christianity as a franchise instead of a reality.
There is definitely a healthy way to use Christian merchandise, but using it as a way to back out of responsibility is not it. The amount of accessories that have been made to help Christians witness has literally replaced witnessing itself in some instances. Do we really need those dumb shirts with the knock-off franchise labels, ‘witnessing bracelets,’ subliminal message ties (I wish I was joking on that one), Christian guitar picks, Christian blue jeans, drum sticks that say “stick with Jesus,” and all the other myriad of ‘Christian’ equipment?
We seem to think that if we brand the name of Jesus, or a cross, or the Jesus fish on every thing we own that we will be able to avoid actually communicating our faith to people. A Christian t-shirt simply cannot replace a conversation with a person that needs Christ. I have heard Christians tell me that they wear witnessing shirts so that when some one asks them about it they can share the Gospel. Well, if that’s a supliment to their witnessing, fine, but it cannot be their only witnessing. I don’t know about them, but I have never had a non-Christian ask me about my evangelistic shirt. We need to stop using our products as our source of preaching and start preaching with our lives.
I was convicted on this point when I was on my last Canada trip this summer. My bro and our good friend and I were at a Starbucks in Vancouver and I didn’t want a coffee drink so I bought a bottled water. I was so proud of myself because I chose to buy the special water that donates money to bring water to African children instead of the cheaper ordinary water. Subconsciously I thought: “Well now, I’ve done my good deed for the day and helped bring water to the thirsty.” But then it occured to me that I am not doing nearly enough. Buying a water bottle is not the sort of effort that Christ demands of His followers. Now, it’s not a bad thing to buy products that have good causes like that, but it cannot be all that we do. We are called to help the poor, not to just help others to do so.
My experience with the water bottle is just an example of the mindset that we’ve taken these days. I was buying the good product but I wasn’t making a strong effort to live out my responsibilty of helping the poor. I was using it as a shield to be able to say: “Oh I don’t have to do anything else, I bought a water bottle!” It is the same problem with the shirts, and the bracelets, and everything else. We have grown too cowardly and lazy to actually stand up and do what we are called to do. We’ve made products to do it for us.
One of the underlying problems is found in the mentality of many Christians. We tend to view Christianity as a franchise, just another cool thing we’re into, just another part of our lives. We seem to think that Christianity is about us and forget that it is about Christ. The companies that make the merchandise have followed suit and have catered to that mindset by making Christianity itself into a product.
We have gotten tired of the old dogmatic view point which claimed that Christianity was actually real and was actual history and we’ve traded it for something new and shiny, for a faith that’s entirely personal and revolving around ourselves and that has sweet t-shirts. It sickens me to find that in the minds of some, Christ is on an equal plain with Twilight, or Harry Potter, or the Indianapolis Colts, or Nike, or any other popular franchise. We treat God as something we can add to the various other things we like. We treat Christianity as just a compilation of t-shirts, and music, and notebooks, and whatnots.
When we view Christianity as something to add to our lives instead of reality we rob the Gospel of its full potential in our lives. If we view Christ as a product we will fail to serve Him as Lord. Christianity is not about us. It is not meant to be another flavour to add to our lives. Christianity is about Christ. I suppose my point in writing this post is this: I want to challenge you to re-evaluate your faith. Are you serving Christ with your life or are you serving yourself with Christianity? Are you using Christian merchandise as a tool to help you with your responsibilities or as a shield to protect you from them? Remember who it is that you are following.