Sunday, July 23, 2017

Consumer oriented religion. . .

The marketplace is a buzz with words on what the Church is doing wrong, how we are failing as a welcoming community for all people and not simply for the traditional family, and what we can do to improve the lot of our people.  Underneath it all is a betrayal of the very raison'd'etre of Christianity and the Church.  The Church has become a sort of social enterprise whose goal is the accumulation of people from the desired demographics and the tool to reach them has become a marketing technique.  The Church has become its programs instead of the body of Christ and success is gauged more by the happiness of its people than by its faithfulness to Christ.  We all know this.  I am not herald of unknown wisdom.  It has been the history of evangelicalism and of their wannabes for a long time, perhaps generations, but it is even more the domain of a consumeristic religion that fits our American ideals of a free marketplace and of individual choice.   Even Rome is being influenced by those who want it to be the Church for gay Catholics and for others who do not fit the traditional family mold.

A Christian community is not recognized for the way it deliberately and effectively reaches out to all people to reflect their wants, values, preferences, and desires.  No, indeed.  A Christian community is oriented not to people and their desires or preferences but to Christ and His Word.  Perhaps it is true that the Church has shaped itself toward a desired market but that is not something we should be celebrating or lauding.  Our goal cannot be to make people feel at home.  Our goal must be to address them with the means of grace through which Christ works and through which the Spirit plants faith.  Our goal cannot be to satisfy a market niche or even every market.  Our goal must be to create a place where the Word of God is preached in all its truth and purity, where people receive the Sacraments through which Christ delivers Himself and all the fruits of His atoning work, and where they are called to the new vocation of life as the baptized children of God.

The Church will not succeed with new programing or different programing or even with any programing (that exists for any goal except knowing Christ and making Him known).   We were not established to be an effective community organization or to promote relevant and effective programs or to satisfy the desires or wants or preferences of any and all target groups.  Christ has established His Church, His bride, to be faithful to Him.  This faithfulness is identified by fealty to the Word.  For whatever reason, perhaps most because we simply do not trust Christ to do what He has promised, we in the Church feel compelled to supplement the Word or even displace it with something more welcoming, more relevant, and more akin to the expressed wants and needs of the people we are trying to reach. 

Even when trying to be faithful to Christ it is easy to be sucked into the idea that programs are the goal, effective programs and even faithful ones.  Even faithful goals and purposes like catechesis can become the kind of programs whose appeal is designed more for the satisfaction of the participant than faithfulness to the Word.  Even worship, perhaps especially worship, has become a tool, a program, and means toward another end -- something different from being the arena of the Word and Sacraments through which Christ sends forth His Spirit and calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His Church.  Some churches are programing geniuses and the rest of us live in envy and jealousy of the grand and glorious way they appeal to people, answer their wants, make them feel at home, and supply them with whatever it is they think they need at this moment.  But under it all their success is the failure of the Church to be the Church.  Marketing the Gospel or the congregation is hardly what we need to be about.  As if the Lord depended upon our marketing expertise to bring His product to market and make it a sales success!  What the Lord asks of us seems to be the thing we find it hardest to give -- trust, faithfulness, and obedience.  But if that is what the Church will give Him, He will accomplish what He desires and we will have had a part to play in it all.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree with everything you said. Once the church began to focus too much on the needs of the people to be affirmed in their wants and desires, the emphasis seemed to gravitate away from the Lord of glory. The idol of self reared its head, and it is truly a Satanic invention.

RomGabe said...

Wonderful words of wisdom. Wishing the Church would return to its Early/Apostolic CHurch roots: Word & Sacrament, Law & Gospel preaching. The Church has lost its bearings and mission to feed the hungry Believers (Christians) and to reach out with Love & Truth to a perishing pagan world.