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Dog Days of Summer Series: Churchy Gimmicks -- Has The Church Sold Its Soul To Consumerism?

In the well-known words of Will "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" Smith:

"Summer, summer, summertime / Time to sit back and unwind" 

Summer. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to begin clearing out my Inbox which contains hundreds of emails dating back to 2012, and to share with you the Christian gems that I come across (or at least those items that could generate some good, thoughtful discussion here). 

I read that the "Dog Days of Summer" is the name for the most sultry period of Summer (from about July 3rd to August 11th). Yes, we're already beyond August 11th, but we can't have just one single entry in what's being called a "series," now can we? No!

So, we're going to continue with our next installment in what we're calling our "Dog Days of Summer Series" for as long as it takes to get that Inbox down to 0 emails. In case you've missed any of the previous entries, this should help you catch up petty quickly...

Does Singing In Church Matter?

One important note. Obviously, I don't want to ever encourage a lackadaisical approach to Bible study and prayerful consideration, but since I'm likely to overwhelm you with one post after another (posts that are also automatically fed to the Lutheran Layman Twitter feed), I'm going to be creating a lot of "noise" as they say, which means I'm going to at least try not to to go too deep with the analysis of the content in this series. I'm gonna try.

Instead, I think I prefer to merely reference an item, maybe make a quick comment and observation or two, and then allow for all of you to chime in with your thoughts in the hopes of getting a friendly discussion going so I can learn more about the Lutheran perspective on things myself. So, whether you ultimately decide to go deeper with the subject on your own and in your own time this Summer is entirely up to you, my friends.

As always, please "test everything" (1 Thessalonians 5:21), always respond to whatever it is that you find here like the Bereans would (Acts 17:11), be sure to exercise discernment, and do let me know if you think my old "Evangelical Adam" is trying to reassert himself here.

I know, that seems like a rhetorical question, right? I mean, anyone who has listened to just one episode of Fighting For The Faith with Chris Rosebrough knows what a circus contemporary Christianity has made church out to be. 
Sure, that's true of most Evangelical, Non-Denominational, Mega-Church types, but what about he Lutheran Church at large? What about the LCMS, specifically? 
I hate to break it to you, but no church institution is free from the temptation to pander to the pagans and far too often it's "churchy gimmicks" and good old fashioned "American Consumerism" that somehow becomes their greatest marketing ploy (and the congregation's greatest nightmare whether the congregants realize it at first or not). 
Take my local LCMS Church, for instance. 
One typical Sunday morning, I was appalled to learn that the Divine Service was going to be replaced that week by the "Worship Service" performed -- yes, I said "performed" -- by the Youth Group! 
Now, keep in mind that this Youth Group is anything but "youthful" since it's made up of college bound high schoolers as well as young adults over the age of 21, but the point is that these are "spiritual babes" not Theologians or season Pastors. 
This particular Sunday they were dressed as though this was some kind of a stage play. Worse, several people who were dressed in black (I think they were supposed to represent "sin") began to enter the sanctuary and actually climb over the open spaces in the pews from the back of the church all the way to the front while the classic James Bond Theme blared over the speakers in the background. Yes, that actually happened. 
I'm not sure who thought this would be a good idea, or if people thought this might actually draw the non-believers to church that morning, but one thing's for sure...I FOUND IT TO BE TERRIBLY OFFENSIVE LET ALONE A POOR DECISION TO FEED ME THAT JUVENILE GARBAGE INSTEAD OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF MY LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST, WHO WAS CRUCIFIED, WHO DIED, WHO WAS BURIED, AND RESURRECTED FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF MY SINS! 
In any event, I share that story with you only to point out that no church and body of believers is immune from this sort of thing. 
That's why I found a recent issue of something called Credo Magazine that was sitting in my inbox from April rather enlightening.

Churchy Gimmicks: Has The Church Sold Its Soul To Consumerism? 
The Evangelical church in the twenty-first century has in many ways absorbed the consumeristic mentality that is so prevalent in the culture. Churches approach worship as if they were selling a product and the attendee were the consumer. Since the product is up for sale, churches must show that their product is more entertaining than anything else the world has to offer. Therefore, churchy gimmicks are the name of the game. Whatever keeps people coming back for more takes first priority and becomes the controlling principle for all things church-related. The preaching must be relevant, the music must entertain, and church events must keep people on the edge of their seat. If the church doesn’t sell itself, then it will be out of business. 
In this issue of Credo Magazine we hope to pour an ice-cold bucket of water in the face of the church. No longer can we turn to the culture to decide what the church should be and do. God, his gospel, and his bride are not products to be sold. And those who walk through the church doors on Sunday morning are not customers to entertain. Such an approach makes man the center and treats the church like a business. In contrast, our aim in this issue is to draw church-goers and church leaders back to Scripture, which we believe should be our final authority and guide for worship. In doing so, we must recover the ordinary means of grace that God uses to equip the saints and transform us into the image of Christ.

Now, please keep in mind that Credo Magazine is a non-Lutheran and an Evangelical source, but their criticism is something we should be able to agree with rather easily. 
My favorite part is right at the beginning of one of the featured articles. T. David Gordon is Professor of Religion And Greek at Grove City College and the author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped The Messengers (P&R) and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote The Hymnal (P&R)
In this interview, Matthew Barrett, Executive Editor of Credo Magazine, asks Gordon a handful of questions about what the church looks like when it absorbs a consumeristic mentality. Check out this classic response from Gordon...

I do not have any sociological or empirical data on how common bad preaching is; I have only 50-plus years of experience in a variety of religious contexts. From that experience, I can only observe that American Evangelical Christianity, perhaps more than any other form of Christianity, is almost entirely blind to the culture that has produced it, and therefore conforms to that culture and its sensibilities more than any other form of Christianity. So yes, if our culture is characterized by entertainment, then our religion is also characterized by entertainment. (The best book on this topic may be Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, especially chapter seven, “Shuffle Off to Bethlehem.”) If our culture is characterized by marketing, then yes, our churches are characterized by marketing. I honestly do not understand why Evangelical Christians even bother to attend church at all; they find nothing there that they would not find everywhere in the culture anyway, so why bother? I would rather attend my own funeral than attend a typical Evangelical “worship” service, emceed by some grinning, blow-dried, story-telling “pastor” who acts as though the fallen world has never wounded him or anyone else, who is entirely unaquainted with “the Man of Sorrows, aquainted with grief.” I don’t wish such people any ill; I just wish they would go away.

See, this is just one of the many reasons why I was drawn back to the Lutheran Church -- the Divine Service and the Liturgy -- but I'll expand upon that a little later this week in another post.  
For now, I'm curious to see what the rest of you think about some of the content in this edition of Credo Magazine, especially as you read it from a Lutheran perspective. 

So, what do you think? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments Section below.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, yes, sadly, the Christian Church At Large is still suffering from a "Consumerism" mentality as Pastors are now viewed as CEOs, churches as businesses, and congregants as consumers who must be sold something.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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