Consumerism and Community

March 11, 2013 — 5 Comments

Consumers, simply speaking, are people who purchase goods and services to meet a perceived need. In the most basic of forms, consumption is necessary to human existence. Each and every one of us is a consumer of something. But what happens when consumption goes from necessity to pleasure, from provision to identity?

Consumerism.

Our American economic ingenuity produced an unfortunate result: We now define ourselves by what we buy. What formerly met a basic need has become an identity, the lens through which we see the world. We, the people, exist to form a more perfect, tailor-made life. Food becomes a means of comfort. Clothing becomes a status symbol. Shelter becomes a palace of entertainment.

Yet we’re still miserable.

The church is no safe haven. Consumerism is most often on display in those environments we attempt to create for “community.” The sales pitch often goes like this: “Come join a group – we have one for YOU! Are you an empty nester? Check! Newly married? Check! A right-handed, blond-haired Francophile? Check! Check! Check!”

I wonder if this is what Paul, by the power of the Holy Spirit, had in mind when he penned Ephesians 2:

[13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)

In the death and resurrection of Christ, enemies become brothers. The power of the gospel and the Word of God are sufficient to unite bitter, millenia-old enemies. We have a new identity “in Christ Jesus,” which bonds us together more deeply than our relationship to our earthly family. Yet, for us, we get angry when someone brings generic brand tortilla chips to our community gathering.

I wonder if that kind of “community” is what the Lord revealed to John:

[9] After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

The gospel will create a redeemed people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Americans, Canadians, Brazilians, Swedes, Iraqis, Chinese, Nigerians, Afghanis and many more will surround the throne. Yet, for us, we’re uncomfortable when someone new shows up at the door.

Shouldn’t our communities, at bare minimum, reflect some different kinds of people?

Not to oversimplify, but the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. Step one is realizing we have a problem: a desire to satiate our appetite for selfish benefit. We must fight that desire and beg God to help us seek the welfare of others. What if we ditch expecting to have “our needs met” in community and embrace an expectation of blessing our brothers and sisters in Christ?

I have a hunch that we’d look a lot more like this:

[26] What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV) 

And this:

[42] And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

As a new kind of people, defined by God’s Word and empowered by His Spirit to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, we are no longer consumers. Our Word-centered, gospel-centered community is built on sacrificially meeting the needs of others – love one another, honor one another, bear one another’s burdens, teach and admonish one another.

A biblical community consumes the Word of God and contributes that precious Word to the lives of one another.

What if we aimed for contribution, not consumption?

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This post was written for the Creature of the Word Church Campaign. To join or learn more about the campaign, visit Creatureoftheword.com and the Creature of the Word Facebook page.

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

5 responses to Consumerism and Community

  1. I appreciate the thought here. What is it makes me think in the vein of consumerism is the thought that the church gets the leftovers. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have said “I’lll go do that if I have the time, or I’ll donate to that if I have the money”. In reality I consume and then give the church whatever is leftover- the idea of ‘first fruits’ is a rarity in my own conscience. I hide behind the pride that I at least give something…

    • Thanks for your thoughts Matt, and I definitely see the same tendencies in me. I desperately need the Spirit of God to transform me with the Word to be a faithful son of God!

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