Jumping on the Bandwagon

On the heels of the freewheeling discussion emanating from my recent post “McChurch?” comes this succinct critique of “Consumer Christianity” from the ubiquitous and uber reasonable Church of Christ prophet, Edward Fudge.

Talk about jumping on the bandwagon. I swear, sometimes I think that man sits around reading my blog.

  1. mmlace

    Good article…thanks for the link!

  2. Stoogelover

    And all this time I thought Fudge was just a very smart man, only to learn he’s reading your blog and doing a bit of plagiarism?? Some of my best moments of ministry have been time spent one-on-one with Fudge.

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    Fudge’s GraceEmails are always a site for sore eyes as I sort through all the daily spam. I hear he’s yet another fine product of North Alabama, but I’ve never met him. But he’s so dang reasonable and gracious, I know the two of us would get along fine if I did.

  4. Speck

    Fudge’s post made me chuckle. It could have just as well been written in 1907 or 1807 as today and still been relevant. Our great-great-great-grandparents were probably “spiritual shoppers” looking for the church that best suited them. The “merchandise” of the time was much different, but the churches were probably just as “consumer-oriented” giving the folks of that era what they wanted.

    “The church is not benefited, long-term, by…trashing its heritage of hymns…”

    Someone probably had the same thought back in 1780 when “Amazing Grace” edged out an older hymn for publication in the new songbook. What’s wrong with the new stuff? It speaks to the new generation. Is the message really “dumbed down” or just using a different vocabulary than yesteryear???

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    Ouch, is that a Speck in my eye? That’s very clever.

    I have a hard time picturing our hardy, pioneering forebears of yesteryear, who by and large lived in small communities and rural areas and had very limited choices when it came to churches, being quite as picky or as fawned over and mollycoddled as today’s typical church shopper. But then again maybe you and I are reading different books on the history of the church in America.

    I really don’t know what Fudge is referring to by the church’s “heritage of hymns” (Whose heritage? Maybe the Church of Christ, but considering his liturgical leanings, I suspect he may mean more than that). I find no small amount of shoddy theology in both old and new songs, to the point where I won’t sing one if I find the words getting caught in my throat. But I do find a fair number (but certainly not all) of contemporary praise songs to be of the “Jesus is My Homie” variety, with that incessant refrain of “Me, Me, Me, and Jesus too.” Those, by my definition at least, would represent instances of “dumbing down,” compared, say, to “Amazing Grace,” or “It Is Well With My Soul.”

    Speck, if you can find a contemporary praise song written in the past 30 years that creates a communion vibe quite like “O’ Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (lyrics, Bernard of Clairvaux, circa 1153; music, Hans Hassler circa 1600), then please, set me straight before I dig myself all the way to China!

    But certainly, both Fudges’s and my post are about much more than picking nits over old songs vs. new songs. They’re about a pervasive attitude regarding the way a church should conduct outreach and thereby grow, which, according to “Consumer Christianity” is always defined primarily by “The Numbers.” I’ve seen a lot of evidence of “Consumer Christianity” in my neck of the woods over the past decade or so; not so much in my personal study of the first 2000 years of Christianity.

    Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  6. jduckbaker

    I’m JRB’s other half and read your blog all the time. Sometimes JRB and I have great discussions regarding blogs, including yours, Mike Cope, GKB, and Mark Elrod.

    I just wanted to weigh in on this. Edward Fudge is a great source of hope and light to many (including my beautiful, wonderful mother-in-love in North Alabama) but I’m not sure he is talking about a real need in the church. Now, I know there are some people out there who will demand to have things the way they like them, but most of the people I know who are already in church are willing to submit to the Spirit’s leading and their elders’ counsel. I don’t think the people who are not in church (whether it be people who have never been in church or people who are now not going to church) are NOT looking for something that has been dumbed-down or had the truth and grace of Christ stripped away. I think they are looking for what Fudge says in his article:
    “Jesus does not invite us to buy a ticket and demand good service. He calls us to deny self, to put others ahead of self, to serve rather than to be served.”

    It’s the whole form vs. function issue. Does the form matter if you are participating in the community of Christ at an authentic level? Does the “traditional” form actually deny ourselves, put others ahead of self and serve others? Does a different form do that?

    I don’t have answers. I think the whole “emerging church” stuff is about getting beyond the worry of form- if the form is really creating the 3 things Fudge talks about, then I think it would be what people were craving. And it may do that for some people.
    At our church we have some Sundays where you wouldn’t know that we were any different than any other Church of Christ (well, except for the women reading Scripture). And I have been moved by the Spirit on some of those days, just as much as when we spent the ENTIRE service time in prayer- the whole congregation just bowed their heads and said names outload of people to pray for- and the rest of the time was people leading prayer.

    It’s not about dumbing down. It’s not about consumerism. It’s about 1) Glorifying God, 2) Denying Self, 3) Serving others.

    Of course, this all may be influenced by my recent reading of “Emerging Church”, and the recent baptism of my non-believing seeker sister who came to her faith without a real church home and family.

    We love your blog and look forward to meeting you someday.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    I’m honored to have JRB’s better half visit my humble blog! I appreciate your kind remarks, and yes, how is it that we haven’t met yet? We must remedy that soon.

    I am very short on answers too, but I’m long on suspicions. And here are the suspicions that keep running through my mind these days: That there are certain forms which may matter and, more so than others, increase the likelihood of being ushered into the throne room of God (#1) and thereby increase the chances that #2 and #3 will occur.

    That words do matter and cannot be wasted but must be weighed carefully, whether they be spoken corporately, in prayer, during the sermon or prior to the Eucharist.

    That certain postures and motions and sensorial experiences matter and will produce a worshiper who is involved physically with his or her surroundings and not merely sitting on their duffer, trying to absorb all the verbal sprawl, Powerpoint slides and pulse-pounding music as a member of the “audience.”

    That architecture itself might matter (it mattered in the OT after all) and that there may be still a need in this fast-food, blue jeans world for “sacred space.”

    That an Amway Convention style “worship center” packed to the gills and a more traditional quiet, darkly-illuminated “sanctuary” are not one and the same.

    These are suspicions as yet unconfirmed. But then again, maybe I’m just going through some sort of aesthetic phase. At the end of the day, my suspicions don’t matter one wit when it comes to which way the Spirit may blow.

    Do stop by again. I appreciate your comment.

  8. Speck

    Oops, wasn’t trying to be clever or take a jab with the post name Speck. The name Speck comes from an old Calvin and Hobbes comic. Calvin is standing alone at night under a vast canopy of stars. He screams, “I’M SIGNIFICANT!.” Next frame he is silent again looking up at all the stars. Then he adds in a small, quiet voice, “…screams the dust speck.” That’s how I feel most days, just an infinitesimal dust speck on this little blue planet. It’s too bothersome to add Infinitesimal when commenting, plus I tend to misspell it most days, so I’ve become just Speck.

    Here is my brief history of Consumer Christianity mollycoddles through the ages (in southwest Arkansas). Pioneer days (if they had more than one church to choose from): a dedicated church building (vs. brush arbor), dinners on the ground, singing schools, revivals, camp meetings, dynamic preachers. Coming forward a few generations (with more church choices): indoor plumbing, electric lights, padded pews, basketball goal in the churchyard. Forward a few more generations: air conditioning, microphones, children’s programs, fellowship halls. Today: Family Life Centers, church league softball, Powerpoint presentations (your fav!). Churches have always had “added value” beyond the message. Indoor plumbing was once glitz and glam. Probably not a lot of folks would flock to a church that today still had an outhouse out back. Churches in America have evolved over the decades and they are evolving still. Each generation bemoans the changes made by the new generation.

    On praise songs, I can’t even name a single contemporary praise song written in the last 30 years. They all sound the same and they all leave me cold. But then I’m an old fogey, I think I was born old. I’m an old-timey, brush arbor, Sacred Harp shape-note singing kinda girl. The church music I was raised on in the 60s was even a bit too contemporary for me. But I also realize that to the young people today Sacred Harp must sound like a dirge and probably leaves them cold. So if the contemporary praise stuff brings them to Christ, why should I deny them that joy by forcing them to listen to only my old dirgey stuff? The modern music (and glitz and glam) speaks to them, and we must be willing to allow our children to create the church environment that appeals to them. Just because it isn’t what we consider “traditional” doesn’t mean it’s less authentic. It just means it’s different.

    Yes, Eyeguy, there is still a need in this world for sacred space. Our children will create one that we may not recognize but yet is still sacred to them. The occupants may be wearing blue jeans and munching on Big Macs as they worship. Not less authentic, just different.

    Eyeguy says: “…an Amway Convention style “worship center” packed to the gills and a more traditional quiet, darkly-illuminated “sanctuary” are not one and the same.”

    Nope, they’re not, they’re different. Each appeals to different people. One isn’t right and one isn’t wrong. Just different. For that matter, if I feel the need for a little Joel Osteen revolving globe this Sunday, and a little candles and incense next Sunday, why not attend both? Must I be committed to one congregation only? I don’t eat at the same restaurant every Friday night, why must I worship at the same church every Sunday morning? Have I just made your point about Consumer Christianity???

  9. Speck

    Well phooey, the comment box doesn’t like my HTML coding method. There’s supposed to be a *grin* at the end of the last post. *grin*

  10. mmlace

    Nicely put, Speck. Although, I believe you DID help to make his point a little with that last paragraph. But I love how you explained that sacred space may be different for different generations…or even just different people, for that matter!

    Do you mind if I ask whereabouts in SW Arkansas?

  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    You may have both missed my point if you think this has been a “kids these days” rant. It’s not the kids who are in charge (and besides, they’re the ones generally calling for less of the phony baloney). I’m trying to speak a little truth to power.

    But I know. The majority of people (hey, and that’s what it’s all about, right?) think it’s all merely to-may-to v. to-mah-to.

    And life lurches on.

  12. mmlace

    No, I just meant Speck made your point about consumerism by comparing what church she goes to on Sunday morning with what restaurant she eats at on Friday evening! 🙂

    I know it’s not just a “kids these days” rant, but it seems like you might prefer a more traditional setting for worship. Of your suspicions listed above, I agree that words, postures, and senual experiences, etc. matter. But who’s to say that anything is more “sacred” than the other. I just meant that it’s different for all kinds of different people. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have said for different ‘generations’…sorry, that gave the wrong impression.)

    Someone who worships in an “Amway Convention style” worship center may go there and truly be in the presence of God with their worship, and that makes it sacred…at least in my humble opinion.

  13. Mike the Eyeguy

    Recently overheard from a 20-year-old college student (unrelated to me and who went through CoC youth group with all the bells and whistles) who was commenting on the use of flashy multimedia in church:

    “Man, they sure are showing a lot of movies during worship these days. If I wanted to go to a movie, I would go down to the theater and buy a ticket.”

    No old fogey is he.

  14. Mike the Eyeguy

    “Someone who worships in an ‘Amway Convention style’ worship center may go there and truly be in the presence of God with their worship.

    And someone who eats at McDonalds on a regular basis may truly believe they are eating well…

  15. mmlace

    I like your 20-year-old…and the fact that he proves that ‘generation’ has nothing to do with it. But what about the other 20-year-old or even a 60-year-old who can come out of the same worship, having gained something from the use of multimedia?

    Who’s to say one is right and one is wrong?

    “And someone who eats at McDonalds on a regular basis may truly believe they are eating well…” ???

    Are you saying that you don’t think their worship is authentic? That they may think it is, but it’s not as good as it could be???

    Please elaborate.

  16. Mike the Eyeguy

    Not saying it’s not authentic, or pleasing to God or beneficial to them.

    Only that it may not be as nutritious as it could be. Indeed, as it was meant to be.

  17. JRB

    Speck: “Churches have always had “added value” beyond the message.” Then you go onto to explain that this “added value” comes in the form of electricity to plumbing to basketball courts to power point.

    Surely you have a point, but the “added value” that distinguishes the church are not the accoutrement of comfort and recreation. Those only serve a function of community.

    We have two great commands from the Lord: to Love Him and to love His creatures. Jesus taught us on the Mount that all of our good works, being salt, light and a city on the hill exist for one purpose, so that our neighbors can see them and praise our Father in Heaven.

    I suggest that this premise must be our standard to evaluate everything we do and every decision we make as a church. This is the Objective Test. If the basketball courts, rock-n-roll show, pyrotechnic youth rally and elective luxuries are not fulfilling this Objective, or not fulfilling them well, then they are just clanging symbols.

    Of couse in Ps. 150, God digs on the clanging symbols, but only when they are directed for His praise among the people.

    Holden Caulfield decried the phonies and his social indictment registered a cultural shift in America, brought forth by the horror of WWI, WWII, the Depression, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Nixon Presidency and the Civil Rights Movement and its opposition. The root of that shift as it must relate to the Church is not a chase to catch the cultural zeitgeist of a moment but to stand as an authentic, genuine, honest, vulnerable and humble witness for the Lord, drawing people to the Lord for His sake, not the elective options.

    Last night, I sat with my 2 year old in her Wednesday night class, and the teacher led a song that went like this, “The more we read the Bible (pray, love, etc.), the happier we will be.” The sentiment may have some truth, but it made me cringe, because the pursuit of personal happiness is not among those two commands.

    1. Give glory.
    2. Deny self.
    3. Love others.

    If the tools of rock-n-roll on a basketball court are aimed at those objectives, may God bear the fruit. IF rock-n-roll on a basketball court is meant to entertain the masses and make the home-crowd happy, then they are misplaced.

  18. Speck

    OK Eyeguy, maybe I missed the point you were trying to make. Set me back on track. Is your grief:

    a) That mega-churches use multi-media presentations that lack in-depth content?

    b) That mega-churches are too large to be able to present in-depth content (in any form)?

    c) That multi-media presentations cannot effectively deliver in-depth content?

    d) All of the above.

    e) None of the above.

  19. Speck

    JRB: “but the “added value” that distinguishes the church are not the accoutrement of comfort and recreation. Those only serve a function of community.”

    I concur. Fudge’s statement of Consumer Christianity is, “spiritual shoppers, going from one congregation to another, inspecting the “merchandise” for quality, comparing elements of convenience, service and cost.” The elements of comfort, recreation and community are the ones I addressed. Churches over the ages have offered creature comforts and community functions to intice people in the doors, so Consumer Christianity is nothing new. Obviously there was content once inside the doors to nourish their souls or the churches wouldn’t have survived.

    Fudge contends that the presence of glitz must mean that the Gospel has been kicked to the curb. I disagree. Glitz and Gospel aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. The glitz of ages past has been incorporated into today’s churches without detriment to the Gospel. Why should the glitz of today be viewed as harmful to the continuation of the faithful Gospel message?

  20. Speck

    JRB: “If the basketball courts, rock-n-roll show, pyrotechnic youth rally and elective luxuries are not fulfilling this Objective [1. Give glory. 2. Deny self. 3. Love others.], or not fulfilling them well, then they are just clanging symbols.”

    I concur. However, an indoor flush toilet does not fulfill the Objective. It is a clanging symbol? If so, rip it out. I have construction plans for a dandy little outhouse. If the flush toilet is not a clanging symbol, then can we keep the basketball goal too?

  21. Mike the Eyeguy


  22. JRB

    I’ll play along. A flushing toilet with indoor plumbing permits to work in sanitary conditions and provide hospitality to our neighbors and promotes our capacity to do our work more efficiently.

    A basketball court may promote the church’s capacity to provide a safe place for inner-city kids to play and learn safely, may increase capacity for neighborhood engagemand and may (as in the case of our church in Mississippi) double as a warehouse for hurricane relief supplies for three or four months to support shelters who did not receive any FEMA supplies.

    On the other hand, a BB court may be a tool to keep affluent kids and their parents safe behind a wall of affluence, all the while properly entertained.

  23. mmlace

    “…it may not be as nutritious as it could be. Indeed, as it was meant to be…”

    I’m sorry, perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. Indeed, I must be, because it doesn’t seem like you to make such a blanket generalization that multimedia, etc. automatically = less “nutritious”.

    I love JRB’s last comment about the BB court (and how it can apply to a number of situations)–it can be good OR bad, it just depends on the PURPOSE behind it.

    So rather than throwing up a red light to the use of multimedia in worship and use of other things to draw people in, how ’bout a yellow light instead…a “proceed with caution”? Maybe??? I just dunno…


    Like I said, I’m still on the fence on this one…I have no answers…I know nothing…

  24. Mike the Eyeguy

    I really don’t expect you to understand. I think its something that some, but not all, will come to understand over time. And I don’t have any answers either, only my suspicions that I mentioned above. Those, and nearly 46 years worth of dents and dings.

  25. mmlace

    Although I’m fairly new to your blog, I’ve read enough in your archives to know how you felt about this…so I couldn’t help but think about you in church one Sunday night back in July…

    Fellow blogger Keith Brenton had the opportunity to preach, and as he started, he was telling the congregation a little about his job description (as our communications guru). He said, “And I take care of the lovely audio-visuals that you don’t see tonight, because we decided we weren’t going to have them. Some people like them, but you know what? Some people don’t, they’re a distraction to them……I think we need to do that for each other sometimes.”

    I thought, “Dr. Eyeguy would be proud!”

  26. jduckbaker

    Mike- Like I said, I’m still learning. This is a long quote, but it struck a chord, and I have questions after reading it. I was so excited and wanted to continue our discussion that I had to type it out. You know my husband is a lawyer, and if I am breaking any copyright laws (which I probably am- yikes- I’m trying to give full credit) then I may ask you to take the quote down.

    Here goes:

    The Emerging Church (p. 93- 95) by Dan Kimball

    (Dan Kimball starts off quoting Darrell Guder from The Missional Church)

    The word church became defined as “a place where certain things happen,” such as preaching and communion. Guder writes, “Popular grammar captures it well: you ‘go to church,’ much as the way you go to a store. You ‘attend’ a church, the way you attend a school or theater. You ‘belong to a church,’ much as you would a service club with its programs and activities.”

    The words we use are critical in shaping people’s expectations. Never underestimate this effect. As Guder writes, “In North America, this ‘place where’ orientation manifests itself in a particular form. Both members and those outside the church expect the church to be a vendor of religious services and goods.”

    …Have we, over time and with good intentions and pure motivation, turned our churches into vendors of religious services and goods? In our desire to attract people to our churches, have we subtly taught that church is where you come to learn about how God can help you fix your problems? Where you come to have others teach your children about God for you? Where you come for your weekly feeding in the Word of God? Where you come for quality programs to help you live life better and develop a social network? Where you come to experience high quality worship music?

    If the church has become the place instead of the people on a mission, leaders only naturally start focusing their efforts on what people experience when they come the the place on Sundays. In recent years, we have even added the words excellence and relevance to our value statements for church. In doing so, we naturally began spending more time focusing on the quality of the music, sound system, and bulletins. As the church grows, the pressure to continue this focus increases and the problem escalates.

    The bigger the church gets, the better the preaching needs to be with more dynamic presentations and better PowerPoint slides. The music needs to be more professional with better sound systems and lighting. The children’s programs and youth ministries need to be better to keep the teenagers happy and paying attention so their parents can sit in the larger gathering where religious goods and services are dispensed. Great intentions, but as a result the church can subtly lose sight of its identity and missional function, and people come to church to have their needs met by others, volunteering only if they have any time to spare. As we create a culture in which people come to church, people generally are content to remain spectators.

    Could we be guilty of creating consumer Christians?
    Could our leadership be the very cause of it all? Could providing bigger and better programs and ministry services be backfiring on us? Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic church in Los Angeles, writes: “’We’re looking for a church that meets our needs.’ It seems like I’ve heard this one a thousand times. The phenomenon of church shoppers has profoundly shaped the contemporary church. The entire conversation is not about relevance but convenience. The focus is not in serving the world; the church itself became the focal point. Our motto degenerated from ‘We are the church, here to serve the lost and broken world’ to ‘What does this church have to offer me?’”

    Consumer Church: Church is seen as a dispenser of religious goods and services. People come to church to be fed, to have their needs met through quality programs, and to have the professional teach their children about God. “I go to church.”

    Is different than

    Missional Church: Church is seen as a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word that supplements what they are feeding themselves throughout the week. “I am the church.”

  27. jduckbaker

    Ok, so after all that, I have been thinking about the people I have usually gone to church with during my time there. My family didn’t take me to church (except in my early years -until about 8 years old), and my experiences have been in many different denominations. The thing about it is, that most of the churches I’ve ever been, new members are usually transferring membership (either from the same denomination or different denomination). I’m not sure I have really ever seen a real missional church. I hope the one we are in now is more like a missional church than a consumer church, but this description has left me scratching my head, and wondering.

    Thanks for the discussion. It’s so good to delve deeper. I pray we will all be led by the Spirit.

  28. Mike the Eyeguy

    That’s an amazingly diagnostic quote.

    “I pray we will all be led by the Spirit.”

    Indeed. Wherever He may lead us.

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