Consumerism was introduced to humanity in the Garden of Eden. Satan had a self-serving concept that he wanted to sell to a potential customer who had no need—one who, living in a perfect environment, had it all, materially and spiritually. His strategy (comparable to the prevailing methods of 21st-century marketing) was to create a desire where no real need existed, convincing Eve not only that she needed something more but that what she had was somewhat deficient. Moreover, in an effort to beat the Competition, Satan began his pitch by sowing doubt regarding God’s command and its resulting penalty for disobedience.
By calling God a liar, the adversary no doubt rattled Eve’s trust in Him: “And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?…And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.” Then, in the wake of further maligning the Lord’s character, came the irresistible “do it for you” sales pitch: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen:3:1, 4,5).
Consumerism, being all about profit, must include a profit-oriented buyer as well as seller. Eve certainly had her own desires stirred, for without them, no sale could have been made: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat” (Gen:3:6). Thus, the cry of the soul of consumerism, “How will it profit me?” birthed itself in Adam and Eve and all their descendants.
Consumer Christianity is a mentality or methodology that attempts to enrich Christians both temporally and spiritually, as well as to attract converts to the faith, through ways and means that are true neither to the Word of God nor the work of the Holy Spirit. Whether introduced subtly or overtly, wittingly or unwittingly, it always involves what appeals to humanity’s fallen nature. Furthermore, consumer Christianity ultimately indulges and glorifies self rather than God.
History is replete with instances of man’s consumerism and selfism. Let’s briefly survey the history of God’s chosen people, the Jews (Deu:14:2), and His church (Titus:2:14), for a few such examples by those who should have known better. Sarai, Abram’s wife, attempted to solve her childless circumstance by coming up with her own way to have the son that God had promised (Gen:16:2-3); “her” child Ishmael by her servant Hagar became the son of grief for the Jews to this day. Centuries later, right after the Israelites had experienced God’s deliverance from the Egyptians in spectacular ways, they nevertheless formed a golden calf to worship in order to gratify their immediate spiritual desires. God’s response to Moses was that they had thereby “corrupted themselves” (Ex 32:4-7). Joshua was deceived and made peace with the Gibeonites, contrary to God’s command; his presumption of doing good for his people was in reality rank disobedience: “And the [Israelites] took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD” (Jos:9:14). The entire book of Judges characterizes God’s people during that time period as having a consumer mentality: “…every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25). Later, David’s “eyes” for Bathsheba led him to satisfy his lustful felt needs in spite of what it would do to his personal relationship with God.
The New Testament gospels and epistles abound with examples of consumer “Christianity.” Peter’s objection to what Jesus said He would have to suffer for our salvation demonstrated more than just fleshly sympathy; Jesus intimated that it was disobedience of a satanic nature (Mat:16:21-23). Furthermore, Christ’s response to Peter defines what consumer Christianity is all about: “for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Our Lord’s other disciples were also given to the “what-could-best-benefit-me” mentality.
Blinded by self-interest to what Jesus told them of His impending suffering and death, James and John reacted by seeking an elevated position in His coming kingdom: “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory” (Mk 10:37). The Apostle Paul rebuked Peter, who, along with Barnabas, drew back from the Gentiles in order to accommodate those of the circumcision (Gal:2:11-14). Paul identified his own struggles, as well as ours, with putting self before God: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom:7:18-19). He then declared his solution, which is the believer’s only solution: the Spirit-led life in Christ (Rom:8:1).
Consumer Christianity, whether manifested in the early churches or in today’s assemblies (from mega-churches to home fellowships), is simply doing things man’s way rather than God’s way. The history of the church from the first century on is a distressing chronicle of true and false Christians deviating from the Word of God, doing what seemed right in their own minds while professing to be doing it in the name of Christ and to His glory. Although the results have often been spiritually devastating, God has been faithful, merciful, and longsuffering with His own. As we draw near to the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, however, consumer Christianity will so transform the professing church that it will be shocking to any true believer unless, of course, he or she has been desensitized by the gradual acceptance of many of the appealing “new products and processes” (i.e., unbiblical teachings, practices, and worship forms) being “sold” today.
Following the Rapture of the Bride of Christ to be with Him (1 Thes:4:16-18), a professing Christian church will remain that has been groomed to accept the Antichrist. This apostate church does not just appear overnight, but its preparation has been ongoing for two millennia and will increase with great intensity up until the Rapture of truly born-again Christians. The deception at that time will be like nothing humanity has ever experienced, including Hitler’s seduction of, and absolute control over, civilized, highly educated, and technologically sophisticated Germany. What will be the major difference? This deception will be worldwide and, more astonishingly, facilitated by God himself.
After giving information about the coming apostasy and the Antichrist, “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,” the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, further explains why the deception will be so pervasive and powerful: “…because they received not the love of the truth.” He then gives us reason to be astonished: “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thes:2:9-11). This “strong delusion” affecting the lost is comparable to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. It neither induced sin nor subjugated Pharaoh’s will; yet it allowed circumstances to develop that his wicked heart could not resist.
There is no reason to assume that only “them that perish” (v. 10) will be caught up in the Last Day’s delusion. As we’ve noted from the Scriptures, many of the heroes and heroines of the faith at times opted for their own ways rather than God’s way. They let their own desires override God’s only antidote for spiritual delusion: a love for the truth. As it was then, so it is even more today, as the apostasy gathers unprecedented momentum.
In the third chapter of Second Timothy, Paul speaks prophetically, identifying some of the characteristics that we need to urgently heed concerning the end-times deception: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous…lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof….never able to come to the knowledge of the truth….[A]s Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth” (2 Tim:3:1-8).
Let’s consider these things in light of what is taking place in evangelical churches today. Humanistic psychology, with its emphasis on self-love and its brood of other selfisms, has become an accepted and promoted doctrine among pastoral counselors and “Christian” psychologists. Prosperity evangelists have turned covetousness into God’s foremost commandment for millions of professing Christians. Seeker-friendly churches are working at filling their pews with lovers of pleasure while discouraging (and in many cases dismissing) lovers of God. Purpose-driven churches are marketing formulas of godliness in place of the power and leading of the Holy Spirit. The growing adulteration of God’s Holy Scriptures in the form of subjective paraphrase and visual “translations” is creating both a resistance to the truth and an anemia regarding spiritual discernment. Finally, regarding the ingredients of apostasy, the magicians “wowed” those crowding Pharaoh’s court with their pagan showmanship, mystical presence, and counterfeit signs and wonders (Ex 7:11,12). So, too, are we seeing entertainment, experientialism, and contemplative (Catholic) mysticism seducing multitudes of churches that formerly majored in preaching, teaching, and sound doctrine.
Has “strong delusion” made inroads into the evangelical church? If you don’t think so, you may have difficulty finding another explanation for the following agenda and participation at the 2004 National Pastors’ Convention.
This event, sponsored by Youth Specialties (America’s most influential evangelical organization for youth pastors and leaders) and Zondervan (publisher of The Purpose-Driven Life, the NIV-Message Parallel Bible, and evangelical distributor for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ DVD) began its daily program with contemplative prayer (see “Please Contemplate This!” TBC Mar ’00) and “Yoga & Stretching” exercises. Emerging church liturgies based upon Roman Catholic and Orthodox rituals and sacramentals were introduced, including daily “labyrinth prayer” opportunities. The latter is a meditative prayer walk around a circular, maze-like pattern copied from a floor design found in Chartres Cathedral. This mystical Catholic ritual dates back to the Middle Ages, when it became a substitute for journeying to the dangerous, Muslim-controlled Holy Land in order to trace the “Passion route” of Jesus. As Catholics walked the labyrinth and meditated on the sufferings of Christ in their imagination, they obtained the same indulgences (pardons that would shorten their time of suffering in Purgatory to expiate their sins) for making the actual pilgrimage.
The Convention’s evening programs included Christian comedy acts, The Jesus Painter (who “paints portraits of Christ in under 20 minutes”), “Tribe Church Drumming Experience,” “Personal Emotional Health Discussion,” an “emergent Pub with Live Music,” and “Late Night Contemplative Prayer Services.”
The greater percentage of speakers were practitioners of mystical Christian prayer and worship forms (referred to as “authentic faith”), and the rest appeared to be advocates of, or at least encouragers for, the development of new methodologies and liturgies for the emerging culture of the 21st century. One topic was titled “A New Theology for a New World.” The double-location conference attracted thousands and featured many influential church leaders, including Gordon MacDonald, Henry Cloud, Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Joseph Stowell, Howard Hendricks, Gary Thomas, Tony Campolo, and Rick Warren. The 2005 convention promises to be more of the same, with Christian contemplative, experiential, and emerging church headliners such as Richard Foster, Calvin Miller, Philip Yancy, Ruth Haley Barton, Doug Pagitt, and Dan Kimball.
Most of Christianity, according to the Scriptures, will progress into an apostate church as the return of the Lord draws near. Jesus said to His disciples, “It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” (Lk 17:1). He later posed this question: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) The implied answer is no.
How could this happen? The essential “love of the truth” is being extinguished by “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn:2:16). The professing church, consisting of true and false believers, increasingly turns to the world’s ways–its hedonistic philosophy, its evolutionary pseudoscience, its self-oriented psychology, its consumer-driven business methodologies, its religious ecumenism, and its pagan spirituality. Ironically, some have turned to these things in sincerity as a means of enriching and spreading “Christianity.” Nevertheless, the result is consumer Christianity in any and all of its self-serving forms, when “every man [does] that which [is] right in his own eyes” (Jdg 17:6).
As for the signs that would adversely affect the generation at His Coming, Jesus warned that His disciples should “take heed that no man deceive” them (Mat:24:4). If we are not the generation that is living in the time of “strong delusion” in preparation for that day, how much worse can it get? Pray that His Body of believers will increase in their love for His way, His Word, and His truth. TBC