When Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple, he found his holy place filled with moneychangers and money-lenders. Its open walkways were lined with people trying to make a profit off of Jews, exploiting the fervently devout ones who had made a pilgrimage to the temple during holy days. (Matthew 21:12-13) The rabbis and other holy men seemed to turn a blind eye to the whole enterprise.
Jesus, zealous for his Father’s house, tore down the commercialism, overturning the sellers’ tables. Crass commercialism, profit-making off the backs of the devout—and zeal for his Father’s house aroused Christ’s wrath on its behalf. I wonder what he would say about the crass commercialization of Christianity today.
Recently we visited a Christian bookstore in search of some Francis Schaeffer books. This was not the Christian bookstore I remember from 20 years ago.
This was a large store. Before even making it through the front door, we passed tables of kitsch: toys and pens, teacups and plaques, all decorated with Christian sayings and feel-good slogans. There was even a basket of bath scrubbies–Christian bath scrubbies! Getting clean for Jesus!
Walking in, we saw that fully HALF the store was the same kind of kitsch. Cutesy pictures, wallets, glassware, candles, all with some theme meant to make us think of God. Some have trite sayings empty of content. Some are serious paintings meant to inspire but belonging to some stuffy leather-bound study of a different era.
An eighth of the store is Christian music and DVDs. Another eighth is Sunday school materials for children. That leaves a quarter of the large store for books. No wonder this line of Christian store removed the name “Bookstore” from its familiar logo. There weren’t enough books to pass for a serious bookstore.
We found Bibles and Bible commentaries, plus Christian fiction/Christian romance, and Christian living. In the Christian living portion we found Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Rick Warren–but not Francis Schaeffer, Spurgeon, Augustine, Grudem, Walther, Sproul, Packer, or Machen. (Around the corner at Barnes and Noble we found more theology than in this store. Seriously.)
I will discuss the lack of theology in another blog post. Today, however, I want to talk about my imperfect analogy of Jesus in the temple versus the Christian bookstore. (I do realize the bookstore is not a holy place; it is a place of business. My analogy falls apart there.)
The Christian “subculture” makes up a huge number of individuals, who purchase music, books, and (some of them) kitsch. I get it. But when is it too much? And why do we purchase and sell such cheap, crass, cutesy-cuddly representations of our faith? (Remember the scrubbies? Some of them were duckies. Christian ducky scrubbies. Yes, they bothered me.) But why are we selling them? The businessman will tell me it’s because they sell. My faith tells me it is a thin veneer.
Is my display of Christian decor meant to please man or God? And then the question is begged, does that cutesy stuff please God or man? Now, I don’t think God is offended if I have a sequined coin purse that says “I Heart Jesus.” However, is my money best spend on such nonsense? And who am I trying to please? Is this an outward display of piety meant to impress man or God?
Zechariah 7:4-10 asks and answers the question of what God thinks of the outward display of piety, the kitsch and glitz:
Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, “Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, `When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? `When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves?’ “… Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, `Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.'” (ESV)
In other words, man devises all sorts of ways to show his piety, but God wants something altogether different.
All the sequins and scrubbies, candles and cups can’t possibly do much more than fill the pockets of those who sell them. They don’t save me, and they certainly don’t win me more Jesus-points.
Do we buy and display all those glitzy Christian-lite trinkets in order to show off our faith? Is this an outward display used to impress others–hollow, without the internal conviction—like whitewashed tombs? Or is it an effort to make ourselves more holy?
That last thought is the most devastating–and I believe it is the closest to the truth. The beautiful truth of Christianity, which is not taught much these days, is that I cannot keep myself holy. I cannot save myself, nor can I be holy; only God can save me.
The simple truth of biblical Christianity is that God is sovereign; he is holy, and only he can save me and keep me. There is nothing I can do.
And the simple truth about all the Christian kitsch is that if this is the trend these days—to decorate one’s home so that I look better or feel better about myself, I am awfully empty inside and desperately in need of a real savior who requires nothing more of me than just me.