The Great Commission exhorts Christians to spread the gospel, and indeed it has spread. Christianity is about 2000 years old and is the world’s biggest religion with 2.1 billion followers. Recently, however, it seems to be turning into a booming business, or at the very least a springboard to widespread relevance and renown for many religious and cultural figures. Is the line between the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the marketability of Christianity becoming blurred?
Reality TV shows that journey into the lives (and dramas) of pastor wives, prophets, and televangelists who are worth millions, and secular musicians who claim to espouse Christian values and yet are still “open-minded,” may seem to be signs that the church is adapting to the 21st century. Some of these trends in and of themselves are not necessarily negative. There is absolutely nothing amiss about preaching the word of God and being wealthy. There is nothing wrong with the use of the media to disseminate Christian values and lifestyles. There is nothing wrong with embracing modernity. Nevertheless, it is important to note that every marketing strategy known to man includes analyzing a particular audience and tailoring a message to its needs and desires. In an attempt to stem the tide of the church exodus that has been occurring in recent times, churches are taking this approach thus presenting potential believers with a Christianity which makes (mostly money-related) problems disappear and looks really cool, like so cool that even Kanye and Justin are into it.
However, there are few things about this trend towards marketable Christianity that don’t sit right with me. If we are going to take the road of marketing Christianity the way you would the latest and hottest mobile phone, we must take it with extreme caution or better yet not take it at all. The Christian life is at its essence a non-conformist one and yet we seem to be adapting to the mass consumerism and “liberalism” of the twenty-first century. The Bible reiterates over and over again that believers are set apart and have been called to live a life that is different from their counterparts. Jesus himself was a counter-cultural figure, irking the religious authorities of his day and overturning (quite literally) the priorities of his society. Unfortunately, many of his followers today conform to pursue relevance and sometimes material wealth. The media is shaping the aspirations of many as some churches here in Africa and even as far as the United States are adopting these heavily mediated aspirations as their own. But here’s the thing, the goal of faith should not be to reflect and amplify the aspirations of the world, it should be to change them. The Bible is a mirror allowing us to see all that is good and bad within ourselves and in society so that we can make things better. Are we not then undermining its effectiveness in this regard if we take it as clay that we can mold to suit our desires and purposes?
I’m not saying we must reject material wealth, don our sandals and live a minimalistic life while preaching at street corners. Let us use new technologies to spread the word of God. Let us use the resources we have at our disposal to teach people about Jesus Christ. However, in doing so we shouldn’t replace faith in God with faith in what we think is the ideal Christian culture. No one should be deceiving people by selling an embellished and easy-to-digest idea of what life in Christ looks like. Walking down the narrow road is difficult at times. The aim of evangelism shouldn’t be to sell a product, it should be to change people’s lives. We should be transformed by our faith and not have our faith transformed by us. Furthermore, by twisting the gospel to appeal to non-believers, we are diluting its power. For centuries, millennia actually, it has won souls without all the frills of wealth and glamour.
The consequences of making Christianity more and more marketable to appeal to the masses is dangerous as this could result in it being a human construct or a man-made religion. In everything that we do must acknowledge God for who He is.