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Friday, August 19, 2005

Jesus isn't soup, and he's not for sale

Is Jesus a product to be bought or sold? So you might think, if you listen to long-time pastor H.B. London: "Nearly every pastor is a salesman or marketer of one kind or another because...we have a philosophy to sell." I guess Jesus and the Church are no longer any different than a can of soup.

The problem is, most manufacturers reach market saturation. Their product starts piling-up in warehouses, or on store shelves. Before long, the price is slashed to move the product. ON SALE! blares from every floor display. People will shop at the biggest box store, wherever they can get it the cheapest.

In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic church got in trouble when they started selling indulgences, promises that passage to heaven could be made quicker and easier, if we just pay something now on earth. Tetzel even had a jingle: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs." Martin Luther got angry at the commericialization of doctrine, and hammered his famous "95 theses" to the door of the cathedral in Wittenbury, Germany. The Protestant Reformation had begun.

Evangelicals have apparently forgotten the hard lesson learned by Rome. When it comes to spiritual things, forget marketing. Christian faith is not for sale. Salvation is not a commodity that you can stick a bar code on, and scan at the nearest register. It defies all of our attempts to put it in a box and hawk it on the nearest corner like Tetzel, or even to offer it for auction on E-Bay. Christianity isn't a product; it's a call, a call to come and die.

Jesus said: "If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Serving Christ is just that, serving him. The relationship is not equal. God's not your "big buddy" upstairs, or your instant messenger friend. And he's certainly not a spiritual commodity that needs to be hawked. But the paradox is that the same Jesus who calls us to service offers peace: "Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Jesus is a relationship, a call to extreme commitment. That commitment means belonging to others (the Church) and changing the world, by God's Spirit living inside.

So keep your jingles and your market studies. Keep your spiritual salesmanship. Jesus isn't soup, and he's not for sale.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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