In a stroke of marketing brilliance, the people at Apple branded individualism and associated that individualism with their products. The iPad, the iPod, iTunes, and so on all start with the most important thing in our culture – ‘i’. But Apple, whose logo also may be playing into the theme of the exaltation of the self with the fruit having been bitten into (Genesis 3), didn’t invent the theme of the exalted self. Rather, it is merely capitalizing on, and making hip the reality of our time. Apple, in fact, is really only doing what the twentieth and twenty-first century western church has already accepted as the rule of the day – namely, that the individual is an autonomous, self-contained, self-satisfaction-seeking being.
Before proceeding, let me admit here and now that I have recently come to be the owner of a Mac – a MacBook Pro to be precise. Let me further compound my guilt by admitting that I love it. This is not a tirade against the fine people at Apple or the people who purchase, use and enjoy their products. I’m merely pointing to the similarities (and differences) between their marketing and the assumptions of the Church in our time.
The thing is, we live in a time where the individual is king of his castle, ruler of his domain, captain of his ship, master of his own destiny, and all that. You have become convinced that you deserve a break today, that you should have everything our way, and that you can be an army of one (if ever there was a dumber idea than that, I don’t know of it). I am my own private god in my own private Idaho, and all of the merchants and marketers are working feverishly to accommodate my tastes and preferences with their products and services. All you have to do, they would have us believe, is buy their beer or makeup or chia pet and all of our problems will be solved. They have served us well by inventing and selling us things to make it all better. We, they tell us, are their raison d’être. Poppycock. They want to sell us their stuff so that they can buy all the stuff to make their lives all better, and we should know it. But we don’t. We amble along in this not-so-brave new world acting as though we’re the fairest of them all, and that all of our friends and family and stuff are the supporting cast and props in the story of Me.
Of course it all started a long time ago when the enlightenment project began conceiving of a universe apart from a god (don’t let the small ‘g’ freak you out – I’m just not willing to assume that the god that everyone conceived of was YHWH, the God of the Bible). Ever since Copernicus and Galileo decided to monkey with the understanding of how the universe operated, man has been eager to factor God (or any god) out of the equation. And if God is not sitting on the throne at the center of reality, well, it might as well be me. This way of looking at things didn’t happen overnight, but it has happened.
With all that as backdrop, we now come to talk about the Church. I recently looked over the titles of the books on my shelves, and I was disturbed by what I saw in one particular section of said shelves. I have one batch of books that is dedicated to telling me, a pastor, how to grow my Church – how to tailor it to suit the times and specific demographics. Simultaneously we need to be a Simple Church, a Connecting Church, a Breakout Church, a Transformational Church, an Organic Church and an Emerging Church in order to reach the Gen-Xers, the Millennials, the marginalized, the goths, the skaters, the postmoderns and the Unchurched Next Door. The Church, it seems, needs to take a lesson from the Marketers’ Playbook to learn how to “reach” people.
I have another batch of books that are all dedicated to the proposition that we need to be helping people get closer to God – they need to learn humility, holiness, desire for God, how to pray, how to study the Bible, how to evangelize, how to discover their spiritual gifts, and how to live a victorious Christian life. The believer, it seems, needs to learn to cultivate their own personal relationship with God, as though their faith was entirely personal, private and to be practiced in relative isolation. It’s all about Me and Jesus.
But, what both of these approaches disregard to an alarming degree is the nature of the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, not a religious club or a purveyor of religious goods and services. The Church does not exist to help believers reach their “God potential.”
The little toe does not exist simply to be a little toe, but is only a little toe when it is connected to all the other little piggies, and the foot and the leg and everything else. It finds its meaning as a part of the body. Apart from the body it is just a meaningless little hunk of bone with some skin and a really awkward little toenail. Connected to the body, it plays an important part in walking, balance and getting massaged to the delight of the rest of the body. We were made to live, like the little toe, connected to the body. The Church is that body. It isn’t where we go to get our iGod charged up. It is the people to whom we are necessarily joined when we are joined to Christ. He is the head, we are the body.
I am not the center of the universe. By me nothing was made that was made. You are not the center of the universe either. You are not the one in whom all things hold together. But, and this is the glorious truth of the Church, we are joined to the One who is.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.