Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Selling Out to the World
1 John 2:15-17
Recently my friend Mike Brower sent me an email entitled “Signs Your Church Has Sold Out to Corporate Sponsors.” It’s from a site called “Mikey’s Funnies” (no connection). Some of them were very funny. Here’s a sample.
Communion sponsored by Welch's Grape Juice
Baptisms include dolphin show from Sea World
The 12 disciples replaced by Disney characters
Scripture verses brought to you by Microsoft
Bulletin has coupon section
There is a credit card swiper on the collection plate
Offering envelopes bearing Visa or Mastercard emblems
Wednesday night suppers sponsored by KFC
Sunday morning televised services sponsored by the FOX network
Church bells play the NBC chimes
Choir robes with the Lands' End emblem on front
Sunday bulletins with the CNN logo
We laugh because of the ridiculousness of these lines. “Our church—my church,” we say, “would never do anything like that!” And we’re probably right. They’re too far out there.
But does the unlikeliness of these sellouts mean that selling out is unlikely? I wish that were true, but I’m afraid it isn’t. Selling out to the world, whether by denominations, congregations, or individual Christians, is always a possibility—and it can happen easily. The world is crafty, and “he who is in the world” likes nothing better than to co-opt the church and its members. This is the thesis of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, written in 1942.
In this imaginary correspondence, written by an experienced devil to an evil spirit in training, Screwtape tells his charge that the best way to win a soul for Satan is to co-opt it. “Don’t try to overpower,” he says, “or argue, or present a strong case for our side. Just get your assignment to give in, little by little, to the things of the world. Soon you will have your target so ensnared there will be no way out.”
Nor was this idea new with Lewis in the 20th century. The apostle John wrote about the temptation of the world in the first century. He drew a sharp line between the “world or the things in the world” and the things of God. For him there was no compromise. The “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions” (my emphasis) were, to him, completely antithetical to the things of God. There could be no middle ground.
Was resisting the world easier in the first—or the twentieth—century? Perhaps. There were no TV, radio or internet ads to tempt first century Christians. Perhaps there were fewer possessions and therefore fewer temptations to possess, but I doubt the pull was any less strong. The world—corporate or otherwise—has a way of looking so good to us that we find it difficult to resist. If that’s not temptation enough, there’s always the aversion to looking foolish—or too saintly, or “holier than thou” to convince us to go along with the world.
James was on the same page with John when he said, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to make himself a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
The truth is, falling for the temptations of the world is no laughing matter. Enmity with God is a serious problem. But how can we live in this world and not be co-opted by it?
That, my friends, is a matter between you and God.