In this edition of “Theology And Culture” (T&C) we are going to take a look at a touchy, but at times overlooked topic, that being, the selling of all kinds of religious items to the Christian community. As we do so, I am simply sharing my thoughts, and your view may be different than mine, and I respect whatever yours may be. As we continue, let me note how one writer put it, “Jesus is not a brand” and though he was specifically dealing with evangelism, the statement is true. Christ is a big seller.
It is somewhat difficult to tackle this area within Christendom because the Bible does not have verses that specifically deal with merchandising in particular when it comes to selling things such as vials of water from the Jordan River that have special meaning, etc. We can look at some Scriptures and get a few thoughts but probably much of what is in this T&C is my thinking on these things.
As we continue, let me share something that I am okay with before dealing with other things. The selling of shirts, hats, and other items with Scripture and Christian “sayings” on them has been going on for years. For me, personally, I do not necessarily think this is a bad thing.
They can be a conversation starter. In face, one shirt I was wearing led to an interaction. They can make a statement about our faith. As long as it is not something that is heretical, off-color, or a misrepresentation of Scripture, I have no problem with this. What follows may seem like I am being inconsistent but hopefully as you read the entire blog, you will see that I do draw a line personally.
Let’s begin by asking if we have any Scripture to work off of before getting into specifics when it comes to “Marketing Jesus”, and we are using that phrase to cover a wide range of “stuff.” First, let me say that Jesus driving the money changers out of the Temple does not apply to our discussion. The folks that Jesus dealt with were taking financial advantage of others, and acting unethically.
They were also selling animals intended for sacrifices that were in fact not used for such and were sold over and over again to people who did not bring a sacrificial animal with them. You can read about Jesus and the cleansing of the temple in passages such as John 2:13-16. He actually did this on two separate occasions but again, I do not think this passage can apply to our discussion. The reason I say that is there have been some that I have encountered who felt that if you did anything, such as a craft or garage sale at church, that you were being like the those Jesus dealt with.
Second, we know that we are not to make things into idols or put anything above God (Ex. 20:1-6), but does that passage apply? It might, depending on what certain items being sold to us are claiming, some coming across as if our spiritual life would be so much better if we bought this or that. In this case, people are playing on the emotions of others. That troubles me.
It is not because our emotions do not matter. It is because we are to love God with our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Matt. 22:37) and though emotions play a part in doing this, our minds and our thoughts led by objective truth must control our emotional actions.
Some people would take this passage, and other similar ones to Exodus, and tell us that we should not have figures of Jesus, like those made for children, because in doing so we are downgrading the Lord. I don’t agree with that. I don’t think having a Noah’s Ark for kids to learn from and play with is bad. As already noted before, I think clothing can be used to let people know what we believe. And at times, we can have fun with it as well without being sacrilegious.
For example, I have a shirt that says “Jesus loves you, but I am His favorite.” Knowing that some people may take offense at that saying, I do not wear it in certain public places but it has brought a smile to the faces of those who have seen it. It does not degrade our Lord or bring into question God’s love and goodness.
I also have a picture, a painting or drawing, of Jesus laughing. Some people may be offended by that, but it reminds me that Jesus smiled and had a side to Him that we sometimes do not realize. It is not calling into question His mission on earth, but I believe Jesus did not walk around frowning.
So what are we talking about when it comes to marketing Jesus? I think there are some, excuse the expression, cheesy things being sold to the Christian consumer. They may be cute, and in some instances, make some type of guarantee of helping us, what they claim makes me cringe.
Let me give you a few examples. You may or may not agree with me but that is one of the points behind our T&C blogs, to get us to come to our own conclusion on things. When it comes to what are known as the essentials of the Christian faith, such as the doctrine of God, salvation, the Virgin birth of Christ, His resurrection from the dead, and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, there is no wiggle room. But the topic we are discussing is not in the same vein theologically, so there is plenty of room for different thoughts.
And some things, such as pens with your church name on them, or cups, I have no problem with. But there is the stuff that makes me personally wonder. You can purchase communion cups from the Holy Land with this as the selling point, “Perhaps it was simple Kiddush cups such as these that Christ and the apostles drank from at the Last Supper…” Maybe, maybe not. But it’s not about the cup anyway, and the selling point it seems is that Christ might have drank from a similar cup.
It is not about the cup, it is about Christ. Then there is the “comfort cross”, where we read, “Find reassurance holding this softly rounded wooden cross in worship or prayer. Imported from the Holy Land, it comes in a cloth draw-string bag with a certificate of origin.” Really. Reassurance and comfort come from the fact that the Holy Spirit indwells us.
If someone wants to have a “comfort cross” that is up to them, but the attempt to somehow claim it will help you is not helpful. And of course, a main selling point is that it is from the Holy Land. Things from the Holy Land may be great to have, but I am not sure that God is impressed with the idea that we market the land Jesus walked as if it adds something special to what we are buying.
Then there is the “Holy Land Tambourine.” There is nothing wrong with a tambourine being used in worship, but to brand it as a special “Holy Land Tambourine” is a little over the top to me. I get it. Companies are trying to make a profit on what they sell, that is good business sense. But I think there has been an overdoing it when it comes to some of this stuff being marketed.
So now a time of confession. I have bought Christian merchandise over the years. But I personally would not buy something just because it may have been like the one Jesus used or because there is some promise or thought that I needed to have it to help my spiritual life.
I think things with Scripture on it, like bookmarks and such, can help us learn Bible verses and also reminds us that it is God’s Word that is our guide. My biggest concern is that some have gone to the extreme in their marketing of Jesus and spiritual things. I just am against “using” Jesus to sell stuff just for merchandising purposes.