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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

14 December 2006

Christians in Society

Consumerism and Confessing Christ

Q: I have problems with people who advertise “Christian-owned” businesses primarily to encourage buyers to trust them. They appear be calling upon Jesus to endorse services or products. At the same time, I think that we should, as Peter said, be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us. Is there is ever a time when it is appropriate to witness in the marketplace. If so, when and how?

In a somewhat related situation, a person recently accosted me in a grocery store checkout line, asking if I had accepted Christ as my Savior and wanting to give me a tract. I tried to explain that I am dead in my sin and completely unable to accept Christ, so I am thankful that Christ already did everything necessary for us and comes to us in the Sacraments. At the same time, I felt uncomfortable having that discussion in the grocery store.

Fish and CrossA: All else being equal, I patronize believers (especially Lutheran Christians!) over unbelievers. As Paul wrote, “Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)”

However, fish decals on service vans, crosses in storefronts, or other ads for “Christian” businesses mean little unless the owners’ attitudes and actions back their advertising. And even if a committed Christian owns a company, these outward trappings don’t go very far in meaningfully confessing Christ.

Words and deeds — intentional, caring human interactions — far outweigh signs and slogans. As God did for you in the grocery line, so He regularly gives Christians in business opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations on faith and forgiveness. And while I don’t advocate the “bait and switch” approach of hiding evidence of one’s faith, I wonder how often these ads designed to attract Christians might not instead be puting unbelievers on guard, actually hindering dialog with those who need the Good News.

There’s also the matter of knowing who provides the best service or sells the highest quality goods for the most favorable price. We hope that Christians, of all people, would do with all their might their tasks at hand (see Ecclesiastes 9:10). However, many of us hold sad memories of instances where this wasn’t the case. Some who claim Christ also practice slipshod craftsmanship or sell substandard goods. While the Lord forgives such sins when they are confessed, that doesn’t help me if I patronize such people and find my clothes falling apart, my driveway cracking, or my pipes leaking. Therefore, I’m thankful that I’ve discovered many devout believers whose business dealings do mirror their professions of faith.

NeurosurgeryStill, I’m careful to not use religion as the only reason for choosing to purchase goods and services — especially when selecting someone whose actions directly affect my life. For example, if a neurosurgeon will be mucking around in my skull, I want him first of all to be the best neurosurgeon available. As in other cases, if the skills and training are similar, I would certainly settle on a Christian over any unchristian options.

Making such decisions includes being what Christ called “wise as serpents. (Matthew 10:16)” We shouldn’t ignore others’ confessions of faith. Instead, if we intend to patronize Christian businesses, we should seek evidence that their actions (including goods, services, prices, and warranties) match those we expect in all our fellow believers. For not only will a Christian feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick (Matthew 25:44), he’ll also strive in his business activities to show his faith by his works (James 2:18).

As for the second portion of your questions, God keeps us in the world, in part, to spread the Good News of Christ. You certainly seem to have been “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)” When this man challenged your belief, you showed clearly that you relied only upon Christ’s merits and the Holy Spirit’s gracious call through the Gospel, not on your own decision or actions. Yet your encounter also shows that you are, like other Christians, at the same time sinner and saint.

Checkout LineWe Christians know that no person, circumstance, or environment should cause us to hesitate or be embarrassed by our profession of faith. Yet believers often find themselves in life’s checkout lines, airplanes, sports stadiums, and elsewhere with opportunities to show “the reason for [their] hope” — then shamefully allow these chances disappear!

Now I’m not talking about “cramming the Lord down their throats.” Rather, I’m firmly convinced that if we’re prepared, everyday conversations often lead to points where others become curious about our faith or our responses to life’s troubles. As we talk, these people’s comments on their hurts, their doubts, or the crazy world in which they live often provide openings for us to respond with Jesus.

If folks invite us into their troubles, we receive their permission to commiserate and offer hope. So why would we not offer the full hope that belongs only to believers? Saying things like, “I feel so sorry for you,” or, “that must really hurt,” may demonstrate personal concern — but isn’t it better to introduce the One whose concern eclipses anything we have to offer? Yet Satan, our own feelings, or fear of the world too often lead to embarrassment or fright and subsequent failure to “make a defense.”

We cannot coax or coerce ourselves into godly attitudes and actions. An old hymn (one I’ve been learning to dislike), Jesus! And Shall It Ever Be, makes it seem so easy to boldly enter the marketplace and hold Christ’s banner high. It continually asks the rhetorical question, “Ashamed of Jesus?” — then it keeps replying that this is impossible. For the saint, this may be true. However, Christians remain sinners as well as saints and there’s no way our weak, fearful selves always hold and demonstrate perfect love for Christ or our neighbor.

Peter's DenialAlso, the song’s unending theme of boasting in the Lord no matter the consequences sounds remarkably like Peter and each of the other the disciples telling Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you! (Matthew 26:35)”

Of course, only a few verses later we read that “all the disciples left him and fled, (v. 56)” while shortly thereafter, Peter three times disavowed knowing Him (vv. 69-75). Even if we don’t face “a great crowd with swords and clubs, (v. 47)” we often shamefully shut our mouths at precisely the wrong moment.

Don’t be concerned about appropriate times and places or fret about whether or not you should be looking for more chances to confess Christ in the public arena. The Lord consistently provides more opportunities to witness than most of us ever realize. The Holy Spirit constantly places unbelievers and confused, hurting, or doubting Christians in our presence, inviting us to see their pains and problems through Christ’s eyes while also guiding us to know what to say and how to act.

Along with the Spirit’s discernment, we also need God-given courage to confess Christ and to testify of His mercy. And for all those times when we feel embarrassed or frightened — whether it hinders our testimony or not, and especially when fear keeps us from being faithful witnesses — we know that we can go to Him in humility, asking to be forgiven of our shame and filled with the strength to do His will.

Added: Thanks to Ruach for initially asking, What Do You Think?; she really set me on an enjoyable quest.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous Diana said...

"Yet Satan, our own feelings, or fear of the world too often lead to embarrassment or fright and subsequent failure to 'make a defense.'"

And there you see me, but I'm working on it. Many thanks for your thoughtful response to my questions.

21 December, 2006 15:14  

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