"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Every Saturday in the religion section of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch there is a section titled, "St. Louis Worship Community". In that section the various religious organizations in the St. Louis area advertise themselves. The advertisements are arranged in alphabetical order by denomination, such that "American Baptist" comes first, and "Unity" comes last. Here's just a sampling from this past week's paper:
One 'church' advertised their "Rock 'n Roll Youth Group". Another said, "The people are real. The messages are for today. You'll relate to the music. The dress is casual. We love to laugh. Have kids? So do we." Another says, "Contemporary music, causal dress". Another says, "Friendly, causal atmosphere, creative children's ministries, great music/live band, relevant biblical messages!" Another says, "relevant and engaging teaching, real and inviting community, contemporary and energetic music, fresh and free bagels and coffee, kids ministries through 5th grade, comes as you are – we do". Another says, "Authentic ... Relevant ... Casual; free coffee and bagels. Dress is casual. People are friendly. Music is Modern. Bagels are free." Another says, "Incredible Music / Live Band; Creative Children's Ministries; Positive, Practical Messages." Another said that it "seeks to glorify the triune God by embracing the Gospel, building our community, making disciples and transforming societies." It boasts a "Trio Jazz Worship Service". Another says, "Worship for both your head & heart; Outstanding & diverse Music Program; Creative Sunday School during Worship; Dress is casual & cookies are included!; Youth, Young Adult & Family Fellowship; An Open and Affirming Congregation; Wheelchair Accessible." Another boasts of a "permanent outdoor labyrinth open to the public". You can choose between "Traditional worship", "Blended worship", "Contemporary worship", "Casual worship", and "Classic worship".
One thing that clearly stands out is that these religious organizations are trying to fill niches in demand. Through a kind of free market process, they are reflections of what people want. Just as we can get a personalized custom-made teddy bear at the local mall, we can get a religious experience on Sunday morning that is custom-made to fit our particular religious appetites, preferences, interpretations, expectations, beliefs, etc. We can worship in an organization that is made in our own image, and in that way we can worship a god of our own making.
How can one determine whether one is in the state of those described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4? Let us call such persons "ecclesial consumerists". In March of 2007 I wrote Consumerism and Ecclesial Relativism. Here I want to expound upon that a bit. Do ecclesial consumerists think that they are heretics or schismatics? No. Do ecclesial consumerists think that what they are being taught is false? No. Do ecclesial consumerists recognize that they are the persons being described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4? No.
So how can a person determine if he is an ecclesial consumerist? How can a person determine of he is one of those described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4?
One is an ecclesial consumerist if one's decision regarding which 'church' to attend is based on anything other than this question: Which institution is the one founded by the incarnate Christ?
Many people do not realize that Christ founded an institution. They are ecclesial consumerists by default. At best they worship where the Scripture is taught in accordance with their own interpretation of Scripture. But as I have shown here, choosing or setting up a person as one's religious authority based on that person's agreement with one's own interpretation of Scripture is a form of individualism that ultimately makes oneself the authority. There is no principled difference between choosing where to worship based on its conformity to one's own interpretation of Scripture, and choosing where to worship based on its conformity to one's own musical preferences, whether the dress is formal or informal, etc. Wherever each individual is acting as his own authority, there cannot be true ecclesial unity. Wherever persons are choosing a religious institution based on whether it suits their style, their interpretation, their tastes, their preferences, etc., there cannot be true ecclesial unity. There can be true ecclesial unity only when we are all determining where to worship by finding out which institution is the one founded by the incarnate Christ.
"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)