For some years, I have used a particular perfume spray as a deodorant. It is one that is readily available and I usually buy it from a market stall where it costs £3.99 per bottle. Since lockdown began, the stall has disappeared from our local market and as I needed to buy some, I decided to look on line. As I expected, there were several different people selling it, and I opted for a six bottle pack at £19.99 including postage, which was very good value. The interesting thing, is that there was one company offering the spray for over £20 a bottle and a whole range of prices between £5.99 and £19.73 per bottle.
I was not particularly surprised. I have a commercial background in both buying and selling and I am familiar with a principle that is sometimes called ‘creaming’. It has been suggested that in any group of a hundred people, there will always be some, perhaps two or three, who like to pay top price for an item and so some suppliers target that small percentage (they cream off the most profitable). There are also always some (me for one) who like to pay bottom price, and then the bulk of people are not particularly bothered as long as the price is reasonable and the purchase is easy and convenient.
Sometimes, the purchase is made on the basis that price will reflect quality. That is of course sometimes the case, but it is not possible to argue that for a branded item. In fact, the principle is often erroneous in other cases as well. A certain supplier of office equipment worked hard to establish their name as a supplier of top quality items. They used to have one item with their own brand colour and label which they sold at £399.00. They actually bought the item in from an independent manufacturer. The manufacturer whom they purchased it from, also sold the same item under their own brand name. It was produced on the same production line, but finished in a different colour and the asking price was £159.00.
The point I am making, is that some purchases are made, not merely on the basis of the attributes of the item itself, whether that be price, quality or whatever, but on the basis of the characteristics of the person making the purchase.
It is perhaps worth asking the question ‘on what basis do we choose the church situation to get involved in?’ How do we evaluate the quality of the situation itself? Perhaps the most obvious would be to evaluate it on the basis of the bible, but that would require us to do so in a detached way where, as far as possible, we laid aside our own preferences and personality characteristics. It is not wrong to have personal preferences, but it is important to know how much weight we give to them compared to assessing the situation on the basis of the bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In practice, it would appear that many churches have a strong element of tradition which reflects a cultural, ethnic or historical background (how else can we explain the distinctive ways of doing things that have emerged without any apparent biblical precedent?) I am not suggesting that it would be possible to do so, but it is worth trying to imagine what it would be like if we all just went to the nearest church. As a start that would probably eliminate any church existing on the basis of ethnicity alone. In the town where I live, in addition to the many predominantly white English churches, there are those which are predominantly Syrian, Kenyan, Ghanaian, Romanian, Chinese, Zimbabwean, Nigerian, West Indian, Polish etc. etc.
The question that arises – an imaginary question of course – is which one would Jesus go to? Would he choose just one and if so, on what basis would he make the decision? Perhaps more pertinently, would he be welcome if he turned up, and would he understand what was going on?
I suspect that when I get to heaven, it will not be any great deal as to whether I chose to pay £20 per bottle or £20 for half a dozen bottles of my favourite deodorant perfume; I think such choices will have little eternal effect. However, it may well be that I will be asked to justify why I chose to affiliate myself with a particular group – especially if I had little or no contact with other groups – and even more so if those in the group were all just like me.