December 01, 2015

Brand vs. Belief

Written By Cary Schmidt

Are You Perpetuating a Brand or Passing Forward Belief?

What is your cause? What is your flag? What are you passionate about advancing? If it’s less than Bible truth, then perhaps it’s a “brand.”

Belief is greater than brand. The perpetuation of biblical truth is far more critical than the perpetuation of a brand. And frankly, the more you promote brand the more you diminish and devalue doctrine.

For instance, at one time organs were a part of the “brand” of most churches. What am I saying, if when organs began to fade, I raised up the flag of “church organs?” What if that became my mantra? If I preached “church organs” with the same or greater fervor than I preached a clear gospel, I would be giving practical and greater value to the brand over the belief. (There are a million ways this applies.)

In such a case, I’m teaching a generation that an old-style church instrument is more critical, more significant, and more valuable than the doctrine that I’m not preaching. This is a very dangerous practice because it produces a generation that is hostage to a brand while not rooted in Biblical belief.

Elevating a brand to the same value or emphasis as Bible doctrine isn’t “elevation” at all. It’s devaluation of doctrine. One of the greatest ways to elevate doctrine is to clearly distinguish it from the brand—or lesser important ministry traditions.

Whether it’s rock-music-church, political-church, home-church, or old-fashioned-church—there isn’t a brand that doesn’t, at some point, depart from the essence of Christianity in favor of added traditions to Christianity. Jesus fought the elevation of tradition, which in his day was primarily the “brand” of the pharisees.

As a side note, not all traditions are bad. We are commanded in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” Like “change,” the word “tradition” requires a context to determine it’s value.

Jesus clearly warned against traditions that are valued over truth. Mark 7:9, “And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Mark 7:13, “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

Brand (tradition) isn’t always bad—until it trumps or diminishes doctrine. Nobody would say it that way, but functionally and practically, the message is often more about the brand than it is about the biblical belief. (As if we get bored with the Bible and then need to make it say “more” than it says.)

The brand comprises style, ways of doing, trends, and things that are tied to generational or seasonal context—the markings and traditions of an “era.” Yet, biblical belief—the doctrine—crosses all cultures,  contexts, and eras.

The brand wears out from one generation to the next. The doctrine is always relevant, across all generations. When the brand trumps doctrine, the very brand that once identified itself as protecting or fighting for doctrine can actually become doctrine’s deterrent.

The brand is not produced by doctrine, it is produced by groups of men. Bible truth doesn’t produce a brand, it produces new life. If doctrine produced brand, all Christians of every culture and era would have been exactly the same in many ways.

Every brand was at one time “cool.” Yes, every brand was, at one time, quite “with the times”—even what is often now called “old fashioned.” Biblical belief never fades with eras—it transcends every era.

The brand will not ground you spiritually or root you emotionally—because it is temporary. Bible doctrine will be a sure foundation for you and all future generations—because it is eternal.

The brand makes you “feel” comfortable for the moment—like a security blanket. The doctrine isn’t about feelings at all, but about truth and promise—eternal hope—as in “eternal security!”

The brand draws you together with others like you. The doctrine ties you to a faithful body of biblical believers and followers of Jesus Christ across many cultures, around the world, across many centuries, and many brands.

The brand will eventually die, but the belief is that for which you would die! There are brands that I would let die, but there is also a body of belief for which I would gladly die.

The brand will age. The belief never ages. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. His Word is eternal and indestructible. Brands are not.

The brand is “new paths” (even if it seems old to you) but the doctrine is the “timeless, eternal path.” For instance the Baptist “brand” is, at most, a few hundred years old. But Baptist belief and doctrine is the “faith once delivered”—the true and eternal Word of God.

Brands will come and go, but belief in sound biblical doctrine should anchor us until eternity!

Preaching a brand more than a belief says to the next generation, “I’m more concerned that you look how I look than that you believe what I believe.”

Younger Christian leader—be careful! Many today are merely exchanging one brand for another brand. Their “switch” is more about brand than belief. You are not a hostage to a brandever. Don’t let anyone make you that hostage—in fact, don’t be afraid to simply be “brand-less.” Don’t be afraid to simply let your doctrine define you, rather than a people group. Trading brand for brand isn’t necessarily the wise path.

A deep, abiding commitment to Biblical truth is what will make your ministry durable, fruitful, and sustainable in the land of shifting brands. Biblical is not a bad brand, by the way.

Healthy churches make little of brand and much of beliefGood doctrine is the main thing in a healthy church, and it is what God’s people need the most. Branddoesn’t nurture the soul, good doctrine does. Brand doesn’t minister to the heart, good doctrine does.

Most Christian people don’t really care about brands and broader minister affiliations—they mostly just need God’s Word to get through life next week. Good doctrine will hold them together in a way that brand never could.

Churches and Christians that emphasize brands are more like a zealous pep-rally—a mile wide, an inch deep, and generally short lived. Churches and Christians that build on belief are like the tree planted by the rivers of water in Psalm 1—they will be deeply rooted, widely reaching, and sustainably healthy.

One final, critical thought: The next generation probably will not buy into your brand. But they can fall in love with a body of Biblical belief. And thankfully, rejecting a brand doesn’t mean they have rejected you or your belief.

If you have witnessed the larger part of a generation of young Christians “walk away”—wouldn’t it be sad to find out in Heaven that they walked away from brand more than they walked away from biblical belief? 

Wouldn’t it be regrettable if we elevated tradition more than truth?

If you have witnessed a church or ministry fall apart after it’s leader retired, resigned, died or was arrested—perhaps it was built upon brand more than Biblical belief? 

America is dotted with “ghost-town churches and ministries” of once thriving brands. Yet as those brands died, isn’t it amazing how Jesus sustained His Word and His gospel, which is still thriving all over the world.

Appreciate your brand. But promote Biblical belief. 

Like your brand, but die for your belief.

Be your brand, but separate from others over belief—not brand.

Enjoy your brand, but stand upon your belief.

You probably can’t pass on your brand. It will die with you.

But you can always pass on your Biblical belief!

Simply put—the next generation of Christians probably won’t “look like you” but they absolutely can “believe like you”—so long as you are perpetuating belief, and not merely brand.