In today’s world, a person can find all sorts of merchandise based on their favorite movie, band, book, and TV show. Individuals can own branded mugs, shirts, hats, and even cooking ware with their favorite superhero or movie series displayed on these items.
For people who engage in popular culture in this way, wearing or owning an item with their favorite band or movie on it provides a sense of belonging and identification with other fans.
Interestingly, Christians have also taken a similar approach by creating merchandise using Bible verses and phrases. A Christian can now decorate their home with Bible-themed art while also owning multiple clothing and jewelry items with Scripture verses or phrases, as well as Christian symbols.
Specifically, the Bible says nothing about “Christian” merchandise or the use of Bible verses on items and clothing. Many followers of Christ believe that such use of the Bible creates witnessing opportunities and identifies themselves with Jesus.
Others, however, fear that such use of the Bible is dishonoring to God’s Word and could lead people to erroneously take Scripture out of context. While Christian merchandise can and has misled people, the focus should be on how a believer uses “Christian-themed” items instead of if they should use such merchandise.
How Can Christian Merchandising Be Misleading?
While Christian merchandise can be readily found in Christian stores, there are many believers who are hesitant to use T-shirts, jewelry, art, or dishes, which have Bible verses on them. From this perspective, putting short Bible verses or phrases on merchandise could be a way of misusing or dishonoring God’s Word.
For instance, those who oppose Christian merchandise would argue that a T-shirt with a verse containing the Lord’s name could be a violation of the third commandment (Exodus 20:7).
Scripture should be taken seriously and treated with respect for the Bible is God-breathed and contains the words of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Any form of Christian merchandise could become dishonoring if used flippantly and thoughtlessly.
In addition, those who oppose the use of Bible verses on merchandise would also argue that people could more easily misunderstand a specific passage or take the verse out of context. To them, Bible-themed notebooks, clothing, or art could be misleading to people because they could be more easily misused or misunderstood.
For example, a married Christian couple may place a beautiful piece of art in their newly born child’s nursery with a section of a Bible verse to show their thankfulness to God for their child. They may choose 1 Samuel 1:27, which reads, “For this child I prayed,” but is displayed on the piece of art as “For this child [we] prayed” (KJV).
In context, this verse is referring to the miracle of Hannah conceiving and giving birth to Samuel after earnestly praying for a son (1 Samuel 1:11,20). Some couples may spend time praying for a child because of barrenness, but most will not experience the same miracle that Hannah did in the Old Testament.
Also, only Hannah prayed for her son, not her husband, which is why changing the verse to “we prayed” would misconstrue the meaning of the verse. Hence, one can see the possible dangers of Christian merchandise changing or taking verses out of context.
Another reason why some Christians would label Christian merchandise as misleading is because many believers may try hard to appear “Christian” through what they own and wear instead of how they live and speak.
Some individuals may even enjoy owning and wearing Bible verses and Christian symbols without even knowing and trusting in Jesus for salvation. For those who oppose Bible-themed merchandise, they would assert that Scripture teaches that how a believer lives, not what they own, is what identifies them as Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35; 1 Peter 2:12).
Also, they would argue more for being prepared to give a defense for their faith instead of focusing too much on wearing or owning Christian-themed items (Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:15). A believer’s character lived out before others coupled with a proclamation of the gospel is the scriptural way of evangelizing.
How Can Christian Merchandising Be a Witness?
On the other side of the discussion, many Christians believe that Bible-themed merchandise is not misleading, but rather can serve as an opportunity to witness to unbelievers.
Wearing a hat or T-shirt with John 3:16 could start a conversation with others about what Jesus did for all people on the cross. Even the simple phrase “Jesus Saves” on a tote bag or notebook could start a conversation with classmates or co-workers.
According to a survey conducted by a Christian apparel company, Kerusso, 98% of their customers reported buying Christian-themed apparel with the intention of sharing their faith (“T-Shirt Evangelism,” Kerusso).
Capitalizing on the widespread popularity of graphic T-shirts, many believers are intentionally wearing and using Christian merchandise with the purpose of sharing the gospel.
Jesus told His followers to go out into the world to make disciples, which includes evangelizing (Matthew 28:19). Thus, Bible-themed art, jewelry, or bumper stickers are used with the intention of sparking conversations about Jesus.
In addition to being an avenue of sharing one’s faith, those who believe that Christian merchandise is not misleading would also argue that owning Christian-themed items is also a way to identify themselves with Jesus.
People already dress and decorate their homes to suit their individual personalities and with the intent to express themselves. Since individuals are already projecting their identity to others through the items they own and wear, many believers desire to use Bible-themed merchandise to associate themselves with their Savior.
Therefore, the “defending side” of Christian merchandise would claim that believers are not trying to be misleading, but rather are using such items to start conversations with the intention of sharing the gospel and wanting to identify themselves with Christ.
While some shirts and items, especially those that parody secular brands, may not be as tactful as they could be, believers who support Christian-themed merchandise are not intentionally trying to mislead people or attempting to misuse the Bible.
An Evaluation of Mugs and T-shirts
While both sides of the discussion on the use of Christian merchandise have their opinions and biblically based arguments, there are strengths and weaknesses to each view. First, those who argue that Christian merchandise is misleading make a valid point in showing how Bible verses can be taken out of context, misused, or even changed for the sake of selling an item.
Such use of the Bible is irreverent and is highly disrespectful to the Word of God since Christians are supposed to rightly handle Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15).
One of the ways to counteract this weakness is to ensure that when an individual buys a Christian-themed item that they understand the context and meaning of the verse while also properly using Christian symbols, such as the cross or Jesus Fish.
If a verse or symbol is not properly represented, then a believer should not purchase or endorse such an item.
Also, those who do not see anything wrong with using Christian merchandise are mainly attempting to leverage such items for the purpose of evangelism. Believers are told to be ambassadors of Christ and should seek to share the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:20).
However, believers need to be careful not to assume that merely wearing a Christian-themed T-shirt or placing a bumper sticker with a Bible verse on their car amounts to sharing the gospel. Sharing the gospel inherently requires speaking the truth of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for the salvation of sins (Romans 10:14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Clothing and mugs do not replace the need for personal communication and interaction with unbelievers for the purpose of telling them about Jesus.
If a believer chooses to use Christian merchandise for the purpose of evangelism, while also keeping in mind the proper context and meaning of verses and symbols, then they need to be ready to speak the gospel and share their testimony.
A Balanced View
Thus, a more balanced view of Christian merchandise recognizes that such items can be misleading but do not have to be deceiving or misused. Properly understanding Bible verse-themed items in context and recognizing that merchandise does not replace personal evangelism are important steps to balancing the misleading consumerism of such products.
Believers can use Christian items such as T-shirts, mugs, and art, but should do so with discernment and for the purpose of God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Instead of merely thinking of oneself when buying Christian merchandise, the Christ-centered believer should consider the good of others and use their freedom to accurately point others to Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.