Money and Ministry
In a pair of woodcuts by Cranach done in 1521, the reformers contrast Christ’s driving out the money changers with the Pope using the Temple to accumulate wealth through the sale of indulgence.
Truly, the Jesus who sent his disciples out to minister without a moneybag or an extra cloak would be surprised to see one coming back in the rich robes and ornaments of the papacy. But let’s not merely pick on popes. Protestants, especially in America, have done their share of accumulating the treasures of this world. The flashy cars and pricey wardrobes of today’s Christian celebrities are a far cry from first-century Palestine.
But is that necessarily bad? Christianity has come a long way since the days of those first barefoot preachers. They succeeded in taking the good news to the world, and as a result we today live in a somewhat “Christianized” society. Back then, Christians were the outcasts of the Roman world and therefore suffered poverty; now, supposedly, Christians are among the world’s leaders and share in the decisions and benefits of the world economy.
“Money makes the world go round,” the song from Cabaret tells us. But how do we as Christians deal with it? We are in the world, but not of it. What does that mean? Is money a gift of God, for us “richly to enjoy,” or is it Mammon, the rival master? Does “money make the church go round” or should Christians somehow get around it?
It is critical that we get a grasp on this. Our world seems preoccupied with money. The best image of this might be in our city skylines, where banks and insurance companies are now dwarfing the churches. The old church steeples once dominated the landscape, but now financial institutions tower over them. Scholars have suggested that we are living in a “post-Christian” world. If so, the most pernicious new religion might not be communist atheism or secular humanism, but the gospel of money.
Our government churns out financial forecasts and tabulations of economic indicators. But have you ever heard talk of assessing whether our society is growing in love, caring, and compassion? In the media, it is assumed that people want as much money as they can get—game shows and state lotteries glorify and fuel that desire. But is there anything in our society that has hurt more friendships, wrecked more marriages, or created more anxiety than money?
Richard Halvorsen, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, provided a stark reminder of the importance of this issue in his March 4, 1987, newsletter, Perspective. He dispensed with his usual devotional comments and instead left that page blank—except for a quotation from 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” He signed the newsletter, “With profound concern.”
Even as we prepare this issue, the church is being jolted into a reappraisal of its giving patterns as scandal engulfs the world of television evangelism. Will we one day look back in shame on the empires believers have fed and sustained, empires built on research and marketing techniques based more on emotional manipulation than on the prompting of the Holy Spirit? What kind of bigger-than-Tetzel figures have been created and elevated to celebrity status? At the same time, how many deserving ministries that refuse to engage in flashy gimmickry have been overlooked and neglected? Can you think of an instance when Jesus performed miracles and then begged for funds? Why did he not seize an opportunity after feeding a multitude to pass the hat and break ground for a big Christian world headquarters in Jerusalem?
We may have been trying too hard to serve two masters. There are surely many sincere believers who seek to use the media to communicate Christ to the world. (This magazine is a “media ministry.”) And media ministries cost money, for production, for personnel, for air time. If money does make the world go round, it will take money for Christians to move the world. But money tends to seduce us into its service. Somewhere along the line, we find ourselves buying the lie that we need money more than we need God. That is idolatry.
For nearly twenty centuries, Christians have lived within this tension. The matter of money affects nations and nobodies, bankers and just plain folks. There are the large economic questions and the homemaker’s concern over whether the family can afford to eat meat tonight. How does Christianity affect these decisions, if at all? That’s what this magazine is considering. Martin Luther tried to structure a society with a God-pleasing economy. The church fathers were building a society-within-a-society, the church, and thus developed sort of an “anti-ecomony,” rejection of the world’s wealth. The Puritans sought ways for individuals to use money righteously, without falling under its sway.
We hope that this issue can help you evaluate the place of money in your life and your place within the economies of the nation and of the church.
Copyright © 1987 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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