Money in Christian History (II): From the Publisher
This is our second issue of Christian History devoted to money. In “Money I” (Issue 14), we asked for your responses so that we could incorporate your ideas into this issue. This is the result. Reader input is reflected in the reader response section beginning on page 4; also, our feature articles deal with areas you requested. It’s our intention to give more space in all future issues to your responses, so send in your letters; though we can’t print or answer every one, we will at least read them all and consider your suggestions. We like to hear from you.
Korean Presbyterian leader Kyung Chik Han has observed that “Jesus spoke more about money than he did any other subject.” Whether you agree with this observation or not, that Jesus should devote so much attention to worldly goods and money may at first seem surprising when we consider how unattracted he was by their lure. However, it’s not surprising when we reflect that after the two millennia of its existence, the Church still struggles to find its way through the money maze.
We are sure of some things: the Bible makes it clear that we should love God above everything (Mark 12:30); we should not love money nor desire to be rich (Matt 6:24, 1 Tim 6:9); we should be responsible providers (1 Tim 5:8); we should be generous givers (2 Cor 9:6, 7); we should sacrifice for the Kingdom of God (Luke 18:29, 30).
But … how do we sacrifice? Over the centuries Christians have been persuaded in the name of Christ to sacrificially finance massive construction projects (e.g., St. Peters Cathedral), armed military invasions (the Crusades), enormous ecclesiastical bureaucracies (the Medieval Church), and all manner of missionary outreaches. The appeals can vary: A great cause. A great personality. The Spiritual benefits—maybe divine forgiveness. Recognition received. Gratitude to, and love of God.
In every age the predisposition of Christians to give has made opportunity for both God-honoring service, and exploitation. Our day has witnessed a development of a sophisticated fund-raising industry capable of generating huge sums through mass marketing. The potential for abuse is great; no need to recount the more recent scandals that emphasize this so painfully.
Expect the fund-raising frenzy to intensify. Consultants are warning non-profit organizations of the leaner days ahead, pointing out that 50% of givers are between 60 and 80 years old, and one-fourth of today’s givers will not be replaced because of depressed birth rates in the Great Depression. In the financial offices of some religious organizations, plans are being made for your money.
The battle for our bucks will become more emotional, more frequent, more crisis-oriented. How will we decide which ministries deserve our support? After recent events, should we give anything to the huge media megaministries? How best can we use our money?
For many, the solution of how to deal with money has been simple: avoid it, hands off. It’s all filthy lucre, mammon, and handling it will bring contamination. The history of asceticism is surveyed here in Stephen Lang’s The Urge for Poverty; you must decide whether sacrifice will mean drastic measures for you. You probably won’t sit atop a pillar to escape the corruption of the world, but how far should you go in denying the things of this world?
The remarkable John Wesley may seem a bit heavy-handed to you at times, but try to read his uncompromising teachings in Charles White’s Four Lessons on Money article without being challenged —or convicted.
How many silver spoons should you have?
What an example women have traditionally set by their organized works of mercy. Could Karen Halvorsen’s article, The Benevolent Tradition, suggest that these women may offer us some of the best examples of leadership through service and faith proven by works? It does seem strange that women were edged out of leadership and control in mission organizations early in this century, when they were the most active in service and most successful in raising money for the Great Commission.
Consider the marriage of religiously-inspired works of charity with the pursuit of great wealth. As you read Paul Heidebrecht’s article Businessman’s Religion, ask yourself: Is the goal of getting rich okay if we “promise to do great things for God with the money”? This is a notion we’re all probably familiar with; is it an attempt to buy good deeds, or force God’s hand? But who else will fund our great enterprises, if not those who possess great wealth? Is it “spiritual” to claim, “God will provide,” without investing the sweat and toil that produce wealth? How do you draw the line between growing wealthy while seeking to serve God, and seeking to grow wealthy so you can serve God? Just how hard is it for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle?
Last of all, observe the well-thought-out and practical advice (i.e., wisdom) of the Puritans on the subject of money. After reading Leland Ryken’s article, That Which God Hath Lent Thee, you may wonder why the Puritans historically have been misrepresented, and why they have been neglected by much of the church. Overall, the Puritans seem to have seen money as something to be used properly, not as something to be shunned. For them, those who would consider it spiritually superior to withdraw from the world and material things are really neglecting to take care of the things God has entrusted to them. Their critiques of our commonly held attitudes today and their relevant insight into these things should be sobering to us all. After 300 years, we still haven’t gotten hold of the balanced view they put forth. Can you find serious fault with their intentions or advice?
It’s not our intention to enter the debate about what is the “correct” Christian economic model. We simply hope that these articles help you as you think through how you should use your money in the best possible God-honoring way. We also hope you are encouraged and challenged. With all the pressures of our materialistic culture, all the temptations to spend and accumulate, all the options to consider for giving, and all the well-groomed folks out there pleading with us to make a “faith pledge” to their most urgent of important causes, we all need all the help and wisdom we can get. Our prayer is that this issue of Christian History will help you along the way.
Copyright © 1988 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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