- Learn the three common thoughts which surface when one talks about money in the ecclesiae
- See how money is or has been viewed
We fuss more about money than almost any other subject. In the local ecclesia we break fellowship over the subject. In this session, we will share the three most common feelings that arise in the local ecclesia when there is talk about money. Then, we will see how money has and is viewed from different perspectives.
Where We Are Going
Three not-so-fuzzy Thoughts
Thought #1. The Church Has a Preoccupation with Money
Thought #2. Only the Rich Have Any Say in the Church
Thought #3. I Give Because I Feel Guilty
How Money Is or Has Been Seen
How Scripture Sees Money
How the Early Church Saw Money
How the Reformers Saw Money
How the Anabaptists Saw Money
How the Puritans Saw Money
How American Christians See Money
Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going
Where Do Our Attitudes Come From?
Money! Hard to live with it and hard to live without it. “What’s that?” you say. “Hard to live with it? Just let me try it for a while. I have lived with the other end of that verbal equation.” We have heard lots of stories about how God has brought financial miracles to the lives of others.
With these stories comes a response. We are sometimes thankful, sometimes jealous, and sometimes frustrated. “What’s wrong with me? Did God forget my address?” We wonder what it would be like to be financially independent. We believe that if we just had more money we would be much happier. We also fantasize that we would give large chunks of it away to God and his work around the world. The fact is that if we don’t usually give away the little we have, why do we think that we would suddenly change and become a philanthropist overnight?
To understand all this fuss about money, we need to start by understanding our attitudes about it. The attitudes we have about money are usually founded on wrong-headed information. We have grown up with a parent who provided us with our major model about how to think about money. In addition, we have bought into the world system about money which causes us to think erroneously about it. We have even listened to some of the modern doomsday prophets and become more confused about money. As Jesus followers, we are badgered constantly from every quarter about the concept of money.
Our real need is to try and shed some of the unfruitful beliefs that we have about money and try to see this captivating topic from God’s perspective. This doesn’t mean to read into our Bible some modern way of thinking and believing about money. It rather means to let the Scripture speak with all its intended power within the historical context of the first readers and hearers about this continually timely subject.
While I was teaching a seminar on the Gracelets of the Spirit, in a local ecclesia, one of the attendees came up to me during a break and told me that he had heard a lot of teaching about the so-called Spiritual Gifts, but he had never heard anyone suggest that we should try and understand them within the historical context of the books in which they appear. What does that tell us? It suggests that we have a lot of popular atrocious beliefs about themes that appear in Scripture. We have accused poor old God of saying things that he never intended to say. Oh yeah, the attendee attended one of the largest ecclesia in the state of Washington. Really, folks, bad information, or better yet, bad theology is a cruel taskmaster.
There are many folks who believe so strongly that their present pop-culture belief is correct because it seems to be working. They say, “If it’s not broke, don’t mess with it.” I often respond, “The problem is that it is broke and in fact, Scripture is trying to fix it!”
Let’s turn now to three thoughts that we often entertain as we think about money.
Three Not-So-Fuzzy Thoughts
What does all this have to do with money and generosity? Thinking about what we believe about money and giving is important. Three thoughts may surface when we hear someone in a local ecclesia talk about money. See if any of these thoughts fit your experiences.
| Thought #1: The Ecclesia Has A Preoccupation With Money
Because success is often measured in dollars, the church never loses an opportunity to find ways to appeal for money. We have been exposed to every conceivable gimmick and hype, from “church” bazaars to high-pressure sales folks promising a special place in heaven with an engraved seat next to Jesus. We have been duped, drained, and pitched to give, give, give. Ever turned on your radio, TV, or your computer and hear some Christian personality tell you of your need to give to his or her ministry? Every possible gimmick is tried. Send in your donation and you will receive a small plot of ground on the holy hill which the ministry is going to buy. You will be a partner forever. Really? Or, will you only own a square foot of ground which the toilet stands on? “Send in $10.00 for Gift Offer #239. If I don’t get this money to do my ministry, God is going to “take me home” That one cost a loss of credibility for its speaker.[ref]In 1987, television preacher Oral Roberts made a dramatic appeal. If his supporters did not send donations totaling $8 million dollars within three months, he warned that God would “call me home.” There were those who complained that Roberts was extorting his viewers and using the Deity as an accomplice, but there was no doubting his charisma — or his results. Roberts received over $9 million, and God did not call him home. Time Magazine. “Oral Roberts to the Rescue” Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007. Accessed 5.20.2020.[/ref]
The essential idea that you are being asked to buy is that if you support this ministry, then God will support you. There is certainly something to be said for giving and receiving. It is not that, which I am writing about. It is the mindless ways in which we are taunted to give. And we respond in a rather mindless, non-thinking way. I often wonder what Jesus thinks when he watches folks on TV soliciting money in his name.
| Thought #2: Only The Rich Have Any Say In The Church
We have been persuaded that the Golden Rule works in the local ecclesia—he who has the gold rules. This may be true in a lot of places. I know of a young man who was fired from a local ecclesia position because the largest giver in the church told the so-called pastor an untruth about the young man. The pastor did not want to disturb the financial relationship with this large giver and followed his advice to fire the young staff member. I’m sure this must have made God vomit! Yep! You read that correctly!
| Thought #3: I Give Because I Feel Guilty
We have been impregnated with mission pictures of starving children, people without houses to live in, and people with no clothes to wear. We have seen starving children, with bloated stomachs and thousands of flies landing and crawling on them. While these are realities, they and other schemes have often been used to induce guilt into the local ecclesia to raise money. We feel bad if we don’t open our checkbooks and dump next week’s food budget because our pantries are full and theirs are empty. Your emotions are the playing ground for these hypes. These pictures are disgusting.
Regardless of how revolting the scene is, you must stop and think about how your emotions are being attacked even by such a righteous motive. God has something to say in the book of Second Corinthians about how we should prepare to give. We will cover his thoughts on prepared giving later in another session. Watch out! Don’t be manipulated by your emotions to do something that God is not requesting that you do.
Sound familiar? I believe we all get tired of feeling that someone is trying to manipulate us into parting with our hard-earned money. Tired of it? Here is the good news! Scripture provides several guidelines that instruct us so that our learning curve on giving can grow. These guidelines offer a foundation for honesty and integrity in the area of giving and learning to become generous in our lifestyle. They assure us of security.
How Money Is Or Has Been Seen
Before we discuss these biblical instructions, let’s take a quick tour of how money has been viewed.
| How Scripture Sees Money
Money is portrayed positively in the story of Abraham (Gen. 13.2). He is seen as very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold. Job was a wealthy man (Job 1ff.). Solomon was granted riches and honor that was unparalleled by the kings of his day (1 Kings 3.13). Proverbs tells us that the blessing of the Lord brings wealth (Prov. 10.22). The First Testament reminds us that God gives the ability to produce wealth (Deut. 8.18). He will bring destruction to one of his created beings who does not make him his stronghold but trusts in his/her own great wealth (Psalm 52.7). The possession of wealth carries with it an obligation to care for the needy (Proverbs 19.17).
Tithes, the Sabbath, and the year of Jubilee were to remind Israel that their wealth was ultimately God’s and they were to use it for his glory.
In the Second Testament, Jesus speaks a lot about money. (Luke 12.19; 12.31, 16.13; Matt. 5.3, 13.22; 19.23-24). While money is important, it is, he used the concept of money to illustrate other subjects. Remember, context is important! Listen below to hear a different point of view that the one you will find most often which goes something like 11 out of 38/40 parables Jesus taught about money.
There are many guidelines that the Second Testament shares about giving that we will look at in the last session of Cultivating Generosity. Remember, it is not money but the love of money that causes evil in our lives.
To summarize, we may say the biblical teaching on money is two-fold: Money is a gift from God. Money is not to be a god in itself. Scripture does not teach asceticism, Scripture does not teach that poverty is virtuous. Scripture does not teach that wealth is sinful.
| How the Early Ecclesiae Saw Money
The early ecclesiae was generally poor. It believed that money was of no value because of the soon coming of Jesus. Gradually with its unfulfilled expectation, the ecclesiae developed a distrust of wealth and a glorification of poverty.
They believed that the private ownership of property and commercial activities were post-fall (Gen 2) institutions and accommodations by God for man’s sinfulness. Therefore, both were forbidden to the clergy. This is a belief that carries down to the church today.
Wealth and private property were to be used solely for the good of the poor. Polycarp of Smyrna said, “When it is in your power to do good, withhold not, because alms deliver from death.”[ref] Polycarp. The Epistle of Polycarp. 10.2.[/ref]
It was not the amount of wealth that was wrong but the attitude toward wealth that was condemned. The ecclesia believed that a follower of Jesus could be rich or poor and still covet. The church fathers address the wealth of individuals and not social justice for society except for usury or high interest. The local ecclesia of the medieval period saw money as unspiritual, the product of the fallen world. A follower of Jesus should only have what was necessary for minimum survival. The ecclesiae has not moved very far from this mindset.
The church of the Middle Ages tried to alleviate the problem of poverty through legislative attempts. Members of the church were required to pay a tenth of their income to the bishop so that he could provide relief for the poor. This guilt trip is still enforced in hundreds of local ecclesia throughout the world today.
| How the Reformers Saw Money
The rediscovery of the doctrine of justification by faith in the Reformation Period had an important impact on the interpretation of economic matters. The Reformers rejected the glorification of poverty.
The monastic movements had become a means of seeking salvation. Justification by faith taught that salvation is the foundation of faith, not a goal to be achieved by denying oneself.
“Tradition says that Luther believed that a believer needed three conversions: the conversion of the heart, the mind, and the purse.”[ref]Travis Michael Hovde. Authentic Faith. I searched Google for this quote and found many references to it but no reference to its original source.[/ref]
Calvin wrote that poverty was as dangerous to spirituality as wealth.
From the right (politically) are, for example, riches, powers, honors, which often dull men’s keenness of sight by the glitter and seeming goodness they display, and allure with their blandishments, so that, captivated by such tricks and drunk with such sweetness, humans forget their God. From the political left are, for example, poverty, disgrace, contempt, afflictions, and the like. Thwarted by hardship and difficulty of these, they become despondent in mind, cast away assurance and hope, and are at last completely estranged from God.[ref]Donald K. McKim. Readings in Calvin’s Theology. 300.[/ref]
The Reformers saw no incompatibility between commercial activity and the Christian life. The Reformed tradition still practices this belief today.
| How the Anabaptists Saw Money
The Anabaptists believed that the Reformation had made the gospel “easygoing.” They criticized the Reformers for not caring for the poor. Menno Simons wrote the following:
Is it not sad and intolerable hypocrisy that these poor people boast of having the Word of God, of being the true, Christian church, never remembering that they have entirely lost their sign of true Christianity? For although many of them have plenty of everything, go about in silk and velvet, gold and silver, and in all manner of pomp and splendor; ornament their houses with all manner of costly furniture; have their coffers filled, and live in luxury and splendor, yet they suffer many of their own poor, afflicted members to ask alms; and poor, hungry suffering, old, lame, blind, and sick people to beg their bread at their doors.[ref]J. C. Wenger. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons. Herald Press. Scottdale, AZ. 1956. 69.[/ref]
For Simons, the gospel carried a radical obligation to care for the poor. The Anabaptists were a persecuted minority and their influence was limited.
Most Anabaptists permitted private ownership of property while some sects went so far as to renounce property. They practiced Christian communism. One of the most popular sayings of the day was: “one, common builds the Lord’s house and is pure; but mine, thine, his, own divides the Lord’s house and is impure”[ref] George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal. Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers. (Library of Christian Classics). The Westminister Press. Philadelphia 1957. 278 [/ref] The implication was that if you owned anything you were outside the family of God.
| How the Puritans Saw Money
The legacy of the Reformation concerning money was carried to the New World by the Puritans. The Puritans pursued an ethic of industry, moderation, and simple living. Ironically this ethic tended to produce great wealth. They tried to balance their beliefs about wealth and poverty. They believed that moderation was the key. It was not how much or how little one had; it was the amount of money that was spent on oneself that mattered. This was seen as the golden means between two extremes.
| How American Christians See Money
We live in a money-crazed age. Hundreds of books tell you how to make, keep, and use your money. Hundreds of experts—for a fee—are ready and willing to tell you the secrets to the success of making money. Just check out the local bookstore or maybe even your bookshelf!
What are Christians to do? The Bible, as we saw earlier, provides two guidelines about money: wealth is a sign of God’s blessings, the love of money can bring evil into our lives. We must remember that the Bible was written to people in a situation different from ours today.
The modern Christian is treated to a cacophony of voices about the biblical use of money. Here is a summary of five such approaches.
The Simple Living Approach
This system took root in the late ’60s and became fairly popular. Ron Sider wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger to explain the philosophy of this approach. There were two prongs within this belief system, personal and social. First, in the personal area, the movement had a strong Mennonite influence. It believed that Christians should withdraw from the world and its idols that were noted as money and the things it could buy. These things could and most likely would get into the way of a personal relationship with God. Because of this belief, they should be shunned. Second, the social area, it believed that to be a faithful disciple of Christ, one must minister to the least of the brothers, which is to say, to the poor. Sider believed that it was a shame that a rich Christian hoarded his resources while a world went hungry. For Sider the answer was redistribution. Christians must give to alleviate hunger.
Other books representing this point of view are Richard Foster’s books, Celebration of Discipline, Freedom of Simplicity, Money, Sex, and Power, form a cadre of books about this belief system. For Foster, the shame of a rich Christian is that he tends to worship and trust his money instead of God. To restore appropriate Christian priorities, one must practice discipline in the handling of money.
The Mission Movement
The ecclesiae is always asking for support to carry on missions in other parts of the world. The late Ralph Winter (d. 2009), who was the founder of the U.S. Center for World Missions, talked about rich Christians in an age of hunger, but hunger for him is spiritual hunger. He could tell you exactly how many people groups in the world had yet to hear about Jesus. He had counted the number of languages in which the Scriptures had not yet been translated. The rich Christian should be concerned with those who have not yet heard the good news about Jesus.
The Theonomy Movement.
This movement was founded by Rousas J. Rushdoony and is often called reconstructionism. It believes that America should return to the economic system of the First Testament with its laws and actions, i.e., the ecclesiae should take America back to the First Testament economic system. Money, in their view, is a gift from God and should be used by Jesus followers because those who do are not follows Jesus do not know how to use money properly. Therefore, Jesus followers should acquire as much money as they can, if for no other purpose: to keep unbelievers from having any.
The Health and Wealth Movement
This gospel has been proclaimed regularly on nationwide TV and radio by the late Kenneth E. Hagin (d. 2003) along with Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. The late Oral Roberts (d. 1993) brought the idea to the fore with his “seed-faith” promise in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The idea is that the financial gift that is given to God (especially to their ministries) will grow into an abundant material blessing for you. They believe that God wants everyone to be rich and healthy and all you have to do to receive is ask in faith. Some like Jerry Savelle (now in his ’70s), the late Charles Capps, (d. 2014), and the now 88-year-old Fred Price (as of this writing) built large prosperous ecclesiae on this theology. Youngers like Creflo Dollar (not a pun, that is his actual name) have kept this tradition alive. This is a theology of a selective canon of Scripture, i.e., versitis. Passages that are selected by the defenders of this point of view are the Scriptures about money and prosperity and then taught without any context. Passages that are not selected are the Scriptures about suffering in this world as a redemptive act of God.[ref]All ages in this paragraph were the ages of the individuals mentioned at the time of this writing. Christian History Magazine #14. 1987. Randy Petersen. “Money Modern Voices: The Christian and Money”[/ref]
Where Have We Been And Where We Are Going
As we have just seen, different folks see money differently. Which is right? When all are using Scripture for support, how can they all be saying different things? How do I know what to think about this subject? It is with great hope that the material presented in the following sessions will give you a frame of reference and a challenge to rethink your views of money, giving, and generosity. To that end we continue.
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- How would this affect your present economy and lifestyle? What are your first impressions about its biblical accuracy?
- Is this “the Gospel” or another “gospel?” How is this a perversion of what Scripture teaches about faith and money?
- How has the teaching of this approach to living affected you?
- How does the knowledge that millions of people have not yet heard for the first time about Jesus affect you?
- How has the Church become political in its mandate to care for the poor?
- How has the Reformed tradition informed our faith and practice in today’s church?
- Why is there such a tension between the Early Church view and the Reformation view?
- How do the Anabaptists view still affect the personal day-to-day life of a believer?
- Why do some churches see a radical obligation to care for the poor and others do not?
- How many puritans do you find in your understanding of money? How does the church practice moderation? or does it?
- If Scripture sees money in such a positive light, why then do we get so frustrated and confused when we discuss money?
- How have the attitudes expressed in this section come down into the thinking of the Church today? Is there a better approach?
- Why do you think that the Church has such a preoccupation with money? How can you make an impact in this area?
- Why do you think that those who have money run the church? How can this be changed?
- What can you pinpoint that causes you to feel guilty when you give or you don’t give?
- What do you think you can do about this area of your life?
- When you hear a story of a financial miracle that has occurred in a believer’s life, are you thankful, jealous, or frustrated?
- Why do you think these feelings occur?
- What can you and your community of faith do about them?
- What information about money and giving do you presently have? Make a list before you study any further.
- Why is the context of anything we read in Scripture so important?
- Do you pay attention to the context or do you simply quote verses at random?