John Wesley was concerned that Christian faith undermines itself due to the increasing wealth of adherents. As Christ-followers gave up costly vices and began to live more frugally, their wealth increased. Unfortunately, that brought new temptations of costly clothing, richer dwellings, frivolous entertainment, and so on.
This is very much the conundrum facing many Christians in the West today. By global standards, many of us are wealthy. Even within our own context, many have increasingly expensive homes, automobiles, furnishings, and sumptuous meals. We have more than met our needs. We live in abundance and buy into a false gospel that says we deserve it.
God chose Israel, not because they were better than anyone else, but as an isolated nation through whom He could make a name for Himself. God had been and continues to work outside Israel (and now the church), often blessing the righteous to advance His agenda of transforming the world.
But wealth may be one of the greatest traps we can fall in to. We work hard, we plan and are prudent with our resources, we live well . . . and see it all as somehow something we deserve. But we thank God for blessing us for our diligence and call our part “being faithful.” But our faithfulness tends to stop at our front door.
The average giving in churches in the United States is something around three per cent. Imagine the good that churches could do in their own communities and around the world if we simply adhered to the ten percent tithe. That does not touch the potential if we were to give sacrificially (the hallmark of God’s love in His work on the Cross).
Part of the problem in the past has been ignorance. We were not aware of global conditions, of regional wars, large-scale disasters, and abject poverty that continue to plague whole nations. But now, via electronic communications, God is laying the world at our doorstep and challenges us anew, albeit in suffering silence, to ask ourselves, “Am I my brothers keeper?”
Acts 2:44–45 speaks of the church having “all things in common” and “sharing as anyone had need.” Right now, even in our context there are thousands of Christians without jobs. How often, and to what depth, are the members of their churches aware or addressing the needs of those families? Unemployment has dipped to about 8.5% recently. That means 91.5% are employed. Even if we double the official rate, taking into account those who are no longer able to draw unemployment, 83% are still employed. Can four help take care of the one?
If we expand globally, our conviction should deepen. Our standard of living is still that to which much of the world can only dream to achieve. There are orphans in Indian and African facilities who remain unsponsored, often for as little as $25.00 or $30.00 a month to provide clothing, housing, education, and healthcare. There are millions unemployed who might be helped to build their local economies if even a small portion of Western portfolios were re-directed into small business, micro-venture funds (some even paying an annual return, albeit lower than optimizing a blue chip mix).
The church is faced with perhaps the greatest opportunity in history to be a witness to the glory of God. If we can strategize how to move capital into the communities of greatest need (both foreign and domestic) while also creating mechanisms designed to improve the odds of success (especially skills training and access to pertinent information), all boats can rise.
If the church will truly reach out to minister to the economic needs of its own, the world will see what Jesus said about them “knowing we are His followers by our love for one another” (John 13:35). James was absolutely right when he said that it is not enough to say “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” if we do not make accommodation for actually meeting their needs.
Will we take all this into consideration as admonition from God to step up and begin to be the followers and church we claim to be, or will we remain complacent, underfunding ministries and outreach to those in real need while we wallow in our comfort zones?
This essay will likely anger some, saying that I have resorted to manipulation and guilt. I would argue that I have only resorted to the directives of justice and righteousness of the Bible we claim to uphold and the leading of the God we claim to worship. This journey has been difficult for me. I have historically worked very hard to provide well for myself. God, in His wisdom, has chosen this season to re-direct my thinking.
I have chosen recently to focus on two passages from Scripture that speak to our needs and wants.
Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” and Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (our necessities) will be added to you.”
Many will read these verses and delight in God’s promises to not only meet our needs but to give us the desires of our hearts. The real focus is to re-orient ourselves to the opening phrases, “delight yourself in the Lord” and “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
If we have any wonder why our possessions cause us so much worry and demand so much time and money to care for; if we wonder why the church in the United States is struggling to fulfill its mandate to lead social and political change; if we wonder . . .
The answer is most likely that we have focused first on our needs and desires rather than seeking to glorify God, willingly living in humility and with an attitude of servitude toward God and others.
2 responses to “The Conundrum of Christian Faith in the West”
It is a conundrum and raises quetions beyond what the church could do with a full tithe from every member. The Bible presents not only the path to redemption and salvation but practical principles for living that lead to prosperity. What I am more conceerned about is prosperity of the soul more than the pocket book. If people violate the principles for living as stated in the Bible (frugality, hard work, etc) and church subsidizes these violations by providing necessities, how does that benefit their souls? I do believe and practice charity in the name of Christ for the real needs of people but once a man strves to death in unrepentance what then? Many people across the world are caught in poverty traps that they did not create and children are always the victims or beneficiaries of their parents actions. Providing for the truly helpless cannot be argued with. Knowing how and when to provide support for people is not always easy or straight forward. .
I have believed that we should “seek first the Kingdom of God” as a guiding factor in our charitable giving and how we live our lives. This means making sure the charity is feeding the soul as well as the body. If we are not trying to lead others to Christ, then we are not following him. This seems to be one of the areas where the Methodist Church has fallen away from the teachings of Wesley and the bible. When I grew up in the UMC there was no discussion or teaching on evangelism or spreading the “Good News”.