Hello again, friends; Welcome back to St Enoch's Pulpit.
This is, as you have no doubt guessed, the second in a series of articles on the question of money in the New Testament Church. I introduced the series in the last installment, so this time, let's just jump into the deep end. Alley Oop!
"...for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." (Luke 16: 8b KJV)
We're starting just about where we left off last time, in Luke chapter 16. We used the New King James in the previous article, but as an old dinosaur, I really prefer the wording of the original. Jesus has just told the story of a dishonest steward, one who has mis-handled his master's money, and when he is found out, he continues his embezzlement in order to secure a less disastrous outcome for himself. Ironic as it may seem, his master, the victim of his dishonesty, commends him for his shrewdness. And Jesus himself adds to the irony with his assessment in the above quote.
I've spent a good deal of time over the decades (it takes time to become a dinosaur) thinking about the story of the dishonest steward; maybe (I doubt it) it would have been quicker if I had been using a more modern translation. In any case, I finally came to the conclusion that the words "in their generation" are the key to the mystery. The steward in this story is the product, the offspring, if you will, of the current economic environment. The world's system, which we like to call "Mammon," was, and still is, the prevailing system. In that system, that is, in his "generation," the steward is an expert. He knows the angles, he knows his way around. We aren't told how long he has been cheating his employer before he is caught, but apparently it has been going on for some time. Then, when his dishonesty is discovered, he continues, still at his master's expense, to work the system. He is so good at it, in fact, that his master expresses admiration for his skill.
The children of this world's system are indeed wiser in their system than the children of light. Those folks, the offspring of the Mammon system, know what they're doing, and we don't. If you or I were trying to play the game the way the experts play it, we would lose. Period. Firstly, because we don't know how the game is played, and then because of that pesky thing called morality. We can't play their game because we can't play by their rules.
For some, this gives us an opportunity to play the victim. We stand at the fence and gaze mournfully into the world's territory, wring our hands, and contemplate how we might have become wealthy or successful if only we weren't so honest. Honest people don't have a chance in this world, we say, and we believe it. Christianity is a handicap to financial success; and after all, since money is the root of all evil, we just have to wait until we get to Heaven to have really nice things...and so on and so forth.
But there's more to it than that. It isn't just that the world is playing a game in which we, the children of light, can't participate. The offspring of the system of Mammon are better at operating in their system than we are at operating in the system of light. What!? We have a system?
And that, dear reader, has been the problem all along. The children of this world are pretty shrewd at their system, while the children of light didn't even know we had a system. No wonder we've never developed any degree of shrewdness; we're losing the game because we didn't know we were supposed to be playing.
The attitude of most Christians, and this is strictly based on my own observation, seems to be that money is somehow distasteful, that our focus should be on higher things, and we shouldn't strive for worldy gain. The phrase "filthy lucre" appears in the Bible, and it colors our thinking. It never occurs to most of us that lucre can be anything but filthy.
Money is not the root of all evil; the love of money is. One of the reasons Christians have such a hard time with finances is because "love of money" is a sin you can commit without a dime in your pocket. God cannot bless us financially as long as we harbor that particular form of idolatry in our hearts, and many of us don't recognize it when we see it, even in our own lives. But that coin has at least one other side, and we must take it into account.
It is true that we cannot serve both God and Mammon. But the alternative to serving, or worshipping, money is not to ignore it, but to make it serve us. Like fire, money is a useful servant, but a dreadful master. And there, fellow pilgrim, I think we'll leave it until next time.
God has a system, one that will culminate in the financing of the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. We have made but a poor showing until now, but the time is short, and if we're going to use the tools God has designed for us to reap an end-time harvest, now is the time to get on board. We cannot afford to remain ignorant of our assignment any longer. We are going to continue in the next installment discussing God's system, and how we can participate in, but continue to remain "not of," the world's system.
For now, that's the word from the pulpit. Until next we meet, God bless and keep you.
Money Questions -- Part 1
And possibly an answer or two.
Greetings, dear friends:
Today I am embarking on a new venture, one that I trust will prove to be profitable both to me and to you as well. The idea is to start a series of pieces here in the Pulpit, concerning that most dreaded of Scriptural subjects, MONEY!!! Before we begin, I need to offer some thoughts by way of disclaimer:
First, I've mentioned before here in the Pulpit that I keep irregular hours, mostly due to my work schedule, so a series means that I plan to put some thoughts on paper, and they won't all fit in one article. How many articles it will take, how often or how far apart the various pieces will come, these things remain to be seen. No promises, except that I have much to say, and I intend to say a lot of it.
Second, these are thoughts that are rambling around in my head. I don't expect you to agree with me on every idea; I don't expect you to understand everything I have to say. Some of it I don't quite grasp myself. This is really just an attemp to "think out loud," if you will, to organize my thoughts in public. Sounds dangerous, I know.
Third, What I have in mind is sort of my personal response to what has come to be called the "prosperity gospel." Now I've been around a while (I just turned 56 this past February), and in a way I am an eye-witness to the birth and development of the Charismatic renewal, and of the "Word and Faith" movement that grew out of the Charismatic renewal. I've seen God speak to his people, and I've seen those same people take a word of truth and drive it to the brink of insanity; several times, in fact. (I don't know why Pentecostal people are so prone to such nonsense; probably because we tend to mistake our emotions for the Holy Spirit.)
My intention here is simple: to attempt to set my own emotions aside, and to try to look at what God really wants the Church (all of it, not just our little group) to know about money, and why that's important. Sound like fun? We'll see...
It is a fact, you can look it up: the New Testament has more to say about money than about Hell.
Over the course of the two-thousand-plus-year history of the Church, God has, from time to time, opened up various areas of truth that had previously been hidden. Of course we've had the New Testament for nearly that whole time, but certain subjects have been virtually ignored or misunderstood for long periods, sometimes centuries, until suddenly, Blam! The curtain rises and the Church "discovers" a vein of truth, and a few new denominations are born. At the turn of the last century, the world was shaken by a Pentecostal revival that we usually call, here in the U. S., the Azusa Street revival, after the mission in Los Angeles where the revival broke out in this country. There were other outbreaks around the same time in other parts of the world, and it became clear, at least to those who could receive it, that a new day had dawned for the Church.
Similar "outbreaks" have occurred throughout the twentieth century, in addition to, or as a result of, the Pentecostal revival, like the rise of numerous healing evangelists; Aimee Semple McPherson, Oral Roberts, and A A Allen, to name just three, changed the face of the Church forever, and many others besides. It would be foolish to ignore or deny the fact that many of the prominent healing ministries of the time ended in scandal and disaster. We are, after all, fallen human beings. None of us are immune to temptation. As C S Lewis observed, "We come of a race that cannot afford to be proud."
But God hasn't given up on us. He draws us along, moving the Church as a whole along a path that will eventually, sooner than we can know, culminate in the return of Jesus Christ to take up His throne as God and King of a New Heaven and a New Earth.
The history of the Church is the story of God working His will in the earth, but having to use flawed human beings like you and me to do it. But most of us don't think of ourselves as agents of God's will; we tend to think of God's will as something that happens to us. We pray, "Thy will be done," and then sit and wait to see what God is going to do. (Sometimes, we simply accept whatever happens to us as God's will; it's no wonder we're so confused.)
But God's will is being done, both to us and through us, and I don't think it is any secret that things are moving along at an unprecedented rate. The world is changing, and if we, the Church of the Living God, are going to fulfill the Great Commission, then we'd better pick up the pace. The world is not sitting around waiting for us to send a few more missionaries to the far-off jungles of Africa or South America. In short, sinners are being born faster than we are reaching them with the Gospel. Something drastic has to happen or we will completely fail to be the Church God wants and needs us to be. And that brings us to to the money issue.
Each and every year, this miserable fallen world flushes trillions of dollars into various sin-related industries. I'm talking here about things like pornography, prostitution, and child exploitation, not to mention drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling, which we may discuss in a later installment. And let's not even start on movies, television, video games, and other such mindless entertainments whose single goal is just the killing of time. How much waste, not to say sin, is tied up in the word "fun" is anybody's guess.
Trillions, we're talking about. Dollars. Down the proverbial drain. While we host our little fundraisers, trying to send Aunt Millie to the mission field with bake sales and ice cream socials. Does it seem like the world is better at its job than we are? Most assuredly, yes. In fact, we have Jesus' own word on it:
"...For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." (Luke 16: 8b NKJV)
Let that percolate for a bit while I organize my thoughts for the next part. I want you to get the full impact of that quote from Luke's gospel as we continue our discussion of money. I think you will be surprised at where this is heading.
And that, for now, is the word from the Pulpit.
God bless you all,