This past week Pope Francis called unbridled capitalism “the dung of the devil.” Too bad Protestant leaders don’t have the courage to address materialism and the stewardship of wealth.
I’d better start by saying that I deeply regret not being a better steward of the resources God has given me over the years and that I’ve been in deep repentance for this. So what I’m writing I’m writing to myself and well as to the reader.
As I’ve written previously, money has become the magnetic north of our thinking, we do what is economically profitable – and we do it for ourselves. I’m not just writing about the world, what the world is the world is; I am primarily writing about the church, which has adopted the way of the world.
Many Christians are quick to argue that the early Jerusalem church in Acts is not to be a model for us today, that what was appropriate for their time and place may not be, in fact is not, appropriate for our place and time.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need,” Acts 2:44-45. “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common,” Acts 4:32. “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked…and they distributed to each as anyone had need,” Acts 4:34 – 35.
Notice that the believers “were together”; notice that they were “of one heart and one soul.” Surely this community of people was as miraculous as anything else we see in the Acts of the Apostles. Could it be that where there is a community of heart and soul that there is a community of possessions, and that where a community of soul and heart is lacking that our attitude is “what’s mine is mine”?
In approaching the above passages we can be so obsessed in making the point that what was appropriate for them may not be (we mean is not!) appropriate for us that we gloss over the description of these Christians as being “together” and as being “of one heart and one soul.”
Furthermore, what do we do with the statement, “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked…”? Surely this statement transcends culture and time if we are truly the Body of Christ.
But let us leave Jerusalem and visit Greece, for after the church has glossed over the passages in Acts which demonstrate that the community birthed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a supernatural community with practical expression – practical to the point that “nor was there anyone among them who lacked” – we like to move to 2 Corinthians and preach that “God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Of course the context of our preaching is typically that we should give to support the structure and organization of the church. Yes, there are the calls for giving to the poor, there are calls for giving to missions, but the bread and butter of the matter is that the organization needs to be fed and it needs to be well fed in order that it can grow larger and be fed more. This is the natural progression when we are thinking of ourselves first and others are an afterthought.
We miss the context of 2 Corinthians, which is giving to support others; in this case it is giving to support the Christians in Jerusalem who have fallen on hard times. The cynic can say, “What did they expect? They should have taken care of themselves and not taken care of each other – the idea that there should be none who lacked was stupid economic policy.” I’m not sure that Jesus would agree with that statement, after all, for our sakes He became poor (2Cor. 8:9).
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’ “, (2 Cor. 8:13-15).
There is that nagging and offensive idea that people should not lack, it has turned up in Greece and not just Jerusalem. While the way the Christians approached the subject may have been different in Greece and Macedonia than the way their brothers and sisters did in Jerusalem – the principle was still there, the love was still there, and in Macedonia and Greece it has become explicit Apostolic teaching.
How can we gloss over 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 and 9 and compress these chapters into “God loves a cheerful giver…give to support church organization” and not submit to the context of the chapters that we are to be living in community to the point where we materially care for one another? Note that this community goes beyond the local church, it goes beyond one’s country – the Macedonians and Greeks are caring for Christians in Judea.
The early Christians “were together.” We live lives of isolation.
The early Christians “were of one heart and one soul,” we can take fellowship or leave it.
Among the early Christians there was no one “who lacked,” obviously they were stupid economically and did not have our work ethic.
Perhaps if the devil cannot divide us via jealousy and pride and doctrinal disputes and ethnicity…he can divide us by greed. Perhaps? Looks like he has.
To be continued…