Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Question of the Day

Previously, I wrote:

One cannot be both wealthy and a Christian. 'Wealthy' is a subjective term, and I suppose that as a Christian grows richer, s/he tends to define the term ever upward. But whatever we may definitively nail down as 'wealthy' is alien to Christianity.

In the comments, Bob responded to my statement:

John, I don't think Christianity and wealth are at odds. The problem as I see it with wealth is if it consumes your time and thoughts making it an idol to be worshipped.

What do you think?

Is wealth compatible with the Christian faith?

UPDATE: Those of you who answer 'yes', please account for the following passages:

Mat 19:24: Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Mar 10:25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Luk 18:25: For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Mat 6:19-21: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Mat 6:24: No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.

1 Ti 6:9-10: But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. Forthe love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 John 3:17: But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

36 comments:

j said...

I don't think that wealth and Christianity are at odds. The "love of money" and Christianity are at odds, however.

Some are called to have much in the way of wealth. At the same time, much is required of those people.

Some are called to poverty, though I don't think that you must go this route to be Christian.

Mike said...

I never find Jesus condemning wealth either, and totally agree with what "J" said.

Being more wealthy does scare me because I will be accountable for what I do with it.

So if there are people who have the gift of making money, I pray that they would be so moved by God to use those resources for things that bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

There's great momentum when resources are used for the reasons.

MethoDeist said...

I would say that it is greed/selfishness coupled with wealth that is contrary to Christianity. There are people in the world with great wealth who in turn give great sums of money to help others.

So, having wealth is not wrong in my book nor by Jesus as I read him. However, having wealth and never giving to others is wrong and contrary to the message of Jesus.

Most of the major world religions such as Christianity and Buddhism are all about non-selfishness and helping others through love and compassion. However, the world works on a monetary system and those wanting to help others must work within that system.

I would say this however, spending your life with the goal of gaining money is against what Jesus taught but earning large sums of money as part of a profession while giving to others would not be.

MethoDeist

John said...

I never find Jesus condemning wealth either, and totally agree with what "J" said.

Matthew 19:24
Mark 10:25
Luke 18:25
Matthew 6:24
Matthew 6:19-21

John said...

I would say this however, spending your life with the goal of gaining money is against what Jesus taught but earning large sums of money as part of a profession while giving to others would not be.

I agree, MethoDeist. This play between love of wealth vs. wealthiness is a distinction without a difference. Wealthy Christians who are not in love with their money will soon cease to be wealthy.

Melissa said...

This is a tough question.

My initial answer to the question is: yes, primarily because I think once we have more...stuff, it occupies our time whether we want it to or not. Even the most well-intentioned people become weighed down with dealing with their possessions, which takes time away from other things (namely, God). So while having wealth isn't necessarily a bad thing, it should come with a huge warning label.

John Wesley said...

Dearest Sibling in Christ,
Little journeys hither and thither have for these two or three weeks taken up much of my time. You know I am a busy kind of mortal; however, I am always glad to see my old friends. Keep fighting the good fight! Remember to first do no evil, second to do nothing but good and third to continue to attend to the ordinances of God.
I recommend my sermon of the use of money. Some find it quite effectatious.
Wishing you every gospel blessing;
I remain, dear James

Mike said...

John Wesley's equation:

Earn all you can
Save all you can
Give all you can

If that third one is true, then you should never be "wealthy." You should always be comfortable enough to survive and thrive, but as you earn more money, that means that your giving increases...

larry said...

If wealth and Christianity are at odds, then why did I ever become a United Methodist pastor?

Anonymous said...

Philippians 4:
11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Was Paul, during his periods of self described "abundance", at odds with his Christian faith? If so, why would he have been "content" with it?

Keith Taylor said...

John,

I think Bob is right. There is nothing incompatible with wealth and Christianity. It is the love of money that is incompatible with Christianity.

John said...

Larry wrote:

If wealth and Christianity are at odds, then why did I ever become a United Methodist pastor?

So I take then that the trustees approved your request for gold-plated fixtures in the parsonage bathrooms?

John said...

If that third one is true, then you should never be "wealthy." You should always be comfortable enough to survive and thrive, but as you earn more money, that means that your giving increases...

Precisely!

John said...

Keith, how do you distinguish between the two?

BruceA said...

In the parable of the sower, Jesus says that the seed that falls among the thorns represents those who are "choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life." On the other hand, in the parable of the talents Jesus seems to approve of the accumulation of assets.

One difference between the two is in how wealth is used: In the parable of the sower, "riches and pleasures" are those things that keep us focused on ourselves. In the parable of the talents, all the assets are property of another.

I think wealth is incompatible with the Christian faith as long as we think (or act like) we own our possessions. In our culture it's hard not to have this attitude.

Anonymous said...

What about Job 42:

12 Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.

The LORD "blessed", not "cursed" Job with this abundant wealth? I believe based on this that it was ok for Job to be wealthy. Based on the way God treated the Jews it seems he did enjoy treating his people lavishly in many cases. Many blessings including wealth he gives to some of his good will for enjoyment. Like an earthly father who works hard to pay for his son's new car, he wants nothing but the joy of giving in return. He does not expect his son to give the car to a friend whose dad cannot afford it.

In some cases that may not be the case. But saying that anyone who is wealthy is not walking with Jesus (which is what I think is being said) is a legalistic misnomer.

Keith Taylor said...

John,

The Bible says that Abraham was extremely wealthy. Yet Abraham was a "friend of God". Obviously, Abraham's faith and Abraham's wealth were not at odds. Same with Job. Job lost all he had, but in his faithfulness, he once again became very rich. The Bible says that Job was a righteous man.

Since God doesn't change, I can then say that obviously, God doesn't have a problem with people being rich. He does have a problem with Avarice.

It think the Bible is pretty clear that God does not have a problem with money. The Bible says that all things belong to God. Jesus said, "To much is given, much is expected."

Suppose I am a devout Christian and I have a job that pays $1MM a year. If I give away even 50%, that is very generous giving, but I am still taking home $500,000 per year. Would you consider that rich??? Most in America would. Would you consider that a proper amount of Christian giving??? I think most would say yes as well. If I don't really love the money, I am just paid that money for my natural talent, then am I greedy. Am I avaricious? Do I not love God?

Anonymous said...

no. no you don't love god.

BruceA said...

Keith Taylor -

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I would say that anyone who makes a million dollars and gives less than 90% is being very stingy.

John said...

Keith-

It is clear that the OT presents a different and more primitive system of ethics than that of the more complete Christian faith. Abraham was blessed by God, but was a polygamist. Joshua was annointed by God to lead Israel, but was a perpetrator of genocide. Are these acceptable activities for Christians?

Jesus himself, though he said he served to fulfill the law, stood in radical opposition to its moral permissiveness.

God does not change, but his moral expectations for people do change as humanity increasingly matures and civilizes.

Is this legalistic? No. Jesus said that those who were his followers would not simply call him "Lord, Lord", but would do as he said.

Dan Trabue said...

Interesting discussion, sorry I didn't get in on this earlier.

A few points, if I may.

1. From G to R (Genesis to Revelation), the Bible talks about economics more than just about anything.

2. From G to R, there are consistent warnings about wealth (being a trap, being a distraction, being oppressive)

3. The OT is rife with rebukes against oppressive economic systems (ones that would fail to take care of the poor and the earth)

4. The notion of the Jubilee Laws espoused in the Pentateuch but echoed throughout the Bible includes rules that:

a. keep wealth from accumulating in the hands of the few
b. legislate rules that attempt to deal with the poor, the marginalized and foreigners
c. legislate rules that allow for sustainable growth that doesn't harm the earth

5. In the NT, Jesus and the NT writers have severely harsh things to say about the wealthy - not merely the greedy, but the wealthy (from Jesus' "Woe to you who are wealthy!" to James' "Is it not the rich who exploit you?")

6. Given all of the above, anyone who is wealthy and who aspires to following Jesus (ie, most of us here), ought to pause and prayerfully consider these teachings.

Are these points we can mostly agree with?

Anonymous said...

Tell us then, the standard for "wealthy". Please include square footage for houses, salaries, car makes and models, etc. Are private Christian schools ok?

Just want to make sure I don't keep a penny more than what will allow me to keep being a Christian.

How can this whole concept not be legalistic?

Dan Trabue said...

If that's directed towards me, I haven't said anything about "the wealthy" yet, I was just verifying that we were reading the same Bible.

Are we in agreement on those basic lessons/teachings from the Bible was all I was asking.

John said...

Those are definitely some basic Biblical lessons on wealth although I disagree that these must necessarily be carried out legislatively.

Anonymous said...

No, I think I agree with everything in your post. What has me fired up is the theme of this thread from the original post--

"One cannot be both wealthy and a Christian."

BruceA said...

Dan -

I think those are all valid points. Probably the only think the Bible talks about more than economics is idolatry.

While some passages (particularly in the book of Proverbs) speak positively of wealth, the entire Bible consistently speaks against the accumulation of wealth for oneself (see Luke 12:15-21 in addition to the many examples above).

I think the modern "industrial" world has largely lost sight of these biblical teachings. To some extent, the modern church has too.

Dan Trabue said...

John said:

"Those are definitely some basic Biblical lessons on wealth although I disagree that these must necessarily be carried out legislatively."

Well, thus far, no one has talked about legislation as a solution. I'm just thinking that an honest look throughout the whole of the Bible ought to give pause to those of us who might be quantified as wealthy.

Now, we might start looking at what the Bible has to say and consider how that might impact us as citizens and policy-makers. In the NT, the believers weren't really in a position to influence gov't, but the OT I think has much advice to offer us as they WERE implementing rules for their gov't.

What policies did Israel implement in regards to wealth and poverty and how does that inform our policy decisions?

Dan Trabue said...

anonymous criticized this point:

"One cannot be both wealthy and a Christian."

Just who is "anonymous," I wonder? A christian or Bible believer?

If so, wouldn't Jesus' words, "It is difficult for a wealthy person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven," cause us to think it over?

Or his condemnation:

"Woe to you who are wealthy!"

or his mother, Mary's song,

"God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."

or James' words:

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you."

Or, again, Jesus' comforting command:

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor."

I'm with Brucea on this one, the Bible talks about wealth in different ways, but it is fairly overwhelmingly harsh towards the wealthy.

Could it be that we (I'm including my own rich self in this mix) have sometimes deluded ourselves into habits and conditions that we were born into that may not necessarily be for the good?

Dan Trabue said...

brucea said:

"To some extent, the modern church has too."

Bruce, I agree with everything you said with the noted exception that the above statement is an understatement...

Mike Lamson said...

8% of people in the world own a car...Half of the world's population lives on less than $2/day.

How many do we own? How much do we make?

I think we're pretty rich...

Just something to think about. If we're going to start condemning wealth maybe we should start thinking what wealthy really is.

Have you ever watched NOOMA #13 "Rich?" You should watch it.

John said...

Dan wrote:

Well, thus far, no one has talked about legislation as a solution. I'm just thinking that an honest look throughout the whole of the Bible ought to give pause to those of us who might be quantified as wealthy.

Oh. I thought that that was what you meant by this:

a. keep wealth from accumulating in the hands of the few
b. legislate rules that attempt to deal with the poor, the marginalized and foreigners
c. legislate rules that allow for sustainable growth that doesn't harm the earth


But I can see how I could have misread that.

John said...

What policies did Israel implement in regards to wealth and poverty and how does that inform our policy decisions?

That's when my faith and my libertarian politics bump up against each other. Although I believe that people should do X,Y, and Z, I think that government should not force people to do X,Y, and Z. For example, although the Bible clearly and repeatedly condemns idolatry, the US, Floridian, and Orlando-an governments should not criminalize the worship of other gods. But I think that we've been around on this before.

But there are public policy implications for the moral teachings of God; that is, public policy for the Church. The Church should not tell the government to help the poor, but should do the helping itself.

John said...

Mike wrote:

I think we're pretty rich...

Just something to think about. If we're going to start condemning wealth maybe we should start thinking what wealthy really is.


It's all pretty relative, and rating gets confusing. That's why I like John Wesley's tri-fold rule, which worked out pretty well in his time, and can be applied cross-culturally.

John said...

Dan wrote:

anonymous criticized this point:

"One cannot be both wealthy and a Christian."

Just who is "anonymous," I wonder? A christian or Bible believer?


I find it best not to respond to anonymous comments. Hiding behind a facelessness, unwilling to take responsibility for their words....

Dan Trabue said...

re:

"But I can see how I could have misread that."

Well, maybe. I was not at the time of writing that, calling for gov't solutions. However, in pointing to that, I reckon I was in part pointing out that Israel instituted national policies that dealt with justice for the poor and the earth.

And so, it is true that I'm of the mind that the Bible DOES provide examples of using gov't to implement policies - Israel did.

I'm not saying that it's the only or even the main way we ought to deal with issues of economic justice, but it is an important biblical example of ONE way to deal with those issues.

Elizabeth said...

Late as usual to the conversation, but an interesting post and string of comments! I guess I think that Christians seem willing to take Jesus more literally on so many things but then act as though he didn't really mean it when it comes to wealth and money. I wouldn't consider myself rich, but most rich people don't! And so I have to be aware of that. I agree with Melissa - we are so stuck to our stuff. I have SO MUCH STUFF for one person - so much abundance. Even my five bedroom parsonage for one person is a sign of that abundance. And Jesus' words haunt me: "These things that you have, whose will they be?" And yet... I don't seem very motivated to act how I believe Jesus calls us to act!