Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Material Christians

From time to time, it is important to evaluate the teaching that is given in our churches.  Many times, one pastor will quote another pastor, who got his idea from an author, who heard something from a philospher, and since it was connected to the Bible all the way through the process, it seems like it might be something the Bible teaches.  An idea that needs re-evalutating today is the Material Gospel, the idea that God blesses our righteousness through material blessing.

The following tirade comes from the pen of James:

     Listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.  You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look!  The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.  You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Can any correlations be made between Ancient Rome and the Modern West?

Gold and silver corroded?  Check.

Hoarded wealth in the last days?  Check.

Failed to pay wages?  Check.

Lived in luxury and self-indulgence?  Check.

Fattened selves?  Mega-check.

Please note: these observations do not come from Occupy.  They come from a card-carrying member of the Taxed Enough Already Party.  I have taken a look at what is bothering the Occupiers, and it is not a pretty picture.

Not many in the West would really consider themselves rich, because they do not have very much money in the bank. In fact, they owe money to the bank for their houses and businesses and cars and credit cards.  Why do they have all these bills?  Because they have laid up for themselves treasure where it doesn't belong. Meanwhile, actual poor people die of thirst in Africa, or submit to child labour in Asia, not out of direct oppression, but out of necessity, in order to earn a pittance so their familes can eat.

It is likely that James was referring to the rich individuals who were not paying their slaves a fair wage, if any at all.  There were almost certainly other abuses, which is beyond the scope of the current focus.  The point of this post is that Christians have fallen prey to the trap of materialism, in direct disobedience to the words James' older brother, who said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do NOT destoy, and where thieves do NOT break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Do you think a poor person would feel comfortable if he came into your church with dirty clothes - not filthy, just smudged on the sleeve, with one knee a bit muddy and a ketchup stain near the belly button - and sat next to a businessman with a suit and tie, reading the Bible off his iPad?  The poor person might infer an unwritten code of peer pressure that says "If you were the person you were supposed to be, God would bless you materially." 

One rationalization we all use is that if we don't keep up appearances, people won't be attracted to the Gospel.  Isn't that feeding the idolatrous lifestyle?  Aren't we encouraging the laying up of moth-eaten treasures, instead of encouraging a relationship - how we love to use that word - with Christ?  James' older brother also said, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  Why are we weary and burdened, in need of rest?  Could it be because we have too much stuff, work overtime to pay the stuff we already have, and want just a little bit more stuff?  But why?  If stuff made us happy we should be ecstatic.  Are we?  Do I even need to ask?

Perhaps, just perhaps, God has tested us with stuff, and we have failed.  We have taken our freedom and made ourselves slaves to the idea that just a little more or the newest gadget will be enough.  The original purpose of governmnet was to control man when he couldn't do it himself. Recent efforts to control soft drink sizes in New York City have been pilloried by conservatives and Christians, who in part make the rule necessary, because they could not control their appetites.

Face it - we have a lot of stuff.  All of this stuff comes from somewhere.  A lot of it comes from poorer countries, who are having their resources taken from them.  Yes, I know, we pay them for it, we don't just up and haul it away.  But we pay them pennies for items that we sell for dollars at least, and sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars.  It matters not that these resources are vast and nearly limitless.  It still requires time, money and manpower to harvest them.  Are we really doing the best we can by the people who do all the dirty work?  I have my doubts. It might be that what really sets the Lord off, more even than homosexuality, is Christians who do not recognize their materialism, which causes the poor to suffer. This problem is way more widespread than gay marriage is.

In I John 2.15,16 we read, "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everyting in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - comes not from the Father but from the world."  If Christians fall prey to the "I see it, I want it" line of thinking, can the world take us seriously when we say we profess to follow Christ?

What is the solution to all of this?  At the very least, maybe Christians in the West should take a good, hard look at what their philosophy is towards material possessions.  I will defend your every right to own every single, legal thing in your house.  The question is not whether or not we have the right to own stuff.  The question is whether the stuff has taken the place of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Any remotely postitive answer reveals a level of idolatry that is harmful to the body of Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent! I look forward to reading more of your posts.



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