Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Last Taboo

(I missed John Moir’s sermon on ‘Proverbs & Money’ so apologies if these thoughts on Money are just repeating anything he said. )

The Times on Monday (16/7/07) carried an article entitled ‘The Last Taboo’ which carried the subtitle ‘Why it’s OK to talk about sex and death, but never salaries’. Money (i.e. personal wealth) is the last great taboo of our society it seems – it is the last bastion of privacy in a world where people will speak openly about almost anything else – relationships, sex, feelings, likes and dislikes etc. The article quoted the psychologist and author of ‘The Real Meaning of Money’ Dorothy Rowe as saying: ‘it is sensible not to go on about what you earn in a world where money is so important and people are measured and their value is measured by what they have got’. None of this of course is new or should be a surprise to Christians – we live in an incredibly materialistic world. A culture whose worldview is almost the exact opposite of that taught by Jesus (Lk 12:15).

Worryingly however is that this is yet another cultural phenomena that has found its way into church life. Now I’m not suggesting that Christians go about announcing their salaries or savings – that would be a recipe for creating envy, pride and deceit. Rather I’m thinking of the danger that teaching about money in many churches becomes more and more a taboo subject. There are a number of factors that might lead to this – (1) The fear of pastors and church workers about raising a subject that may appear to have an element of self-interest for them; (2) The abuses of the Prosperity Gospel peddlars, their obsession with money and the rightful distaste of their lifestyles and techniques; (3) the right desire not to appear to be being judgemental or legalistic about something that ultimately is a matter of conscience before God.

Nevertheless, this is a subject the Bible refuses to avoid. The New Testament has more to say on the subject of ‘Money’ than it does on the subject of ‘Prayer’. To be in a church where there is no regular teaching (with practical application) on the subject of Money – is as Biblically faithful as being in a church where you don’t get regular preaching (with practical application) on Prayer. ‘Money makes the world go round’, goes the old cliché and at a human level it has an element of truth in it. So it would be unthinkable that the Bible wouldn’t have loads to say about the subject – and it does. Which of course makes the unease I feel even writing a piece on this subject, to be read by fellow church members and friends, all the more indicative of the battle we need to fight to regain our Christian distinctiveness in this area of life.

The reality is (as all the surveys seem to show) that Christian giving is not impressive and often amounts to a fairly meagre proportion of individual and family expenditure (the US average is 3% of family per capita income). Giving is a searching issue (no doubt one reason why we are happy to follow the Biblical teaching of keeping it private, Mt 6:3) because it reveals in a very stark and objective way where our priorities really are. Mark Driscoll checks out the giving record of anyone being considered for eldership. After-all you can deceive others about your prayer life and devotions but the Bank Statement never lies!

Well before this piece becomes ‘A Longer Theological Article’ let me suggest three practical ways for Christians to think about our use of money and where we are investing it for the future…

1. Tightening our belts now. Craig Blomberg in his book ‘Neither Poverty or Riches’ quotes a survey in which Christians were asked ‘if they knew that their income would drop by 20% next year where would they try and cut back their expenditure?’. The number one answer was ‘eating out’. So why now give up some of those meals now and give the saved money to Gospel work.
2. Sacrificing. Now of course all giving involves some sacrifice – but how often have we upgraded something that was actually perfectly ok. Yes we got some extra features but it was more a decision based on fashion than practicality. So again why not say ‘I was going to get a new XXX but instead I’ll make do with the old one but give the money I would have spent to a Christian Mission’. (Remember sacrificing a bull in the Old Testament was the equivalent of smashing up your new small car in Greenview’s carpark).
3. Being possession lite. Have you seen the TV adverts for Storage Units? These huge warehouses where you can rent a secure room to keep all the surplus possessions that you no longer have room for at home. Can I suggest that if the average Western Christian ever gets to the stage that their home can no longer accommodate all their possessions – they should be giving them away or selling them and giving the money to a good cause. We don’t need bigger barns we need bigger hearts.