True Wealth and the Crumbling of the American Dream

The composer George Frideric Handel, who compo...

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Do you know of any poor people that are on the elder board or financial decision-making board at your church?

In the American church, we’ve adopted exactly what our culture dictates.  Those who have wealth have power.  People aren’t lifted into positions of leadership and influence because of their character, boldness in witness, or wildly selfless life.  They’re given power because of polish, and ability to attract a crowd with whimsy and charm.

But wait a minute!  Crowds were attracted to these wild followers of Jesus that were around after He died and rose again.  Did they have power and influence in the religious circles of their day?  In Rome?

This is what the early community of the church looked like;

“Now the full number of those who believe were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.  And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands of houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”  (Acts 4:32-35)

Whoah!  Hold on a minute!  You mean to tell me that even people who had wealth in the early church gave up large chunks of it to help the needy among them?

This would make sense though, because all the apostles likely lived in some measure of economic strain.  Though it’s clear that people with money were part of the church also.  Hmmmm…  Feels like a tension!

It sounds to me that people with wealth were commanded to help the poor.

But also the great leaders of the early church were certainly living minimally.  And the poor and outcast were drawn to the saving grace of Jesus on the cross.

So why doesn’t the church in America look like that?  We read the Bible, don’t we?

It’s because we want to be “relevant” to the culture, and think that in turn, we’ll reach the culture.  But the opposite is happening.

The church in America is sadly declining.  We have leadership from the baby boomer era when there was a time of economic prosperity in America.  During this era evangelicals focused on reaching the people of the suburbs with slick programming and marketing techniques.  It worked.  The mega church was birthed in America and grew, doing plenty of great things like supporting missions to the third world, and creating a large generation of people who love Jesus and the Bible.

But our current America looks different.  The middle class is disappearing and the upper and lower classes are expanding.  To make it financially, one has to work harder and get paid less.  People of affluence have to fight to keep their wealth, sometimes having to cheat and steal.  We have a generation of twenty and thirty somethings that desire a simpler existence and are cynical towards the apathy and luke-warmness of the previous generation.  Will the evangelical church begin to care about this sector of culture?  Loving them?  Learning from them?  Or will they desire to hold on to money and influence and thereby sink in the mires of yesterday?

Time will tell.

If you are in a church as a member, or work in one, suggest that more poor folks and ex-cynics are allowed to have a say in the decisions of the church.

Throw a concert for free and raise funds to give away to those in need, like Handel did during his performances of the Messiah.  Maybe even the Christmas concerts could be used to this end instead of just being performances with the gospel tagged on them.

If you are an affluent evangelical, sell a bunch of your stuff and give the money away, or just give away something you’re really holding on to like a nice car, extra house, nice piece of furniture, extra TV, or anything else.  Then you’ll enter into the freedom that radical generosity can bring, and you’ll have more joy in Christ than you’ve had before.

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3 thoughts on “True Wealth and the Crumbling of the American Dream

  1. I think that your make a valid point when you state “We have a generation of twenty and thirty somethings that desire a simpler existence and are cynical towards the apathy and luke-warmness of the previous generation.”

    My question is, since this twenty and thirty something generation is the future of the church, and in fact they are the church; what is this generation doing to redirect it’s cynicism toward implementing a change?

    If the mega church is not the answer, if the local church is missing the point where do you find a small local urban church run by an elder board from the community. If this is the preferred model it seems to me it would be flourishing. If it is not flourishing, why aren’t the twenty and thirty’ish people out there making it happen by making this it’s mission.

    • This may have been one of the best, most helpful responses I’ve seen yet David. It’s also convicting. I wish I were doing more to make things happen. I do know a group of people that believe strongly in bringing a balanced biblical view into the light.

      The place I’m torn between is whether we need a reforming of the current church- which I’ve certainly been passionate about thus far, or whether we need new churches with “clean slated missions”. I would say that the answer is both. We need both. We need people that will step into the current church and stand boldly for the truths and ideals of scripture. We need people that will receive a 60K a year paycheck and decide to give 20-25K away and live more simply. It’s for the sake of this generation, to serve them. “So that we may become all things to all people that by all means we might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)

      And then there are those that may be even bolder, and plant churches. They may make barely anything in the beginning and yet continue to labor for the gospel and salvation of those in this generation. Hopefully the difference in these churches is that when they do receive resources they won’t squander them on slick marketing and over priced productions.

      In the end, I just hope that we have a church who believes in correct doctrine, and also believes in following the radical things of Jesus. I think the “social gospel vs. fundamentalism” debate is a phenomenon of the last 90 years, and it’s time to silence the foolish polarity of both extremes. The church has always been about both- we’re supposed to be “radically generous, gracious fundamentalists”!

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review « benwhite29

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