Financing the Kingdom and Church Debt

A great difference lies between alternative living and eccentric living. As citizens in the kingdom of God we want to live in a way that demonstrates a genuine “third way” without veering off into eccentric overreactions. Living under the financial blessing of God, without adequate fleshly explanations for the provision, is such an alternative. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5-6). In asking whether debt for a church is sin, let us begin with a couple of disclaimers. When this question is asked in this context, it reveals many assumptions about the nature of sin and financial responsibility. If someone were to splay his fingers on a concrete sidewalk so that he could whack each one with a hammer, we might try to stop him. But what if he asked, pointedly, “Would it be a sin to do it?” the answer would have to be, “Not necessarily.” To answer the question this way shows that debt is not neutral. In Scripture, debt is always something to be avoided if prudent. That said, in the first place borrowing entrammels. … [Read more...]

Basic Principles in Financing the Kingdom

We all know what the uh oh point is in various situations. The person you thought might be a new good friend invites you over for a business opportunity presentation. Uh oh. The church gets in a financial jam and “stewardship Sunday” seems to come round more and more frequently. Uh oh. But the point of writing about finances is not so that we would be able to accomplish what we have undertaken, but rather so that we would do it right. “But [the Israelites] lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tested God in the desert. And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:14-15). “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chron. 16:9). In the context, Asa the king had been rebuked for his “political realism.” He had relied on the king of Syria when the Lord had previously shown that He was able to save apart from such fleshly support. Because of this folly, the Lord promised Asa the trouble of wars. Asa then compounded his sin by refusing to accept the rebuke. So God’s eyes run to and fro through the entire earth. God is omniscient. He knows everything, … [Read more...]

Obstacles to Financing the Kingdom

The goal here is not to get into household finances, but rather the financing of the work of the kingdom of God. This relates to household finances at some point, obviously, but the purpose here is to address finances at the kingdom level. The amount of material on this subject in the Bible is simply immense, but many of the passages are neglected in our common preaching and teaching on the subject. This can be the result of fear, or ignorance, or self-pity, but the end result is the same. When God's Word is squeezed out, for whatever reason, the methods and words of men will always come in to take its place. And when it comes to money, men do have their traditions. “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”” (Romans 2:21–24, ESV) When disobedience is common, there are usually excuses for that disobedience. What are some of them? It is important to note by the way … [Read more...]

The Walking Stick Problem

If you say, as Bacon once did, that knowledge is power, you will find yourself arraigned pretty quickly on charges of wanting to rape the earth. But knowledge is power, and knowledge cannot be applied in this world without exercising authoritative dominion. This axiom needs to be defended and it needs to be defended without appearing to be a mindless defense of strip mining. For all his virtues, Tolkien has unfortunately contributed to our confusion on this issue. "Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones . . . Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well" " (The Hobbit, p. 60). We have this sturdy mythology that makes us assume that elves get everything done by purity of mind, while goblins are down in the forge heating up the metal in order to bang on it. And of course, when we do this we know better, because we do know that elves actually make things. But whenever that fact becomes a little too obvious or a little too apparent, we politely avert our gaze. We ignores it. The "knowledge is power" adage is equally true when the good guys are doing … [Read more...]

Gilt Guilt

The Lord Jesus famously said that if we don't forgive others, we ourselves are unforgiven. “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). This seems like a bad bit of business, but only because we tend to think of forgiveness as a peculiar sort of double-entry bookkeeping. We think the moral universe runs in a quid pro quo fashion, and so we think God is telling us that if we do not perform action x, then He will most certainly not perform action y. We desperately need action y, but are still most reluctant to perform action x, and so we mutter about it for a while. But after haggling for a while in the flea market where clean consciences are heaped up, rumpled on the table there, we offer a grudging forgiveness to some undeserving schmuck as the price we must pay to get our flea market forgiveness. And that is what it is -- rummage sale forgiveness, which is to say, no forgiveness at all. If it was not purchased with the blood of Jesus, then it was not purchased. … [Read more...]

Guilt and Glory

Mankind was made for glory, and naturally hungers after glory. There is therefore nothing wrong with seeking glory, provided we seek it where the true glory may be found. “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours” (1 Cor. 3:21). Paul is saying that when glory is offered us in Christ (all things are yours), it is high folly to try to glory in men apart from Christ. Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord (Ps. 34:2) -- and when we boast in God, the humble hear it and are glad. Sin is not seeking after glory, but rather falling short of it. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). When God renders judgment in accordance with our deeds, one of the things He will evaluate is the way in which we sought after glory. “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:6–7). As a race, we were created to be glory bearers. We need glory. It is no more optional for us than oxygen, or food, or sex, or drink. The need to be a glory, and to glorify other things, is woven into the very fabric of our identity. We cannot not seek … [Read more...]

Piketty’s Point

Thomas Piketty has a detailed response to the "number-cooking" criticisms leveled at his book by the Financial Times, which you can read here. Now my point is not to run get my hip-waders on in order to get into the stats and numbers. I am afraid I would catch very few mountain trout that way, and thus would not be in a position to say if there were any of them in there. So if I am not a numbers wonk, what defensible basis might I have for being so hostile to Piketty's message? For he does have one -- here is what he says what it is: "The main message coming from my book is . . . that we need more democratic transparency about wealth dynamics, so that we are able to adjust our institutions and policies to whatever we observe." Let me reduce this to its essentials: "We want to be able to see what everyone has, so that we can take it if we want." … [Read more...]

Jabba the Catt

In a sinful and fallen world, any blessing can be abused. The temptation to lord it over others is a constant one, and the human heart will use whatever materials are ready to hand -- intelligence, looks, education, money, age, strength, and so on. This means that inequity in the distribution of wealth does present temptations -- most certainly, and welcome to earth. But Scripture teaches us to deal with sin where the sin is, which is under our own sternum. The cause of our faults is not to be located elsewhere. Lust is not caused by beautiful women, covetousness is not caused by other people owning things, and dishonoring parents is not caused by them asking you to do something. If a man has five million dollars and I have five, then he will no doubt be tempted to believe he is better than I am. This is often and easily noted. What is almost never noted is my temptation to believe I am better than he is. If we both succumb to the temptation, we both commit the same sin . . . but at least he has a better argument. I am constantly reminded of Ambrose Bierce's definition of a Christian -- "one who believes the New Testament is a divinely inspired book, admirably suited to the … [Read more...]

Envy Crackles

I recently raised a question in a Facebook thread that I wanted to expand on here. It has to do with the increasingly common idea that "inequality of income" is inherently a moral problem. So here's the question: If you had a magic button in front of you which, if you pressed it, would result in all the poor people in the world being 5X better off than they are now, in real terms, but the price would be that the top 1% would be 100X times better off, would you press the button? Pressing the button would increase the inequality, but it would decrease everyone's day-to-day income problems. Is the mere fact of the inequality a moral problem? Is the size of the gulf between rich and poor a moral problem? There is another way of asking the question, only this way highlights the darkness of envy a little bit better. If you had a button in front of you that would cut the standard of living that poor people have by 50%, but would also cut the standard of living that the top 1% had by a much greater amount, thus reducing the inequality, would you press that button? In case you hadn't anticipated it, we do have a working version of this second button. It is called "government … [Read more...]

Only Blood Can Answer

One of the central things we have to remember about accusation is that condemnation has a point. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). It will not do for us to say that the devil accuses the brethren day and day (Rev. 12:10), and the devil is bad, and so we should be done with accusation. It is not that simple. The devil is evil, but the nature of his evil is that it is righteousness folded over. If all we had to learn was that accusation is to be rejected, we could be saved by that information. We could be saved by knowledge. We have been to the magician's show enough times that we have figured out the trick. But the task before us is to reject the way of accusation while acknowledging that the accusations are correct. That is more difficult than it sounds, and it sounds pretty difficult. The devil's accusations have authority because the devil is right. … [Read more...]

How the Pinning Works

I want to spend a few moments on why the penal substitution of Christ is the only possible ground of human happiness. My point is not to defend the doctrine here -- that has been ably done by others -- but rather to show one of the many glorious outworkings of the doctrine. In our life together, whether that life is being lived in family, church, or town, the substitutionary death of Jesus is the only thing that can keep us from becoming scolds who are impossible to live with. This is what I mean, and I will use marriage for my example. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Now, whatever it is we believe that He did there, that is what we are going to imitate. … [Read more...]

Earthy, Not Worldly

Near the end of That Hideous Strength, Mark Studdock is traveling back to be reunited with his wife Jane, and he stops at an inn. At this inn, they have back issues of The Strand, and Mark -- a real sign that his repentance has been genuine -- finishes reading a serial story that he had quit reading when he was ten. He had done that because he had wanted to appear grown up -- his joy in the story had been overwhelmed by a destructive lust, the approaching tyrant of his life, to be accepted, to be brought into the inner ring. He gave up something he loved, and for no good reason. In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape gets angry with Wormwood for allowing his "patient" to read a book -- just because he wanted to. He didn't read it because he wanted to have something clever to say about it at a dinner party, for example. Screwtape regards this as a disaster. … [Read more...]

Whirled Vision

My brief post on the reversal of the turnaround at World Vision generated some questions and comments, so let me chase them here. Start with the central thing -- and that would concern our duty of not being the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. If the subject is sin and repentance, it should go without saying that we should never sneer at a broken and a contrite heart. How many times do we forgive someone? Jesus dealt with this famously when He said the right number was 70 times 7. And that does not mean that once the sinner gets past 490, then pow, right in the kisser. Our forgiveness for others should imitate God's forgiveness of us, and it is obviously impossible to outshine Him. Jesus taught that someone could sin against us seven times in a day, and that upon a profession of repentance we should forgive him each time. Now, along about the fourth or fifth incident, I might begin to suspect that my friend is not dealing with the root issues -- but I am still to forgive (Luke 17:4). So, how does this relate, if at all, to World Vision? Our problem is that we have confused two categories that must never be confused. In the church, we must learn to maintain … [Read more...]

Parable of the Ten Investment Portfolios

Given the emphasis that the president placed on "income inequality" in his 2014 SOTU speech, I thought it necessary for us to review a few things from the Bible. We have wandered so far off from the teaching of Jesus that some of this pandering seems compelling and/or compassionate to us. It is actually evil. Allow me to say a few things in this second paragraph that will seem outrageous to some, while doing so in the hope that you will then allow me to explain myself. I have argued repeatedly that free grace creates free men, and that free men are the only ones who can create free markets. Free markets are God's design for us. If you don't love the idea of free markets, you don't love Jesus rightly. Christian discipleship requires an understanding of, and deep love for, economic liberty. So why invoke Jesus by name? Why bring Him into it? First, He is the Lord of all things, including what we do with our money. So there's that. Second, in his fine book Friends of Unrighteous Mammon,  Stewart Davenport shows that in 19th century America,  two contrary camps developed among professing Christians (and they have been with us since). He called them the "clerical economists" and … [Read more...]

Her Other Hand Comes Too

In order to understand the politics of our time, we have to understand the paradox of inequality. The way the debate is usually framed, we are forced to choose between liberty and equality. Now when I am charged to pick one of these, I am happy to do so, provided it is the right kind of either one. You can start at either end. Pick up the right kind of liberty, or the right kind of equality, and the other comes with it. When you find the love of your life, and take her by the hand, and she comes with you, you will find out soon enough that her other hand came too. Let us treat with . . . what's the word I am looking for? Got it. Let us treat with contumely the wrong kind of equality and the wrong kind of liberty. Either that, or opprobrium. The wrong kind of equality is envious and filled with bile. The wrong kind of liberty is to virtuous civic liberty what masturbation is to marriage. It is narcissistic political solipsism. A person filled with the envious kind of egalitarianism rails against a stupid abstraction like "income disparity," without ever taking time to care whether or not the people involved are better off or worse off as a result of whatever his proposed … [Read more...]