Money, Money, Money, Money

Over the course of 20 years, I have been exposed to and for a time enthusiastically embraced reformed theology. I have known quite a few avid and tatted followers of Martin Luther and I have also attended 4 churches that were “reformed” including one that was “totally reformed” and one that was “somewhat reformed.” In these churches heavily influenced by reformed Baptists like John Piper, reformed Presbyterians like R.C. Sproul and Tim Keller and Lutherans like Michael Horton, I have heard a lot of things- doctrines and discussions concerning just about anything and everything ad nauseam – but (FUNNY) I have NEVER heard a single leader or teacher speak against the U.S. economy or its systems, corporations and ways of doing business or question capitalism, consumerism and the devastating results they have produced.

Other than sermons on tithing, building projects and supporting missionaries, I have NEVER heard any preaching or teaching on the personal use of money. Even more, I have never witnessed or known any “church” leader or preacher, who loved Martin Luther, speak about or embody Martin Luther’s beliefs on the use of money. In the reformed churches that I attended, “christian success” was for the most part equated with personal wealth, and the more money one had, the better chances one had to climb the corporate church ladder to church leadership.

Looking back, it is a little difficult to swallow the amount of money that we were continually asked to tithe (10% before gross) and how those funds went primarily to church budgets that included large pastor salaries, large administration and facility costs, and even larger mortgages while a minimum amount was spent to feed and clothe the poor, take care of widows or help our fellow congregants who had run into financial troubles.

Perhaps, what makes me especially angry are the handful of mega churches that I attended that had mega budgets and no inkling of shame asking individuals to examine their hearts and give till it hurts, while they spent the bulk of tithes on buildings that were used one or two times a week along with a full time staff. What has been most insulting to me (personally) was attending a church where my pastor never once visited my house or sought to know me or our particular financial situation but he lived in an expensive house in one of the most expensive subdivisions and made over 100,000 a year in Knoxville at a church plant, because “his education justified this level of salary.” (Seems very much in line with the monoculture’s way of thinking.)

One thing I have learned in almost 5 decades in church institutions is there is something that christians of every creed, doctrine, denomination and theology hold in common…. Which is they do not want to talk about their personal use of money or the predatory economy that they participate in, endorse, overlook and copy. Consequently, as long as you are attending church and tithing (something), then gluttony and idolatry are A-ok, and capitalism and consumerism are not believed to be problems but opportunities to choose christian options and have some level of power and influence.

More and more, I am convinced that the one subject that we (christians) avoid like the plague is the very thing that tells the truth about who we are and what we really believe in and what we are living for…Money, money, money, money.

Though guilty of my pursuit of money for decades, I only discovered this truth after I began to study and confront my own gluttony and idolatry and see my defects through my excesses. Consequently, I started asking questions about why pastors aren’t talking about money, because Jesus sure did. In fact, the apostles, the earliest Christians in Acts and even Martin Luther had quite a lot to say about money. I realize it might be hard for some to believe… but it wasn’t in some Dave Ramsey kind of micro managing money way either, but in a “sell everything you own- follow Jesus and live communally way.”

But what is now most disturbing to me, besides my obvious hypocrisy, is that I still haven’t followed this narrow way. I have to wonder what does this lack of obedience reveal about me? Obviously, nothing less than my own unbelief and lack of desire and trust in the way, the truth and the life…. And quite possibly my unwillingness to put the final nail in the coffin of all my christian scholarship.

Some articles for further contemplation on money, money, money, money…David Bentley Hart has a rather convicting understanding of money in the the introduction of his translation of The New Testament. You can find some of his thoughts in the articles below.

The Needle’s Eye

God and Mammon

What Lies Beyond Capitalism

Mammon Ascendant

For my totally reformed, reformed and somewhat reformed friends, the following is an excerpt from Carl Lindberg’s article “Luther on the Use of Money’:

From his brief “Sermon on Usury” (1519) to his “Admonition to the Clergy that they Preach against Usury” (1540), Luther consistently preached and wrote against the expanding money and credit economy as a great sin. “After the devil there is no greater human enemy on earth than a miser and usurer, for he desires to be above everyone. Turks, soldiers, and tyrants are also evil men, yet they must allow the people to live…; indeed, they must now and then be somewhat merciful. But a usurer and miser-belly desires that the entire world be ruined in order that there be hunger, thirst, misery, and need so that he can have everything and so that everyone must depend upon him and be his slave as if he were God.” “Daily the poor are defrauded. New burdens and high prices are imposed. Everyone misuses the market in his own willful, conceited, arrogant way, as if it were his right and privilege to sell his goods as dearly as he pleases without a word of criticism.”

This “lust for profits,” Luther observed, had many clever expressions: selling on time and credit, manipulating the market by withholding or dumping goods, developing cartels and monopolies, falsifying bankruptcies, trading in futures, and just plain misrepresenting goods. Such usury, Luther argued, affects everyone. “The usury which occurs in Leipzig, Augsburg, Frankfurt, and other comparable cities is felt in our market and our kitchen. The usurers are eating our food and drinking our drink.” Even worse, however, is that by manipulating prices “usury lives off the bodies of the poor.” In his own inimitable style, Luther exploded, “The world is one big whorehouse, completely submerged in greed,” where the “big thieves hang the little thieves.” Thus he exhorted pastors to condemn usury as stealing and murder, and to refuse absolution and the sacrament to usurers unless they repent. – Carl Lindberg’s, Luther on the Use of Money

2 thoughts on “Money, Money, Money, Money

  1. Wow! A lot of “food” for thought here. I’m afraid that in my case, and in the lives of most, that is all we will ever do with it…have thoughts. However, I sometimes see among our country’s younger population a desire for a different, more equitable, way of living. But they are immediately labeled as being socialists.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and ponder my posts. I hope I never communicate some type of success, (because I don’t have any success to boast in ) but I am constantly struggling to understand why our world is where it is. It is frustrating to me that we seem to have forgotten that our greatest fear should be that we didn’t love our neighbor, and funny enough that kind of love lived out may indeed cause us to be labeled something worse than socialists. I pulled this excerpt from David Bentley Hart’s translation of The New Testament.
      “This, in all likelihood, explains why the early Christians were (in the strictly technical sense) communists, as the book of Acts quite explicitly states. If these are indeed the Last Days, as James says—if everything is now seen in the light of final judgment—then storing up possessions for ourselves is the height of imprudence. And I imagine this is also why subsequent generations of Christians have not, as a rule, been communists: the Last Days in fact are taking quite some time to elapse, and we have families to raise in the meantime. But at the dawn of the faith little thought was given to providing a decent life in this world for the long term. Thus we are told the first converts in Jerusalem after the resurrection, as the price of becoming Christians, sold all their property and possessions and distributed the proceeds to those in need, and then fed themselves by sharing their resources in common meals (Acts 2:43–46). Barnabas, on becoming a Christian, sold his field and handed over all the money to the Apostles (Acts 4:35)—though Ananias and Sapphira did not follow suit, with somewhat unfortunate consequences. To be a follower of “The Way” was to renounce every claim to private property and to consent to communal ownership of everything (Acts 4:32).”

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