Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Economic Power of the Church

I had several interesting conversations last weekend while I visited with friends--things I have thought about for a long time now, but have been unsure how to communicate. As I put these several conversations together, I realized that I think the universal church fails to realize both its potential and its mission when it comes to economic power. Too often we concentrate on using our dollar to try to influence the world to be something it's not, and we neglect using our dollars to build what is eternal.

I often get e-mails encouraging me to boycott this company or that because of their stand against a moral issue or their support of an immoral one. I am not against boycotting per se, I just am not sure it always does what is intended. When it is used carelessly or too frequently, I fear we Christians turn ourselves into just another political cause instead of people called to live life differently and to make lasting changes in our culture. I am concerned about our testimony to the world when we expect it to believe and live as anything other than the spiritually dead, fallen reprobates that they are (and which we all were!). Even if we compelled unbelievers to live moral lives, they would still be just as immoral inside, and in fact might be farther away from seeing how much they need to be saved from themselves. If we expect them to live by the law, and they do, why do they need Jesus? Isn't it in fact greater evidence for the global need of a different way that every free culture, regardless of their form of government, religion, or philosophy, has ended up leaving its individuals, families, and economy (and nearly everything else) a broken mess? While I am not at all saying that as believers we should be silent about what scripture teaches or watch indifferently as the world steadfastly marches itself into destruction, I'm not always sure that using worldly methods like boycotts and petitions is the most effective way of causing change.

Don't misunderstand me, we are supposed to be causing change in our culture. But as I look at scripture and church history, it seems to me that change was brought about personally, deliberately, and sacrificially. The early church rocked Roman culture by caring for widowsm rescuing orphans, and worshipping God at great personal cost. Revival was brought about by individuals leaving the comforts of their homes and living as friends among native cultures, imitating more of their ways than criticizing or correcting them. Christianity is sweeping China because of the determination of believers to worship the living God even if they cannot sway their government to allow it. Part of the disadvantage of living in an extremely wealthy, techno-informational age is that I can transfer a little money by computer to my favorite charity, return to my cyber-game (or blog . . . heh), and feel good that I've done something to make the world a better place. I can pass along a handful of critical chain letters and petitions no one will really ever see by e-mail, and make myself feel like I've engaged the culture. The truth is, culture is at my front door, waiting for me to open up and let them into my messy life that has found hope in Jesus.

We don't have to go half-way around the world to impact it for Christ. Churches are filled with widows longing to invest the wisdom they have learned through suffering in the next generation of believers but are hindered in doing so because they are forced economically into the busy pace of the workplace. Fatherless children become virtual orphans as their already exhausted mothers work all day to provide financially and all night to provide everything else. How many times have I moaned and complained about my "difficult" life while standing next to someone who wonders how they will even make it through the next day, much less the next week? Even within our churches, culture is waiting at the door. To spread the kingdom of God throughout the world, we should be giving them snapshots of the difference He makes in our relationships, finances, families, etc. instead of giving them lectures of how to be good.

And I'm back to our economic power. We willingly give money to spread the Gospel to a few Muslim souls at a time but send single moms back to work and their children to the influence of government schools and child care. (Sorry to keep banging this one on the head, but it's a soft-spot for me!) We compassionately share to provide abused orphans secure homes, leaving recent widows struggling through grief and lonliness alone once the funeral is over and life resumes. We buy ourselves more Christian self-help books, when helping ourselves might best be done by cleaning house for elderly couples, taking time to help provide care for belivers in retirement homes and hospitals, and taking bags of groceries to the family who just lost their job. We have to begin bringing the broken, hurting believer right next to us in the pew into our lives and families. Then we should look for ways to do it all over again for the rest of the world.

I know that part of what holds us back is the monumental cost that seems to linger under caring for so many needs, but all we really need is a lot or prayer, a bit of creativity and a willingness to show grace and love. Hire the widow to provide housecleaning or daycare for your children instead of outsourcing that. Teach the single mother to perform a job she can do from home, or mentor her as she starts her own business. Invite a fatherless boy over to help with chores, then go to his house and help him do them there. Pay a little more for services that keep mothers of school-age children at home so they can be at home to share the Gospel throughout the day with their kids. And begin trusting that as we use what we have wisely, God will pour out on us the means to do even more. We have to stop forcing worldly models for resolving circumstances upon believers (which typically hinder relationships instead of nurturing them), and instead allow grace and show support to one another for the unique vision God gives each of us. Those of us who feel called to live simple lives at home should find ways to use that to serve those of us who are called to the workplace, trusting that God is working to perfect all of us according to His Word. And we need to stop clinging to the Gospel as all our own, and see the work of Christ for the kingdom-expanding work that it is.

Claim everything for the king! And use everything we have to claim it! Until He comes again.


Anonymous said...

Wow! What an excellent commentary. I couldn't have said it better myself... which is why I'm sending all my readers to visit you today! I linked to you here:

Thanks! :-)


Anonymous said...

You said alot my young friend. You've said things that I have ranted to my family about for the last 5 years. What has happened~~exactly nothing. No one listens to the white haired older lady. Just shake the head up and down and she will go away.

You're leading a womens class now~when will a class like that become a place to vent these feelings and move into a mode that might exert some pressure and effect a few changes. Or would that ever be allowed? Just a few thoughts.

Grama K

Lisa said...

I don't claim to know all about how to evoke change, but even in my few short years, I've learned a few things:

1) Pray! If God has put a need on our hearts that is biblical, He wants it too. I've watched God shape my desires and expectations of what the church should be, then I actually got to watch Him make some of those very (impossible) changes within the church.

2) Change myself. I can't teach it if I don't live it. When others see the joy and the faithfulness of God in our obedience, it is contagious, and they are encouraged to live more radically.

3) Speak out! Speak out from the platform God has given you. Speak out for the needs of others. Keep speaking even when it seems no one is hearing.

4) Watch expectantly for change. God is on His throne. Ultimately, He is refining His church, and although change seems slow to us, He is accomplishing it in His time.