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Being Light in the Midst of Financial Darkness

October 27, 2008
S. Michael Craven
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As I discussed last week, the first step toward freedom from consumer debt and financial profligacy is a transfer of trust in financial security (a fallacy) to trust in the Sovereign God. Once freed from dependence upon temporal things, we together—the Body of Christ—can seek first the kingdom (Matt. 6:33) rather than remain isolated in the illusory construction of our own individual enterprises that can crumble in an instant.

Might the looming financial downturn (to be optimistic) or economic meltdown (to be extreme), offer the church a unique opportunity to bear witness to a watching world? I think so.

Throughout history there have been extraordinary events in which the Christian community has stood in stark contrast to the world, offering hope and pointing to the truth of a providential God. Such a time may be upon us and so the question occurs: will we be ready?

If we are to be ready, we must first come together in consciously Christian community—mutual cooperation—to prepare and plan, the way God used Joseph to prepare and plan for the coming famine. Mutual cooperation of a sacrificial nature may be the American church’s greatest challenge.

Modern Americans are so radically individualized that we scarcely comprehend much less embrace the corporate and communal nature of being Christian. The apostle Paul stresses that the Gentiles, who were once alienated from “the commonwealth of Israel,” have been brought near “by the blood of Christ” that “he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:12–13, 15–16, ESV). (Emphasis mine.) There is a corporate sense to God’s redemptive plan that carries forward from national Israel to form a new covenant people (the church) out of both the Jew and Gentile into the new Israel.

At the conclusion of chapter two Paul writes, “Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:20–22, ESV). (Emphasis mine.) Again, Scripture emphasizes the corporate nature of God’s redemptive plan.

I have mentioned before—and it bears repeating—this community is not merely the social gathering of a people with common values, but rather a people who display proof of God’s redemptive work in the world. This proof flows forth from converted individuals whose supernatural transformation is authenticated through their interaction with each other. This community, the church, is intended to bear testimony to the truth of Jesus by demonstrating fellowship with God and each other—a community of self-sacrificing love and support that stands in contrast to the fallen world by living under the radically different values of the kingdom. Jesus himself established this as the authenticating fact of our faith when he said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV). Was this not the preeminent testimony of the first century church in which “they had all things in common?”

When the Bible speaks of having “all things in common” and giving to “each as anyone had need,” the writers were referring to material provisions (see Acts 4:32, 35). All earthly things are the possessions of God: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1, ESV). Men are mere stewards of what belongs to the Lord and should share the gifts of His creation with one another as much as they can. Some may suggest that in this, the Bible advocates socialism; however socialism is a compulsory redistribution of wealth coerced by government, whereas Christian charity is voluntary, done out of love of neighbor and in obedience to God. Christianity is completely opposed to the forced redistribution of wealth.

What are some practical ways in which the modern church might prepare for and live out these principles? Certainly the establishment and maintenance of a mercy fund is essential for meeting the needs of the congregation. However, today such funds often represent meager giving out of our abundance, spare change thrown in the plate. But the Christian is called upon to share what he has with the needy in the same way as the poor widow of the gospel—not out of his abundance, but out of his need. And he must do so cheerfully and not reluctantly, secretly and not for the praise of men.

Mercy funds are the modern equivalent of almsgiving to provide for the poor and needy, and this, of course, would include the unemployed. Giving alms, therefore, must be a sacrificial act if it is to have any spiritual value. One cannot give merely what is left over when all his own needs are satisfied. One must take from oneself and give to others. In the tradition of the church it is the teaching that what one saves through fasting and self-denial should not be kept for one’s own security but should be given away to help those in need. This is what the Roman world saw among the first century Christians. So strange was this generosity that the Romans referred to these Christians as the “third race.”

Such was the command of Mosaic law as well: “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be” (Deuteronomy 15:7–8).
As modern Christians—perhaps the wealthiest in history—are we prepared to make such sacrifices, to pool our resources and give freely to those in need, perhaps in greater measure than ever before in our lives? This may be what we are called upon to do and should be preparing for.

This preparation should include practical steps for the building up of our mercy funds and ministries. Perhaps churches could set up and manage their own online eBay stores. This would facilitate the selling of donated items from the congregation with proceeds being deposited into the mercy fund. Food pantries could begin to receive and store nonperishable food items. More faith-based credit unions could be established by various churches and denominations, offering cooperative banking services at typically better interest rates and more conservative financial practices than commercial banks.

Think of the collective creative potential in the church that could be brought to bear on meeting a multitude of needs if we made such ministry a priority. In addition, our preparation should include preaching and teaching on the words of Jesus, which remain forever valid and true:  

. . . the poor you will always have with you. But you will not always have me . . . if you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, and follow me. (Mark 14:7, NIV; Matthew 19:21, ESV)

The Christian who seeks perfection—as the Father in heaven is perfect—is the one who gives all for the sake of others, in the name of Christ, with Him, and for His sake. This is the radical nature of the kingdom. May this kingdom come forth as the one built on sand begins to crumble!

© 2008 by S. Michael Craven

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Responses
Response from : Greg Williams  

October 27, 2008 9:00 AM
 

Mr. Craven

Another excellent article! I fully agree with your assessment and the only real solution is the Church. My only concern, and you've certainly alluded to this, is that the Church is so ill-prepared to make this happen due to the weakened and watered-down teaching of the Truth.

Stewardship is a direct outflowing of true Discipleship of which there is very little in the post-modern Church of western civilization, especially the USA!

My prayer is that His people would really take 2 Chron. 7: 14 to heart and humbly repent and confess on their knees and faces so that He can move, first in the Church and then through His Church to a lost an dying world!

Thanks again and God bless in Christ!

In His service

Greg

http://www.ip315.org

 
Response from : Martin  

October 27, 2008 10:25 AM
 

Mr. Craven

Thanks for the article! I too wish to utilize the "Church". Matters seem to indicate blindness causing me to advise people to not to go to church, but start behaving like the Church.

Is the Church prepared or so ill-prepared to make participatorially seek solutions?... or is there eveidence of a weakened and watered-down teaching of the Truth?

"Stewardship is a direct outflowing of true Discipleship." True. Your life is not about you. If you wish to see yourself, look to those around yourself. What does it mean to be Christ-like? The answer..."live for others".

There seems to be very limited ecclesiastic leadership in the post-modern Church of western civilization, especially the Canada (and the USA)!

Our prayers ought to reflect 2 Chron. 7: 14 thereby repenting.

A reformation awaits us.

Martin.


 
Response from : Sue Whitehouse  

October 27, 2008 4:10 PM
 

I am praying and asking the Lord to soften my heart and be prepared. I struggle with the term "poor": how does the church define poor in the midst of cable tv, cell phones, credit card debt, etc.? Any suggestions?
I like the eBay idea or store house of articles/things ones may be in need of. Seems like eBay idea would help in not having to have a "warehouse" to put things but rather have contacts of where things are available.


 
Response from : Charles McDowell  

October 27, 2008 9:43 PM
 

Good article. But do you think megachurch officials will see these divine remedies as a curtailment of their expected expansions of staff, buildings, equipment, & plush seats, etc.? What you suggesting calls for new orientations of plans, purpose, and of course proposals.

Also where are the biblical references to the church as the New Israel?


 
Response from : S. Michael Craven  

October 27, 2008 11:13 PM
 

Dear Charles,

Thank you for your comments. In reference to your question, allow me to briefly outline the historic Covenantal and Reformed view, which is based on the New Testament teaching that the church is the new Israel, or "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).

The Apostle Paul affirms that believers in Jesus Christ are the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16-17, 26-29), that elect Jews and Gentiles are one body in Christ (Eph. 2:11-3:7), that the Old Testament covenantal distinctions between them have been removed in the church (Eph. 2:11-3:7), and that the New Testament church is the heir of the promises given to Israel (Eph. 2:12, 19-22, 3:7). Hence, the new covenant promises given to Israel are fulfilled in the church (cf. Jer. 31:31-34 with Mt. 26:18; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:7-13; 10:12-18). Jesus Christ himself declared that the kingdom of God would be taken from Israel and given to the church (Mt. 8:10-12; 21:19, 43; Lk. 20:9-16). Furthermore, as the new Israel of God, the church is designated by the same terminology that was used of Israel in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9; Gal. 3:29).

While this has come to be referred to as “Replacement Theology” ( a pejorative term) by Dispensationalists; it must be admitted that the Dispensational view is a relatively recent theological interpretation (c. 1830), which the historic Church never held too.

Blessings,
Michael


 
Response from : Selase Kwawu  

October 28, 2008 7:30 PM
 

Encouraging! Thank you for proving that the solution to the real problems and challenges the world faces today is in the word of God. The Christian perspective is indeed redeeming and we can face tomorrow because He live.


 
Response from : D.Samuelraj  

October 30, 2008 9:01 PM
 

Dear Micheal craven, Greetings. In our state(Tamilnadu) There are many congregation.(church of christ)But do not have community center to have fellowship meeting and for spritual upliftment. Please visit our area and help us to purchase a land for this purpose.At present there is no much unity among the lord's church.some body need to unite them.something has to be done to unite people.Recently I attended the meeting at chennai which was leadership traning meets.The willow creek community church conducted the meeting.They spent nearly 25 lacks of rupees for three days meeting.They have fine place which is close to the sea shore side.Very Good atmospheric center.I come out from that place with great emotion.From that onday onwards I am praying for such place. To bye 10 acre of land which cost approximatly hear is in remote place $25,000/.and than for construction work we may need $50,000/. To raise this much of amount may be difficult but nothing is impossible for God.All the denomination people have retreat center
but for our people do not have center.
Slowly people are backing because there
is no much follow up work.Now a days converting people is difficult if we lose those people all our efforts became vain. Hence I shared my thoughts with you if you are moved please act for us. God bless you
Hope to hear from you
D.Samuelraj

http://www.shapinglives.in

 
Response from : Marion Chase-Kleeves  

November 2, 2008 3:43 AM
 

My response comes at a time when I have lost my hope for my closest church family. Apparantly it has become the policy of Calvary Chapal of Paradise not to help those of their congregation that have come upon hard times. I am a full time student, mother of 3 teenagers and part time employee at a nearby business. I have asked twice for help with groceries and have been told, "we are out of vouchers, talk to Dave on Friday." I am doubly disappointed in that the room was full of people that know me personally and not one gave me so much as a dime to help me out. I must admit that I donn't go to church every Sunday. I have not always been able to give on a regular basis and when I do it is for the benefit of some-one in specific need. I have a sleep disorder that keeps me from getting the needed amount of sleep for an adult my age. I need at least 11 hours of sleep. I work, go to school and take care of my children, plus do my home work on week days. I crash on weekends and that means I don't get to church every Ssunday. So why is my church shutting the door on me and my children? I'm hurting that these people, whom I consider as family treat me worse than a dog. At least a dog gets scraps.


 
Response from : Norma Arney  

November 12, 2008 10:46 PM
 

Dear Mr. Craven,
AMEN AND AMEN............Thank you for your wise words.
Norma Arney


 
Response from : Victor Ferrer  

November 13, 2008 6:28 PM
 

In the Philippines, there is already a movement spearheaded by Christians advocating what we call Bayanihan Compassionate Economy. The bayanihan describes a Filipino custom of pooling resources [material or abilities] to achieve a common goal. In the previous generation, it was not uncommon for the community to pitch in in physically moving a neighbors house! Several local churches have taken the financial stewardship to the next level and have actually started credit cooperatives and operate grocery stores for the benefit of member and non-members alike. They are now in the early stages of Supply chain management. The man responsible for spearheading this is a Christian economist named Benjamin Quinones.


 

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