Following on the heels of my last post, I take it for granted that following Jesus Christ means that, at the very least, we shouldn’t become too comfortable with our abundance of possessions. Scripture tells us that wealth is both a danger to our own spiritual health and to our public witness.
But at the same time, the doctrine of creation prevents us from condemning possessions or wealth itself as an evil. There is no spiritual-physical split, demarcating good and evil. So what can we do, as a cross-shaped community, with our wealth?
Here are some options.
- Give overwhelmingly. After Purpose-Driven Life hit, Rick Warren paid back the church all the wages it had paid him over the last twenty-five years. In addition, Rick Warren is a reverse-tither: he keeps ten percent of his earnings and gives the remaining ninety percent to the church and charities. In front of a watching world, Christians can put wealth in a biblical perspective by giving away great amounts.
- Set an upward limit. Some raise the question of whether giving generously is sacrificial if what you keep for yourself is still a ludicrous amount. One of my youth pastor friends told me recently that he would never accept more than $100,000 per year in pay. Now, we can argue over the number, but it is at least a straightforward approach.
- Embrace poverty. One of the cores of the New Monastic movement, of which Shane Claiborne is a visionary and figurehead, is “to relocate to the abandoned places of empire.” The thinking behind this is that rather than solving the poor, like a problem, we can enter into solidarity with them. It is difficult to read the second chapter of Philippians without being attracted to this option.
- Tithe proportionally. In his book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ronald Sider advises a graduated tithe, with giving-percentages based on how your income relates to the poverty line. The idea is that Christianity is antithetical to voluntarily living above those in poverty. The idea is made more problematic, however, in view of the fact that even the impoverished in America are wealthy compared to the majority of the world.
- Cultivate contentment. In my view, this is what is truly important for us as Christians. The only way we can cultivate the virtue of contentment is to live out of sync with an empire that spends trillions of dollars to create in us desires for the one more thing that will finally make us happy. If Christians can become truly content in a lifestyle of service, hospitality and love-of-neighbor, there is no longer a need to hoard material goods, to continue seeking that one more thing that will satisfy us at last.
What do you think? If Christians being wealthy is problematic, how can the church live with wealth? Which of these options makes the most sense to you? What other strategy would you advise for Christians to cope with their wealth? How can we live faithfully to our homeless lord?