Born in Montana, I was raised there until the age of ten. That’s when my parents moved our family to southern Ohio. At twenty-five I moved back to Montana with my wife and our four boys. At thirty-two, we moved to Colorado with seven children in tow.
My parents – a dad who was raised Mennonite and a mom who studied at Pensacola Christian and Bob Jones – met at Cedarville University; my wife and I both went there also for a few semesters right after high school and right before marriage.
I’ve seen Baptist churches across the country up-close. A Willow Creek affiliate was our home for a few years before we moved back to my home state from Ohio. We were very involved in CMA churches for almost the entire time we were in Montana – with a brief exception for JD Hall’s assembly in Sidney. Now we have the great blessing of being in a church that’s part of the M28 network.
All this to say, I have seen and been very involved in churches across a fairly diverse cross-section of America, and there are a number of influences in my testimony and personal background which give a kind of broad picture of how Christian communities across this country organize themselves, make decisions, and handle problems and disputes.
One of the most disheartening features I have observed time and again is a kind of deferential treatment which the donor class, if you will, is afforded in seemingly direct contradistinction to what James, the half-brother of Jesus admonishes about showing no partiality as we hold to the faith.
The poor brother who comes in wearing shabby clothes very often is told to sit at our feet. The rich brother wearing fine clothes very often is given the seat of honor. As a result, the general testimony and prudence of the church suffers, just as we should expect it would whenever we orient our faith and practice in contrast to the clear commands in Scripture.
Without naming names, I have seen very corporate-like growth strategies given preferential treatment when they seem threatened by a faithful interpretation of relevant texts. At the same time, I have seen dysfunctional arrangements in churches overlooked and treated with kid-gloves when they involved even a perceived risk to those who “support the ministry.”
And about that – why does it always seem to be the case that “support the ministry” is synonymous with fiduciary contributions? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that phrase used in relation to non-fungible services and contributions.
But there you have it. Money talks and people listen – even in the Church. Elsewise James would not have issued the corrective and warning.
Jesus warned us also about announcing our giving with tambourines and trumpets. And I think this speaks to a general caution we should have as we enter into troubled waters economically in this country. If we don’t watch our step, we may quickly find Christians feeling compelled to not only place their businesses and careers first because thereby they provide for their families, but because thereby they also secure a place of outsized prominence and authority in many churches.
I say this not to accuse anyone, but I cannot help it if several specific people and situations I know come to mind.
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
By no means is this to conflate poverty with righteousness or riches with wickedness. And yet it is to offer a word of much-needed caution about how we all – myself included – orient our priorities and expectations as we hold to the faith.
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