We live in a prosperous society. We pull out expensive smart phones out of our pockets. We eat out at expensive restaurants and dress in the latest designer clothing. Though the poor remain among us in America, we remain the richest nation in the history of the world. Yet, our affluence grows like kudzu around our necks, choking the spiritual life out of us. Wealth and prosperity can have spirit numbing effects, masking our spiritual hunger and inoculating us with comfort. Just like in the dystopian novel Brave New World, we take our daily dose of soma to vaccinate ourselves from asking the big questions of life.
Jesus speaks so frequently about money for a reason. Though money is morally neutral, we ourselves are bound in the shackles of sin. Because of our propensity to sin, Paul tells Timothy that, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils" (1 Tim 6:10). Indeed it is, and we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where our capitalistic ideals drill a love of money deep into the recesses of our hearts. Our greed and materialism often goes unnoticed, because everyone else around us runs the same rat race.
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The recent lottery fever illustrates our deep love for money and our desire for more. With the recent 1 billion Powerball lottery, Americans went nuts. Sadly, even many Christians proudly posted $20 plus worth of lottery tickets hoping to strike the jackpot. Even after they've already announced the winners, Facebook users are now sharing images of the winners in a vain attempt to gain some of their cash. We think that more money will solve all our problems and we've convinced ourselves that our greatest need is economic, not spiritual. Our affluence, wealth, and desire for more not only corrodes our spiritual lives, but also the spiritual vitality of our churches.
Affluence in the Church
Recently I was teaching through the history of the Christian church to my congregation. We looked at the book of Acts and saw the urgency and generosity of the early church. Their community was remarkably simple, but unusually beautiful. The first century church, marked by their dependence on the Holy Spirit, spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The church did not possess multi-million dollar facilities, charter buses, or expense media technology. Rather, their community consisted of submission to the apostles teaching, prayer, and worship. Yet, day by day the Spirit added to their number.
As I was teaching about the early church, many wiser members began to speak, contributing to the discussion. One lady commented on how wealth in the church can distract from the churches mission. Then an eighty-year-old member, who has attended since a babe, commented on the incredible simplicity of the early decades of our church. The budget was thin, buildings were small, and each day the church was required to depend on God for survival. Yet, over the decades the church grew into an upper class institution filled with multiple programs and activities, bigger budgets and bigger buildings. The urgency and dependency on God in those early decades waned as the church became comfortable in their own routine and traditions. As the conversation continued among the crowd, many voiced their affirmation of our analysis. Affluence had highjacked our church.
Restoring Urgency and Dependency
I have a feeling my church is not a lone. Rather wealth has assumed prerogative in our local churches. We've settled for maintaining the institution rather than advancing the mission. Driven by our prosperity and desire for comfort, we would rather cling to our affluential chains and comfortable traditions, than be set free by the Spirit's power. The local church should be characterized as a community of urgency and dependency. We must urgently declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world, and we must do so depending on the Holy Spirit's power. Over the decades, in the comfort of our prosperity, urgency wanes and we grew independent. After all, who needs to depend on God when you have a few hundred-thousand dollars in the bank?
So what is the solution do the kudzu of affluence that has engulfed our congregations? Repentance. We must repent of our lethargy and turn away from our apathy. We must repent of our self-reliance and fall on our knees to beg the Spirit for his life-giving power. So I write this to sound an alarm to a great danger within our lives and our churches. The problem is not our wealth per se. I am not advocating that we all should take a vow of poverty, because the problem ultimately lies within our heart. Yet, many of us are unaware that our prosperity is choking our spiritual lives. Let us repent, lest we betray our Lord for a bag of silver and go to potter's field to hang ourselves with the rope of affluence.