Wednesday, 7 January 2015

When the church becomes rich

The generation in which we live enjoys luxury and wealth on a scale only dreamt of by those before us. Whilst we are certainly not all rich, most of the western world lives in previously unknown comfort, with an abundance of possessions far beyond our basic needs. Most of us are not living on the breadline but can afford to eat well and dine out when we desire. A foreign holiday is no longer an extravagance but a routine occurrence for most people, sometimes more than once a year. Clothes are no longer bought out of necessity, but rather putting on our 'Sunday best' has been replaced by choosing which 'Sunday best' we will wear this week. Technology has provided for all our needs, we have gadgets for everything, and the increase in disposable income means that we have more opportunity for leisure than ever before.

This age of plenty is also evident in the church. Most congregations now enjoy the comfort of large, well equipped, multi-purpose buildings. Impressive advertising campaigns can be conducted, with glossy literature just as impressive as anything produced by the world. Multimedia technology assists with every aspect of the church's ministry, via PowerPoint presentations, online streaming of services, social media and more. Bank balances are healthy and ministers are well paid. Just as society has become more affluent, so too has the church. Whilst none of these developments are wrong in themselves, indeed we thank God for the material blessings he has given us, there can be the danger that just as the church becomes richer, so it also becomes poorer.

1. We depend less on God
With the abundance of resources now at the church's disposal, it can be very easy to forget where the real power of the church resides. Every aspect of the church's ministry can now be done bigger and better than ever before. We can make the surroundings comfortable, concern ourselves with the aesthetics, and hope that with the impressive scale of what we are able to do, some will be saved. Our modern facilities will surely make it more appealing for people to come in to the services. In doing all this we can forget that the power of the church does not rest in any of these things, but in the working of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 20:7 says that 'Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God'. As the church becomes rich there is the danger that it will trust in its facilities, in its programmes, in its financial might, and will depend less on God.

How can we get people in under the sound of the word? In our abundance it is easy to look to ourselves, rather than depending on God. In times where the church had little materially, it could do no other than look to God to provide the blessing. Do we now depend on the things that God has given us, rather than the one who is the giver? The truth is that we do not need our fancy buildings, we do not need our technology, we do not need our modern innovations, all that we need is the blessing of almighty God.

2. We become more at ease
As Belshazzar feasted and drank from the vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem, little did he realise that his kingdom would be wrenched from him and that he would be slain that very night. He believed that his position was secure and could not be overthrown. He was very much at ease because of all that he possessed, yet the assurance which he had was based on a false hope. Such is the comfortable position of the church today that many within its confines have become equally at ease. Since we have large buildings, since we have healthy finances, since there are an abundance of churches to choose from, it is easy to relax and believe that there is nothing that needs to be done. Individually we have more opportunity for leisure and, since the church is in a comfortable position, we regularly spend our time in such, more so than in serving God. The urgency in the Lord's work can be lost, due to the sense of ease which is created by the church's wealth.

Should the church be at ease today due to its generally prosperous position? No, for this material prosperity can be taken from us in a instant and is not to be considered the measurement of our victory. The bible pronounces a woe upon those who are at ease in Zion and therefore we should never allow ourselves to have this attitude. For the church to be at ease today is for the church to be deluded, for there is a great work to be done; to evangelise and to contend for the faith. May we never let this truth escape us due to the comfortable position which we enjoy.

3. We consider the cost of our stand
When we have nothing of the world's possessions then we have little to lose by taking a stand for the truth of God's Word. Yet when we are blessed with fine church buildings and the security of an established congregation we might consider more what we would lose through a principled stand. Will the government close down our expensive buildings if we refuse to conduct gay marriages? Will we be forced to worship secretly in the fields and woods like the covenanters of old? The Puritans thought little of being rejected from their pulpits for the sake of truth and conscience and surely the church today must be of the same mind, despite its outward prosperity. Are we prepared to give up our warm comfortable churches to worship in a barn should the maintaining of God's truth require it? 

When we consider it scripturally we still have nothing to lose by maintaining biblical principles, even if we do have fine church buildings. The outward riches of the church are not to be highly esteemed, but rather the riches that we have in Christ. If the church were to lose all of its material possessions what does that truly matter when we have all in Christ. The stand which the church takes in relation to biblical matters should never be influenced by anything but the Word of God.

Is the affluent position which the church of God enjoys today a thing to lament? So long as it has no bearing on those things which we have considered, then it is not. Pray that even in the prosperous position that we find ourselves in, that we would still rely wholly on God, that we would not be found at ease in Zion, and that we would not count the cost of maintaining the truth of scripture.

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