Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Materialism I

Teresa posted a few days ago about her [used] new van. In part of her post, she asks,
"If you were to drive through our church parking lot on any given day, you would see Suburbans, Hummers, Expeditions and the like. All beautiful objects of automotive wonder, but are they necessary?"

What does the types of cars in a church parking lot communicate about the types of people in the church pews? How do we even define “necessary”? I have to admit, my first impression of any church is based on the typeS of carS in the parking lot. However, I not only notice the cars, I also notice the bumper stickers on the cars, the size and condition of the parking lot, the traffic cones, and the manners of the people as they drive through the parking lot on their way to a parking space. I will write more on this later.

Teresa’s basic question though is an age old question with a modern context. For centuries some people have argued that the cost of building elaborate cathedrals has wasted money that could be going towards helping the poor. Others have argued that elaborate cathedrals are the proper way to honor and give glory to God.

As believers, we are expected to support our churches with our time, our money, and our other resources. We are admonished by our leaders to avoid materialism and we are judged by our Creator on how we treat those who are in need. However, does buying and owning an expensive car reduce the amount of money needed to do God’s work?

Money, unlike almost everything else of value, can not be wasted. Time can be wasted, as can clean water, goodwill, and most everything else, but money can only be passed on to someone else for them to pass on to yet another someone else. Money only represents the amount of time it took to earn and the value of a good or service it can buy.

Passing money on quickly reduces the amount of time it takes for someone else to earn the money and it multiplies the amount of available money. In economics, this is known as the ‘velocity’ of money. If the $3.00 I spend for a cup of Starbucks coffee is immediately spent by Starbucks on something else, the economic effect of my purchase is the same as if I had spent $6.00 on the cup of coffee and the $6.00 stayed in their cash register for the rest of the day. An economic recession isn’t caused by the lack of money, it is caused by the hording of money or the unwillingness of many to spend it quickly. Likewise, economic growth is cause by a greater willingness to spend quickly and not hold on to money.

Passing money on to a craftsman for a well engineered and well crafted product rewards the workers who takes exceptional pride in their work. Passing money on to the discounter rewards the workers who produce value for their work. Passing money on to the athlete or the performer rewards those who provide pleasure to others through entertainment.

Passing money on to the poor as a gift without exchanging anything of value may relieve an immediate need, but it also rewards those who haven’t contributed their time to create value or enjoyment for others. There are some people who through no fault of their own have an immediate need. There are others who may have caused their own problems but are still in need of immediate relief. We should help these people, but we shouldn’t ever fall in to the trap of thinking we are choosing between helping the poor and being selfish when we spend our money on something we want, because when we do honest work for honest pay and when we reward others who do honest work for honest pay, we are helping others to NOT be poor and we ARE doing God’s work.


Teresa said...

I agree with much of what you are saying David, but I beleive that we are to be, as I said, good stewards of our money and of creation. How is buying something that we don't need doing that or polluting the air more than we need to. Do you have one? You are not looking deep enough David. One person bought one, then the next, then the next, now we ALL have to have one--what do you call that David? I call it the status quo, the thing that you speak against. The bottom line is: STATUS. We are not of this world! I would some day like to be like J.C. Penny or Rick Warren who live on 10% and give away 90%, I beleive that is what Jesus would do. Oh and thanks for the plug.

Buz said...

God tells us what to do with 10% of our money. The other 90% He says very little about ... other than the admonition to provide for our families. If you look at the O.T. and some of the parables of Jesus, we see that we are to be charitable (presumably that comes out of our 90%) and the Proverbs also tell us that a wise man will leave provisions for his children's children.

One of the spiritual gifts is the gift of generosity ... or of giving to God's work OVER AND ABOVE what is commanded. One who has that gift ENJOYS seeing his money well used by others. Another gift is the gift of helping others and another is mercy. People with those gifts often struggle with the idea of putting $1M into a building when it could feed and clothe 10K people in Ethiopia for a year.

However, while they may feel like that, and those feelings might spur them on to give even more of what they have to charity, it is not God's purpose to put a guilt trip on someone who is already giving in accordance with His Word because he chooses to drive a Hummer rather than a Pinto.

These words are difficult for me to say because I am one who does not believe in building funds and big cars ... I would rather see every penny go to missions and charities ... BUT that is the burden God has put on MY heart. I have no place trying to put it on YOUR shoulders.


David M. Smith said...

Buz and Teresa,

It seems both of you have missed my main point. Let me try again. I think the distinction between giving and spending is not a valid distinction for determining if the money is being used for God’s work. Some charities can do God’s work, but just because an organization is a charity, even a Christian charity, does not mean it is doing God’s work. Likewise, spending could be doing God’s work if it is providing a job for a man or woman who is supporting a family by doing honest work. However, spending for pornography or spending for a car if Teresa though it was beyond necessary would be sinful and not God’s work.

I have heard some teachers who I greatly respect teach that the 10% tithe is not applicable to the New Testament church. However, I agree with Buz that 10% is a pretty good guideline, if not rule, to follow. I also agree with Teresa that spending for a large SUV is not being a good steward of our resources.

Buz said...


I thought I was agreeing with you ...

In the OT, God tells the Israelites what they can and cannot eat ... down to which parts of the animal to trim off. God does not do the same thing with our finances. He tells us how much to give to his work (by the way, I have heard that if you add up all the temple taxes and required sacrifices, it was more like 25%, not just 10%), but He gives us the freedom to use the rest as we choose (barring spending it on immoral purposes).

As far as what is God's work and what is not ... I think the purpose of our lives should be to do God's work ... if that is how we approach life, then all that flows from our everyday living should be a part of God's work ... n'est pas?


David M. Smith said...

“I think the purpose of our lives should be to do God's work”

Yes Buz, that really is the bottom line!!!