Eugene Peterson wrote a sentence in one of his books which the Church would do well to ponder. “You can’t do the Lord’s work using the devil’s ways.” That seems like it should be pretty clear to us, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to get fooled into thinking that the ways of the world could ever properly serve the Kingdom of Heaven.
To see how easy it is for us to fail to see the difference let’s look at a parable Jesus told. It’s the one about the farmer who had a bumper crop and found his barns too small to hold it all. So he says he will build more barns, mete out the crop as he needs to and retire in comfort. But then his plans are disrupted because his life would be demanded of him that night and the crop would do him no good.
Most of us would initially find it hard to fault the farmer for making provision for his old age. Most of us would find it hard to understand what is wrong about using a blessing (the bumper crop) as we think it ought to be used. But what is really going on here? If this farmer had a bumper crop it is likely that others did too. When there is a surplus of a product the price will generally go down. So the farmer has decided he will hold his off the market until he could get a better price–maybe next year will be a bad crop and he alone will be able to reap the rewards. But at whose expense? The poor, who would suffer because they could not afford the higher priced grain. As an early Church father wrote, the farmer had places to store his grain, in the mouths of the poor.
But what does this have to do with the Church, you might ask? Quite a lot actually. You see people, especially in this country, tend to calculate value in the same way that farmer did. So in the Church we find congregations and church bodies holding on to huge endowments and investments. They say it’s for a rainy day, or they say well, we use the income to help the Kingdom. But that is not trusting in God to care for His Church and His people, it is trusting ourselves and our ways over His. The Church should not hoard or harbor wealth for any purpose–it is all to be used for God’s work. “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then follow Me.”
If you see a Church official, pastor, bishop, whatever, driving around in a luxury car, flying about in a private plane or helicopter (yes I know of one), or wearing $2000 suits, you should probably flee for the sake of your soul. If you see a congregation that seems to care as much about how much they get in as what they do with it, you should flee for the sake of your soul. If you see a church body of any sort getting cozy with elected officials for the sake of political power, you should flee for the sake of your soul.
The Church of Jesus Christ has one task–to go into all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our road map for doing that work is in the Bible, not in management books or economic programs or politics. The Gospel is our business and the Scriptures give us our methods.