Sunday, February 28, 2010

Governmental Apostles (9) Corinthian Collection

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians was consistent with the approach described in previous posts.

Now concerning the collection for the saints… On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come (1 Cor 16:1-2).
He did not want to be involved in organising a collection. Instead he urged each person to lay up some money each week, so that the money would be ready when Paul arrived in Corinth. There was no compulsion and each person was free to decide how much they would give. The text above implies that there was no central collection, but that each person would put aside their own store (The Greek text literally means “lay beside himself”).

Paul focussed on organising of the delivery of the funds to Jerusalem. He was able to do this because he had good relationships with the Corinthians and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.
And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me (1 Cor 16:3-4).
Paul did not want to handle the money himself. His preference was to provide a referral letters for the Corinthians, who would deliver the money. He offered to accompany them, if that would be helpful, but he did not want to get involved in controlling money. This confirms that apostles should not be handling money.

Money flows through relationship between churches. Apostles have extensive relationships, so they will support the flow of giving between communities. Paul had a relationship with both the leaders in Jerusalem and the church in Asia Minor, so he could facilitate the flow of support from one church to another.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Governmental Apostles (8) Waiting on Tables

The Jerusalem disciples apostles received clear instructions that they should keep out of the finance business.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1).
This problem is inevitable when the distribution of finances is centralised. The people responsible for distribution simply cannot understand all needs and assess them correctly. Some people will end up getting more than they need, while others miss out. This happens with many modern Christian foundations. Those with good connections tend to get plentiful finance, but some really good people miss out on funding.

The solution to the apostle’s problem was to appoint deacons to take care of the money. Under the guidance of the Spirit, they identified seven men to be deacons. The ministry of the deacon is an important ministry that needs to be restored in the modern church (see Ministry of the Deacon).

This experience changed the apostles approach to their ministry.
We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).
They committed to focussing on prayer and preaching. There is no mention of handling finance. This change is confirmed in their other statement.
It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables (Acts 6:2).
The apostles decided that it would be wrong for them to wait on tables. The Greek expression for “waiting on tables” is “diakonein trapezais”. The word “trapezais” means table, so one meaning of the expression is serving food. However, the word “trapezais” is also used in the gospels for the money changers’ tables (Matt 21:12, John 2:15) and the counter of a bank (Luke 19:23). This suggests that the apostles were not just resolving to stop serving food. They were also saying it would be wrong for them to manage the collection of money.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Governmental Apostles (7) Centralised Finances

A serious problem with modern governmental apostolic ministries is lack of money. Many apostles feel that their activities are restrained by lack of resources. The apostle at the centre, who is governing a region and training church planters, needs lots of money.

One solution is to establish regional finance programmes. Because these ministries function at a trans-local level, they need trans-local funding. A region finance pool is a possible solution, but it does not deal with the problem.

There are several reasons why centralisation of finances is a dangerous practice.

Centralisation of finances is dangerous at any time. Any process that gives power to a few people is dangerous. If these people fall into pride or deception, they can do a lot of harm. Trouble crept into the church through money during its very early days. The practice emerged of disciples laying donations of money at the apostle’s feet (Acts 4:35). This practice was contrary to Jesus’ teaching.

Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets… to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret (Matt 6:1-4).
Making donations to the apostles in public contradicted this command. It also led to pride and deception. The worst case was Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:11-11). The pride that came into the church through the practice of giving in public caused this couple to lie to the Apostles to make a good impression.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 5:1-5).
This type of incident would not occur if the church depended on decentralised giving at a person-to-person level, as described in Acts 2:45.
Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:45).
Bulk centralised finance is vulnerable to spiritual attack. Small scale person to person giving is safer.

Centralisation is particularly dangerous during periods of persecution. If the government gets serious about stopping the church, it could cripple hundreds by arresting the people in charge of the money. If necessary, it could freeze the bank accounts, or clean them out. Decentralised finances are safer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Governmental Apostles (6) Staying at the Centre

Jesus told his apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they received power from on high. Once they received the Holy Spirit, they were meant to go out into Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. By staying in Jerusalem after they had received the Holy Spirit, they gradually morphed in governmental apostles.

The Book of Acts shows the Holy Spirit guiding the church. Things went best, when Christians followed his voice. The apostles often got things wrong, and had to be corrected by the Holy Spirit. Here are just a few examples.

  1. The Holy Spirit had a dreadful job getting Peter to go to Caesarea to share the gospel with Cornelius and his household. Luke takes a whole chapter to describe the incident. Peter had a vision. The Holy Spirit spoke to him. The prediction of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled (Acts 10:19-21). Even after all that, Peter launched into his sermon by saying that it was against his law for a Jew to associate with a gentile. While Peter was preaching, the Holy Spirit interrupted and filled the people so they spoke in tongues.

    Peter did not have a clue about what the Holy Sprit was doing in Caesarea. If he had been in control of this situation, the gospel would not have gone their. However, the Holy Sprit worked with hard to get Peter on track. Holy Spirit guidance triumphed over the mistakes of a key apostle.

  2. The apostles appointed Philip to be a deacon, but it soon became clear that the Holy Spirit has more important work in mind for him.
    Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there (Acts 8:4-5).
    Philip was called to be an evangelist.

  3. Paul made Timothy get circumcised in a bout of people pleasing.
    Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area (Acts 16:3).
    The circumcision party soon became a thorn in Paul’s flesh, so this incident pleasing man not God was a serious mistake.

  4. Two apostles, Barnabas and Paul, disagreed over Mark. The Holy Spirit got his way and both Mark and Timothy became key evangelists.

  5. Paul wanted to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit did not allow him. The Holy Spirit had to send a vision to get him into Macedonia (Acts 16:7-9).

  6. Paul planned to visit Spain. He intended to visit Rome on his way there.
    I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there (Rom 15:24)
    I will go to Spain and visit you on the way (Rom 15:28).
    The Holy Sprit had different plans. Paul ended up as a prisoner in Rome and never got to Rome. However, his desire to visit Spain cause him to write the letter to the Romans, which was what the Holy Sprit really wanted from him.

The Acts of the Apostles are really the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Things went well when people followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. Things did not go so well when the Apostles did their own thing. This shows the risks of apostolic government. The more power that is given to governing apostles, the more serious this risk will be.

When individual Christians ignore the Holy Spirit, they do not do much harm. When an apostle with governing authority misses the Holy Spirit’s leading, terrible harm could done. The good news of the gospel is that every believer can be taught and lead by the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit guidance is far safer than Apostolic leadership.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Governmental Apostles (5) Big Ministries

Whereas Jesus dispersed his authority widely, the apostles in Jerusalem soon slipped into a mode of gathering authority to themselves.

An interesting feature of the Jerusalem church was that most of the miracles were worked by the apostles.

Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (Acts 2:43).
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade (Acts 5:12)
With the massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, many people should have been preaching the gospel and healing, but instead they seem to be gathering to watch the Apostles.
As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by (Acts 5:15).
These miracles were marvellous, but the entire movement in Jerusalem was becoming centred round the key apostles. Their ministries were built up, not multiplied. The rapid growth of the Church in Jerusalem depended on a few big apostles drawing lots of people into the church.

Because the number of apostles did not grow, the rate at which the church grew outside Jerusalem was slowed. It took serious persecution to get believers apostled out to places like Antioch for the real multiplication got underway.

The apostles quite quickly took financial control of the church. In the beginning those, those giving away their possessions distributed their money themselves.
Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:45).
Within a short period of time, the giving was all going through the apostles.
Those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:34-35).
This was a significant change that increased the power of the apostles.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Governmental Apostles (4) Church Government

Jesus is the head of the church. He has not delegated this authority to church leaders or apostles. The only authority he delegated to apostles was authority to heal the sick and to cast our demons. He delegated governing and guiding authority to the Holy Spirit. He gave also gave all those who repent and believe freedom to obey the voice of the Spirit. Christians have authority over their own lives. The can give authority to their leaders by submitting them. The authority of leaders is comes from bottom to the top, not from the top down.

The Holy Spirit is everywhere and can speak to any believer, so he does not need to operate through a hierarchy. The leaders of human organisations are not omnipresent, so they have to work through hierarchy. The devil is confined to one place, so he has to work through a unruly hierarchy of principalities and powers. The Holy Spirit does not have this problem, so he does not need hierarchy. He can accomplish his plans by guiding Christians at a local level. The Holy Spirit guides the entire church by speaking to individual Christians.

Jesus worked locally and released lots of people into the apostolic ministry. He trained many apostles and gave them authority. He started with the twelve apostles and gave them some of his authority (Luke 6:12-16). Once the twelve were “on the case”, he began work with another seventy-two. They were “apostled” out into the surrounding villages and towns with authority to act for Jesus (Luke 10:1-21). The seventy-two were really green, but Jesus gave them authority, because he trusted the Holy Spirit to guide and lead them.

By the time he died, Jesus had 120 people who were waiting for the Spirit and “raring to go” (Acts 1:15). They had a lot to learn, but Jesus gave them authority, sent his Spirit and left them to it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Governmental Apostles (3) Modern Forms

Once they have planted a new church, the next step for a person with the apostolic calling is to establish a training centre for church planters. They will use their experience to develop training materials and programmes. The graduates of the training school will no longer fit in the churches they came from, so the apostolic leader will have to organising church planting opportunities for them.

Sending out highly-trained, but inexperienced church planters in teams that have never worked together always leads to problems. The apostolic leader will be respected by the trainees, so they are the best person to sort out any problems. The person with an apostolic calling could soon have responsibility for a number of churches across a broad region. Governmental policies will be developed to manage and control these churches. In a few quick steps, a church planter has morphed into a governing apostle.

The governmental approach to apostleship will never be as effective as the local multiplicative approach. The best people are clustered at the centre, which can cause ego problems. Inexperienced people are pushed out to edge where the greatest problems emerge.

No matter how good the people at the centre; no matter how much money flows in; or how effective the training; or the effective the governmental management, governing apostles will be less effective

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Governmental Apostles (2)

The false form of apostleship is governmental apostles.

Governmental apostles have a regional focus. They stay at the centre and direct the action from there. Some commentators liken apostles to generals, because they each command a chunk of God’s army. When a modern apostle oversees all the pastors in a region of in a group of churches this is referred to as apostolic government. Apostolic government is seen as essential for restoring the church.

Governmental apostleship has emerged in the modern church because no place has been found for the fivefold ministries at the local level. Every church is lead by a pastor, so there is no room for the other ministries. To find a role, prophets have had to become itinerant consultants. Evangelists have been forced into travelling ministries that operate independently. Apostles must function at a regional level, because there is no scope for their ministry at a local level.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Governmental Apostles (1)

There are two approaches to the apostolic ministry. The most important is Local Apostles.

Local apostles operate at neighbourhood level. They focus on planting neighbourhood churches and multiplying their ministries by mentoring potential elders on-the-job.
When an apostolic team plants a neighbourhood church, they will focus on discipling a few people with potential to become leaders. Once these people are mature enough to take over as elders, the apostolic team will be sent out to a new neighbourhood to start another church.

As apostles multiply their ministries, the church will grow rapidly. Paul demonstrated this approach, but it is not widely used in the modern world.
Local apostles are guided and led by the Holy Spirit. They will live at the cutting edge, so they can deal with problems as they arise. Correction at the local level will be provided by local prophets.

Local apostles multiply their ministries through on-the-job replication. This leads to rapid growth. In the following diagram, on apostolic team has multiplied their ministry into twelve apostles and twenty-five churches. The best people have become apostles working at the cutting edge.

A full description of the way that local apostles operate is contained in the Apostolic Way.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jesus on Money (28) - Hold Capital Lightly

Nothing in this world is certain. We never no what the future will bring. The capital of Christians can be taken from them at any time.

If Christians work hard and consume frugally, they will gradually build up their capital. This may cause the enemies of the gospel to become envious. If persecution takes hold, their righteous wealth might be confiscated. If this happens, Christians should rejoice that they are able to share in the sufferings of Jesus.

You joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions (Heb 10:34).
The Christians referred to in this letter had lost their property. They rejoiced because they knew that God had given them the kingdom.

All our property belongs to Jesus, so if it is confiscated, he is the only one who has the right to be upset. We have not lost anything, so we cannot complain. We still have the Kingdom of God, so we have riches far beyond what we deserve. We can rejoice in the privilege of being part of the Kingdom.

This full series of posts can be read at Jesus on Money.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jesus on Money (27) - De-capitalism

The church in Jerusalem de-capitalised quickly by the rapid sale of land and property. This produced an unintended consequence for the large numbers of Christians who had sold their property, but decided to continue living in Jerusalem. They remained in poverty until the city was eventually destroyed. By getting rid of their capital, but remaining in the city, they had consigned themselves to poverty.

Some of the Christians in Jerusalem may have misunderstood the timing of Jesus prophecy. He had given clear signs that would warn when the collapse of the city was close (Luke 21:7-24). This meant that that the disciples did not need to rush to sell their properties. They could wait until the destruction of the city was closer. The poverty in Jerusalem might have been the result of too many Christians selling their property too soon.

When Deacons are assisting new Christians to give away their unrighteous wealth, they must be careful that they do not de-capitalise the Christian community.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jesus on Money (26) - Jerusalem Church

When the Holy Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, land was the main form of capital in Jerusalem. Many people responded to the preaching of the apostles by selling their land and using the money to support those in need.

For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need (Acts 4:34-35).
This was an amazing transition, but there were good reasons for Christians in Jerusalem to sell their capital goods.
  1. Many of Jesus disciples had heard him prophesy that Jerusalem would be destroyed.

    Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down (Luke 21:5-6).
    O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you… Look, your house is left to you desolate (Matt 23:37-38).
    Jesus had given a set of signs that would warn when this was about to happen. Jerusalem would be surrounded by the Roman armies and totally destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled in AD70.

    The believers in Jerusalem understood that once the prophecy was fulfilled, property in the city and its surrounds would be worthless. It made sense for them to sell their property while it still had value. This is the reason why, so many Christians in Jerusalem sold their property.

  2. The rich people who had become Christians had gained their wealth through their place in the Roman political system. It was unrighteous wealth. These people had chosen a new King: Jesus. They could not retain land and property that represented loyalty to King Herod or Caesar, so they sold it. They would probably have lost their property anyway, once their new loyalty became clear.

  3. Some of the new Christians had obtained their wealth illegally.

    Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36-37).
    Barnabas was a Levite and Levites were not entitled to own land in Israel (Num 26:62). When he came to faith in Jesus, the illegal ownership of land would have weighed on his conscious. He probably could not return the land to its rightful owner (Lev 25:13), so he sold the land and gave the money to the apostles for distribution to those in need.

  4. The word used for possessions in Acts 2:45, 4:34 and Acts 5:1 is “ktema” or “ktetor” This is not the word generally used for possessions in the New Testament (uparxis). These nouns are derived from the verb “ktaomai”. It means “acquire” or “gain control over”. It refers to property that has been acquired, not bought. “Ktema” refers to unrighteous wealth that has been acquired by wickedness. The property sold by Christians like Barnabas and Ananias may have been acquired as a reward for wickedness.

  5. Much of the land in New Testament Israel was owned by absentee landlords. Some of these might have come back to Jerusalem for the Passover and received gospel. Barnabas lived in Cyprus, but he owned land near Jerusalem. Many of these absentee landlords would have sold their land when they received the gospel.

In each of these circumstances, the decision to sell the property was wise and good. However, the widespread sale of property created a problem for the Jerusalem. Selling capital goods and consuming the money is useful in the short term, but in the long term it leads to poverty. Without capital goods to make them more productive, people are forced into subsistence living.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jesus on Money (25) - God Blesses Capital

God blesses capital when it is acquired righteously and used wisely.

A crop in the ground is an investment. The seed the farmer plants in the ground could have eaten for immediate satisfaction of want. The farmer postpones his consumption hoping for a greater return in the future.

Cattle were capital in biblical times. The farmer decides not the kill his heifer, because the hopes to gain a stream of milk and calves into the future.

Baskets and kneading troughs are capital equipment that make people more productive in their work.

God promised to bless the crops and the cattle of his people.

The crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks will be blessed. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed (Deut 28:4-5).
God promised to bless their capital possessions. He blesses righteous wealth that is used wisely.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jesus on Money (24) - Ownership of Capital

Capitalism has become a bit of a dirty word, but there is really no argument about capital. Life in a society with no capital is pretty miserable. The key issue is who should own the capital. There are a number of possible owners.

  1. The State - Under Russian Communism, all capital was owned and controlled by the state. The state does not have savings, so the only way the state can obtain capital is to confiscate either the savings of other people or their capital goods.

  2. Corporate - In modern economies, large capital projects are usually undertaken by joint stock companies. One person or family would not have the resources to build a car assembly plant. This is what some people refer to as capitalism

  3. Private - In western countries, capital goods can be owned by private individuals.

  4. Families - In Jesus time, most capital goods were owned by families. When Peter and Andrew and James and John left their boats, they were not left rotting on the beach. The boats were owned by their family and other members of their family would have carried on operating them. This is why Peter could go fishing after Jesus died. He still had access to the family boat and nets.

As the Christian influence spreads in society, we should expect to see more capital goods being established in local communities and being owned by Christian families.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jesus on Money (23) - Source of Capital

Capital can be obtained in several ways.

  1. Make - In traditional societies capital goods are made by the people who use them. Fishermen made their own nets. Noah built the ark himself. Making capital goods is difficult in a subsistence society, because food has to be stores up to live on, while the capital equipment is made.

  2. Savings - In the modern, world the most common way to obtain capital goods is to save up the money and buy them.

  3. Borrow - The money to buy the capital goods can be borrowed. This is using the savings of other people. The income from using the capital goods would need to be sufficient to cover the interest that would be paid on the loan. Sometime the capital goods can be borrowed directly from the owner, eg renting a truck.

  4. Inherit - Some capital goods have long lives. People sometimes inherit them from their parents.

  5. Steal - Throughout history, the most common way to obtain capital has been to steal it from the person who made it. Feudal lords gained most of their capital by confiscating it. In recent times, democratic governments have claimed the right to seize capital goods from their owners.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jesus on Money (22) - Capital

When Deacons are assisting new Christian to give away their unrighteous wealth, they must be careful that they do not de-capitalise the Christian community. Deacons must understand the importance of capital. Capital goods are important, because they make humans more productive. Capital and trade are the keys to escaping subsistence.

Economists distinguish between capital goods and consumption goods. The word capital is used to describe goods that can be used to produce other goods. A spade is a capital good. You cannot eat it if you are hungry, but you can use it to produce food. Capital goods include machinery and factories.

Consumer goods cannot be used to produce other goods. They produced for household or personal in satisfy human wants and needs. A banana is a consumer good. You cannot use it to make things, but it will satisfy your hunger. Some goods are both capital and consumption goods. When I use my computer to write articles it is a capital good. If I play games on my computer for entertainment, it becomes a consumption good.

In Jesus time, the most important capital good was land, but oxen, donkeys, fishing boats, nets and builders tools were also important. A family with a fishing boat and nets could feed and cloth themselves, whereas those without some capital might be destitute.

In modern times capital has become more complex. The capital of an airline is its aeroplanes. The capital of a courier business is its vans and computers.

The well being of a community is largely determined by the volume of capital goods available. A society with no capital goods is forced into subsistence. A society with capital good will have a better lifestyle.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jesus on Money (21) - Someone Else

Parallelism is a poetic form that is common in Hebrew poetry. An idea is repeated in a slightly different form with the same message. Jesus used this method when interpreting the parable of the Shrewd Manager.

Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon,
who will commit to your trust the true riches?
And if you have not been faithful with another man’s wealth,
who will give you what is your own (Luke 16:11-12)?
The message of these two verses is the same. If we have not been faithful with unrighteous wealth, God will not trust us with true wealth.

The important thing is how Jesus described unrighteous wealth. In verse 11, he called it “unrighteous mammon”. In verse 12, he referred to it as “another man’s wealth”. Jesus is saying that “unrighteous wealth” really belongs to another person. The person with unrighteous wealth actually controls something that belongs to someone else.

The only faithful solution is to return that wealth to that other person. Often the “other person” will be unknown. However, if the other person has lost his wealth, he will most likely be poor. Therefore, the second best solution is to return the unrighteous wealth to the poor. This might not hit the right person, but at least it would go to “another person” who may have lost their wealth to someone else.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jesus on Money (20) - Common Temptation

A common temptation is for the new Christian to say, “I will hang onto my unrighteous wealth, but I will use it for God’s purpose”. Christian leaders will often agree with this temptation, because they have some works that need financial support. This temptation is wrong for two reasons.

  1. The gospels say that unrighteous wealth should be given to the poor. This is just because the wealth was taken from the poor. The gospels never say that unrighteous wealth should be used to support Christian ministries. Support for Christian ministries should come through relationships, not through channelling unrighteous wealth.

  2. Unrighteous wealth is not neutral. It carries a spirit of greed and avarice. The new Christian needs to get free from these spirits that have controlled their lives. If they hang onto their unrighteous wealth, they will remain vulnerable to those spirits. They will be caught in an endless power struggle between their new master and their old master.

The unrighteous wealth is of no value to God, but it is can be a big burden for a new Christian. They must deal with it, before they can receive the true gifts that Jesus has for them. Some of the listeners could not accept Jesus teaching and it cost them.
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus (Luke 16:14).
Refusing to deal with unrighteous wealth is dangerous.

This full series of posts can be read at Jesus on Money.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jesus on Money (19) - Poverty and Work

When dealing with unrighteous wealth, there are several traps that must be avoided. The person who gives away all their unrighteous wealth might end up in poverty. The Christians around them will have to ensure that they have financial support. This will be quite humbling for the new Christian. They will go from a position of power and independence to a place of dependence on others. This will be had to deal with, but will be good for their character.

In the past, they have will have gained wealth by manipulation and control. They need to be taught how to earn their living by honest work.

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need (Eph 4:28).
Making this change will be very difficult, so the new Christian will need strong support from Christian elders and friends.
Whoever is faithful with very little is faithful with much, and whoever is unrighteous with very little will also be unrighteous with much. (Luke 16:10)
If the person has been unrighteous with much, they will need to learn to be faithful with a little for a while.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Jesus on Money (18) - Repent of Unrighteousness

To repent is to turn and leave it behind. There are four ways to repent from unrighteous wealth.

1. Restore Capital
The best way to deal with unrighteous wealth is to return the capital to the people from whom it was extorted. The shrewd steward is a good example. He had previously squeezed the rich man’s tenants hard by enforcing exorbitant rents that made their lives miserable. He put things right by letting the tenants change their written tenancy agreements to a more reasonable rental. By halving the payment to 500 bushels of wheat, the steward would make the tenants wheat farming economic. By halving the payment of olive oil to 400 gallons, the steward was making the farming of the olive grove economic for the tenant farmer.

The best option for the repentant owner of unrighteous wealth is to return some wealth to the people that were de-capitalised when the unrighteous wealth was acquired from them. If the asset cannot be returned, the rent should be reduced. This has the effect of re-capitalising the strugglers.

2. Make Restitution
If the unrighteous wealth has been stolen from innocent people, the repentant owner should make fourfold restitution.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep (Ex 22:1).
Zachhaeus the tax collector promised Jesus that he would fulfil this command.
Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold (Luke 19:8).
He promised to make restitution for everything that was stolen. He could not identify all the people that he had stolen from, so he gave half his possessions to the poor as an alternative.

3. Give to the Poor
Sometimes the new Christian will not be able to return their unrighteous wealth to the people from whom it was acquired. The owners may have gone away, or died, or simply be unknown. In this situation, the unrighteous wealth should be given away to the poor and needy.

Jesus challenged the rich young ruler to give all his wealth away, because it was unrighteous wealth that had been acquired by unrighteousness.
Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22).
The book of Acts records examples of new Christians selling their unrighteous wealth and giving it to the poor.

Sometimes the repentant rich person will give the money away themselves. In most situations, they will work with deacons they trust. Deacons will have relationships with a many people in need, so they can help the person give their unrighteous wealth to deserving people.

Deacons will provide advice to new Christians. They will know about needs that could be met. They will handle money that is entrusted to them, but they must not tell new Christians what to do.

4. Even Up Capital
The reason for the uneven distribution of wealth in the modern world is that capital is unevenly distributed. Yet Paul says that equality is an important goal.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality (2 Cor 8:13).
This is a dilemma. Everyone thinks equality is a good idea, but no one knows how it can be achieved. Robin Hood tried to achieve it, by robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Socialists try and achieve it by taxing the rich and giving benefits to the poor. Neither of these methods has worked.

The Christian answer to the dilemma of equality in an unequal world is radical sharing, particularly sharing of capital. Those who have plenty of capital should give to those who don’t have much. This was Jesus solution to the problems cause by inequality of capital.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12;33).
Sometimes people will give food and clothing to the poor, but in many situations, providing the poor with capital (land, fishing boats, nets, tools) will help them more.

When helping people to give away unrighteous wealth, deacons should channel gifts of capital to poor people who have the capability to use it responsibly to be more productive. They would need to training in conserving capital and using it wisely. Transferring capital to the poor by giving and sharing will move the world closer to equality.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Jesus on Money (17) - Unrighteous Mammon

Jesus warned that unrighteous mammon can prevent us from serving God.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:13).
We are servants of God. We cannot serve God and mammon. This creates a problem for wealthy people who become Christians. If their wealth has been gained righteously, it should not have a hold on them. If they are the owners of wealth that has been gained unrighteously, they have a seriously problem, because they will be partly controlled by the spirit of mammon.

A new Christian is required to repent from all “dead works” (Heb 6:1). Repentance means turning around and going in a new direction. The old unrighteous life must be left behind. This means that the owners of unrighteous mammon must turn from their unrighteous wealth and leave it behind.

When rich people Christians repent and follow Jesus, they need to get rid of their unrighteous wealth. They cannot be servants of unrighteous mammon and a servant of Jesus.

How do we distinguish righteous from unrighteous wealth. The key is in the way it was acquired. Unrighteous wealth will have been obtained through deception, theft, manipulation or dishonesty. In Jesus time, it was often acquired through collusion with the political and religious powers. That problem has not changed, but the form will be different. Today the government will often give a group of people a monopoly power over an aspect of the economy that enables them to become wealthy.

Most unrighteous wealth will be obvious. If it is not obvious, we can leave it to the Holy Spirit. He will convict the new Christian, if his wealth is unrighteous and needs to be “got shot of”. We can trust the Spirit to do this task. Christian elders must not get into the business of forcing new Christians to give away their wealth, whether it unrighteous or not. (The Ananias and Saphira incident probably occurred because people were coming under inappropriate pressure to give wealth away (Acts 5:1-10)).

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Jesus on Money (16) - Righteous and Unrighteous

In the parable of the Shrewd Steward, Jesus speaks of unrighteous mammon. Mammon is a Syriac word for money and the idol of wealth. The wealth of the rich man was unrighteous mammon, because it had been gained by unrighteous means.

The corollary of this there must be righteous wealth as well. Wealth that is earned by working hard to meet the needs of other people is righteous wealth. Any honestly earned money that is saved is righteous wealth. Any capital goods that have been paid with honestly saved money are righteous wealth.

In Jesus time, there was not much righteous wealth, because the only way to obtain wealth was to do deals with political and religious powers. There is plenty of unrighteous wealth in the modern world too, but it is possible to gain wealth righteously as well. People who work hard for their wages can gain righteous wealth. The owners of businesses that provide reliable goods and services that people need can gain righteous wealth.

Righteous wealth is not an obstacle to the gospel. Unrighteous wealth creates hostility, so it hinders the gospel. It can distract a Christian from God.

Waitangi and Sovereignty

The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand. An important aspect of the treaty is often missed.

In the second clause of the Maori version of the Treaty of Waitangi, the crown agreed to protect the tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty) of the chiefs and hapu (subtribes) and all the people of New Zealand over “their lands, villages and all their treasures”. The English version expands the latter expression to include “lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties”. This clause is really important as it places significant limits on the authority of the state. It cannot interfere in the lives of the people or their possessions unless a crime occurs.

The first point, which is seldom noticed, is that it applies to “all the people of New Zealand” nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani). The second clause is for all people, and not just to Maori.

Secondly, the treaty recognises that ‘sovereignty” belongs to individuals, families and tribes and not to the Crown. The treaty does not create this sovereignty, but recognises that people already have it. The right to control legally acquired property is given by God (Exodus 20:15). It is not given by the State. It cannot interfere with a person’s property unless it is acquired by illegal activity or a crime occurs within it. Thus the treaty provides a protection for everyone against an imperialist and totalitarian state.

This ties in with the first clause of the Treaty, which gave the crown “kawanatanga” (a transliteration of governorship) over New Zealand. This is a lesser authority than sovereignty. The national government does not have sovereignty, but only governorship.

What does governorship mean? If the people and tribes have sovereignty, then governorship must be limited to the authority that they hand over to the crown. And if the people and tribes remain sovereign, they can take back authority that they have given. The governorship of the central state is limited to what the sovereign people have given to it.

Sovereignty in New Zealand belongs to people, families and tribes, not to the central state.

Special Days

Today is Waitangi Day, when the founding of New Zealand is celebrated. I do not get into special days. For me, today is just like any other Saturday. I will mow the lawn and set up some blog posts for the next week. And I will keep on thinking!

Paul said,

One man considers one day more sacred than another;
another man considers every day alike (Rom 14:5).
I must be the second type of man. Today is just like every other Saturday to me.

Other people get excited about this day. That's fine with me; as long as they do not expect me to share their excitement.


Our flags are causing controversy. A decision was made recently that the Maori Tino Rangatiratanga flag could be flown on some civic buildings.

One civic leader has objected to the flag, saying that it "racist and divisive".

Someone else said that the Union Jack (British Flag) in one corner of the official NZ flag is also racist and divisive.

I do not care about flags. I do not see any point in having one. Flags are only really of any use during a war when one nation is invading another. They are symbols of nationalism and militarism. I prefer peace to a flag.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Jesus on Money (15) - Shrewd Steward

The parable of the Shrewd Steward contains important teaching on money, but it is often misunderstood, because people assume that the rich man in the parable represents God.

There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.”

The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” “Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,” he replied. The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.”

Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?” “A thousand bushels of wheat,” he replied. He told him, “Take your bill and make it eight hundred.”

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly (Luke 16:1-8).
In Jesus time, the only way to could get rich was through theft or political collusion. When Moses led the children of Israel into Canaan, the land was divided evenly among the families, but by Romans times, this had all changed. Most of the land had been accumulated into large estates. The Romans handed out land to the people who were loyal to them. Herod did the same. This land was often confiscated from innocent and ordinary people.

Some of the people who lost their land were forced into a miserable life as tenant farmers. In return for the use of the land, they would have to give the rich owner, a proportion of their crops. The land owner held all the power in this relationship, so they could demand a large share of the crops. If the crop was good, the land owner would get most of it. If the crop was bad, the land owner would still take their due, and the tenant farmer would be left to starve. If the tenant could not produce enough to meet the land owners share, the balance would be added as a debt against the next year’s production.

This setup worked in the favour of the land owner. The tenant carried all of the risk, but got very little in return. The land owner gained a good return, but carried very little risk. He could easily replace a troublesome tenant farmer with another, because the countryside was full of landless peasants. The only risk for the owner was that he might fall out of favour with the political powers and have his land confiscated. This is why the Sadducees and the Herodians were so afraid of upsetting the Romans. They were big land owners with a lot to lose.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Jesus on Money (14) - Different Order

Acts 2 provides a solution to our isolation. The early church was altogether in one place, so they sold their possessions and property. In the modern world, the antidote is the same, but the order is the other way around. Our problem is that suburban property prevents us from being together. The solution is

Selling their property and possessions (Acts 2:45).
Once Christians have sold their properties so they will be able to move closer to the other Christians that they relate to.
All the believers were in one place (Acts 2:44)
This is the ultimate goal. We must be together, so that we can love each other, as Jesus loved us.

Some of those who sell their houses to move closer to other Christians will be selling down. This will release a surplus that can be used to provide financial support Christians who lack resources.
They were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need (v44).
When Christians live closer to each other, serious sharing becomes a practical alternative. Community life will be restored to our neighbourhoods, when Christians sell their houses and buy houses together to live in one place

This radical change will not happen by accident. Locality-based apostles working street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood can change our societies from the bottom up. This process is described in full in the Apostolic Way.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Jesus on Money (13) - Isolated Christians

The church should be strengthening the foundations of society, but this is not happening. Western society has been shaped by the automobile and the church has gone along for the ride.

Whereas the early Christians were “all together in one place”, modern Christians drive to church, just as they drive to work and to shop. The church is almost as socially fragmented as the rest of society. This is sad, because Christians are supposed to be experts on fellowship and loving one another. We should be a powerful force in strengthening local communities.

The collapse of community and our fragmented lifestyle prevents us from living out Jesus teaching on money. We have to build up treasures in superannuation and insurance schemes, because we are not part of Christian communities that will support us in time of trouble. We do not have relationships with Christians committed to providing financial support to each other. Isolated Christians have no choice but to fend for themselves by storing up treasure on earth. The most urgent need in our society is the restoration of local community.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Jesus on Money (12) - The Modern Problem

Our modern problem the West is different from that which existed in Jesus time. Uneven distribution of wealth is still a serious problem, but it is not the show stopper that it was in Jesus time. Most people in the Western world have escaped subsistence and own some property.

The big problem eating the heart out of our modern culture is the collapse of community. Industrialisation, globalisation and urbanisation have eliminated the links between people that once held our society together. Members of a family can travel all over the world to live and work. Individuals and families live in isolation from each other.

The collapse of community is greatest in modern cities, where migration and urbanisation have broken down traditional community relationships. Social mobility prevents stable relationships from developing and family life is breaking down. People become cogs in the corporate machine and life is characterised by loneliness and personal insecurity.

Modern suburban culture creates barriers to communication and encourages individualism. As communities are breaking down and fear is rising, high fences are going up between houses isolating people from each other. This isolation means that most people do not belong to the community where they live.

This isolation and dislocation of urban society has been accompanied by the aggregation and accumulation of political power to the modern state. We now face the bizarre situation where needs are concentrated in individuals, but power and money is concentrated at the national level. This leaves families and individuals powerless before a faceless government.

To restore to cohesion of our societies, real community will have to restored to our societies, but it is not clear who will do it. Politicians have an inbuilt tendency to push power and money to the top, so they will always weaken society at its lowest level.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Jesus on Money (11) - Understanding the Problem

Before applying the New Testament teaching on money, we must understand the nature of the problem we are attempting to solve. The problems with our culture are very different from those faced by the people in Jesus time.

In New Testament times, most people already lived in close community. Shopkeepers had their homes and shops on the same street. Trades people tended to live close to people with the same trade. Outside Jerusalem, many people still lived in villages. Lack of community was not the core problem.

The problem that really made the people miserable was that most land had been accumulated into large estates. The Romans and Herod handed land out to the people who were loyal to them. This land was often confiscated from innocent and ordinary people. As land was the main source of income in those times, people who lost their land faced persistent poverty.

The other way to gain wealth was to get your nose in the trough of the various temple scams. That option was reserved for those with the right connections. A pilgrimage to the temple made most people worse off. Even those who were poor would have to buy a couple of pigeons. The temple system robbed the ordinary people and did not provide any economic support.

Permanent employment was rare, so large numbers of landless people faced a hand-to-mouth existence by getting casual work whenever they could. In Jesus parable of the Vineyard workers, some people only got work for the last hour the day (Matt 20:1-8). That was a normal situation. People spent their time standing in the market place hoping some work might turn up. What a precarious existence. No wonder the Vineyard owner decided to be generous.

The shrewd steward is another example. If he lost his job, his choices were sparse.

My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg (Luke 16:3).
The commentators tend to say that he was lazy or proud, but he was being very realistic. He might get casual work as a daily labourer, but if not he would have to beg.

The actions taken by the early church were an attempt to deal with this problem of persistent poverty and economic insecurity.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:44-45).
The believers sold land to reverse the accumulation of property and to relieve the widespread poverty.