Thursday, March 08, 2007

Questions from the Methodist

Is wealth compatible with the Christian faith?
Yes of course. While wealth can be a spiritual stumbling block, it can also be spiritually liberating. Solomon's proverbs give a very favorable impression of wealth. He takes the stance that rich people have more choices and effectively more freedom than the poor who must scrounge for their next meal and compromise their morals in order feed themselves or their family.

But money must not be your true love. You cannot allow it to be your God. Money is a thing and a gift given to us by God as a resource to use for his glory.

from Michael Spencer:
In my Baptist upbringing, we were frequently told that weekly communion turned the supper into a meaningless, rote ritual. Roman Catholics and those in the “Disciples of Christ” churches were examples. Of course, this same standard didn’t seem to apply to preaching, the offering, choir specials, hymns and, of course, the offering. It is was always obvious to me that the kinds of demeaning language used in describing frequent communion was not rooted in the Bible, but is simple prejudice: we don’t want to be like the Catholics.
I'm not a Southern Baptist. I don't think I could be. Among other things I drink too much. "Too much" meaning that I actually had a beer sometime before Christmas (mmm, Yeungling) and I have had the same bottle of Glenlivet in my possession since I was in Graduate School. Oh and the whole married to a Jew thing. Might be an issue.

Anyway, it is my understanding that the reason most Protestant denominations do not hold communion weekly has much more to do with organizational and traditional issues than anything theological. My current church holds communion the first Sunday of the month, but way back when I was PCA I think it was quarterly.

This whole thing got start because at many times in church history, there haven't been enough ministers to go around. The colonial period. The westward expansion. Even now some denominations like the Methodists are having trouble meeting their staffing needs. Many denominations solved this by having ministers "ride the circuit" to several churches. You had communion when you had a minister in town, otherwise not. Depending on the size of the circuit this meant you probably wouldn't have communion more than once a month and sometimes it was a lot longer than that depending on staffing and geography. Even though a lot of churches now have their own pastors, they rarely have communion more than once a month. Why? Well because once a month was good enough back in grandpa's day... etc. The exception became common and then became the new norm.

In short, our communion schedule is more about liturgical tradition than any theological reasoning.

Frankly, modern Protestant practice kind of stinks. The Christian sacrament of Communion harkens back to the Jewish sabbath ceremonies of breaking bread and sharing wine. While you may thing that this is a Passover activity, in fact an observant Jewish family will share the bread and wine once a week on the sabbath. I actually enjoy this part of the Friday dinner with Amy's family a lot, even though the prayers are in Hebrew and therefore completely unintelligible to me. It seems to me that a more frequent observance of Christian Communion wouldn't hurt anything (unless people are partaking improperly of course) and may serve to strengthen the bonds of the Church with God and with each other.

Jeff, how would you distinguish between a person living in luxury whose wealth is a stumbling block from a person living in luxury whose wealth is not a stumbling block?
By how they use their money of course. When you look at lessons like the Parable of the Talents, inequality in wealth or ability isn't necessarily a bad thing. What is bad is using that wealth or ability unwisely or inappropriately.

Don't be a glutton. Don't be a miser. Don't squander it. And above all be humble. You have been given much by God, so you must invest much for God. Invest in the less fortunately by giving to charity or investing in businesses that can train them or employ them. Invest to improve everyone's quality of life. If you have enough money to be comfortable, then do not be afraid to be generous.

But ultimately, and here is the tough part for a lot of Christians, we may not be able to tell. Just as ultimately it is God's money, so ultimately it is also God who judges who was the good servant and who buried the money in the ground. Not me and not you. And perhaps, as good Christians, we should remember that. The person you are most capable of judging is yourself. Think how you are using what God has given you. Take the plank from your own eye first and don't worry about what other people are doing. Have faith, God will sort them out soon enough.

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