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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Helping or Moneychanging? 

John 2:14-16:

John 2:14-16 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

Luke 12:27-28:

Luke 12:27-28 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

27"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

Matthew 25:34-36 (again):

Matthew 25:34-36 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Let's examine these three verses in context, starting with a post from Cerulean Sanctum. After quoting from Exodus 5, he launches into his post, Gathering Stubble for Bricks. This is just a short excerpt:

About 1,800 people from my area work at the Ford CVT Transmission Plant in Batavia, the largest town within twenty miles of me. Ford announced this week that the plant will be closed by 2008. The repercussions of this will be felt for miles--and for decades....

I simply don't understand why the Church has kept employment on the back burner. There's nothing we do each day that consumes more time than our jobs, but from the paucity of interest the Church seems to take in our employment, you'd think there was something sinful about working. Scratch that. We talk about sin all the time. It's the everyday parts of life we don't hear about on Sunday....

Why is the issue of our jobs and the economy so inconsequential to the leaders of our churches? During the last economic bust, the number one prayer concern at my old church was for jobs, but it took the church forever to realize they needed to be more active in meeting that need. Does it have to be that way?

Jennifer built on these thoughts in her post What Good Is It? After quoting from James 2 about how our deeds need to match our faith, Jennifer continued, in part:

[T]he working poor [is] a growing category of millions of Americans who play by the rules of the working world and still can't make ends meet. Many are trapped in a Catch 22: They make too much money to qualify for benefits like Medicaid or food stamps, yet too little to provide for their families. Increasingly, experts are seeing this phenomenon in middle-class, suburban neighborhoods who were once immune to such hardships.

What can we as Christians do to reach out to these hurting people? What role does the church play in this story?...

In the comments area, Stag suggested the following:

First off....big business is not as big as you might think...it uses up 90% of all city resources (power, roads, water, etc) to employ only about 10% of the population. A researcher like yourself can get exact figures, but when you think about it, it makes a sort of encouraging sense. Therefore, the proper response is not to support more big business, but to support the businesses which actually employ people. The farmers, the restaurant owners, the barbers, the doctors, the mechanics, the contractors, the renovators, the locksmiths, your neighbours.

Open small businesses. 90% of all business in the US have fewer than 10 employees. Support entrepreneurs. Buy local produce, and farm goods. Buy local products, artwork, toys, whatever you would have bought anyway. If you have some capital, help some body start a hair cutting studio, or a Massage Therapy studio, or whatever....

Jennifer then weighed in:

[W]hat if churches came up with a job search network? Like a bulletin board that would post people looking for work, as well as jobs we may know are available.

She then wrote an additional post on the entire matter of engaging the church in the economic well-being of its members (pass on your job skills to other church members, make professional/vocational education possible).

In essence, the thought process here argues that Christians need to address pain in the world by helping people in business. Does that make them moneychangers? Let's see some instances in which the term "moneychanger" is bandied about. Start with godweb:

Though almost everyone has heard of that dramatic scene when Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, his disciples have not always heeded his warning, "You cannot serve both God and Mammon." Indeed there are many Christians who have substituted a gospel of wealth for the good news of God's grace. It is, in fact, rather astounding, that many disciples of Jesus Christ, far from heeding his words -- "Go, sell all that you possess, and give it to the poor!" -- do exactly the opposite, amassing great wealth on the backs of the poor. This is disturbing enough when it is done in corporate board rooms, suburban shopping malls, or inner city bodegas, where the profit motive plays a legitimate role, but when the profiteering is done in the name and under the banner of the Prince of Peace; when keeping the faith is seen as far less important than making a fast buck, then God has been replaced by Mammon.

As the Internet becomes a marketplace as much as a medium of communication, such contradictions are becoming more and more evident within the temples of cyberspace. Promoters of every stripe are putting the gospel on sale in the form of jewelry, T-shirts, and trinkets of every kind. In these so-called Christian websites the faith is packaged, promoted, and sold like any other product. A whole new category of sites promotes "Christian businesses" and the notion that somehow there is a Christian way to get rich quick. At home. Without actually doing much of anything. By way of illustration, let's take a look at a website that advertises under the title: Christian Millionaires. I love it when "work at home" schemers imply that you can make millions of dollars, but don't tell you what you will actually be doing to make all this money. This website tells you a lot about what you won't be doing, but nothing about what you will be expected to do to earn $7,000 over and over again. I don't know about you, but there is something deeply reprehensible about using deceptive advertising to sell a product or service that is described as being "Christian." When does an object or activity become "Christian" anyway? Does a T-shirt become "Christian" simply because it has a picture of Jesus on it? What if it's a tasteless rendering of our Lord? What if the product was manufactured in a sweat shop somewhere in Asia by workers being exploited in unsafe working conditions, paid less than subsistence wages? Does your Mercedes become a "Christian car" if you replace the Mercedes emblem with a cross?

Well, in this case a particular type of business is being targeted - the "get rich quick" schemes. But here's an example in which people use Christianity for monetary profit:

The moneychangers in Jesus’ day most likely did not set out to deceive the people. They probably originally wanted to provide an inexpensive service for the people and at the same time provide funds for the Temple. It was good for all parties involved. But, somewhere along the way, things seemed to get out of control and the moneychangers began to take more and more profit for the benefit of themselves, at the expense of the people who were obliged to purchase “blessed” sacrifice animals.

Even so, the moneychangers in today’s church world are probably not interested in hurting people; nor do they set out to intentionally deceive. They generally just want to sell a product that will most likely help people and make a profit while doing so. Unfortunately many use the church, the pastor, or the integrity of the church and its members to accomplish those goals by using Christian catch words to get their “foot in the church door” (James 3:16) and appealing to the customary character of Christianity: helping people.

(note to self - return to this article at some point)

In my view, a church can (and should) help its members to gain employment, but needs to be careful in doing so. I'll try to return to this issue later.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Thank you for linking to my post at Cerulean Sanctum.

Obviously, I come down on the "Helping" side of the question. People need to work. Work is God-ordained from the beginning of Genesis. But a lot has changed in our society and work issues--at least where I live--are not being addressed by the Church.

Almost everyone I know is moving backwards. All the families that were ardently in favor of the husband being the sole breadwinner while the wife stays home and homeschools the kids is finding that model--so often set out as the Christian standard--is no longer viable. I don't know a lot of truly materialistic folks, just people trying to get by, and those folks are doing worse.

I know that the pressure on my family is extreme. Our electrical bills increased 30% and gas is running almost a dollar more per gallon than it was just last year. Our taxes have increased significantly, too. But many in my area are finding their income is stagnant or dropping. Many people I know are making 10-20% less money than they were in 2000.

What bothers me is that major Church leaders in this country never address work issues. Unlike their counterparts in the early 1900s who fought for decent wages, better working conditions, and worked with businesses to ensure ethical treatment of their employees, there are no leaders in the American Church who are still speaking to those issues. That hurts.

The early Church was not destitute. There were rich people who financed mission trips and helped the poor. The Church itself was described as seeing that no one went wanting. Yet I continue to hear horror stories, and even see a few with my own eyes, where good Christians are going bankrupt through no fault of their own, while the people sitting next to them in the pews are buying their third car or a 60" plasma TV. That's just wrong and violates Acts 4:34-35.

I could say more, but I've written enough. Signs are increasing that our economy is slowing down again. How will the Church weather the next recession? Are we preparing?
Interesting perspective, OE. I'm mulling it over. I certainly don't want to be advocating money changing! I agree with Dan's position, especially in regards to the "Christian model" of the man bringing home the bacon and the woman frying it up in a pan.
Sorry, Jennifer, your comment about bacon was offensive to Jews and Muslims, so I'm deleting it. :)

I was raised (in the 1960s and 1970s) in a family with one working parent. My daughter was initially raised in a family with two working parents, until my wife's injury forced her to stay at home. However, my job is a fairly good job, so we weren't devastated by this change.

I suspect that Dan's, Jennifer's and my blog will continue to explore this topic.
Hey listen man, this is a free country and I can exercise my First Amendment rights. I cry censorship!
Jennifer, stop picketing outside my blog.
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