Summary: Stop pursuing wealth, because: such a pursuit has made us (the American Church) sick; it never satisfies; and it is a snare into sin and self-destructive behavior.
Several years ago, Millard Fuller of Habitat for Humanity addressed the National Press Club on public radio, on which he recalled a workshop he conducted at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with 200 pastors in attendance. The assembled pastors quickly pointed toward greed and selfishness as the reason the church never had enough money to accomplish its mission in the world.
Millard then asked this seemingly innocent question: “Is it possible for a person to build a house so large that it’s sinful in the eyes of God? Raise your hand if you think so.”
All 200 pastors raised their hands.
“Okay,” said Millard, “then can you tell me at exactly what size, the precise square footage, a certain house becomes sinful to occupy?”
Silence from the pastors. You could have heard a pin drop.
Finally, a small, quiet voice spoke up from the back of the room: “When it is bigger than mine.” (Frank G. Honeycutt, Preaching to Skeptics and Seekers; www.PreachingToday.com)
In a society steeped with materialism and greed, it’s hard for believers like us to know when we have the same disease. We can see it in others (or so we think), but we cannot always see it in ourselves.
Even so, such a disease can be deadly to us as individual believers and to the church as a whole. I believe the pursuit of wealth has done more to weaken the American church than anything else I know. It has made us impotent to impact and change our culture when in fact the culture has changed us.
Many American pastors believe and teach that “God wants you to be rich,” and their sermons are filled with so-called “biblical principles for success.” As a result, our churches are filled with people more concerned about their retirement accounts than they are about reaching the lost.
Many American congregations are content to go on year after year maintaining their buildings and programs, but very rarely adding any new believers, and in fact losing 80 to 90 percent of their own children in the process, most of whom will never come back. The American church is sick, but there is a cure!
1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (NIV)
Wow! If that doesn’t describe the American church today, I don’t know what does. The 1st Century Church like the 21st Century American church faced some serious issues: false teachers who promote godliness as a means to financial gain; constant friction, controversies and quarrels; and people too proud to admit when they are wrong.
As we shall see, all this comes from the pursuit of wealth. All this comes from people – Christian people – working harder to expand their own portfolio than they are working
to expand the Kingdom of God. And…
SUCH A PURSUIT HAS MADE US SICK.
The pursuit of wealth has severely weakened the American church. Materialism has caused us to waste away to almost nothing in terms of our spiritual impact on the culture around us.
Verse 3 talks about those who do not “agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Literally, they do not agree with “healthy words.” Verse 4 talks about those who have “an unhealthy interest in controversies.” Lit., they are diseased with such things. & Verse 5 talks about “men of corrupt mind,” using a word that in other contexts describes the bodies of starving people, wasting away to nothing. Those who “think that godliness is a means to financial gain” are not well. Those who pursue wealth, even in the name of Christ, are sick.
That’s what the Bible says, and I’m afraid that the American church is riddled with that disease. That’s why the center of Christianity has now shifted from the global north, which includes North American and Europe, to the global south, which includes Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Kevin Kelly, in a recent issue of Willow Magazine, said: One hundred years ago there were almost no Christians in Korea. Now 50 percent of South Koreans identify themselves as Christians. A century ago the percentage of Christians in China was unnoticeable. [Now] we can expect 30 percent of the population of China will be Christian by 2040. Today African churches send more missionaries to the West than the West sends to Africa. On the other hand, everyday in Europe an old church is decommissioned. (Kevin Kelly, “The Next 1000 Years of Christianity,” Willow Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1)