The use of wealth in worship and the church is as old as Genesis 4: 3-4 and as recent as the offering last Sunday morning. Likewise wealth has been sought after as early as Genesis 26: 13, 14 and as recently as the reader's latest investment. The Scripture is full of references to good and bad uses of wealth in the lives of God's people.
In the Mennonite Churches it seems there has been greater emphasis on the temptations and evils of wealth, rather than the faithful and effective use of wealth to continue the work Christ began. This negative teaching on wealth has divided families, inspired some to join communal groups, and led some successful business persons to leave the Mennonite fold and join the Presbyterians, Methodists, or other Christian denominations.
The Bible speaks forthrightly about wealth being one of the tools in the hands of the Christian to advance the kingdom. From creation (birth), we are gifted with about 75 years (time), with intellect (ability and talents), and we are born into a material world (property, money, wealth). With these three gifts at birth (time, talent and treasure), we are given freedom and independence to use them to achieve our goals in life -- whether selfish or humanitarian.
When we become Christians we become new persons, as the apostle Paul says. We are entrusted with the gospel and given new goals and new purposes in life. At that moment our gifts from creation (time, talent, wealth) become the tools we use in continuing the work that Christ began, namely, communicating the gospel. Our mission and our stewardship is to use our gifts received at the time of our birth to advance and promote our gift of redemption.
For example, a carpenter is not hired to take selfish care of tools. They are to be used, even worn out, in building a house. Likewise, Christians are to use their wealth, as well as their time and intellect, in building the kingdom of God. In fact there is a very close relationship between quality and excellence of the church's program and the adequacy of money to support it. This can be shown diagrammatically as follows:
The mission statement of a church agency is the controlling document for its board of trustees. But the mission statement is powerless until that mission is expressed through a program. For instance, a mission board has home and foreign missions with personnel, travel, salaries, facilities, furloughs, etc. Not one aspect of the program can be put into action without money (wealth). Wealth makes possible a program which puts into action the mission of the church. Note the flow of the arrows in the diagram. The perceived and accepted mission of the church is primary to any group or agency but the church's mission is frequently poorly executed through its program because of the inadequacy of financial resources to undergird it.
This inadequacy of financial resources has occurred because of the church's failure to keep together the triad of creation gifts (time, talent and wealth). The church "overemphasized" the importance of service, study, and use of time, and has spoken negatively on money. We have emphasized the "go sell" [your wealth] portions of the Scriptures over the "effective use of"' [wealth] portions of the Scripture. For instance, rarely does a pastor speak on the dishonest steward passage (Luke 16). Here Jesus is clearly saying that the people of the world know what money is for -- they use it to gain their purposes (mission). Likewise Christians should be just as wise as the people of the world, by using their money for the purposes (mission) of the church. Through our teaching and emphasis, we have separated what God intended to be together -- mission and its means of accomplishment (wealth).
One way to teach this concept is to show that money (wages) are a person's mind and energy expressed in portable form. For instance, a smile will not purchase a suit from a clothing store. Yet one can work at some job and be paid wages for brawn, ability and even charm (personality), then go to the clothing merchant and write a check to receive a suit of clothes.
Translating this concept of wealth to the triangular diagram above, everyone through his or her wealth can be a part of the church's mission. The one who "goes" is no more important than the one who "supports." This links the entrepreneur to the church's mission in a creative way. People of wealth begin to see they are just as important to the church as the teachers, ministers, missionaries, or service workers.
This concept of the role of wealth is clearly described by a famous preacher of a past generation. "Money is a miraculous thing. It is your personal energy reduced to portable form and endowed with power you do not possess. It can go where you cannot go, speak languages you cannot speak, lift burdens you cannot touch with your fingers, save lives with which you cannot deal directly."
God certainly did not intend the church to be poor. Through a two-step plan, first fruits and jubilee, adequate provisions for stewardship have been made. Through first fruits, we give regularly from current income throughout our life. Secondly, at the end of life (after 50 years) we leave a portion of our accumulated assets to the church. The problem has been with our unfaithfulness in teaching the importance of wealth in carrying out our kingdom responsibilities. We have indeed separated what God intended to be together-time, ability, wealth.
Kauffman, J. Howard and Leland Harder, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: a Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975: 275-77.
Urry, James. "Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth and the Mennonite Experience in Imperial Russia." Journal of Mennonite Studies 3 (1985): 7-35.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Kauffman, Daniel E. "Wealth." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 25 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/W425ME.html.
APA style: Kauffman, Daniel E. (1989). Wealth. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/W425ME.html.