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The Power of Money

Ian Purdy

It's time I admitted something that a couple of my friends have been saying about me for the past few months. I am obsessed with money: how to make money, how to spend money, and, much less frequently, how to give money.

Christians need to talk more about money. Not about how to make money, nor about how to spend it, though we definitely do need to consider creative ways of giving -- but most importantly, we need to talk about the power that money has in our lives.

Yet I'm sure that I'm not alone in this. I am not the only money addict. Over the past year the New Zealand media has been saturated with tales of escalating prices in the Auckland property market. Every day the evening news updates the performance of the New Zealand share market. Magazines are full of the bizarre antics of rich people, and one of the most popular shows on television is a 'reality' show that follows two rich heiresses on an inane journey around America.

Since the economic revolution of the late 1980s and early '90s, New Zealand culture has rapidly adopted the idea that economic efficiency is the foremost criterion for evaluation of any government, corporate or individual activity. We have rapidly become a society obsessed with money.

Christians are so steeped in this culture that our churches also have progressively adopted society's economic worldview. Despite Jesus' command not to be concerned about wealth, the church doesn't seem to be far behind the rest of society. Every growing church has a building programme, every church in numerical decline worries about how they will pay the bills, and those in the middle worry about who made the mark on the new paint in the church hall.

Sometimes we value buildings more than people, the carpet more than the youth group and the potential donations of the rich more than the simplicity of the poor.

From the way some Christians endorse the market economy, I'm inclined to think that the western Church has once more bowed the knee to the golden calf. But here's a newsflash: Heaven will not be a capitalist democracy!1

If you were to pick up any introductory economics textbook, invariably the great Adam Smith and his 'invisible hand' will dominate the opening chapters. Smith believed that if a person acted to maximize their own wealth, the wealth of society would also be maximized. Therefore the 'invisible hand' of self-interest motivates the individual to act in the best interest of society.2

At the heart of capitalist belief lies the assertion that selfishness is good. Combine this with the assumption that resources are limited, mix in society's increasing individualism and you have everything you need to justify greed, covetousness and profligate consumption. To me the capitalist paradigm is the very antithesis of Christ's teaching about giving.3

Twenty-four percent of employed New Zealanders now work more than 50 hours per week in order to fund their increasingly debt-laden lifestyles. Credit card debt is now approximately $4 billion – that's $1,000 for every woman, man and child in New Zealand. Total personal debt, including mortgages, credit cards and hire purchase, is approximately $114 billion.

And what for? Many of the things that we now consider necessities weren't even invented 50 years ago! How can we possibly follow Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians to look to each others' interests when we are so busy paying off that debt?4

Let me ask you a question. Does your best friend know how much money you earned last year? Do your closest ten friends know? Why not? How is it that most people find it easier to talk about their sex lives than about their income? Jesus talked about money -- a lot. One verse in ten in the gospels speaks about wealth and material possessions (one verse in seven in Luke). And unfortunately for those of us living in the affluent west, Jesus was overwhelmingly negative about wealth.

My friends say I'm obsessed with money because I talk about it all the time, but I think that Christians need to talk more about money. Not about how to make money (although the ethics of making money are vital), nor about how to spend it (although avoiding waste is good stewardship), but we definitely do need to consider creative ways of giving -- and most importantly, we need to talk about the power that money has in our lives. We need to have our eyes opened to the 'golden calf' that sits on the altar of our church and the mantelpiece of our home.