Thursday, August 4, 2011

Calling the rich to repent?

"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as if it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
Behold, the hire of the labourers which have reaped down your field, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and have been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in the day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you."
James 5:1-6 (John Owen translation).

Over the past century or so, our nation, along with other western nations, have grown incredibly wealthy and comfortable. Comfortable beyond anything ever known before on earth. If anyone is to be placed in the category of 'the rich', it is us. We have lived in pleasure. We have heaped up treasures, personally and collectively. I dare say we have frauded other peoples out of their fair pay. The world itself is now facing quite a calamity due to our consumption patterns in the form of climate change and environmental degradation.

So, here is what Calvin has to say
"They are mistaken, I think, who consider that James here exhorts the rich to repentance. It seems to me to be a simple denunciation of God's judgment, by which he meant to terrify them without giving them any hope of pardon; for all that he says tends only to despair. He, therefore, does not address them in order to invite them to repentance; but, on the contrary, he has a regard to the faithful, that they, hearing of the miserable end of the rich, might not envy their fortune, and also that knowing that God would be the avenger of the wrongs they suffered, they might with a calm and resigned mind bear them"
Calvins Commentaries Vol 22, pp 342.

We can rest assured that God's church will continue until the end of the age, but it may not necessarily be in our part of the world.


byron smith said...

Silly Mike, don't you know that the rise of modern industrialised production and economics invalidates all the scriptural and historical testimony to the dangers of wealth and enables us to enjoy our comforts with a guilt-free conscience? It also renders invalid anything silly scientists might be saying to us.

Our economy can work miracles; it is the true wizard of Oz. Ignore the man behind the curtain. He is irrelevant.

Mike W said...

Last week I listened to a church leader outlining some cultural changes that have taken place over the last 100 years. The root of all of the problems was affluence.
I asked why it was that the church has been sucked into affluence along with our society "Oh well, it is just the air we breathe, you can't escape it" was the response.
He later got stuck into our nation for its lack of generosity and addiction to wealth. But here is the kicker. He said (roughly) 'I would never say this publicly as it would be too offensive'.
This is a man who has built his ministry on being offensive with the gospel. This is a man who (usually) is happy to be derided by the press, by other christians, by his friends.

He was also trying out an ipad for preaching.

byron smith said...

Did this person acknowledge in his outline that the root of all the problems was affluence or was that the conclusion that you drew from his words?

Mike W said...

He said that affluence was the root of the problems. Which was good.

Another bizarre thing he said was "there wont be another great depression, because your generation wouldn't be able to handle it, neither would mine, we simply don't know how to look after ourselves"

Which rather misses the point of the depression. i don't know that it was a choice.

Mike W said...

No, i should qualify that. in each of the genealogies of the problems, affluence was the beginning. So i guess it was presented as the historical root, rather than the moral root of the problems

byron smith said...

What a weird comment to make (about there not being another great depression). Was it possible that he meant any future depression would not bring about great moral/social improvements (as, arguably the one in the 30s did in many contexts - at least, apart from helping to generate WWII...)?

The moral problem is not affluence, it is the love of affluence. However, I think that once you reach certain levels of affluence, it is hard to say there is no love of affluence at play in any attempt to defend that affluence from criticism.

byron smith said...

But also a very weird comment to make about not saying these things publicly. I've been thinking recently about the need to say these things publicly (about our levels of consumption) - I think this has to be one of the major pieces of social criticism the church needs to be making today. I am more and more convinced that it represents the most significant and destructive contemporary idolatry (and there is stiff competition for that title!).

If I haven't already recommended it (a review on my blog will be coming soon, possibly), make sure you get your hands on Consumer Detox by Mark Powley. Gold, gold, gold. This is the populist Christian anti-consumerism book I have been praying for.

Mike B said...

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I didn't think he said there won't BE another Great Depression. He was just saying that if there was, our generation is in a far worse position to deal with it than those who lived through the original Great Depression were.

I'm also not sure you're quite right about the thing he didn't want to say publicly. But I can't offer my alternative without betraying his confidence (after all, it isn't too hard to join the dots in these posts / comments).

Still, I totally agree that the love of affluence is the main thing / one of the main things the church ought to be publicly critiquing.

Mike W said...

Thanks Mike B, perhaps I have been a little harsh in my assessment, and I can admit to not being at the peak of my attentive skills while all these things were said.
Still, don't you find it weird that we go 'hardhitting' on everything other than our opulent wealth?

@ Byron.
Yeh I've seen this book but haven't read it.

Mike B said...

I do, and I agree with the spirit of your post.

I've now heard the whole ref-charo thing 3/4 times now, and this was the first time I've heard a specific justification for calling Driscoll et al 'fourth wave charismatics'. Though I still think it's about as logical as calling the present government of Germany 'fourth wave Nazis'. Sure, Driscoll et al may have one or two things in common with 20th C charos, but he has also publicly denounced much of their theology and practice.

I'm glad to be taught about dangers in other theologies, but yes, one of the biggest dangers in our own theology (consumerism dressed up as 'enjoying God's good gifts') needs much more of our airtime.