Materialism and the Church

The second “tooth” of the wolf that Sittema talks about is materialism. Secularism is the idea that the here and now is all that’s important. Materialism says that stuff is all that’s important. So, secularism has more to do with time, whereas materialism has more to do with space (see p. 55). The problem here is that the church is incredibly wealthy in the West. Basically, if you have any discretionary income at all, you are wealthy, and that would describe most Americans. But stuff breeds greed for more stuff. It is intoxicating to have more and more. And yet, those who are honest with themselves would admit that it’s never enough. John D. Rockefeller, a very rich American, was asked how much is enough, and his answer was the classic statement of the problem of materialism: “Just a little bit more.” It will not fill the God-shaped hole in anyone’s life.

The advertising world banks on materialism, because it uses the classic hook of dissatisfaction with what you have in order to entice you to want more. The danger here, as Sittema points out, is that materialism denies the spiritual dangers inherent in wealth (p. 58). Sittema is not here saying that wealth is inherently evil. Rather, he is saying that with much comes much temptation, and he’s certainly correct in this assessment. In the rest of the chapter, Sittema outlines a biblical response. I think the most helpful point here that he mentions in combating materialism is the principle of biblical stewardship, which includes a view of one’s possessions as not one’s own, but merely entrusted to us by God to be used for His kingdom. This makes giving away possessions and wealth much easier: it’s not really ours to begin with. Phillip Ryken would put it this way: “What’s mine is God’s.”

And, secondly, we need to realize what a terrible idol wealth has become, and we need to identify it and repent of our own idolatry. Our idolatry may not be as blatant as Rockefeller’s: it may come in the form of desiring our own comfort at the expense of the kingdom of God. But comfort is often just another way of saying “a little bit more.” Comfort is one idol I see up here in the Midwest. And it is not hard to find out why: North Dakota is absolutely brutal in the winter-time. It is not exactly comfortable. But people usually build things in order to make them comfortable here. There are different ways this idol makes itself manifest elsewhere in the US, so I’m not singling out North Dakota, by any means. But that’s just where I am, and that’s what I see.

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11 Comments

  1. July 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Comfort in cold weather is important. Relief from heat helps us function, but I have another question about materialism.

    I have always wanted to ask a pastor this question. Why do I often get upset if a pastor shows off his wealth or possessions? Is that my envy? Should he not do this knowing that materialism is such a temptation for his flock? I also get upset if Christians show off materialism on Facebook.

    Our culture of materialism is indeed a problem in the church.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    July 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Carol, I am sad that you would feel the need to ask this question. Pastors should never show off their wealth of possessions. This is because they are to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus. Showing off their possessions suggests that they are doing the pastorate for the money. This is the wrong reason. Now, it is of course possible to envy pastors. I’m definitely not going to judge this in your case, Carol. But I do think pastors are wrong to do that.

  3. July 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I think it is an idol of my heart that I even asked that question. I need to repent and praise the Lord for the pastor’s blessngs and be content myself.

    However, I do think that pastors should be senstitive to this issue with their flock.

  4. rcjr said,

    July 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    “stuff breeds greed for more stuff.” Really? Couldn’t a lack of stuff just as well breed greed for more stuff? The notion that greed is a sin that especially besets the prosperous is preposterous. Greed comes from us, not stuff. It’s a human problem, not a situational one.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    July 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I would agree with you, RC. Greediness is a problem of the human heart. All I’m really trying to say (and undoubtedly I overstated matters) is that having lots of stuff presents occasions for the temptation to be greedy. A necessary qualification, I completely agree.

  6. rcjr said,

    July 11, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Fair enough friend. But so too does not having stuff present such occassions. God bless.

  7. Steve G said,

    July 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Greed can be a problem for anyone but I think it more commonly affects the wealthy. Because they are rich they can more readily indulge their desires. I’ll also note that Jesus and James in the NT regularly condemn the rich for their greed and indulgence in it, not so much the poor.

    I’d also disagree that sin isn’t situational. Yes, it comes from the human heart,but situations definitely give opportunity. Had David been fighting with his army rather than relaxing in Jerusalem he would have not seen Bathsheba and gotten into all that wickedness. If sin wasn’t situational, then why counsel people to avoid putting themselves into a position to be tempted?

  8. Cris Dickason said,

    July 12, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    @4 & 7 – rcjr & Steve:

    I recall learning from John Frame that there’s a both a situational and existential aspect to sin (well to “ethics” is how the course/lecture was structured). Oh, wait, there was the normative aspect too: The Lordship Triangle applied to Ethics. [insert smiley here]

    Helpful as long as you don’t think applying or identifying the triangle points is all that’s need to analyze something (of course Mr. Frame knows this).

    -=Cris=-

  9. rcjr said,

    July 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Is envy then something that more commonly affects the poor? And where, (I ask in all sincerity, not to be snarky) does Jesus condemn the rich for their greed? He chastens the rich young fool for his idolatry. He warns the rich against the temptation to trust in their riches (consistent with Proverbs 30) but a charge of greed is escaping me.

  10. July 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    rcjr #9 above,

    I read “greed” in the 10th commandment–thou shalt not covet.

  11. Steve G said,

    July 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Luke 12

    Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

    14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

    16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

    18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

    20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

    21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”


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