It’s sometimes cliché for Christians to warn about the dangers of idolizing wealth and money. But the negative impact it can have on our faith is often more subtle than we realize. Here are a few ways that idolizing wealth covertly manipulates our spirituality:
1. We Use It to Measure Our Faith (and the Faith of Others)
In a culture obsessed with wealth, success, fame, and comfort, Christians often use wealth as a way to estimate their own spirituality. We assume God’s blessings translate into material possessions and riches, and we profusely thank God for jobs, promotions, paychecks, and brand new toys, but then cry out in panic when these same things disappear.
Commonly referred to as “the prosperity gospel,” individuals — and churches — are susceptible to the misguided belief that financial strength equates to spiritual maturity. It doesn’t.
Most Christians say they don’t believe in the prosperity gospel, yet there are still some worrisome signs within mainstream Christianity. For example, mission trips often go to third-world countries to do practical service projects and work, but the assumption is also that these places are also spiritually desolate. Why do we think that?
We assume that poverty-stricken areas are less Christian than wealthy areas. They aren’t. Why do Bible colleges have inner-city ministry degree but not suburban-ministry degrees? Why don’t we send missionaries to Scandinavia and other wealthy European countries — some of the most secular places in the entire world — yet continually focus on poor regions? Maybe it’s because we subconsciously continue to associate money with spirituality.
2. It Creates a False Sense of Security
Instead of trusting in God, we trust in our financial security. We do this because money is directly related to our jobs, our homes, our transportation, our food, our entertainment, and our overall standard of living.
Of course, God should be directly related to these things as well, but it’s hard for us to designate the same amount of importance to a faith that is sometimes unseen, intangible, and completely contrary to our cultural norms. Therefore, we rely on what we know best: money.
Instead of promoting a faith in God to feel spiritually confident, we preach that getting an education, finding a good job, saving, investing wisely, and being professionally successful is the best way to find happiness. But it doesn’t work.
Prayer is rarely seen as a way to promote contentment, but working extra shifts is. Instead of faithfully pursing the voice of God, we passionately pursue "the American Dream." In place of trusting God, we rely on bank statements, savings accounts, and investments.
Today, we often don’t worry or feel stressed when we’re disconnected from God, but we do start to freak out when our funds get low.
3. It Fosters a False Sense of Righteousness
Money allows us to help the poor, feed the starving, fight injustice, give to our church, sponsor missionaries, support ministries, and generally help out — without doing anything. Money is our personal escape clause for the Great Commission. We use it to protect ourselves from becoming uncomfortable.
Christians have become experts at subcontracting ministry — paying others to do the work for us. We outsource the love of Christ because it’s easier, faster, and still gives us the feeling of satisfaction and holiness.
Yes, giving money to various causes is definitely needed and a good thing to do, but it shouldn’t replace our responsibility to be the "hands and feet of Christ." This means being personally invested with our actions and relationships and attitudes — things money can’t buy.
In the end, we would much rather give money than sacrificially give of ourselves.
4. It Influences Ministry Way Too Much
Unfortunately, funding has become the modernized way of authenticating a "calling from God." If the finances don’t come in, people simply abandon the vision and mission — many assume because it wasn’t ordained by God. Contrarily, if money does come in, visions and ideas and projects are immediately started. Money has become the new source of Christian inspiration — not good.
Realistically, money is required to keep things running, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that dictates God’s calling on your life. We need to start creatively finding ways to carry out evangelism and callings without being completely dependent on finances.
Just because the money isn’t there, hasn’t come in, or is quickly running out doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t God’s will — keep emulating the life of Christ whether you’re rich or poor.
5. It Restricts the Gospel Message and Creates Caste Systems
You can attend Christian conferences, worship concerts, camps, retreats, and get Christian albums, books, and movies — if the price is right.
Like the rest of society, much of Christianity is based on a consumer-based system. This is often unavoidable, but we need to do a better job of making our best theologians, pastors, musicians, teachers, and leaders accessible to everyone — not just though who can financially afford it.
Megachurches, private Christian schools, and Bible colleges are just a few examples of institutions that are largely dominated by the wealthy. Christianity can quickly devolve into a caste-like system of those who have the luxury of experiencing “white-collar” Christianity and those who can’t. Guest speakers, mission trips, and educational experiences shouldn’t be exclusive.
Christianity has been hijacked by a corporate mentality of business-like growth and power. Therefore, pricing and profits have taken priority over the gospel. The message of Christ has become restricted by our dependence and love for money, and we often don’t even realize it. God help us.