New Monasticism Chapter 6: Money

What exactly is “God’s economy”?

That question seems to be central to the chapter entitled “Daily Bread and Forgiven Debts”. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove presents his case by opening with very familiar words, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He points to the Kingdom manifested now in the person of His Church. It’s an important stone on the path to understanding the Christian life, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for several years. A struggle that exists for a very specific reason. The Kingdom of God is counter cultural to every one of the kingdoms of man, and this becomes very clear where money is concerned.

So what does God’s economy look like? Is it Capitalism or Communism? Could it be that it is neither? As the author points out, both try to deal with the issue of people’s relationship with money, but he also notes that the Bible’s opinion on money deals with money differently. It speaks of money in the context of our relationship with God. He points to the simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer in guiding us. “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Here the author reminded me of passages in Exodus I had not visited in some time. A picture of Israel, newly freed from captivity, given a command to collect manna each morning. It was quite literally their daily bread, and God did not allow them to save up. As you likely remember, any stored reserve was filled with maggots. There was one exception, the day before the Sabbath rest. Israel was given a template of trust in God for their daily bread, one they were intended to follow even in a land flowing with milk and honey. We see these principles carried forward in the Levitical laws where Israel was commanded to leave their fields fallow every seventh year and celebrate God’s provision. He would provide for the year in the same manner he provided for a day in the wilderness. What would this look like today? Another law commanded Israelites to forgive all debts, release any slaves and return all land to the family God had originally given it to. This was to be done every fifty years. These commands are the very image of “as we forgive our debtors”. Even moreso, it points to a difficult truth in my culture. All things are God’s. Property, businesses, paychecks, equipment… all things are God’s.

This discussion reminded me of another Levitical law. In the past I’ve heard it referred to as God’s welfare system. God commanded landowners to leave the fringes of their fields unharvested so that those in need could come and gather what they needed. This law presents a challenge to those who ruthlessly press for absolute efficiency and the largest profit margin, and to those who seek to answer poverty with free money. When it comes to poverty, I’ve often seen two opposing sides at war. One screams “Generosity!” The other yells back, “Personal responsibility!” God speaks to us all and says, “Both.”

As the chapter continues, we are introduced to neo-monastic communities who are trying to follow God’s path when it comes to money. I’m thankful that he doesn’t espouse one right answer. Though the principles are the same, they are not applied in the same way by every community. What they are doing should challenge us all. In some cases, they have a shared purse and an agreed upon discretionary income that each individual in the community gets. Once bills are paid, any excess is used for ministry. Another community started a business with a unique salary scheme. Everyone draws the same salary. Once again, abundant resources are channeled generously for the benefit of others. These are innovative approaches to following God’s way in a world that does not know him.

There are many things in this chapter that I cannot cover. Things I need to reread and think about further, and things I just don’t have time to get into. That said, I begin to pray the Lord’s prayer and contemplate what those words mean to my life, and the money God has given me.

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us debts as we forgive our debtors.”

What could this look like in your life?

-Kirk

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