Saturday, 22 October 2016

Are we Living in Luxury and Self-Indulgence?

The subject of materialism is often on my heart having lived in the Philippines for a period and having seen poverty in other countries whilst serving on-board Logos Hope. Returning to Western culture, a touch of distaste and unfortunately judgementalism whilst not necessarily helpful, is inevitable. But in recent months as I have been encouraged to spend more and worry less, I have been asking the questions, are all Westerners living in luxury and is that self-indulgent? What will God say to us on Judgement Day? 

The immediate reply of most people confronted with this question is that in comparison with their non-Christian neighbours and friends, they are pretty frugal. We cannot be expected to compare a Western standard of living with the third world, right? 

Additionally, they comment, it’s more about our attitude to wealth because it’s the love of money that is a root of evil, not money itself. And that God gives us things to enjoy and as a blessing.

Personally, I find that stuff overwhelms and exhausts me, the less things I have the better. I would happily leave my few things for a simple, traditional, missionary lifestyle when God leads, but maybe that’s just me.

I picked up the book Radical by David Platt this week and read it in a few days. It is the third book I have read by this author. Platt pastors a mega-church in America and has sparked controversy with some of his radical (biblical?) ideas. He is definitely sincere in his views and the implementation of them, but is he sincerely wrong?

Platt found himself a mega-pastor in his late twenties. He was living the American (or British) dream—successful, wealthy, fulfilling life-long ambitions. But he was suddenly stopped in his tracks when faced with the startling reality that the American dream may not be God’s way. His soul searching led to the realisation that if he wanted to truly follow Jesus, as a pastor, he would have to take his church with him—turn his culture on its head and deal with the consequence. He faced up to the blind spot in his life and ministry.

Platt believes Western Christians are living in luxury. He proposes that God doesn’t make us rich—“if your family income is $10,000 a year, you are wealthier than 84% of the world. So you can call yourself blessed and get a bigger house, better car and more stuff.” He proposes, based on Scripture, that God gives us more than we need, so we can use it to bless others. He reminds us that God is not likely to one day admonish us “I wish you would’ve kept more for yourself”

If nothing else, material wealth and the stuff that we accumulate distracts us from pursuing God wholeheartedly. There are a lot of ways to waste time with these things which can cause us to lose focus on our mission—to see lost souls come to Jesus. Platt reminds us of the billions of “unreached” still out there and points out that a huge percentage of missionaries are serving in “reached” areas. He quotes older missionaries like John Paton, C.T. Studd and Jim Elliot who literally gave up everything when they went to the field. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (Elliot)

There is a great need for Christian church leaders that are willing to confront cultural trends with biblical truth. Platt’s “Radical Experiment” challenges readers to initially dedicate one year to God—pray for the world, study the Bible (cover to cover,) sacrifice money for a specific purpose, spend time in another context (missions) and commit their life to a multiplying community (local church family.) But the issue that has caused the controversy is that Platt suggests that all Christians should be doing these things anyway because they are biblical. Is he right?

Platt’s critics cry legalism and salvation by works. The out-workings of some of his suggestions seem to have led in some cases to spiritual burnout and a mass exodus from his church. But couldn’t that just be the enemy causing confusion and chaos in an otherwise God ordained situation? In a mega-church congregation there are bound to be some that do things with the wrong motivation or who miss the heart of the call to action. Is that the fault of the pastor? 

Platt makes it clear in this book that salvation is by faith alone and that works should be a natural outflow. He highlights the centrality of the Gospel message when involved in social action or when deciding which projects to support.

His church community seem to have literally taken responsibility for all of the “people- needs” in the area and further afield. Surely that is what a local church should be doing—teaching believers within and proclaiming Christ on the streets, combining help with hope in the community. 

God does place different calls on the lives of individuals and gifts them specifically. But surely that is the point of the church family—to accomplish his work together as a body. Is that really so radical?

I was personally encouraged and challenged by this book and the life and testimony of the author.

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