12 Nov 2019

Mammon, Possessions & Biblical Faith … the Tall Wall

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Contemporary Ethics, David Lipscomb, Discipleship, James A. Harding, Unity

A Pink Floyd Introduction

Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you’re O.K.
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team

Money, get back
I’m all right, Jack, keep your hands off of my stack.
Money, it’s a hit
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit
I’m in the high-fidelity first-class traveling set
And I think I need a Learjet

Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a rise it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away

(Money, by Pink Floyd from Dark Side )

The Chasm

One of the great chasms between biblical faith, the early church and contemporary north American Christianity can be summed up in just a few words: attitudes toward money, “personal” property or possessions.

Money, mammon, is indeed the great cultural, even religious, value in the western world. Money drives our attitude toward almost every ethical issue facing disciples.

I share in this chasm as much as anyone. I will share four brief vignettes.


David spent years collecting materials and saving up “money” for the temple. He ended up donating his personal fortune to God (1 Chr 29.3). David then asked a crucial question,

Who am I, and what is my people, that we are able to make a freewill offering?

This is actually a critical question, it reframes how we see mammon and our relation to it. David then confesses,

For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are but aliens and transients before you” (1 Chr 29.14-15).

David believes that, in reality, he has no property. He does not even own enough to offer God a freewill offering. It is already God’s.

David’s understanding pervades the Hebrew Bible. The people of God were, in reality, to regard no one as an alien because God’s people themselves are, by definition, “aliens and transients.” People who live off the generosity of another (in this case God). They owned nothing.


We find this perspective did not change in the so called New Testament. Luke tells that strange, to us, story in Acts 4. We probably have never heard a sermon on it because it is part of the “pattern” we feel free to discard. Luke tells us,

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4.32).

The language here echoes our text from 1 Chronicles 29.9. As the NRSV renders, Israel gave with a “single mind” but it is quite literally with a “single heart” or a “perfect heart.” They regarded themselves as “aliens and transients” and people who live of the generosity of another … the God of Israel.

Basil the Great

Basil, the great Church Father from what we call Turkey today, preached a sermon from Luke 12 on the Parable of the Rich Fool (12.13-21). He calls the Fool a “robber and a thief.” Why? because by keeping “his” possessions he was robbing others who had need. Here is an extended quotation. Basil understood David’s prayer and the teaching of Luke. He asks profound questions. The great preacher asked,

Tell me, what is yours? Where did you get it and bring it into the world? It is as if one has taken a seat in the theater and then drives out all who came later, thinking that what is for everyone is only for him. Rich people are like that. For having pre-empted what is common to all, they make it their own by virtue of this prior possession. If only each one would take as much as he requires to satisfy his immediate needs, and leave the rest to others who equally need it, no one would be rich — and no one would be poor.” [End Quote]

What is “mine?” Who are we that we can give? No one claimed private ownership. We are but aliens and transients. It is who we are.

Nashville Bible School Tradition

David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, founders of the Nashville Bible School “tradition” among the Churches of Christ would Amen loudly David, the images of the gathered people in Acts 4, and make Basil’s words their own.

God calls us to be rich in trusting faith and generosity that flows out of a full self consciousness that “nothing belongs to me.” We find fellowship by sharing.

If I have my needs met for today then I have enough to share with another. This sharing, Lipscomb/Harding called it “fellowship” is actually a “means of grace.” We are brought into genuine communion with Christ Jesus himself as we both emulate his actions and find him personified in the face of the needy. We share, in reality, from the family table. It is not mine but ours equally.


It is no wonder that we want to argue about trivia as American disciples. Those fine points cost us nothing. And we ignore, sometimes outright deny, the great themes of biblical faith and legacy of the early church because those are the things that actually call us to change, to give things up, to deny ourselves.

I admit, this is hard to do. But we have to allow the Spirit to challenge us.


One Response to “Mammon, Possessions & Biblical Faith … the Tall Wall”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Is it little wonder that Jesus told his disciple whom he sent to preach and heal not to collect money, but rather depend on the hospitality of others in terms of need. Jesus wanted to make them understand that they were not being paid to spread the Word and could not make a profit from it, but it was about the mission. This is why when Peter was asked by the man at the gate of Solomon for alms, he said, “Gold and silver have I none, but what I do have I will give you”…then Peter healed the man. Also Jesus taught his disciples to depend on God how would clothe them, feed them and shelter them.

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