Thoughts on Apostolic Poverty

“Rich or poor, God I want You more than anything that glitters in this world. Be my all, all consuming fire.” – Charlie Hall, All We Need

Rich or poor. Emphasis on poor. On the phone tonight I had a chance to catch up with my best friend from college who told me about his recent feelings of conviction about his own selfishness and materialism. Providentially, since getting married and moving to Pittsburgh, Eileen and I have tried to live our life here together in a non-materialistic way. Tried because we have not always succeeded – a la the deluxe coffee table we have courtesy of Eileen’s parents. But there have been some successes. For example, as I’m typing this, I’m wearing a shirt I bought at a thrift store and pants given to me by a friend. Beans and rice were lunch today. And after paying the copay at a doctor’s office today I was left with a grand total of ninety-five cents in my checking account.

At the beginning of the semester Professor Scott Sunquist frequently reminded our Church History 1 class about the continual importance of apostolic poverty for the early leaders of the church. Athanasius, St. Patrick, Columbanus, and many more boldly set the examples for what poverty meant in conjunction with the Gospel. At the same time as I was hearing this in class, Eileen and I were getting involved at The Open Door – the most unpretentious and genuine church I’ve ever attended. The sermons may not make a big deal about it, but it is obvious from the fact that we meet in a cold and drafty old church building currently under renovation that the community of The Open Door embodies more genuinely the virtues of apostolic poverty than any other non-monastic church I know. Add to that the connection with the intentional communities associated with the people of the Open Door who move into the poorer parts of the city for the sake of setting a Christ-like example for their neighbors. Perhaps that community is more sensitive to the riches of poverty because of their own personal experience as well: as a tangible reminder to pray for the concerns of people in the community at church a couple weeks ago, people were invited to write their personal prayer concerns on a rock which would then be taken home by another person who would commit to pray for that concern and person. Right now I’m looking at a rock that reads “failure, poverty, and debt”. I can relate to the debt – I graduated college with credit card debt and no job, and that debt was eventually only relieved by the generous wedding gifts we were given.

Perhaps this is why “debt” in the Calvinist tradition is so often used as a metaphor for sin: it is a pit we simply can’t get out of on our own. And just as in realizing our spiritual poverty we are forced to come to God for His gracious cancellation of our debts, our physical poverty in this life serves as a tangible reminder of our ever-present need to depend upon the Lord.

So where does this lead? To the lyrics of Derek Webb’s song, Rich Young Ruler. (http://www.derekwebb.com)

“Poverty is so hard to see when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town,
where we’re all living so good that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood,
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good from going through our trash.
He says, ‘More than just your cash and coin I want your time, I want your voice. I want the things you just can’t give me.’

So what must we do? Here in the west we want to follow You.
We speak the language and we keep all the rules (even a few we made up).
‘Come on and follow me, but sell your house, sell your SUV, sell your stocks, sell your security
and give it to the poor.’
‘What is this, hey what’s the deal? I don’t sleep around and I don’t steal.’
‘But I want the things you just can’t give me.
Because what you do to the least of these my brother’s, you have done it to me
because I want the things you just can’t give me.'”

May God grant us the grace and ability to live up to what these words suggest.

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1 comment
  1. Jimmy Bollinger said:

    Great thoughts Chris!

    This is something I have greatly struggled with and still struggle with, especially having been in a field that pays well. I don’t believe the issue is so much having the wealth, but what you do with it. God molds us all differently and some of us are molded to be generous givers, but in order to give we have to have something to give to begin with! Read the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and consider that God entrusts each of us with different amounts of wealth to be stewards of. The more important question is are you using this wealth to God’s gain, or for your gain?

    I remember when I read the chapter on Simplicity in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline a couple of years ago that he talked about how God doesn’t want us to be poor or rich, he simply doesn’t want us to focus on money or glamour and thus be self serving, but I’m sure you know the poor focus on money just as much as the rich do simply because they don’t have it. The key is having things for their need and not for their look.

    I know that I am struggling right now with the idea of raising money for “savings” while in the missions field, as that seems materialistic to me. Keith told me later, “listen, you want to be able to focus on your ministry and not be distracted by money, so make sure it’s not a burden to you”

    I think the reason why the apostles were poor is because they needed to be able to relate to the people they were ministering to for the same reason Jesus was poor, they didn’t want people to think Christianity was only for the wealthy. But remember that Paul was well schooled and obviously came from a wealthy family or he wouldn’t have had that education, so that’s not even entirely true.

    And don’t worry about that coffee table you have, remember that Eileen’s parents probably gave it to you both because they didn’t need it or use it and knew that you guys would.

    You’re a good guy Chris and you’re not as materialistic as you may think.

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