The last part to be converted is NOT our wallets

John Wesley famously declared that ‘The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.’

This makes sense to me both personally and pastorally.

I know the struggle to give, because I know the hope that money holds. As a minister, it is easy to rationalise that my great financial sacrifices have already been made. I earned more when I was 22 in the corporate world than I ever will working for a church. As an Anglican minister, the offer of highly subsidised private school lures me with thoughts of what my children could have if I just gave a little less, or if my wife gave up voluntary service in our church and community in order to reenter the workforce. As a husband and father living in the inner city, there are things that I want for my family that would be within reach if we only had just a little more.

And I think that I can speak with some pastoral authority on this issue, too. To the best of my knowledge, the church where I serve raised more money in a single campaign than any Anglican church in Sydney, if not Australia. I was present throughout the entire campaign. But we are also a university church, currently struggling with offertories, where introducing young adults to the basic principles of giving is a fundamental and drawn-out part of discipleship.

‘The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.’

You can see how that would work. Money, once given, doesn’t come back. I can stop sleeping with my girlfriend for Jesus, but if it doesn’t work out, I guess we can always start again. I can read my Bible and pray, but I’m not locked in. Money, once given, however, doesn’t come back. It is gone forever. Once the digital ones and zeros have traded places in a bank computer somewhere – in the city, or in a server farm in the suburbs; I’m not sure where – they won’t trade places again. My financial lot is forever diminished. I have taken a step backwards (or, at least, stood still) while everyone else walks on. (OK, perhaps not everyone. The relative financial security of the most poor is in free-fall. Everyone who matters, I mean – everyone against whose lot I am likely to voluntarily compare myself.)

‘The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.’

In so many ways, this just seems obvious. Common sense. A truism. After all, Jesus himself described money as a root of all kinds of evil. So the love of money – and the resulting failure to give it away – is clearly one of the big issues.

But – and I’m hesitant to disagree with Wesley, one of the all-time great ones on this – I’m not convinced. I’m not persuaded.

It’s not that I don’t agree that our wallets are slow to fall in line with the gospel. There is simply no doubt in my mind that most Christians in the Western world will experience salvation as if escaping through the flames. Bodily saved, but works exposed. Indeed, I suspect that the time will come when some who profess faith will be shown to have no faith at all, and Jesus will say, “I never knew you”, because they did not bear generous fruit in keeping with repentance.

However.

Wallets unconverted – sure. Rest of life converted – not so sure.

What I mean is this: my reading of our circumstances as the Western church is not that there is a huge gulf between our faithfulness with our money and our faithfulness in every other respect. Rather, while it has been hard to shift or diminish the biblical teaching on giving, we have managed to so lower the bar for Christian living that it is commonplace for us to call ‘converted’ what an earlier generation would plainly name as ‘worldly’.

  • We are satisfied with a form of hospitality that involves opening our homes to those of the same social class and interests.
  • We are happy to be known as Christians in our networks so long as we aren’t known to burn with zeal for their salvation.
  • We are content with attending church 65% of the time (but not on holidays).
  • We are persuaded that it is good enough to not speak ill of people, rather than actively seek their good.
  • We speak ill of people, but politely.
  • We are glad to belong to churches that are doing good for the poor, as long as they respect how busy we are.
  • We console ourselves with the thought that we would bring people to church if we knew more unbelievers (or if the sermons were better, or the music).
  • We are confident that the kids ministry leaders are discipling our children. That’s their job, isn’t it?
  • We pray, when we are at bible study, or in trouble, or have time, or are about to meet someone who we promised we’d pray for.

Here’s the thing. The church will never be perfect. To demand otherwise is, as Bonhoeffer said, to accuse one’s brethren, one’s God and ultimately, oneself. But I believe that the reason our giving looks so bad (and all the stats tell us that it does, indeed, look terrible) is because we have come to accept almost anything in the rest of our lives and call it satisfactory.

And I believe that we need to honestly name what it is to live the godly life; name the reality that we have substituted middle-classism and niceness and passivism and hidden immorality and public immorality for godly piety. To name the fact that we have become a church of lounge dwellers, and repent.

And to own this truth: That the last part of a man to be converted is not his wallet. The last part of a man to be converted is, well, the man.

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