Many folks would be aware of the 1977 book by Ronald Sider called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. It was an impassioned call for Western Christians to make a difference in reducing world hunger. It was marred however by being far too pro-socialist and anti-free market.
Thankfully when a second edition came out twenty years later he admitted he had known very little about economics back then, and his new edition was far more sensible, and far more open to how free markets can reduce world hunger. But material world hunger is not the topic of this piece.
Instead it is spiritual world hunger – but money still comes into this. That is, the work of world missions and related Christian endeavours do cost money. Sure, the gospel itself is proclaimed free of charge, and the vital aspect of salvation is done free of cost by the Holy Spirit’s work in the human heart.
But there are countless Christian activities that do require funding:
-building schools and hospitals in foreign countries;
-buying, equipping and running large mercy ships to help human need elsewhere;
-printing mass amounts of Bibles and Christian literature to distribute far and wide;
-using new media and communication technologies to spread the gospel and teach all nations;
-setting up Christian schools, think tanks, parachurch groups, local aid bodies, lobby groups, etc.
All this requires funding. Again, much of the Christian mission requires no funding at all. If every Christian simply shared his faith with his neighbours or workmates or classmates, the Kingdom would advance tremendously, and at no real financial cost.
But there is so much that can and should be done for the Kingdom that is not happening because of a shortage of financing. I know of plenty of parachurch groups and other Christian ministries which seek to do so much good for Christ and the Kingdom, but they are all hampered by very little funding.
Thus the need for Christians to financially support various Christian works and activities. Millions of Christians are doing this already of course, maybe just with a two dollar a month donation to some worthy Christian cause. But much more can be done.
While all believers in the West can help more in financially supporting worthy Christian endeavours, rich Christians especially have a responsibility here. And some of these folks are doing this already. I know some of them who give away 90 per cent of their income to finance Christian causes and works.
But many rich Christians are not even sharing ten percent of their wealth. They are spending it all on themselves and their lavish lifestyles. They need to rethink their great wealth in the light of the lost, and in the light of eternity. Given all the warnings we find in Scripture about the dangers of wealth and greed, we need to rethink how we are using what God has blessed us with.
I mention all this because of a book I happened to pick up yesterday. It is Gospel Patrons: People Whose Generosity Changed the World by John Rinehart (Reclaimed Publishing, 2013). It is about wealthy Christians who have helped finance the work of the Kingdom in the past, and the need for more such people today.
A number of encouraging stories are told of how Christian mission and evangelism was much more effectively carried out because of these wealthy and generous patrons. And of course we have biblical examples of such patrons who helped in making the spread of the gospel possible. One key example is found in Luke 8:1-3:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
In his book Rinehart tells us about moving examples such as the English businessman Humphrey Monmouth who greatly helped William Tyndale get the Bible into the English language, as risky as that was at the time. He financially helped Tyndale, protected him, and even used his merchant ships to help smuggle these first English New Testaments into England.
Tyndale’s efforts to get the old Latin Vulgate into something easily read by the English was greatly helped by the work of Monmouth. It was illegal at the time to translate the Bible, so Tyndale lived for a while in the home of the devout merchant as his New Testament took shape. The rest of it was completed in Germany.
He never did return to England, but while in Germany Monmouth supported him for well over a decade. His first English Bibles came off German presses in 1526, and they in fact lit the fuse for the English Reformation. Monmouth was arrested in 1528 and spent a year as a prisoner in the Tower of London.
Tyndale was arrested in Belgium and spent 16 months in prison, working on an English translation of the Old Testament. He was executed in 1536. Monmouth died a year later. But all the work and prayers of these two men paid off, and in 1538 the King of England ordered every parish to have a copy of the English Bible.
Or consider the work of Lady Huntingdon who so greatly assisted the evangelist George Whitefield. She invited him into her home on a regular basis to preach the gospel to wealthy guests, and helped finance his many evangelistic campaigns in England and America.
She helped to finance the construction of over a hundred chapels, preaching places, and even a seminary to train more preachers. Thanks to her invaluable assistance, Whitefield was able to preach at least 18,000 sermons, averaging ten a week. For 34 consecutive years he preached over 500 sermons annually. As a result some 10 million people heard the gospel through his ministry.
Other amazing stories are told in this volume of gospel patrons. I hope it inspires many to take seriously the call of stewardship. While the gift of giving may be something especially for wealthy people, we all can be givers and gospel patrons, even with what little we have.
I like how Rinehart opens his book, so I will close my piece with it here:
I picture Christians being marked by radical generosity and risk-taking action to see more lives changed, more souls saved, and more people sent around the world to reach the unreached. I envision more preachers proclaiming the great doctrines of the Bible with unstoppable courage, while God draws many to the Saviour. I dream of thousands of people discovering their calling in God’s eternal kingdom and then running hard to play their part well.
How would our world be different if we lived like the real business of life was to love God and help as many people as possible learn to love Him too? What if we recaptured a sense of urgency to live for eternity? I desire this. I long to see God revive our generation.