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Over 200 years ago during the heart of the Methodist revival in England,John Wesley spoke fearfully about the movement's ability to sustainitself. Even as thousands and thousands were joining his ranks, he spokeprophetically about the inevitable decline and dissolution of thisrevival. What would prompt his despairing prediction in the throes ofrevival's raging fires? Wesley feared the danger of wealth and itsexpected increase as a result of his "Methodist" renewal. He wrote in hisjournal: "I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religionhas decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it ispossible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continuelong. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality,and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so willpride, anger and love of the world in all its branches."(1)The declining numbers in churches in the Western World seem to affirm thatWesley's fears were warranted. Indeed, Christian leaders speculate that ifcurrent trends continue in England, for example, Methodists will cease toexist in that country in thirty years.(2) And while the increase ofwealth might only be one factor of many that has contributed to thisdecline, the decline has happened and is happening nevertheless.Corroborating this fear is the best-selling book by historian PhilipJenkins. Jenkins has documented the rapid rise of Christianity in theGlobal South in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of GlobalChristianity. Could the growth of Christianity in the Global South berelated to their relative poverty, and the decline of Christianity in theGlobal North be related to our wealth? Wesley seemed to think so.But long before Wesley uttered his fears, Jesus warned his disciples: "Noservant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and lovethe other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannotserve God and riches" (Luke 16:13). Indeed, it is hard to read Luke'sgospel and not be convicted about the dangers Jesus associated withwealth.As riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in allits branches. Wesley's words haunt me, just as Jesus's warnings hauntme. For when I examine my checkbook, my time commitments, and where I setmy heart's affections, I sometimes have the sneaking suspicion that I amserving another god. It is a god that tempts me to busyness anddistraction; it is a god that wants me to sacrifice worship, commitment tomy church, and devotion to the Lord in order to invest my time, treasure,and talents in the "love of the world in all its branches."Sadly, as Wesley knew, the very blessing of wealth for Christianity, as aresult of Christian frugality and diligence, can equally be a curse thatwould sell out its very soul. My own life is a microcosm of thisstruggle, just as the Western Church struggles with these issues closelyrelated to wealthy societies: fragmentation of lives, rampant consumerism,efficiency over substance, and shallow, easy faith.So, in this season of thanks-giving, how do we as rich, WesternChristians escape the perils of over-abundance? Jesus instructed hisdisciples to "sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselvespurses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven....For whereyour treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:33-34). Theanswer is not necessarily in the abolition of wealth, but rather inwealth's proper use in our world--as a blessing for others, and not justfor our own use!John Wesley understood this, and in the spirit of Jesus re-iterates thesame idea: "We ought not to forbid people to be diligent and frugal: wemust exhort all Christians, to gain all they can, and to save all theycan... What way then (I ask again) can we take that our money may not sinkus to the nethermost hell? There is one way, and there is no other underheaven. If those who gain all they can, and save all they can, willlikewise give all they can, then the more they gain, the more they willgrow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven."(3)Margaret Manning is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias InternationalMinistries in Atlanta, Georgia.(1) Cited in an article by Philip Yancey, "Traveling with Wesley"Christianity Today, November 2007, vol 51, No. 11.(2)Ibid.(3) Cited from the The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, vol. XV(London: Thomas Cordeux, 1786).-------------------------------------------------------------------Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)"A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words ofchallenge, words of truth, and words of hope. If you know of others whowould enjoy receiving "A Slice of Infinity" in their email box each day,tell them they can sign up on our website athttp://www.rzim.org/slice/slice.php. If they do not have access to theWorld Wide Web, please call 1-877-88SLICE (1-877-887-5423).
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