Rejoicing in the economics of hope
E.H. Ijams wrote those words in The Gospel Advocate in 1931. As America faced the Great Depression, the Nashville, Tenn., minister encouraged churches to see the unprecedented economic hardships as “an opportunity for preachers to preach the law and love of Christ as they have never preached before!”
“Millions of people are in the midst of hunger, heartsickness and spiritual bankruptcy,” he wrote. “What an opportunity for Churches of Christ to demonstrate the love of the Founder!”
Ijams’ words still inspire us 77 years later, as a financial tsunami sends waves of uncertainty and panic around the globe.
From the Nikkei to NASDAQ, the news is discouraging — even frightening. Home foreclosures are skyrocketing. Brokerages are failing. People who saved dutifully for retirement worry as their investments dwindle.
Main Street points fingers at Wall Street. Analysts and politicians point fingers at greedy CEOs. Presidential candidates point fingers at each other.
The first Christians also faced financial uncertainty. In the second chapter of his epistle, James talks about the rich exploiting poor Christians, dragging them into court and “slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong.”
How should Christians respond in such times?
James says, “Rejoice!”
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds,” James writes. He asks poor believers to take pride in their high position. To a world focused on the accumulation of wealth and the avoidance of suffering, this doesn’t make sense. For a believer seeking perseverance, this should make all the sense in the world.
James also advises the wealthy: “But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.”
Got money? Don’t worry! It never lasts. You’ll have plenty of chances to persevere, because “the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.”
It’s unlikely that James was required reading for executives at Lehman Brothers or AIG, but maybe it should have been.
Christians shouldn’t join in with the throngs of finger pointers. Nor should we panic when we hear predictions of doom from our televisions and handheld devices.
Rather, we should be the first to demonstrate a level of generosity that the world fails to understand.
During the Great Depression, Ijams put his own words into practice. The Central Church of Christ, where he ministered, followed a model of ministry practiced by the Russell Street congregation in Nashville years earlier.
The Central church launched a dental and medical clinic in its building and operated a day care center for the children of mothers who were sick or working. The church provided a free noon meal for the homeless. A church member worked full time to help people find jobs.
Baptisms — in the thousands — resulted. Nashville became an epicenter for Churches of Christ. Some church historians credit the Central church with much of that growth. The Central church didn’t wait for an economic crisis to launch these ministries. Most of them started in the late 1920s. When the Great Depression arrived, the church was ready.
The world’s uncertain financial future again points us to the only real certainty in the universe — God and his will. Church members have shown uncommon generosity in responding to victims of hurricanes, floods and fires around the world. Can we show the same giving spirit while we’re also suffering?
It may be difficult to endure the coming years, but Paul tells us in Romans that we should “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Hope is exactly what the world needs right now, and God is the only true source.
Churches of Christ, awake!