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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Money and generosity

Columns to focus on giving from Lutheran theological, biblical perspective

Editor’s note: This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage in dialogue by posting comments online at the end of each article at www.thelutheran.org.

The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries.

As my editing for this series draws to a close, given that I am retiring, the essays in “Deeper understandings” over the next months will address perhaps one of the most challenging topics we have yet considered: money and generosity.

For some time the church, the courts and society in general have worked rigorously on the issue of human sexuality, with the church, in particular, addressing the biblical and theological issues that pertain. This generated great controversy because we weren’t adept at talking theologically about sex and sexual identity. But we are learning to be more comfortable as we work faithfully together with the Scriptures, our confessions and our rich theological tradition.

We have been less willing to discuss the role of money in the church and culture. Like sexuality it has been considered a topic for private conversation. Both are good gifts of God, given us in creation, and both can become destructive idols.

As we discovered in our discussion about human sexuality, our reticence to talk about things publicly and in the church may have negative consequences for our neighbors. Our fear of members’ responses to sermons or presentations on money makes it hard to speak publicly from a Lutheran theological and biblical perspective.

But the Bible and our catechism contain more passages and references to the abundant gifts we have received from God and our stewardship of them than references to sexuality. Many of Jesus’ parables and teachings were about money, yet in the average congregation the only time one hears anything about money is during the annual stewardship emphasis, if there is one. 

There is more to stewardship and generosity than money. We know this. But it’s easier to talk about time and talents (though we don’t do those as well as we ought either). So we have asked this column’s writers over the next few months to focus on a theology of giving money to the mission of Christ’s church from a Lutheran theological and biblical perspective. 

We have many resources in our tradition to have regular healthy conversations and deliberations about what we should do with the financial resources that God has given us out of pure goodness. God gives, and we give freely out of thankfulness.

Consider the fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer and Martin Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism of “Give us today our daily bread.” 

Bread for good and evil

“What does this mean? In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 1163).

What does “daily bread” mean? “Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like” (ELW, 1164).

One could also respond to God’s goodness and mercy by living out Luther’s explanation of the first article of the creed, thanking, praising, serving and obeying God  (ELW, 1162).


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