This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
What is the biblical position on materialism and worldliness?
The Assemblies of God from its founding has sought to emphasize the biblical themes of trusting God for daily needs, sacrificial giving as an expression of love to our Lord, and valuing spiritual over material things. Anything that draws us toward the world and away from eternal truth and values is worldliness. Materialism, or fixation on earthly possessions, is one of mankind’s strongest temptations.
Wealth in itself is not condemned in Scripture. In fact, it is considered a gift and a blessing, especially when not sought (1 Kings 3:13). But there are many scriptural statements about the dangers of wealth and instructions about its proper use.
Wealth should not be accumulated for its own sake. It should not be gained by injustice or oppression. Wealth often leads to covetousness. It belongs to God, not to us; we are simply stewards. We sin if we do not use it to help the poor, the weak, and the oppressed (Ezek. 22:29). Generosity marks the Christian use of wealth.
Few Christians would claim to be wealthy. But when we have more than needed for essential food, clothing, and shelter we are wealthy compared with the majority of the world's population. The temptations of wealth and materialism are not a problem of the wealthy alone. Covetousness among the poor is an indicator of materialism just as greed is for the wealthy.
Secular society has always placed a high value on wealth and material possessions (the unrighteous mammon of Luke 16:9,11). It is easy for this emphasis to color and erode the spiritual priority that should characterize the church. Jesus, our great example from Scripture, lived in humility and obscurity, never accumulating wealth or possessions. Jesus taught His followers not to be anxious about the future, for their heavenly Father would provide for them (Matt.6:25-34).
While it may seem that the New Testament has strong words of exhortation and warning for the wealthy, we should not assume that material poverty has inherent value. The Bible does not teach such. Jesus and the apostles applauded the efforts of Christians in their efforts to alleviate suffering. It is evident that there were some early Christians with a degree of wealth.
How much wealth is enough? Materialism says, "Just a little more will be enough." But it never is. The example of John Wesley is a challenge for every believer. In his middle years Wesley calculated how much money he needed annually to live during his early years. He then covenanted to keep his expenditures at nearly the same level, turning his increased income in later years to the work of the Lord. The Assemblies of God encourages it members to be good stewards of all God has given them.
Great pressures from contemporary society have impacted the people of God, causing an erosion of biblical values and priorities. These pressures include an inordinate valuing of material things, the accumulation of material goods as symbols of success, pursuit of upward social mobility, and fixation on immediate gratification. The earthly life of Jesus was a stark contrast to cultural attitudes today. The "gospel paradox" of Mark 8:31-38 calls for a discipleship that lives according to the principle that life comes out of suffering and death. Jesus came to die for mankind. There is a cross before there can be a crown. Sacrifice should always be part of the Christian walk.
The Assemblies of God position paper "The Believer and Positive Confession" is a clear statement distinguishing biblical teaching from materialistic "faith teaching" popular in some charismatic circles. God blesses some believers with material and financial success so they can provide the needed resources for fulfilling the Great Commission. But material success is never an indication God shows His approval by showering wealth on His favorites.
It is easy for those who have fewer possessions to look on those with more as the ones who need the cautions about wealth and materialism. But coveting and grasping for material things one does not have can be sin while the wealthy person who holds his material possessions loosely and is a good steward of that which God has entrusted to him is pleasing to God. It is not the having or not having of material wealth, but the priorities in one's life that constitute true godliness (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
The above statement has some parallels with the position paper, "The Believer and Positive Confession," but the primary statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.