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Jesus preached that the faithful should give up their wealth and worldly possessions and spend a humble existence in servitude of God. A church must have a certain amount of wealth in order to continue operating, serving its parishioners, and delivering the word to non-believers. However, churches of all denominations certainly amass wealth for its own sake. The canonical example of this is the Roman Catholic Church, whose ostentatious wealth I find shameful in the light of Jesus's teachings.

What does Christianity say about the wealth of a church? Its priests? Does wealth acquired in the name of the service of God have the same stigma as wealth acquired for ordinary reasons? Why or why not?

(Disclaimer: I am not a Christian, merely a curious agnostic.)

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I'm unaware of Jesus preaching anywhere "that the faithful should give up their wealth and worldly possessions and spend a humble existence in servitude of God." In Luke chapter 18 we have the account of one person who Jesus said should divest himself of his worldly possessions and distribute his wealth to the poor if he would be perfect, but this is nowhere mentioned as a general commandment.

The theme that does come up again and again, both in Jesus's preaching and in the various apostolic letters later on, is to keep your priorities straight. Wealth becomes sinful if you let the pursuit of wealth become more important to you than the pursuit of righteousness. This is why we are told that the love of money, not the money itself, is the root of all evil.

On the other hand, having resources available gives you the power to do good with them. Witness the impact that the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities have on disadvantaged communities, or the way the Mormons tend to always show up promptly at the scene of any major disaster with large amounts of supplies and volunteers to contribute to relief efforts. These are people living their religion, actively giving of themselves to help those in need, as Jesus and his apostles did.

If you're looking to grade religions on Christian living, a better question than "how much money does church X have?" is "what do they do with their resources?"

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+1. Too many people mistake "The love of money" for "money". –  John Sep 3 '11 at 1:02
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What about Matthew 13:44? Is that not a literal passage? It could at least be a reason people think that people should give up their worldly possessions. –  RCIX Sep 3 '11 at 1:55
    
There are many Biblical verses that decry the love of money, and I don't believe I'm confusing that with wealth itself. But if you have gained the power to do good by gaining wealth, and don't do all the good you can do, what then? –  Jon Purdy Sep 3 '11 at 2:15
    
@RCIX: You should ask that question; IMO, that passage is not related or only tangentially to this question. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 3 '11 at 4:51
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@Jon: Hypothetically, if I have 10 million dollars and give it away, the charitable value is $10M. But if I invest $10M well, I could potentially give away $1M a year for the next 40 years, totaling $40M and still leave behind an inheritance. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 3 '11 at 4:54

The value of a church's resources are based on market value. They don't necessarily have huge bank accounts. Churches have the same expenses any company would have, such as utilities.

Now, older organizations, such as the Catholic Church, have large collections of art or relics that have value. But their value is only that to collectors, it's not like they are going to destroy valuable pieces to melt down and sell gold.

As for the land they own, again that's market value. They need a certain amount of land in specific places to serve the people in their communities. So does a certain church sit on a multi-million dollar property? Maybe they do, but so what?

Yes, most churches have programs to benefit their communities. That's their point. And I've seen churches with large quantities of electronics that must have cost thousands. I would presume their technology budgets are self-supporting.

But I think the churches with excess budgets, that is, taking in much more than they are spending, are probably in the minority.

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